From eternity past to eternity future, the purpose of creation and providence has been, and always will be, the communication of the glory of Christ. “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). That purpose — the exaltation of Christ in all creation and providence — does not come to an end in the new creation. God’s providence does not vanish in the age to come. And its ultimate design will not change — “that in everything [Christ] might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).
At every point of history (even before history), this universe is designed in God’s wisdom — and governed by God’s providence — to be a theater for the glory of God, manifest consummately in the glory of his grace, enacted through the glory of Christ, which shines most brightly in his suffering for undeserving rebels.
God’s Most Lavish Promise?
This has been the ultimate purpose from the beginning. And it is the ultimate purpose of the eternal ages in the future. Paul exults as he expresses this in one of the most lavish promises in Scripture:
[God] seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6–7)
This is glorious verbal piling on. It will take eternal “ages” for God to exhaust the demonstration of his “riches” to those who are in Christ. For these riches are “immeasurable.” They also are “riches of . . . grace.” And lest we think of grace too vaguely, Paul says that this grace is “in kindness.” And lest we think too generically about this gracious kindness, he says it is “toward us.” And lest we think that these are the riches of the Father and not the Son, he concludes that these riches of kindness come to us from the Father “in Christ Jesus.” In him are all the treasures. This means that God in Christ will be seen as increasingly rich in glory for all eternity, and we will be ever more fully satisfied with increasing measures of fresh kindness.
Every day for all eternity — without pause or end — the riches of the glory of God’s grace in Christ will become increasingly great and beautiful in our perception of them. We are finite. They are “immeasurable” — infinite. Therefore, we cannot ever take them in fully. Let that sink in. There will always be more. Gloriously more. Forever. Only an infinite being can fully take in infinite riches. But we can, and we will, spend eternity taking in more and more of these riches. There is a necessary correlation between eternal existence and infinite blessing. It takes the one to experience the other. Eternal life is essential for the enjoyment of immeasurable riches of grace.
Experience is an absolutely essential word here — it takes the one to experience the other. Paul has already said in the previous chapter that from before creation God planned to make the universe — including the new creation and the age to come — a theater not only for the display of “the immeasurable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7), but also for the joyful “praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14, my translation). This is the experience implied in Ephesians 2:7. What does it mean for us — for our experience — when God lavishes on us forever “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”? It means joy. To use the words of the apostle Peter, “joy that is inexpressible and glorified” (1 Peter 1:8, my translation).
Enter the Joy of Your Master
This is no merely natural joy that we could produce on our own, even at our perfected best. During his ministry on earth, Jesus said, concerning his teachings, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). This is astonishing. It is not his desire for us to simply have joy, not even joy in Jesus. It is a breathtaking desire — the desire of the Son of God — that we would have the very joy of Jesus himself. It is a desire that we would be made glad with the very gladness of the Son of God.
And when Jesus looked into the future at the great reckoning that would take place at his second coming, he pictured all believers hearing the words of Christ: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). Again, he is not merely saying, “From now on your tears are wiped away and you will be happy.” He is saying, “Enter my joy. Share my joy.” He is assuring us that we will not be left to our own capacities of joy.
I stress this partly because I know that when I preach or write about the immeasurable greatness of the joy we will have in Christ forever, people often despair that they could ever feel the kind of thing I am trying to describe. They look at their own personality, with all its emotional limitations, and they say, “Even at my perfected best, feeling what you describe is unimaginable for me.” I have often felt this way myself.
But Jesus prays that we will feel not just with our own perfected feelings but with the very feelings of God (John 17:26). He invites us not simply to have great joy but to have his joy (John 15:11). He welcomes us not simply into a happy heaven but into the very experience of his own happiness. We will be so changed at the second coming that we will enjoy the glories of Christ, as much as a finite creature can, with the very joy of God.
This will be the eternal work of the Holy Spirit — taking the joy of the Father in the Son and the joy of the Son in the Father and making them our joy, by revealing to us the glory of the Father and the Son in ever-increasing measures. This will be the all-satisfying, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent experience of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
God’s Eternal Delight
This experience of ever-increasing joy in all that God is for us in Christ will be the essence of God’s eternal glorification in the coming ages. To be sure, the heavens will be glad. The sun and moon and shining stars will praise the Lord. The earth will rejoice. The seas will roar with praise. The rivers will clap their hands. The hills will sing for joy. The field will exult and everything in it. The trees of the forest will chant their praise. The desert will blossom like the crocus (Psalm 96:11–13; 98:7–9; 148:3; Isaiah 35:1). The created world — liberated and perfected (Romans 8:21) — will never cease to declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20).
Nevertheless, all this God-revealing, God-exalting beauty in nature will not perform its highest purpose until it finds a reverberation in the praising hearts — the experience — of the blood-bought children of God (Romans 8:21). The glory of God will be the all-pervading light of that new country, but the lamp of that glory will be the Lamb (Revelation 21:23) — the remembered suffering, the eternal spectacle.
The perfected theater of creation will be glorious, radiant with God. But the drama — the human experience of God in Christ — not the theater, will be foremost in magnifying the God of all-pervasive providence. And the unparalleled beauty and worth of the Lamb who was slain will be the main song of eternity. And the joy of the children of God will be the main echo of the infinite excellencies of God — and the focus of his eternal delight.