(Note: I wrote this article and posted it on my blog before my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession was published by WestBow Press in February 2018. This critical topic was later included in the book. I invite you to check it out.)
I discussed the eternal value of work in a previous article about a year and a half ago. Since this is such a complex topic and I had only scratched the surface, I thought it would be prudent to develop these ideas a bit further.
Focus on the New Creation
In light of the doctrine of eschatology, the study of last things, I have thought about what work might look like in the New Jerusalem, based on Rev. 21. Here, John describes the New Jerusalem, a beautiful city that comes down out of heaven to earth where “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it” (vv. 24, 26).
Just imagine what our work could be like in the New Creation without the pain, frustration, stress, difficulty, unpredictability, sweat, and interpersonal conflict with sinners set in a challenging environment that we currently experience in all of our labor due to the Fall.
In plain terms, we need to see the huge impact of the eschatological reversal of the curse, where sinless humanity and our relationship to work are restored to pre-Fall conditions. There will be no corrupt leaders, workaholism, unemployment, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, greed, exploitation of workers, etc., that I described in a previous article on institutionalized sin in the workplace.
The fact is, there will be no unredeemed sinners among us; they would have already faced eternal judgment as penalty for their sins (Rev. 20:11-15). Those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ will no longer experience the power or the presence of sin. Work relationships will not be characterized by conflict, but by peace, fellowship, and unity.
I do not know whether or not there will be work for us to do, but it does seem to be implied. If there is, it will not seem like work, as the quality of workers and the workplace will be fully restored. The hopeless message of vanity of Ecclesiastes will vanish. There will be no meaninglessness in life and work “under the sun” because we will all be “under the Son”.
More importantly, the types of workers and the jobs they hold will also be transformed.
What kind of work will we do?
This is only my biblically informed speculation, but it appears to me that there will be two categories of jobs that we will not find anywhere in the eternal kingdom.
There will be a small number of obvious jobs that will no longer exist because evil is no more (e.g., pimps, hit men, counterfeiters, porn film directors, and drug dealers).
However, there will be a much larger number of jobs that will no longer exist because they are no longer needed since fallen humanity and the Earth has been restored. These types of jobs and career fields have no place in the New Jerusalem: morticians, law enforcement, light bulb manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, wheelchair manufacturers, psychologists, and many more.
Stevens, in Work Matters: Lessons from Scripture, adds, “Our final destiny is not a workless utopia but a renewed world in which we will work with infinite creativity and fulfillment.” Nelson concurs: “Your work in the new creation will be even better than it was in the old creation. God has a great future in store for his image-bearing workers.”
Stevens shares this insight: “In the new heaven and new earth, will we stop exercising dominion? Stop caring for creation? Stop serving our neighbor? . . . In light of all these considerations, work must be part of our consummated humanity in the life to come.” I cannot argue with that.
Stevens concludes, “Work in the new heaven and new earth will be all that good work was intended to be. Perhaps what we will be doing is what we have done in this life but without the sweat and frustration experienced here. . . . Since there will be no curse on work, the workplace, or the worker, labor will be personally and completely satisfying, far more than was obtainable in this life.”
Although there are a lot of unanswered questions as to what the nature of our work might look like for all eternity, these insights should still give us a tremendous amount of hope. They should cause us all to reflect on Paul’s words of encouragement in context of his teaching on the bodily resurrection of believers: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.