[Note: Our guest author, Joni Eareckson Tada, is a beloved Christian author, speaker, and internationally-renowned advocate for people with disabilities. She is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, a Christian organization who shares hope through hardship in the disability community. This article was first published in DesiringGod.org on May 31, 2021, as “When My Quadriplegia Ends: What Makes Me Long for Heaven.” Joni recently made a guest appearance on Christ in Prophecy.]
On the morning of my wedding, my helpers laid me on a couch in the church’s bridal salon to dress me in my gown. They heaved and shifted my paralyzed body this way and that, trying to fit me into it, but when I sat back in my wheelchair, I groaned. In the mirror, I looked like a float in the Rose Parade.
Right before I wheeled up the aisle, my bouquet slid off my lap. That’s when I spotted a greasy tire mark on my hem. My chair was spiffed up, but it was still a big, clunky thing with belts and ball bearings. I was not the picture-perfect bride.
Then I caught a glimpse of Ken at the front. He was craning his neck, looking for me. My face grew hot and my heart began to pound. Suddenly, my wheelchair and clumpy dress with its smudges didn’t matter. I had seen my beloved, and how I looked no longer mattered. I couldn’t wait to get to the front to be with him. I may have felt unlovely, but the love in Ken’s face washed it all away. I was the pure and perfect bride.
That’s what he saw, and that’s what changed me.
One Searching of His Eyes
Our first glimpse of our Savior may well be like this. Just one look from Jesus will completely transform us. And it’s why everything in me cries, “Come, Lord Jesus” for I long to be free of the stain of sin. And why wouldn’t I? Jesus gave Himself up for me “to present to himself, a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26-27, NIV).
He has given me a head start. For although my suffering has often felt overwhelming — as when I saw myself in that mirror — it’s been God’s choicest tool in making me holy. My affliction keeps purging sin and selfishness out of my heart, honing me into the picture-perfect bride. Heaven is the holy habitation where I’ll be presented to Jesus spotless and blameless. And my suffering is helping with that.
Some don’t quite believe me. They think I want Jesus to come back so I can jump out of my wheelchair and walk again. Although at one time that was true, decades of leaning on Jesus in my suffering have driven my longings a lot deeper. A glorified body will be nice, but I want a pure heart. I want to be holy.
And so, as any hopeful bride-in-waiting, I’m getting ready for “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself” (1 John 3:3, NIV). How can I cling to the very sins that crushed my Lover against His cross? Why would I allow the Serpent to coil himself around my heart when Jesus gave everything to crush his head?! My Savior is the fairest of ten thousand and His love is sweeter than wine — I know it, I thrive on His grace when I am weak — so, I strive to live a “self-controlled, upright and godly life in this present age, while waiting for our Blessed Hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself… to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:12–14, NIV).
Setting Wrongs, Right
I am not the only one who is aching for Christ’s return. Revelation 22:17 tells us that “the Spirit says, along with the bride, ‘Come, quickly!'” I can see why. As “the pledge of our inheritance,” the Spirit grieves when Christ’s betrothed shames the Name of her Lord with doctrinal distortions and moral failure. Even the world mocks and scoffs when “with scornful wonder, men see [the church] sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.”
To the Spirit, forty years of obstinate rebellion from us in the desert must pale in comparison to 20 centuries of it. No wonder the Spirit and the bride say, “Come quickly, Lord, and wash away all sin with one searching of your eyes. For when you appear, we will finally be like you” (1 John 3:2).
And while the bride cries to be pure, so does the earth. Think of the horror and holocausts that sin has brought upon the world. I have felt the Spirit’s pain when I see children with disabilities in impoverished countries being sold into slavery or further maimed to become pitiful beggars. Or when elderly people are abused. When children are aborted because of a chromosomal irregularity. I cry along with the Spirit for Jesus to come and “rescue the weak and needy; save them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4, NIV).
Our bruised and broken planet, and all that dwells in it; all of creation, everything from starving animals to denuded forests — the entire universe — is standing on tiptoe, yearning for Christ to make things right at the unveiling of God’s glory in His sons and daughters (Romans 8:19). Oh, come soon, Lord Jesus!
Yes, I ache for my Savior to speed His return, but I am keenly aware that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV). If, in all my afflictions I have tasted the goodness of God, how can I not share that same goodness with my neighbors? My Bridegroom would want that, and so I hurry His return, as it were, by giving the Good News to as many as possible.
That Grand Moment
If we are blessed to be living at the time of Christ’s return, we will literally hear Him respond to our cry. Soon, perhaps sooner than we think, “the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV). The Bridegroom cometh!
We are now getting to the heart of why we long for Jesus’ return: it will be the end of the ages. Christ’s kingdom will be complete. His matchless name, vindicated. Sin, death, the devil and his hoards, all of it, judged and destroyed. The glory of Jesus Christ filling the universe as He is crowned King of Kings. Earth and heaven, restored.
At this, our faces may grow hot and our hearts may pound for, in a flash, we shall be glorified. We will finally grasp that the whole plan of redemption was the Father’s way of securing for His Son the greatest of gifts; we, His Bride, His inheritance and joy.
So, we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” For we belong to Jesus, and we will spend all of eternity praising the glory of His grace. Grace that rescued us from sin and sustained us in our weakness. Grace that brought us safely home (Ephesians 1:6).
Now, picture with me great multitudes of the Redeemed, pulsing with joy and infused with light. Surrounded by the angelic host, we shall press in line with the great procession of the saved streaming through gates of pearl; an infinite cavalcade from earth’s wide bounds and oceans’ farthest coast, all in one joyous parade; countless generations, all lifting our diadems before God. “Hallelujah!” we will shout, “For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19: 6-7, NIV).
I am making myself ready, so “Maranatha, Lord Jesus!” Come soon to carry Your Bride across Your threshold, making all things — even us — new.