by Matt Perman
Christians are to be people of great hope. Our hope is in God: "Hope in God" (Psalm 45:5). Our hope is future oriented, often called "the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our hope gives us stability because it is not a mere wish about the future, but a strong confidence about the future: "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both true and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope should bring us great joy because it is not just a confident expectation about the future, but a confident expectation of good things to come in the future: "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13). And our hope of these good things to come is Christ-centered: "...Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
Putting this all together, we see that hope is "a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future." It should be easy to see from this that our Christian hope should be a cause of great joy and happiness! As we consider and look forward to our future with Christ, our hearts will become very excited--thus giving us joy and happiness during our stay upon the earth. We can see why God commands us to "Rejoice in your hope" (Romans 12:12).
Are you experiencing the glory of this hope? Have you found the deep joy, peace, and power for obedience that comes as we "exult in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2)? Could a joyful hope in God be the solution to problems such as spiritual depression, lack of zeal for spiritual things, and worldly mindedness?
I have often talked with Christians who say, "I know I should have more hope. I know that I should be looking forward to heaven with greater desire, but I just don't know very much about what God has in store for the future. I don't know very much about what we are to hope for." That is the problem! We have forgotten, or else never learned, the great things God has in store for us. If you don't know very much about the "good things" God has in store for you, it doesn't seem like you will be able to have very much hope.
So the first thing that we need to do if we are going to be a people of greater hope is to learn about the good things that God has in store for us. But this won't be enough. We must also see the beauty and excellency in these things so that we will set our affections on them. We can't just know what is in store for us and call it hope. We must look forward to what God has in store for us. That is why Paul prayed "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling..." (Ephesians 1:18). When we have our heart set on enjoying a wonderful eternity with Christ, that is hope. As we will see later, the joy that arises from this hope is a very powerful force that drives us to be "zealous for good works" and the glory of God. Our hope fuels obedience.
Clearly many things are at stake! If we neglect our hope we will not only miss out on much happiness, but we will also be less zealous for obeying God.
The hope of glorification
There are many things that Christians are to hope for. One of these things is our glorification. Focusing on our future glorification is a very effective way to increase our hope because it involves so many of the good things in store for us. It involves the return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, our reunion with all of the saints of all time, and our introduction into our eternal home of the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. As we consider glorification, remember that this and every aspect of our hope is focused on Christ. Jesus Christ is the object of our hope. We rejoice in the "good things" in store for our future because they glorify Christ and bring us into a greater enjoyment of Christ Himself.
Wayne Grudem defines glorification in this way: "Glorification is the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like His own."
Glorification is the final step in the application of our salvation.
Our appreciation of God's grace will be increased if we understand glorification in relationship to the other aspects of our salvation. The salvation Christ won for us is applied to us in stages, rather than all at once. The first stage is effectual calling, when God, through the preaching of the gospel, inwardly and successfully summons the elect to faith. Effectual calling is given together with regeneration, the act of the Holy Spirit whereby He changes our sinful hearts into hearts that love and cherish Christ. Regeneration thus enables and causes the elect to respond to the Father's call, and they do so in faith and repentance. God then, at the moment the elect believe, justifies them. Justification is a legal act of God in which He forgives our sins, gives to us the righteousness of Christ, and declares us righteous in His sight.
It is important to understand that in justification we are declared righteous, but not made righteous. He declares us righteous on the basis of what Christ did, not on the basis of any good thing that is in us. The aspect of our salvation in which we are continually made more and more righteous is called sanctification. Whereas justification is an instantaneous act of God in which we are declared righteous (rather than made righteous), sanctification is a process--a process in which we are actually made righteous.
At death God completes our sanctification, and so removes all of our sins from our hearts and makes us perfectly holy. But even though our sanctification is complete at death, our salvation is not yet complete because we are still without our glorified resurrection bodies. These are given in the final stage of the application of our salvation, which is glorification. Then our salvation will be fully applied to us, and we will live forever in the new heavens and new earth as glorified saints, enjoying all of the benefits of salvation that Christ won for us.
What a glorious display of God's wisdom we have in the way He applies our salvation to us! Let us give thanks to God for each aspect of our salvation, and how our salvation is applied in full at glorification.
Glorification is the resurrection of our bodies to eternal glory
Here is a very significant, yet often ignored, truth of the Bible: Our bodies will one day be raised! Christianity does not teach the immortality of the soul--the belief that our bodies are like prisons, and thus death is a great blessing to liberate us from these prisons so that we can continue living forever as disembodied spirits. Rather, Christianity teaches the resurrection of the body. As the apostle's creed says, "We believe in the resurrection of the body." Our bodies are not prisons, but are part of who we are. Of course our souls will live forever. But they will live forever in our bodies, not apart from them.
The intermediate state
Even though our bodies will be raised, Christians who die still go through a period of time when they exist apart from their bodies, called the intermediate state. When a believer dies his soul is separated from his body. His body remains on earth, but his soul immediately goes to be with Christ in heaven. We know this because Paul says that to be absent from the body at death is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). And when he is considering his death in Philippians 1:23, he speaks of having a desire to "depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better."
So the Bible does not teach that our souls sleep in the period of time between death and the resurrection. Rather, upon death the believer goes right to heaven and experiences the great blessings of communion with Christ at a far deeper level than anything experienced on earth. Thus, Paul says that "to be with Christ is very much better" than living on earth.
But there is something even better than being with Christ in heaven as disembodied souls--being with Christ, in heaven, in our bodies. This seems to be what Paul is getting at in 2 Corinthians 5:4 when he says "we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed" (v. 4) and that "[we] long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven" (v. 2). He is saying that the resurrection state will be so great that he wishes he could go right to it.
In summary, when a believer dies his spirit is separated from his body and goes to be with Christ. This intermediate state will be a very great joy, but the ultimate hope we are to look forward to is the even more joyful fellowship with Christ once our bodies are raised and reunited with our spirits.
Glorification will happen when Christ returns
This resurrection of our body will occur when Christ returns. We know this from the way Paul explains to us the marvelous event of glorification in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord."
How can Paul say that "the dead in Christ shall rise first"? Aren't the dead already with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil 1:23)? The only explanation is that "the dead in Christ shall rise" refers to their bodies. Their spirits don't need to be raised--they have been kept very much alive in heaven. So Paul is saying that when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will have their bodies resurrected and their spirits will then be reunited with their bodies. After the dead in Christ have been raised, then those who are alive will immediately be "caught up together with them in the clouds" and we will meet the Lord in the air.
The truth that the resurrection of believers will occur at Christ's return is also taught in 1 Corinthians 15:23. Referring to the resurrection of the dead, Paul writes: "But each [will be raised] in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming." (See also 1 Corinthians 15:52.)
Thus, the Scriptures teach that Christ will return with all of His church--both those who are alive and those who have died--and we will all be given our resurrection bodies at this time. Right now the spirits of Christians who have died are with Christ in heaven (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). And if you die before Christ returns, your spirit will go to be with Christ. Then, at the moment Christ returns, all of these Christians who have died will finally have their bodies resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Their spirits will be reunited with their bodies, and they will join Christ in the sky, now with glorified resurrection bodies. Right after this, believers who are still alive on the earth will instantaneously be transformed into their resurrected state, and immediately be transferred to the clouds to be with Christ and the rest of Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:23).
All Christians will be glorified together
The fact that glorification occurs at Christ's return magnifies a great truth for us: all Christians will be glorified together. Those who have died in Christ are not yet glorified because God is waiting to glorify every Christian at the same time. In addition to the passages we have seen above, Hebrews 11:39 also teaches this. Referring to the great Old Testament saints, it declares: "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." While we all lived at different periods of time, we all came to faith at different times, and we all will die at different times (unless we live until Christ returns), it is an amazing thing that God has planned things such that our glorification will occur with everybody together. What a great encouragement it is to know that the believers of the past are waiting for us to finish the race ourselves so that we can all experience the great joy of glorification as a family.
But it gets even better. Not only will all Christians be glorified together, but since our glorification happens at Christ's return "the glorification of the elect will coincide with the final act of the Father in the exaltation and glorification of the Son. `But if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together' (Romans 8:17)." Christ is already glorified (Acts 2:33-36), but He will be further glorified at His return when He reveals His kingly glory to the world. And we will be glorified with Him! Therefore "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation" (1 Peter 4:13).
In sum, when Christ returns all believers to ever live will then be pure and holy before God, with their bodies resurrected into a glorious and powerful state. Then will come to pass the great and glorious purpose of Christ's death: "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Think of it. The whole church of God, having been wrinkled with as much sin as it was on earth, will finally be completely purified of all sin and stand before Christ in perfect purity and holiness. What a great day that will be! What an awesome sight! We will finally be perfectly displaying and reflecting back to God the perfect moral character and beauty of our Savior. And it is all because of our Triune God. How glorified Christ will be in our glorification!
What will our bodies be like?
Now that we have a general overview of what happens in glorification, it is important that we look more in depth at the nature of our resurrection bodies. The Bible teaches that our bodies will be like Christ's, they will be physical, and they will be the same body we had on earth--but transformed into a more glorious existence.
Our bodies will be like Christ's. The Bible teaches that Christ's resurrection body is the pattern of our resurrection body. In Philippians 3:20-21, we read "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." First, notice that Christ still has His body. Sometimes we fall into some vague notion that Christ stopped being human when He ascended into heaven. That is not true. He will remain human and in His body forever. This verse speaks of "the body of [Christ's] glory." Second, recognize that Christ is already glorified. This verse speaks of "the body of His glory." Third, we are not yet glorified. Our bodies are now in a "humble state." Fourth, when Christ returns we will be glorified. Fifth, this glorification consists in our present bodies being transformed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body. In other words, we will be given bodies like Christ's. This is also taught in 1 Corinthians 15:49: "And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
Our resurrection bodies will be physical. Next, we must understand that our bodies will be physical. Scripture teaches this in many ways. First, remember that Christ's resurrection body is the pattern of our resurrection body. We know that Christ was raised in a physical body because the disciples ate with Him after the resurrection (Acts 10:41) and touched Him (Matthew 28:9; see also John 20:27). Also, Jesus outright declared that His resurrection body was physical and can be touched: "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39; see also Acts 13:33-37). Since Christ's resurrection is the pattern of our resurrection, we will therefore be raised in a physical body as well. Second, the very use of the term body in regards to our resurrected state clearly teaches that it will be physical: "who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory." It would be a contradiction to speak of a non-physical body.
Second Corinthians 5:1-4 also very clearly teaches a physical resurrection: "For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."
First, Paul's terminology about the resurrection body clearly teaches a physical resurrection. He calls it "a building from God," "a house," and "dwelling." Second, he says that we will "put it on" and thus "not be found naked." In this context, what can "found naked" mean other than "found without our physical bodies"? Since our resurrected body is "put on" and keeps us from "being found naked," it must be physical. Third, his comparison with our bodies in their mortal state with them in their immortal state reveals his physical understanding of the resurrection body. Just as our bodies are currently a "tent" (because they are physical), so also the resurrection body will "clothe" us (and thus be physical). Just as our mortal bodies are a "house" (because they are physical), so also our resurrection body is an immortal "house" and "dwelling" (and thus will be physical).
Romans 8:21-23 also teaches a physical resurrection. First, Paul teaches that we are waiting for "the redemption of our bodies" (v. 23). Our bodies are not going to be thrown away. They are going to be renewed, restored, revitalized. How glorious! Second, notice the context. Paul is teaching that the whole creation is currently subject to decay and corruption. Then he says that "the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption." As John Piper has said, "The creation is not destined for annihilation. It is destined for liberation." Thus, the physical creation will last forever--in its renewed state. Since our bodies are part of creation, we must conclude that they also will be transformed and yet remain physical.
In John 6:39-40, Jesus affirms the physical resurrection of believers: "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me, I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." What a glorious truth that Christ Himself will be the one to raise us! How powerful He must be!
We also read of the physical resurrection of the body in the Old Testament: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). Likewise, we read in Job: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another. My heart faints within Me" (Job 19:25-27).
But how are we to understand verses like 1 Corinthians 15:44, which says we will be raised with a spiritual body? "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Virtually all commentators agree that "spiritual" does not mean "made out of spirit," but "directed by the Spirit." It is just like when we say someone is a "spiritual" person. Paul uses the word in this way in 1 Cor. 2:15: "The spiritual man judges all things..." Clearly Paul does not mean "non-physical and invisible man" here but "man filled with and directed by the Spirit." And look at 10:3-4, where Paul says that in the wilderness Israel ate "spiritual food" and drank "spiritual drink" from a "spiritual rock." Does Paul mean to say that these things were not physical? Obviously not! The fact that they ate this food and drank this water indicates that it had to be physical. And the phrase "spiritual rock" solidifies the argument, for Paul clearly does not mean to say "non-physical rock." He means that these things were sent from above and were under God's direction. And that's what He means when he says we will have "spiritual bodies." Further, "non-physical body" is a contradiction in terms. If it is a body, it must be physical. If it is not physical, then it is not a body. Thus, "spiritual body" is not referring to a change from physical to non-physical, but a change from our lowly state to our glorified state where the Spirit will fully fill and direct our bodies.
But what about the statement that "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (v. 50)? Does this mean that believers will not experience a physical resurrection? No, because if Paul had wanted to say this, he would have used the phrase "flesh and bone," which carried the meaning of physicality. Instead, the phrase that Paul does use ("flesh and blood") carries with it no denial of physicality but is actually a Jewish idiom for our bodies in their present, sinful and corruptible state. So this phrase in no way implies that we will not have physical resurrected bodies. Paul is saying that our bodies in their present mode of existence--sinful and subject to decay--must first be changed into a form that is not subject to decay and sin before they can enter the kingdom of God. Is this not the meaning of his very next phrase: "...nor does corruption inherit incorruption"? And have we not already seen many passages where Paul clearly teaches that the resurrection body will be physical? In this verse, Paul is simply saying that our current, corruptible bodies must be changed into glorified, incorruptible bodies before they can be taken into the kingdom of God.
We will have the same bodies, yet they will be changed. It is essential to understand that we will be resurrected with the same bodies we had on earth, yet they will also be transformed so that they are exceedingly glorious. We must hold onto the two truths that there will be a continuity with our old bodies and yet a transformation. As humans, we are not just spiritual, but physical. Our bodies are a very important part of our identity--they are part of who we are. Therefore, if we deny that we are raised with the same bodies we had on earth, we are denying a significant part of our identity. But if we deny that our resurrected bodies are improved, we are left with the depressing idea that we will forever be subject to the weaknesses we now have, such as sickness, fatigue, etc. Because our future resurrection affirms the continuity of our identity, the improvement of our abilities, and the elimination of our weaknesses, it is a very precious hope indeed.
We will have the same bodies. There are many Scriptural reasons for believing that we will be raised with the same body that died. First, Christ was raised in the same body He had before He died. We know this because the tomb was empty (Luke 24:1-6) and because His resurrected body retained scars from the crucifixion (John 20:25, 27). Since Christ's resurrection is the pattern that our resurrection will follow, then we will also be raised with the same body.
Second, this is also evident from the very meaning of the term "resurrection of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:13, etc.). This phrase means: that which is dead (namely, our body) is made alive. If the same body that died is not the body that was raised, Paul could not call it the "resurrection of the dead." It would not be a resurrection at all.
Third, we read that "the dead will be raised" (1 Cor. 15:52). John Piper comments on this verse: "If God meant to start all over with no continuity between the body I have now and the one I will have, why would Paul say `the dead will be raised'? Why would he not say, `the dead will not be raised...and so God will start from scratch'? He did not say that, because it is not true."
Fourth, Philippians 3:21 says that it is our earthly body which is transformed into conformity with Christ's body, not a different body that is created from scratch.
Fifth, Paul's statement "it is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (1 Corinthians 15:42) establishes that there is a continuity between our current body and our resurrected body, for it is the same "it" in both cases.
Sixth, verse 53 indicates that the same body we have now (which is mortal), will become immortal: "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality."
You may be wondering how God could raise the same body that died when most people have been dead for thousands of years and their bodies have decayed to such an extent that the original body seems entirely gone. Wayne Grudem responds to this that "we must simply say that God can keep track of enough of the elements from each body to form a seed' from which to form a new body (see Gen. 50:25; Job 19:26; Ezek. 37:1-14; Heb. 11:22)."
We will have transformed bodies. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-37, it may appear as if Paul is teaching that we are raised with a different body than which we had on earth: "...what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow the body that shall be, but mere grain." But upon examining the whole context, we see that Paul is not denying that it will be the same body. Instead, he is affirming that our resurrected bodies will be made better than the state they are now in.
This passage is actually very clear that our resurrected bodies will be the same ones that we had on earth. First, Paul teaches a continuity between our bodies now and in the resurrected state by using the analogy from agriculture. He compares the resurrection of the body to the growth of a plant from a seed. The plant that results is definitely much better than the seed, just as our resurrection bodies will be better than those we have now. But there is also a real continuity between the seed and the plant, for they are the same organism. The same seed that was sown becomes the plant that grows. Likewise, the same body we have now becomes our resurrected body. But just as the plant is a result of the seed being transformed into something with better capacities and qualities, so also our resurrected bodies will be the transformation of our current bodies into a body with better qualities and capacities. Thus, when Paul says that we do not yet have the body that shall be, he means that our current bodies are not yet in their glorified and improved state (see verses 42-44).
Paul also affirms that the resurrection involves the transformation of our current bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. "Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." John Piper comments: "He said two things: the dead will be raised (that teaches continuity); and the dead will be changed (they will be made imperishable and immortal). The old body will become a new body. But it will still be your body. There will be continuity. God is able to do what we cannot imagine. The resurrection is not described in terms of a totally new creation but in terms of a change of the old creation. We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."
In what sense will our bodies be transformed? Paul tells us in verse 42-44. He says that our current bodies are weak, perishable, unglorified, and natural. But in the resurrection state they will be powerful, imperishable, glorious, and spiritual (see verses 42-44). Our bodies will be powerful--they will not be subject to stress or fatigue or weakness. Our bodies will be imperishable--they will not get sick, die, age, or become injured. Our bodies will be spiritual--they will be fully oriented to and filled with the Holy Spirit. And our bodies will be glorious. Wayne Grudem comments on the wonder of this truth: "Because the word `glory' is so frequently used in Scripture of the bright shining radiance that surrounds the presence of God himself, this term suggests that there will also be a kind of brightness or radiance surrounding our bodies that will be an appropriate outward evidence of the position of exaltation and rule over all creation that God has given us. This is also suggested in Matthew 13:43, where Jesus says, `Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' Similarly, we read in Daniel's vision, `And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever' (Daniel 12:3)." Our bodies will shine like the sun as they reflect the majestic glory of Christ and God! How glorious!
When our bodies are raised, death will be totally defeated.
Paul writes "When this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, `Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting'" (1 Cor. 15:54-55). This makes evident to us another reason the resurrection of the body is so important: If there is no resurrection of the body, then death is not defeated. John Murray comments on this: "The redemption which Christ has secured for his people is redemption not only from sin but also from all its [penalties]. Death is the wages of sin and the death of believers does not deliver them from death. The last enemy [1 Cor. 15:26], death, has not yet been destroyed; it has not yet been swallowed up in victory. Hence glorification has in view the destruction of death itself." Thus, Christ must raise believers from the dead if He is to fully claim the victory He won over death at His resurrection, and if He is to fully deliver us from the penalty of our sins. We would not have full salvation if our bodies were not raised from the dead. Let us praise Christ for everything that He does to fully conquer evil, including His swallowing death up in victory at the resurrection.
Is hoping for our resurrection bodies and glorification God-centered?
If we hope for the resurrection of our bodies, "are we not in danger of exalting physical comfort as the center of our hope when God himself should be our hope?...Can you hope for a redeemed body and still be God-centered in your hope?" Piper answers this question by pointing out that "the reason we have bodies is for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19-20; Romans 12:1)." God created the physical universe in order to add to the ways his glory is displayed. And so our bodies "give us ways to magnify [God] in worship and obedience that we would not have had if we had no bodies." Therefore, we can and should hope for the resurrection of our bodies--if this hope is for God's sake. Paul says he has "a hope in God...that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:15). But if our hope is not God-centered, it is not true hope and is displeasing to God. Our hope of the resurrection will be God-centered if it contains a great sense of thankfulness to God, if it is a reflection of our great desire to be with Christ in close fellowship forever, if it is a hope for the glory of God, and if it is a hope for fuller ability to enjoy God.
Not only will our bodies be like Christ's, our moral character will also be like Christ
Our whole person is destined to become a flawless image, or reflection, of Christ's glory. Thus, it is not only our bodies which will become like Christ, but also our moral character. We read in Romans 8:29: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren." First John 3:3 declares "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is." John says that if we have this hope fixed upon ourselves, we will purify ourselves just as Christ is pure (v. 4).
Glorification is tied up with the renewal of creation.
Since it is true that our bodies will be raised physically, then the new creation must be physical as well. Often we think of eternal life in heaven as existing in a spiritual realm forever. But that is not the whole truth. Eternity will involve the physical creation as well as the spiritual realm. As we saw earlier, Paul teaches this in Romans 8:20-23, where he says that "creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Revelation 21:1 says there will be "a new heaven and a new earth." The next verse seems to indicate that in the eternal state there will be a joining of heaven and earth, for it speaks of the city of new Jerusalem coming "down out of heaven" to the earth. It says that God Himself will dwell among His people in the New Jerusalem. Can you imagine what it will be like to live forever with Christ not only having access to heaven, but to a renewed physical universe as well?! This universe is huge--perhaps we will be given the opportunity to explore it to the farthest depths in the new creation. What a glorious thing this will be!
The passages which speak of the heavens and earth passing away (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1) we should understand to mean that their present condition will pass away, not that they will be entirely done away with so that God can start from scratch (this is what we saw in Romans 8:21 "the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption"). Also, the passages which speak of there being a new heavens and new earth (such as Revelation 21:1) indicate that there will be a significant renewal and transformation of creation, but do not seem to require the idea that God will start over from scratch. Again, we saw in Romans 8:21 that God will not start over from scratch: "creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Just as it is with our resurrection bodies, there will be a wonderful transformation and newness to creation, but there will also be a continuity with the original creation.
The bodies of unbelievers will also be raised.
The glorification of believers will be a glorious thing! But if we stopped here our study would be incomplete. It is important to understand that it is not only Christians who will experience the resurrection of their bodies. All people will have their bodies raised. The difference is that Christians will have their bodies raised to everlasting glory; non-Christians will have their bodies raised to everlasting destruction. There are many passages which teach that both believers and unbelievers will be raised. Acts 24:15 says, "There shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." Paul tells us how he applies this truth in the next verse: "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men." John 5:28-29 says, "For an hour is coming , in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgement." Unbelievers will thus suffer eternal punishment in their bodies, in hell: "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
The hope of the resurrection of our bodies is a very important Christian truth. Paul was very distressed that some people in the Corinthian church did not believe it (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). It is very distressing that in our day, this truth is often ignored. If we ignore it, we miss out on many great things.
This deeper understanding of glorification, and the resurrection of our bodies that is involved in it, gives us a greater understanding of the great things in store for us if we are trusting in Christ for salvation. What a wonderful thing it will be when Christ returns to see the whole church together in spotless purity, without any spots or wrinkles. How glorified Christ will be to have such a great multitude reflecting his glory back to him, brighter than the sun. What great fellowship there will be among the whole church--Christians from all times and all ages--in that we all enter this experience together. How deeply we will fall in worship and thankfulness at the power and love Christ displayed in raising our bodies from the dead. How much we will honor and respect Him for having abolished all his enemies, including death. And how much more deeply we will know Christ when we are fully like him both physically and morally.
What a great hope this should give us! We should not neglect our hope. "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13). This hope and joy should produce zealous obedience (since we will want to "lay up treasures in heaven"--Matthew 6:20), love (since our hope is heaven and not earth, we will be free to give sacrificially to others in joy), patience in adversity (since we know that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" --Romans 8:18), joy (since we have such a wonderful future to look forward to), worship (since God is the one who designed and gives all of these wonderful things, and we look forward to them as a means to enjoying Him), and many other virtues.
John Piper has unfolded the connection between hope and love very well:
The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. Name three! The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on.
It is not heavenlimindedness that hinders love. It is worldlimindness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend. Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like baubles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?
He is not in bondage to TV-watching or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love! It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise -- these are the cords that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope.
I say it again with all the conviction that lies within me: it is not heavenlimindedness that hinders love on this earth. It is worldlimindedness. And therefore the great fountain of love is the powerful, freeing confidence of Christian hope!
Finally, let me close with a biblical example of how the hope of heaven fueled sacrificial obedience for Christ. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaohs' daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward" (Hebrews 11:24-26). Treasuring the hope of heaven will provide power for sacrificial obedience. Let us become people of greater hope! "Set you minds on things above." And let us teach others these great truths so that they can share our hope as well.
1. John Piper, What is Hope?, a sermon preached on April 6, 1986.
2. This translation is from the Revised Standard Version. The NIV translation is for all practical purposes the same: "Be joyful in hope." The NASB, which I am using in all other Scripture references, translates the verse, "rejoicing in hope." As Piper argues in his sermon series on hope, the NIV and RSV translations are to be preferred in this instance, because they most clearly bring out the meaning of the Greek: God is commanding us to be happy because of our hope.
3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan Publishing and InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 828.
4. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing), p. 177.
5. John Piper, The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Portlund, OR: Multnomah Press, 1995), p. 377.
6. Piper, p. 372.
7. Grudem, p. 834.
8. Piper, p. 372. One may try to argue that in verse 52 when Paul says "the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed," he is only meaning that those who are alive at the time of Christ's return will be changed. If this is the case, it does not alter the fact that the dead will be raised with transformed bodies. In verse 51 Paul had just said "we shall all be changed." Also, the fact that the dead are "raised imperishable" in itself makes clear that a change will occur--the change to imperishability.
9. Grudem, p. 833.
10. Murray, p. 175.
11. John Piper, Our Hope: The Redemption of our Bodies , preached May 25, 1986.
13. This passage probably means that our bodies will be like Christ's as well as our moral character.
14. John Piper, The Fruit of Hope: Love, preached July 13, 1986.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.