The Most Wonderful Hope Set Before Us

September 12, 2016

by William Edgar

The final element in the application of redemption is glorification. While we already are in possession of our full blessings, we are not yet in the consummate bliss of the new heavens and the new earth. And while there is essential continuity between the first and second comings of the Lord, the events are separate, and we find ourselves in between the two. We are in the last days. Pentecost has ushered in the full equipping of the saints for their sanctification. And we already sit in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 2:6), but the glory has not yet fully transformed everything. The Holy Spirit has guaranteed our inheritance, but we have not yet acquired possession of it (Eph. 1:14).

And so we patiently await the consummation. The Bible talks a great deal about this goal at the end of history. Neither an escape nor the vague, Platonic heaven of popular art, glory will be the earth remade:

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. (Isa. 65:17–18)

How will this place be characterized? Many of the details we will not know until we arrive there. But we do know the most salient points.

The first is that glory is overwhelmingly characterized by the presence of the Lord. The Book of Revelation reflects on this in many places. In his vision of the last things, after paraphrasing Isaiah 65, John adds the words of the covenant: “and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'” And he adds, touchingly, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3–4). No temple is needed in the new Jerusalem for its temple is God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, by whose light the nations walk (vv. 22–23).

What does glory mean for us? The full and uninterrupted presence of our Lord and our God.

In a way, that is all we need to know. What does glory mean for us? The full and uninterrupted presence of our Lord and our God. Everything in the world that today diminishes the experience of his presence will be gone. Then, he will fully turn our mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11; Jer. 31:13). It will be a time for feasting, for celebration, and, most of all, for praising God for all his goodness toward us.

Resurrection Life

This is why we may call this state the resurrection. Glorification is not the happy occasion of our going to be with the Lord at death. We will be with him, and we will be made perfectly holy at that time, and it will be a happy occasion (2 Cor. 5:8; Heb. 12:23). But glorification is when death itself is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:54). Our bodies will be transformed so as to be like Christ’s (Phil. 3:21). “Beloved,” the apostle John tells his readers, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). If today we are without honor in our natural bodies, at the resurrection we will be raised in glory, and our bodies will become spiritual, in the image of the man from heaven (1 Cor. 15:42–49). We cannot fully imagine what this will be like. Glory means, literally, honor, joy, splendor, beauty, and such things. We get a tiny glimpse of it when we think about what Christ could do in his post-resurrection appearances.

Our resurrection occurs because of Christ’s. More than that, our resurrection coincides with the coming of Jesus Christ in glory.  Our glorification is revealed through Christ. And it will be together with every believer. No one gets there first (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Here is no secret rapture, no partial resurrection for special saints. Here, rather, is the glorification, together, when the voice of a great multitude will sing “Hallelujah!” to the Lord our God forever (Rev. 19:1, 3, 6).

Far from the dull, static heaven of popular caricature, the real place will be endlessly fascinating, full of new revelations, a place to learn and to enjoy great treasures. The new heavens and new earth, far from being otherworld and a-cultural, will be the very embodiment of what the world was meant to be. This is why it is said that the glory and honor of the nations will be brought in (Rev. 21:26). Again, we do not have many details, but we do know that what we have worked on here on earth will be blessed and multiplied in the new earth (2 Cor. 3:3–14).

Eternal life, God’s gift, is not built on some natural immortality but is such a quality of life that our whole person is renewed into the image of Christ.

The redeemed and unbelievers will be “raised,” but the former to everlasting life and the others to everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2). This is why, as we saw earlier, it is somewhat confusing to talk of the immortality of the soul. The soul is in itself not more naturally prone to life than the body. And the true meaning of life in the Bible is to be in fellowship with God as his image-bearers.  When we walk away from him, we walk into death, not immortality. True enough, unbelievers will die and yet still have consciousness. They will have a resurrection of sorts. But it is hardly unto life. They are not immortal. Eternal life, God’s gift, is not built on some natural immortality but is such a quality of life that our whole person is renewed into the image of Christ. It begins when we become converted and comes to its fullest expression when we are glorified.

Being justified by faith, there is no condemnation for believers. At the same time, there is an evaluation of accomplishments and misdeeds during earthly life (2 Cor. 5:10). Not much is said in Scripture about this valuation. But surely two things are true. The first is that we have been acquitted because of Christ, and nothing can reverse that. No upsetting surprises, then. The second is that our lives have had different twists and turns. Some have been more diligent, others less. In accordance with the principles of fairness, God will reward some with major responsibilities in the new earth. Others others will have fewer of them (Matt. 25:14–30). Never is the reward deserved, for it proceeds from the same grace of God that saved us. But it appears there will be different kinds of recompense for different people who, having exercised their work here on earth with different degrees of diligence, will have some recognition for that. The last thing we should do, though, is speculate about who is doing more and who is doing less. Appearances are deceptive. It is better to remain humble and not compare (Gal. 6:4–5).

So, for believers, nothing but the most wonderful hope is set before us. It is the hope of a new heaven  and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). On God’s chosen day, everything will be different. We will be changed from mortal into immortal. Every enemy will be overcome, as we are more than conquerors. Death itself, already defeated, will be scorned. God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15). His people will have an exodus far better than the one led by Moses. They will have a homecoming far better than the one led by Ezra. Nothing will separate us from love of God in Christ. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen!” (Rom. 11:36).

This piece is adapted from William Edgar, Truth in All its Glory: Commending the Reformed Faith, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2004), 211–214. Used with permission of the publisher.

William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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