Glorification: The Death of Death
Have you ever thought about what one of the first things you will do when you get to heaven might be? Perhaps not. If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us don’t do a lot of thinking about heaven. Maybe that’s because we are too “at home” in this life to be consciously preparing for the next.
But that’s not true of everyone.
One of my “heroes in the faith” is Joni Eareckson Tada. Shortly after I came to know Christ in 1970 I first heard Joni’s story and was deeply moved by it. A diving accident in 1967 left her an 17-year-old quadriplegic. Her life had been transformed in an instant from being an athletic and vivacious young woman to one who would never again be able to care for even her most basic needs. It was during those early months and later years of adjustment that she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and spiritual doubts. During this darkness, the Lord was pleased to shine His light...not by miraculously healing her paralyzed body, but by doing something far greater in revealing Himself to her as her constant Companion and Sustainer.
By the grace of God—a grace to which she continues to bear witness—she founded a ministry known as Joni and Friends that reaches out to the disabled in many places around the world. She has become an accomplished artist, learning to paint pictures by holding a paintbrush between her teeth. She is also the author of over forty books and has recorded a number of Christian albums. Two years ago her song, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” was initially nominated for an Academy Award as the title song for a movie by the same name, a nomination that was later revoked because of its heavy Christian content.
Seven years ago, Joni was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. How has she responded? She thinks a great deal about heaven, and she longs for the day when she will at last see Jesus face-to-face. In an interview I remember hearing a few years ago, this quadriplegic woman who has had no independent movement of her limbs for fifty years, said that she imagines upon reaching heaven she will see Jesus walking toward her with an outstretched hand and asking, “May I have this dance?” To which Joni, in her words, “... will leap out of that chair into the inviting arms of my Savior, and I will dance like a deer.”
What you and I refer to as “heaven” is actually the capstone of the salvation experience of those whom God has elected as His own from eternity past. It is the culmination of Paul’s “Golden Chain of Redemption” spelled out in Romans 8, verses 29 and 30. We have read these words several times in these series:
“Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified,” (Romans 8:29-30).
Were we to go back earlier in this chapter, beginning with verse 18, we would also find the apostle declaring, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” And then in verse 23, he adds, “...we ourselves ...groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18-25).
One day, perhaps sooner than we think, we will wait no longer. One day, as the Scriptures tell Christians, “We...will be caught up...to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Such words are meant to engender comfort and assurance to those whom God has elected, effectually called, regenerated, converted, justified, adopted, sanctified, and caused to persevere.
Thousands of years ago, Job was able to confidently say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). How much more clearly—on this side of the cross—should you and I be able to envision what Job saw in his day?
As we think through the subject of “glorification” this morning, there is so much that could be said. Throughout history “immortality” has been the default position of the human race...even if many claim to deny it. In our most reflective moments, none of us truly believes that our lives will be permanently extinguished. That is because, as the writer of Ecclesiastes has said, God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
It is often said that “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.” But if we could see heaven, I believe we would think far differently. We have often cited the C.S. Lewis quote that causes us to lift our eyes beyond this present yet transient life. Hear it again in the light of the heaven that awaits God’s people:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
So what is it about the life after this one that causes people like Joni Eareckson Tada , Job, and C.S. Lewis to long for the life to come? And to ask a more probing question, why do we not long for it more earnestly than we do?
In attempting an answer, I would like for us to focus our attention on the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, namely verses 12 through 58. As we will see from this passage of Scripture, “glorification” is fundamentally linked with the New Testament teaching on the “resurrection.” Because this is a lengthy section, we’ll address it under three headings. Let’s begin with verses 12 through 34, which provides...
The certainty of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-34).
For the Christian, the resurrection means—as John Owen called it—“the death of death.” J.I. Packer has reminded us, “If you cannot make sense of death, you cannot make sense of life either.” Following last Sunday morning’s service, someone asked, “What happens to us when we die?” A fellow-member standing nearby quickly and correctly replied, “We go to be with the Lord.” But when pressed whether that meant the believer immediately enters into “heaven” as we tend to think of it, the next response came less quickly. Although 1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t provide all of the information we seek about the other side of death, it does take us farther down the road of understanding than if we did not have it.
This is a lengthy section, and we do well to read it because it provides a defense for death being but a doorway for the Christian that leads to one’s eternal presence with Christ. There is a day of “glory” coming. Please follow along carefully as we begin with verse 12:
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
We are struck by the “if”-clauses in these verses. What a horrible thing to imagine “if” these things were true. There would be no reason to live for Christ or to preach His Gospel if Jesus was still in the grave. If He was not raised, neither would any of us be raised. Sin and death would not have been conquered “if there (were) no resurrection of the dead.” Furthermore, there would be no hope of being reunited with loved ones who have passed on before us. In short, as Paul has written, “We are...to be pitied” if our hope rests on an unsubstantiated claim. What good would it be to sacrifice this life if the next life were not certain? We resume reading in verse 20, where an immediate contrast is introduced:
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom of God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).
It is the resurrection of Christ—a resurrection confirmed by more than five hundred eyewitnesses “at one time,” according to verse 6 in this same chapter—that assures our own. When Jesus was raised, He broke death’s hold and forever established Himself as the Ruler of the Universe. Paul’s defense for the certainty of the resurrection continues in verse 29 with an illustration that is all but lost to us today:
“Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:29-34).
We cannot be sure to what Paul was referring when he makes reference to “baptism for the dead.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee says that more than forty interpretations exist regarding the meaning of this phrase. It is neither within the scope of this message nor the time frame with which we have to work that we need to sort through all of those this morning. (I will say, however, that beginning in February we will be undertaking a lengthy study of this epistle. I promise you at that time we will dig more deeply into what Paul may have been referring to). For the present we can pretty well assume that he is making an ad hominen argument in order to debunk a faulty proposition put forth by those who deny the possibility of there even being a bodily resurrection. The prevailing idea seems to be, “Why would anyone put themselves in danger and the threat of death if the resurrection were not real?”
Having laid out an introductory defense for life beyond the grave, the door that opens to our “glorification,” Paul next discusses...
The nature of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
We pick up the reading at verse 35:
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another, There is one glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for star differs from star in glory.
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
Paul anticipates a scoffer’s question regarding the nature of the resurrection, and he responds by employing an analogy of “seeds” and “bodies.” These bodies of flesh that we now wear are not fit for heaven. It is the resurrection that readies us for the “glorification” that God promises. It is not only our spiritual nature that will be forever changed, but so will our physical bodies.
The full and final vindication, not only of the believer but also of Christ Himself, will be completed when we stand in His presence. The opening statement of The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Our “glorification” will mean the perfect restoration of God’s image in us, an image that was tragically lost in Genesis 3. That restoration will, therefore, be an immaculate and eternally enduring testimony to His eternal glory.
Beginning with verse 45, Paul offers a second analogy, drawing a comparative contrast between Adam and Christ:
“Thus it is written, ‘The first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
Although the Lord has chosen not to reveal everything we would like to know about this transformation, we can echo the words of John, who wrote to Christians, saying, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
In fact, heaven’s “glory” ought never to be considered apart from Christ’s presence. The Anglican theologian, Richard Sibbes, wrote four centuries ago,
Heaven is not heaven without Christ. It is better to be in any place with Christ than to be in heaven itself without him. All delicacies without Christ are but as a funeral banquet...I say the joys of heaven are not the joys of heaven without Christ; he is the very heaven of heaven...It is therefore the seeing of Christ that makes heaven.
His contemporary, Thomas Goodwin, stated that same thought more bluntly, saying, “Heaven would be hell to me without Christ.” In our day, John Piper has added this word of thoughtful application: “People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.”
In brief, the nature of the resurrection is our transformation—our complete transformation—into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our “glorification” means that we will be changed...from “perishable” to “imperishable,” from “dishonor” to “glory,” from “weakness” to “power,” from what is “natural” to what is “spiritual,” and from what is “earthly” to what is “heavenly.”
Paul is not yet finished. He has yet to tell us of...
The glory of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
Let’s look together at verses 50 through 58, where we enter into a glorious scene where the resurrection of believers is so vividly depicted:
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).
These verses provide for us the assurance of the ultimate triumph that awaits those who have entered into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points out that the body in its present form cannot “inherit the kingdom of God.” What is “perishable” and “mortal” is not fit for the never-ending future life of the believer. That body must be changed, and for that to happen the final enemy of man—death—must die! The writer calls this a “mystery”...a solemn, sacred secret that was once concealed but is now revealed.
Regarding these closing words, Gordon Fee has commented, “Death is not simply the result of decay through normal human processes. Rather, it is the result of the deadly poison, sin itself, which became all the more energized in our lives through acquaintance with the law.” Apart from the cross-work of Jesus Christ on our behalf and His own resurrection from the dead, we would be left without hope...perpetual slaves to the law with the sentence of death hanging over our heads. No wonder Paul cannot contain himself in response: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is the Apostle John who describes the outcome of our transformation in Revelation 21:3-4):
“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. 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.”
In the words of the hymn writer, “What a day, glorious day that will be.”
There is but one word left to say, and Paul says it in verse 58. It speaks to...
The application of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:58)
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the land your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
This speaks to our present responsibility, the believer’s assignment if you will.
“Therefore” brings Paul’s argument to a conclusion, and in so doing, he reminds us that “we are not home yet.” None of us has any idea how much longer we have before we close our eyes in death, and so we are urged to invest ourselves everyday with our future “glorification” in view. Paul applies this to the Christian both negatively and positively.
On the negative side he says, in essence, “Let nothing move you.” Don’t be misled by those who deny the resurrection. Remember, God will ultimately be vindicated.
On the positive side, he exhorts, “‘Always’ be giving yourself “the work of the Lord.’’” Jesus’ words to His disciples in His day apply equally to us in ours: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).
Any day now, we will hear the last “tick of the clock”...this life will end for us and eternity will have begun. Contrary to the opinion of some, everyone of us is going to live forever...everyone is going to spend eternity somewhere. Will we look back with regret at what we might have done for the Lord, but didn’t? Like a student who is well-prepared for an exam, followers of Christ should be setting their sights upon that day with great anticipation... not apprehension
All those who have been justified will be “glorified.” Not a single believer will drop out. This is a foundational truth that completes God’s promise for His elect. The God who ordained our “glorification” is the God who will accomplish it. Everyone who has been justified by grace, we will be “glorified.” God has forged the links in the chain and none of them can be broken.
Until then, let us remember that every Sunday is “resurrection day” as the followers of Jesus Christ gather to celebrate and proclaim the fact that His resurrection guarantees that they too will one day be raised with “glorified” bodies that are not any longer susceptible to sin, suffering, and death. Each weekly gathering should remind us that we are not yet home with the Father, but are pilgrims together on the path to the “Celestial City.”
Christians are at times accused of being “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” It is a charge that should never have merit. Instead, we must keep our feet planted on the earth, our hands busily engaged in our work, and our ears attentive to His voice, while keeping our eyes on the skies. J.I. Packer has left for us these thoughts suggesting how we are to “occupy until He comes” (cf. Luke 19:13):
Be wholly committed to Christ’s service every day. Don’t touch sin with a barge-pole. Keep short accounts with God. Think of each hour as God’s gift to you, to make the most and best of. Plan your life, budgeting for seventy years (Ps. 90:10), and understanding that if your time proves shorter that it will not be unfair deprivation but rapid promotion. Never let the good or the not-so-good, crowd out the best, and cheerfully forgo what is not the best for the sake of what is. Live in the present; gratefully enjoy its pleasures and work through its pains with God, knowing that both the pleasures and the pains are steps on the journey home. Open all your life to the Lord Jesus and spend time consciously in His company, basking in and responding to His love. Say to yourself often that every day is one day nearer. Remember that, as George Whitefield said, man is immortal till his work is done...and get on with what you know to be God’s task for you here and now.
Forty-five years ago, when revealed the Lord Himself to me and I became His child, a Christian song was released that was entitled, “Finally Home.” Its refrain encourages us to...
...just think of stepping on shore,
And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand,
And finding it God’s!
O breathing new air,
And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory,
And finding it home!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we anticipate that “glorious” day when we at last arrive safely home, may we pray for one another in the manner that Paul did when he interceded on behalf of the Colossian Christians, saying,
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:3-5).
In our Savior’s name we pray, even as we wait. Amen.
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