Summary: Four word pictures of the eternal state, explained for people investigating the Christian faith.
The central claim of the Christian faith is that someone has died and lived to tell us what lies beyond death’s door. That’s the Easter claim, that Jesus Christ died at the hands of professional executioners, that he was placed in a heavily guarded tomb, and that three days later Jesus Christ conquered death. Jesus appeared to hundreds of people alive again, to his friends, to his family, and he appeared to these people over a 40 day period of time.
According to the Bible itself, if this claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead isn’t true, then the Christian faith crumbles and Christians are a pathetic group of wishful thinkers who are out of touch with reality. Yet the evidence that Jesus Christ did rise from the grave is overwhelming. Seven weeks ago we celebrated Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.And the last seven weeks we’ve been building on Easter Sunday by looking at what the Bible teaches about death and the afterlife in a series called BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR. This series has had its share of surprises. Right in the middle of the series I experienced an unexpected death in my own family. We’ve looked in this series at the evidence for believing in life after death, we’ve looked at the question of whether heaven is for everyone, we’ve looked at the Bible’s teaching about hell, and about what happens immediately after a person dies. But today as we finish this series BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR, we’re going to look at the ultimate destination of those who have received God’s love through Jesus Christ. Today we’re going to explore four word pictures the New Testament gives us about this final destination, and—as we’ll see—these four word pictures have real relevance to how we live our lives today.
I. A Change
The first word picture we’re going to look at is the picture of a change. We don’t deal with change very well these days, especially since things seem to change so rapidly in our culture today. That famous theologian Mark Twain once said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. So at first the idea of a change may not seem real appealing.
As Paul writes his letter to the Philippian Christians he’s concerned that they’ve lost sight of their final destination with God.1 They’ve been living what we might call the secular life, a life that measures success by our culture’s standards, a life that acts as if this earthly life is all there is. So to remind them of the final destination that lies ahead, Paul describes a change that’s going to happen:
Philippians 3:20-21—But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (NIV).
Followers of Jesus Christ don’t truly belong to this world system we live in, but we ultimately belong in heaven, that’s where our citizenship is, that’s where our allegiance is, that’s where our true leader is. Until Jesus returns to this earth, we eagerly await him, on our tiptoes looking for him to appear. When that happens, Jesus will "transform" our present bodies into bodies that are like his, and that transformation is the change we want to zero in on today.
The word "transform" here is the Greek word we get our English word "metamorphosis" from, and it means "to cause a change in the form of something." 2 What’s changed is our physical body, that’s the object of this change, this metamorphosis, this transformation. Like a caterpillar that’s transformed into a butterfly, our present body will be transformed into a body that’s like Jesus’ resurrection body. This change won’t just look like Jesus’ body in superficial ways, but it will be of the same kind, the same inward nature and quality, as Jesus’ resurrection body. 3 By looking forward to this coming change—this future transformation—the Philippian Christians can get back on track.
Now what exactly will this changed body be like? Paul doesn’t tell us here, but in 1 Corinthians 15 he does tell us some important truths about the nature of this resurrection body:
1 Corinthians 15:42-44—So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised 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 (NIV).
This entire chapter focuses in on the resurrection, beginning with the importance of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection, and then branching off from that to our own eventual resurrection from the dead. Paul uses a metaphor here of planting a seed and the eventual plant that grows up from that seed. The seed appears to die when it’s placed in the ground, yet when the seed is buried in the ground, out of that seed comes new life, a plant. There’s an organic connection between the seed and the plant, yet their appearance—their form—is very different.