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Half a lifetime ago now, as I was hitting golf balls at a driving range, the older man in the next booth offered me his brand-new, state-of-the-art, high-tech, large-headed driver. “Try this one, son,” he said. He insisted. I laid aside my old wooden-headed club (it cost £5 secondhand) and tried his ultramodern metal-headed version. The ball flew off the clubface and was still in the air as it flew past my earlier attempts. Suddenly, golf seemed easier, my swing so much more powerful.
I couldn’t believe it. Nor could I afford my own high-tech driver. But, I thought, this must be what the resurrection body in the state of glory is like. No longer weak, but powerful; obedience no longer a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil—but natural, the smooth and happy tempo of a sin-free world. If I can enjoy this new technology in a golf shot, how wonderful it will be to live in the full blaze of God’s presence.
Scotsman though he was, there is no record of Thomas Boston (1676–1732), author of Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, playing golf. But he had more important reasons for reflecting on the sinlessness, the sickness-free life, and the perfect happiness the state of glory will bring. In the years when Boston worked on the sermons and then the manuscript that became The Fourfold State, his beloved wife, Catherine, suffered from a debilitating and distressing illness, and infant death entered the home. So, the prospect of the glory to come was both a reality that sustained him in the midst of trials and a motivation to live for his Lord Jesus in the light of that hope.
The knowledge of the state of glory will do no less for us. But what can we say about it? Scripture has much to say about it. Some of its teaching can be summarized, perhaps appropriately, under seven headings.
Promised by the Word of God
Think about it: we would know nothing about the state of glory apart from the Word of God and His promises. Yet God did not need to tell us; after all, He could have kept it all back as a future surprise.
But our heavenly Father is too kind to deny His children hope in a world of despair or light in a world of darkness. He has graciously told us much, if not everything (we could not understand everything), about the future world. So, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Peter tells us that the knowledge of this should have a transforming impact on our lives (v. 17).
But what, exactly, is promised?
Contrasted with the Present Life
One way we learn is by contrasting what we know already with what we still need to discover. Scripture employs this method in connection with the resurrection. Our bodies are like seed that is sown in the ground. It perishes but then reemerges in glorious flower.
We too die and are “sown” in the ground. “The end” seems to be written underneath the closing moments of life. As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes noted, life can be “nasty, brutish, and short.” We are by nature “without hope,” and when all-conquering death draws near, the evidence seems to confirm that. But, Paul notes, just as the seed that is dropped into the soil disintegrates and “dies” only to “rise” again as a beautiful flower, so it is with our bodies:
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. . . . For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:42–44, 53)
Think of it: we will have an imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal body.
Not only so, but the life that ends in death is also contrasted by Paul with the death that ends in life. Here we experience affliction; there glory. Here all is transient; there all is eternal. Here what seems heavy will there seem “light” and what is there will seem “weighty.” Here this world seems substantial and the “unseen” insubstantial, but there the truth will be the very reverse.
And the point of these contrasts? Simply to stimulate us to see how much more wonderful than the present is the future that awaits the Christian.
Consummation of Purposes Already Begun
Yet, there is also a continuity between the “now” and the “not yet.” For the future has already begun in our history in the resurrection of Christ. He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). His resurrection guarantees ours, just as the firstfruits guarantee the final harvest.
How so? Because of our union with Christ—as Augustine noted—our Lord considers Himself incomplete without us. So, when He rose from the dead, we rose in Him; when we were united to the risen Savior through faith, we were joined to the resurrected One in such a way that we cannot but rise again one day. Indeed, so indestructible is this union that on the day “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
In one sense, we have already been made “alive together with Christ . . . and raised . . . up with him” (Eph. 2:5–6). The life of the future has already put down roots in us. Although we are still residents of a dying world, we have already died (to sin) and been raised to newness of life (Rom. 6:1–4). We are no longer under the dominion of sin or its guilt or the power of Satan. The freedom of grace is already ours, although we do not yet enjoy the full “freedom of the glory” (8:21). But we are assured that God will put the finishing touches on the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). The world to come will seem amazingly new to us, yet something about it will seem vaguely familiar.
Aftermath of Final Judgment
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Not all things are sorted out in this life; the wicked often prosper; the righteous often suffer even martyrdom. It is not only true (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet comments) that “the time is out of joint”—the entire world is out of joint.
Final justice does not prevail in this world. But on the day that ushers in the state of glory, all wrongs will be put right. All people will be assessed: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Paul’s “all” here means “all.” As the young Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote (when soon to experience the reality himself): “As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or in hell.”
On that day, God’s perfect justice will be seen as all are judged “according to his works,” and even secrets will be judged “by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:6, 16). The judgment standard will be found in His life lived out in our human nature.
There will be no excuse. Without Christ and the wedding garment He gives to clothe us in His righteousness, we will be excommunicated to the outer darkness about which our Lord gave repeated warnings throughout His ministry (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Having loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19), having rebelled against God and insisted “my will be done on earth as in heaven,” unbelievers will hear the most terrible words in the universe—“Thy will be done”—and the darkness “outside” will be their destiny.
But what of the believer? How can our being judged “according to works” possibly result in the state of glory? Because the Lord always judges the justified according to their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). The one who has been faithful in little will be given not simply “more” but “much.” The servant who from one mina made five minas (just over a year’s wages) for his master became mayor of five cities. The master’s judgment was proportionate to his faithfulness (five for five), but the disproportionate reward came from his master’s abundant grace (Luke 19:18–19).
So it shall be in the state of glory. What is now hidden will be revealed. There will surely be surprises.
In this world, sometimes we meet old friends we have not seen for decades and have to mentally smooth away the wrinkles or put hair back on their heads in order to recognize them. But in that world, our first words to each other may well be, “So this is who you really were!” (see 1 John 3:1–2). The hidden truth of what God made us will at last become visible to all. This judgment of our works will also be according to the grace of Christ in whom we have been justified and sanctified.
Regeneration of All Things
At present, we do not see everything put under the feet of Jesus (Heb. 2:5–9). But when He returns, He will subdue all that is evil and consummate what He inaugurated in His resurrection. This is His work as the second man and last Adam, the True Gardener (Gen. 1:28).
The whole earth was not yet garden; Adam and Eve and their posterity were to make it so. Perhaps Mary was not so wrong in “supposing him to be the gardener” (John 20:15).
Thus, Christ will bring about the renewal of this fallen world in what He called the palingenesis of all things (Matt. 19:28—the only occurrence of “regeneration” in the Gospels). No wonder the city of the new Jerusalem is set within the garden of the new Eden (Rev. 22:1–5) and the gates that open into it are never shut by day—and there is no night there.
All this will come about as the result of an apocalyptic cleansing (1 Peter 3:10). For that day, when the true identity of the sons of God will be fully revealed, the whole creation is groaning like a woman in labor. Indeed (as J.B. Phillips brilliantly captures a nuance of Paul’s Greek), “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own” (Rom. 8:19). What a day that will be.
Christ at the Center
In the state of glory, we shall see our Savior. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). A face-to-face meeting with the Lord Jesus! Seeing Him as He is! Being made like Him (1 John. 3:2)! Transformed into the final degree of glory (2 Cor. 3:18)!
But precisely because we will be free from sin, we shall not be consumed with interest in our own perfected sanctification. Nor will our first reaction be to admire each other. No. We will have eyes only for One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb slain but now risen and standing in His rightful place at the center of the throne of God (Rev. 5:1–14).
I recall as a young teenager dreaming one night that I had died and was being met “on the other side” by friends coming toward me, arms outstretched in welcome. I saw myself pushing them aside and heard these words from my lips: “Let me get to Jesus! Let me see Jesus!” This is our destiny. For truly,
The bride eyes not her garment,
but her dear bridegroom’s face;
I shall not gaze at glory,
but on my King of grace;
Not at the crown he gifteth,
but on his pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
of Emmanuel’s land.
God Will Be All in All
In a remarkable passage, Paul takes us through God’s “order” of the “days” (1 Cor. 15:23) of the inauguration of this state of grace (vv. 20–28):
• The day of Christ’s resurrection, when it all began (vv. 22–23a).
• The day of our resurrection, when its consummation is inaugurated (v. 23b).
• The day of destruction, when all Christ’s enemies and ours will be vanquished (vv. 24–25).
• The day of victory, when even the last enemy, death, will be destroyed (vv. 26–27).
• The day of consummation, when God will be all in all (vv. 24, 28).
On that day of consummation, the second man will bring a restored creation and a redeemed and resurrected people into the presence of His Father. There, as the last Adam, He will present to Him that world, perfected as a result of His obedience unto death and His resurrection to new life. The work that the Father planned and the Son fulfilled in our place by the Spirit will be complete.
Then the second man, the last Adam, will lead us in worship—“the Son himself [i.e., as the last Adam] will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
Paul is thinking here not of a subordination within the eternal Trinity but of the rightful submission made for us and with us by His Son as Mediator, as our representative, in our human flesh and blood. Then, perhaps, His words from the cross of Calvary, “It is finished!” will be heard again.
What descendant of the first couple who experienced the state of nature, who has tasted the bitterness of the state of sin, and has now been brought into the state of grace, does not long for the day when the state of glory will be ushered in? For then our Savior’s prayer for us will be fully answered: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Robert M’Cheyne was right. It will be only
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).