Here’s where the story ends
Everyone reads a book differently. Some people like to read the final page and know where the story is heading, others like to be kept in suspense until the very end. I happen to be married to the former, my wife cannot watch a movie without knowing exactly how the story ends. I, on the other hand, like the only man in the town who hasn’t heard the final score on cup final day, am desperate to keep the end a mystery!
There’s something of that in the biblical story of redemption. We’ve read ahead, and we know exactly how the story finishes: the lamb that was slain will be the lamb that reigns! He has defeated death, yet we await the turning of the final page; we know Christ’s victory in part, but there is much to happen before the story is finally complete.
The Bible looks to a final chapter in the story of redemption called glorification. It is the moment when Christ returns, the dead are raised, and all the redeemed are instantaneously transformed into the glorious likeness of Christ. Paul describes the scene, ‘the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’ (1 Corinthians 15:52).
If you’re a Christian, your death won’t be the end of your story. You will pass into the presence of God, and you will know complete peace and joy, but that still will not be the end. The story only truly ends when Christ’s Easter resurrection victory is fully experienced by all of creation, both spiritually and materially. Christ died to pay the penalty for sin, he was raised that we might live as justified children of God. However, his redemptive work not only frees us from sin’s penalty but from all of its effects and consequences, including death. When Christ returns and the dead are raised, death itself will be undone, creation will be freed from its destructive grip. We may be born again and alive in the Spirit today, but it is only then that ‘the mortal will put on immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:54).
God’s image restored
When God made man, his whole being was made to reflect the likeness of his creator accurately. Sin and its consequence, death, marred that image which should have been visible in every area of his life. Yet God’s plan was to see it fully restored. You will not spend eternity as a disembodied spirit, wandering the streets of glory, because God means to fully redeem his image in man; glorification is physical as well as spiritual. This leads to questions about what you’ll look like, how old you’ll be and so on, most of which Scripture gives us no clear answer to. In fact, much is mysterious about our physical resurrection.
Nonetheless, glorification speaks of a completeness to the redemptive work. So perfect and sufficient is Christ’s victory over death that you will be fully redeemed in every way. Glorification will be a glorious event as, inconceivably, decayed bodies will be raised to life, not merely restored to their previous state, rather, infinitely more glorious. ‘As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven’ (1 Corinthians 15:49).
Clothed in glory
Which takes us to the most stunning aspect of glorification. Not only will you put on immortality, have the image of God restored in you, know complete freedom from sin, death and all of its accompaniments, but you will know the glory of God in unimaginable ways. Paul tells the Corinthians that they will receive ‘an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). He’s not talking about glory as we know it, this isn’t a football stadium singing the glories of its star player; the weight of glory that glorification will bring to us is the glory of God himself. We will partake in the very nature of God as he shares his glory with his children (2 Peter 1:4).
But the very heart of our experience of the glory of God will be known as we gaze on Christ. Jesus, having prayed concerning the mutual sharing of glory between Father, Son and Church, continues ‘I desire that they… may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me’ (John 17:24). This is the true object of our hope, having been freed from the shackles of sin and death, we will see God face to face, all our desires and longings fulfilled in Christ.
John Owen writes that as we behold Christ, we shall see a glory ‘a thousand times above what here we can conceive… all the glories of the person of Christ which we have before weakly and faintly enquired into, will be in our sight forever more’. There is not a white dress, a harp or a cloud in sight, merely the incomparable, glory-heavy, heart-satisfying sight of the King on his throne.
It is tempting to think of our future glorification as some abstract, uncertain event. Not a bit. At the heart of this doctrine is union with Christ. The Roman church was told, ‘those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30), the future glorification of the saints is bound, indissolubly to their past justification. It is every bit as certain as the righteousness in which they now stand. Why? Because they stand in Christ. They share in his identity, his merits, his glory, his life. Indeed, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul is arguing that what Christ is now, we shall surely also be because we are in him.
Free at last
So what difference does it all make? It changes everything. That day is the hope for all who are sick, dying, weak, weeping, broken, depressed, anxious and tempted. It is the day that every tear will be wiped away and pain will be no more, the day when all doubt will be gone, and we finally see the glorious face of Christ.
This hope of glorification is what releases us from pursuing the fleeting security, glory and comfort of this world. We’re told of New Testament Christians who joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. Why? What would lead someone to find joy in loss? Simply that they “had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34); their final identity, hope and home was not in this world, it was in Christ.