Monthly Archives: June 2018

Different Degrees of Glory

Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of the Lord.      Matthew 25:21

Sometimes people ask how it will be possible to be perfect in heaven and still keep growing in knowledge and in likeness to our Lord.  Well, Jesus was perfect from the moment that He was born, and yet the Bible says that He grew not only in stature but in wisdom.

Similarly, when we reach heaven we will be perfect.  But every “day” in heaven we will also keep on growing and learning, and heaven will never become dull because that growth will have no limits.

This means too that there will not be monotonous uniformity in the hereafter.  Just as there are differences among us here on earth, so there will be differences among the citizens of heaven.

It is a strange fact that, while most people are eager to outdo the other person here upon earth and are rarely satisfied with present accomplishments and attainments, many Christians are quite content with the thought that they’ll get into glory, by grace, and are quite unconcerned as to what their station there will be.

Perhaps they are unconsciously thinking of the parable of the laborers who received the same wage at the end of the day despite the fact that some worked many more hours than others.  But this parable only intends to teach us that whether we are young or old upon conversion or young or old when we die we shall all be perfect and completely happy in heaven.  But the parable of the pounds is designed to tell us that our stations in glory will vary tremendously, and they are being determined right now by our degree of faithfulness here upon earth.  Why should anybody be satisfied with barely getting in?

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Heaven

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.       Revelation 21:1

What is it that will make heaven such a marvelous state to be in?  Sometimes we think it is the lovely surroundings — the sights and sounds, the company of our loved ones, and the absence of sickness and even fatigue.  Others say that it is the privilege of being forever in the presence of God.  But as far as we are concerned the “best” part is that we shall be perfect.  If we were to be thrust into the joys of heaven right now we would be no more capable of enjoying its pleasures than a child at a symphony or a dog in an art gallery.  And the reason why we shall be perfect is that finally, for the first, we shall enjoy full communion with the Lord whose presence completely transforms.  In the beautiful third chapter of First John the beloved disciple says that we shall be like God for we shall see Him as He is.  Just as the moon in its full phase is big, bright, and beautiful because it is looking full into the face of the sun, we shall be like God by reflecting His perfection.

This makes all other conceptions of heaven pale into insignificant “pie in the sky.”  Just think: we will be as superior to our present selves as a butterfly is to a worm, almost as superior as human beings are to dogs.  Imagine what it will be like to have never an evil thought, a temper tantrum, a jealous mood, a dark depression, or even a wisp of temptation.  We shall scarcely know ourselves for the pure wonder of it.  “Can this be I?” will be our waking exclamation when we open our eyes in glory.  Mental telepathy and whatever other wonders God may have in store for us in perfection will be possible only because then we are what we are.

The End of the World

“…The heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”                  II Peter 3:10

The title of this meditation might more accurately be, The end of the world as we know it, for the Lord will not destroy His once-perfect creation but rather renew or refashion it, just as in the days of Noah He wiped it clean of tis viciousness and gave it a new beginning.  John says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”

It is quite evident from many passages in Scripture that the medium by which God will refurbish or renew the world will be fire.  What this fire will be like we cannot definitely say.  But it is strange that the inspired language which was used by Peter, the unlettered fisherman, two thousand years ago, has an amazingly modern ring to it in this atomic age.  Imagine talking about “elements” in an era that did not know about molecules and atoms!  True, Peter was not consciously referring to the 100 plus elements that we now list on the atomic table, but, as more than one nuclear scientist has pointed out, Peter’s description of the world-dissolution sounds like a newspaper account of the atomic-bomb explosions.  “The elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and then works that are therein shall be burned up.”

This is not to say that the earth will come to an end by some chain reaction as was feared in measure at the time of the early atomic experiments, though it would be poetic justice if God were to let man be the means of his own destruction.  It is enough to know that, terrible as are thermonuclear bombs, more terrible is the certain destruction of all that is unfit for the kingdom of God.

In The Last Days

In the last days…men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, inhuman, slanderers, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding a form of religion but denying the power thereof.     II Timothy 3:1-5

In the letter that Paul wrote his friend Timothy he predicts our days with such exactness that one would think he were reading the newspaper headlines or the titles of this month’s magazine articles.  Every phrase fits our times to a “T”.

There are three features of our times particularly that make one think of this as “the end time.”  Our pursuit of pleasure makes the ancient Romans look like dull drudges by comparison.  Our eating habits make the Epicureans seem like ascetics.  We have spectator sports for every season of the year.  We spend far more on golfing, bowling, boating and travel than for charity.  Our liquor bill wildly exceeds our contributions for missions.

“Ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth” is an apt description of an age in which science is making enormous strides and college is a commonplace, but the knowledge of God is on the decrease and great universities that were founded to teach Christianity now boast atheists on their faculties.

Worse, we live in days of popularity of religion.  Church news is on the front page.  Church membership is at an all-time high.  But church attendance lags far behind, and gospel preaching is an increasing rarity in the mushrooming church buildings burgeoning all over the suburbs.  “A form of godliness without the power.”  Elaborate and highly efficient church organizations without piety.  Ecclesiastical machinery without any spiritual steam.

Eternal Rest

So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God.       Hebrews 4:9

The purpose of Jesus’ first advent may correctly be described as in order to bring rest into the world.  “Our souls are restless,” cried St. Augustine, “until they find their rest in Thee.”  Jesus great invitation to the masses was couched in the words, “Come unto me,…. and I will give you rest.”

In a far fuller sense it may be said that Jesus’ second coming will be in order to initiate perfect and complete rest, of which the Sabbath day at the end of the creation week was just a faint picture.  In both the Old and New Testaments heaven is spoken of as our eternal rest.  The book of Revelation declares that already now those who are at home with the Lord are blessed because “they rest from their labors.”

This does not mean that heaven is a place of idleness.  To the contrary, the saints in glory are described as serving God day and night, indicating the absence of all fatigue and monotony.  But in that delightful busyness they find self-satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment – in a word, rest.  Heaven is the discovery to the full that Christ’s service is easy and His burden is light.

The godless, by contrast, will enter upon a state that can be scribed as eternal restlessness.  “They rest not day nor night” is the doleful description of hell.  Even the little so-called rest that the unbeliever experiences here upon earth (for they are by nature a restless people) will be taken away when the great separation takes place.

Today is supposed to be a day of rest, a sample of heaven according to a well known gospel hymn.  Is it a day of rest for you and your family or a day of rust?

The Escorts of Christ’s Coming

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.       I Thessalonians 4:14

Long ago, when Roman conquerors returned from a victorious campaign, they would parade down the avenues under triumphal arches with a long retinue of prisoners of war.  When a man like Eisenhower had a “ticker tape” reception on Broadway, he was usually accompanied by a crack troop of soldiers who fought under him and made the successes possible.

Both of these ideas are present in Scripture’s description of Christ’s exciting return to receive His crown and His kingdom.  One the one hand, those who accompany Christ are His prisoners, His willing slaves (I Corinthians 7:22), whom Christ captured at a terrible price from the army of His great enemy, the devil.  Like the Israelites of old, they have been freed from the bondage of Beelzebub to become prisoners of love.

On the other hand they are more than mere prisoners who trudge behind their captor in chain-gang lockstep.  Like the unfortunate East Berliners and the victims of Communism behind the Iron Curtain elsewhere, they are thrilled to become energetic participants in the army of their liberators the moment that they are freed.

Like the heroes of any successful campaign, these willing warriors in Christ’s army will have a share in His rewards.  Like a Roman general of old He divides lavish gifts among His loyal soldiers.  (Ephesians 4:8)  What a sight it will be to see an endless parade of happy warriors following Christ to earth with shouts and songs.  What a thrill as we single out this loved one and that, as we did in recognizing soldier-boys in Armistice Day parades.  What excitement as the glad Prince beckons His followers around to receive their laurels and trophies.

The Intermediate State

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment…..       Luke 16:22, 23

A parable is a story that usually intends to explain just one important spiritual truth.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan we must not look for meaning in the money, the inn, the oil and wind, nor the benefactor’s return.

Similarly, we may not conclude from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that all the well-to-do will go to hell and those who had it bad upon earth will have it good hereafter.  Alas, there are many unfortunate souls who suffer much in this world and will endure great suffering hereafter for having refused the help of the Great Physician.  Some rich people have also been rich in the things of God.

What this parable does tell us is that immediately upon his departure from earth every person goes to his eternal “reward.”  The frightening fact is that our eyes are not even closed to earth before they open upon the scenes of eternity.  Some have presumably seen such sights even before they breathed their last.

Quite unmistakably Jesus intends to tell us that the intermediate state is one in which we are conscious.  While it hard for us to conceive of this being possible without a physical brain, we are thinking in earthly categories.  God has no brain, nor do the angels, and yet they think.  They can see without eyes and hear without ears.

Although we cannot contact the departed and the Bible sternly forbids the nonsense of even trying, it is conceivable that they are aware of our goings-on in this world.  If they are, what do your loved ones over yonder think of you?  Would they be pleading something like the rich man in the parable pled for his brothers?