The World to Come

by Spiros Zodhiates

 

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

What do you look forward to most in heaven? Is it rest from the exhausting struggles of earth? Perfect health of body and soul? Reunion with loved ones? The answers to all your questions?

The world to come for the Apostle Paul was a tremendous and sustaining reality. He looked forward eagerly to that eternal state when he would see Christ “face to face,” and when he would know fully, even as he was fully known. He did not look forward to any Mohammedan type of paradise characterized by material delights, for man’s soul is spiritual and can only be satisfied with spiritual blessing.

In 1 Corinthians 15:42 and following, Paul tells us that in heaven our bodies will be incorruptible, as opposed to the corruptible bodily state that, due to sin, we experience today. Our bodies will not be flesh and blood as we know them now. Therefore the scriptural promises of sensible and material pleasures in heaven must be understood in relation to this fact. Many times they are meant in a figurative sense.

We must not misunderstand the Scriptures when they promise crowns, kingdoms, wealth, power, and magnificent mansions. When we read that the saints shall eat and drink in the kingdom of God, or that the heavenly Jerusalem shall be a city abounding in all such things as are most valued in this world—precious stones, pavement of gold, a literal throne on which God sits, and so forth—we ought to accept these things as imperfect reflections of heavenly realities. Though these things may well be literally so, we must be careful not to believe that enjoyment of things of this nature will be the essential reward of the life to come. Though these things may give warmth and color to our mental picture of heaven, they do not constitute the blessedness or completion to which we really look forward.

Though many questions arise in our hearts as we think of heaven, let us be thankful that one of the best ways to reckon what we shall be is to realize that our eternal personal future is a reverse of much of what we are now, so that we may say, “No more tears in heaven, no more sorrow, no more sighing, no more death, no curse there, no night there, no more partings.” Whatever your lack or grief, you will not be troubled by it in heaven.

Paul tells us that two things will be perfected in the world to come—our sight and our knowledge. Paul refers to future spiritual vision here, the “eye” of the soul, which is the  understanding. Whatever the soul knows, it is properly said to see.

One can note that the Apostle does not say that we shall see and know the mysteries of all things. He confines himself to the statement that indicates that it suffices to see God, in whom all mysteries lie, face to face. The Apostle John expresses the same thought when he says, “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

What does the phrase, “like Christ” mean? It refers to both body and spirit. The comparison obviously does not regard His body as it was in the days of His humiliation but as it now is after His ascension, at which glorious event it became completely free from its human limitations—when it became able to move with the ease and velocity of thought, and was eternal and glorified. After our Lord was raised from the dead, He had a body already free from many ordinary human limitations. However, His glorious ascension doubtless made that freedom from human limitations complete.

We get some idea as to how glorious that body is in heaven through the manifestations of magnificent radiance with which Christ was transfigured on different occasions, even while He was yet in His state of humiliation. This occurred on the Mount of Transfiguration, when His countenance became like the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. After His ascension, when He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, there was at midday a light from heaven brighter than the sun shining round about Him. In that same glory He revealed Himself to John at Patmos, and the vision was so overpowering that, though John had previously been so close to Him that he had leaned on His bosom at the Last Supper, he now fell at His feet as dead.

Conformity to such a glorious model is a prospect that should fill our hearts with adoring rapture. Christ “shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:21). Just as He is, so shall we be. We shall be holy as He is holy, pure as He is pure, perfect as He is perfect.

However, we must be careful to note that the Bible does not say we shall be equal to Christ, only like Him. One star may be like another star but not equal to it in glory; on the same principle a creature may be like the Creator, and a Christian like Christ. Christ’s likeness to God is based on equality with God. However, our likeness to God, and even with Christ’s glorious humanity, is not based on equality but only on resemblance.

There is an intimate connection between seeing Christ and being like Him. Even now, while we see Him through a glass, darkly, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord. If such be the effect of an indistinct and occasional glimpse of Him, what must it be to see Him as He is, and to see Him always?

In our present life, we Christians are blessed because God has forgiven us and indwells us. We have all we need in reality to be fully satisfied, because we know Him who knows all the tomorrows. However we don’t always feel fully satisfied. We are still full of questions and are still very ignorant of tomorrow, in spite of our present glorious position in Christ.

In heaven our great blessing will not consist in having all mysteries cleared up and all questions answered, but will be the clear, direct sight of Christ Himself. Perhaps we shall not even feel the necessity of asking questions, because this firsthand knowledge of God will satisfy us completely as to the rightness of all His ways and the greatness of His love. We shall be fully confident of His righteous providences in the government of this world. We shall discern His beneficent purposes even in such things as the suffering of the innocent and the prosperity of the wicked. We shall understand why our prayers were sometimes answered and at other times not, why sickness and poverty were the lot of some, and prosperity and health the lot of others.

It is so easy to project our own desires and prejudices in forming a picture of the future life. But heaven will not follow the lines of our present biased judgment and imperfect knowledge. We must be content with what God allows us to see and know here, and to say with Paul that, whatever happens, love will endure. That sure expectation will never fail us. Whatever the form of our future life may be, we can be certain that its governing principle will be love. All else fails—earth’s wisdom, its most confident prophecies, all its transient forms—but love abides. What finally matters is whether our lives are enlisted on the side of love or not—the love of God in Christ. In the light of that love we shall really know fully at last. We shall understand, and our hearts will be at peace as we acknowledge God’s infinite wisdom, goodness, and love. (Applegate, The Evening Twilight. 95–9; and MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: St. John, 307, 308.)

© From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers