Our Glorious Salvation, 5

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Our Ultimate Salvation

Salvation has three aspects: past, present, and future. Another way to put it: we were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We were saved by the finished work of Jesus on His Cross. We are being saved by the ministry of Jesus now, in heaven. But there is a future aspect to our salvation: we will be saved. What does that entail? We will be saved. From what? From whom? Let’s find out.

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. (Philippians 3:20-21 | NIV84)

In these two verses, Paul teaches us something very profound that others take volumes to say. It’s the “now but not yet” idea. It may not feel like it, but if you are a Christian you are already living in heaven in the sense that your citizenship is there. A look verse 20 in the KJV shows us something interesting:

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ… (Philippians 3:20 | KJV)

“Conversation” is how the KJV translates the Greek word politeuma, which actually means “citizenship” or “commonwealth.” If you closely at the Greek word, you see part of the word “politics.” Why did the KJV use a work like “conversation,” then? In Elizabethan English, the word “conversation” meant a lot more than talking or speech. It had to do with how one lived in society; how they conducted themselves as citizens in an organized society. As citizens of Heaven, we are just living here on earth temporarily, but subject to the laws governing Heaven. Our conduct should be the kind of conduct befitting citizens of Heaven, even though we aren’t actually there yet. It’s the “now but not yet” idea.

This idea gives us a clue about the future aspect of our salvation. We are citizens of Heaven, therefore we are already participating in and enjoying many of the benefits of the heavenly life, and yet we aren’t enjoying that heavenly life in actuality yet. Our salvation will be complete when that happens. Verse 21 tells us what Jesus will do to make that happen: He will transform our bodies, making them suitable for living in Heaven. When Jesus descended to live in our world, He had to have a body like ours; His heavenly body was not at all suited to our world. When He returned to Heaven, His body transformed back, more or less, to the way it was. Similarly, our earthly bodies are made for living here; they must be changed, as Jesus’ was, to bodies fit for heaven. Our future salvation, then, involves our bodies. When Christ saved us, He saved all of us!

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 | NIV84)

You hear these verses all the time at funerals, but they should be read more often because they are full of theology to encourage the weary believer. Paul makes it clear why a “transformation” of our bodies must take place. Our mortal bodies – our present humanity – can’t go into Heaven any more than we can go into space without a space suit. Our bodies as they are constituted now are made to wear out and break down, which explains why they can’t go into Heaven, a place where life never ends. They must, therefore, be changed into something that will never wear out or break down. This is why the unsaved can’t set foot in Heaven at all and why the saved must have their bodies changed.

The “mystery” Paul refers to is the believer’s resurrection body. That whole idea was a mystery to the Corinthians, it may not be mystery to you, though. Looking at the “mystery” in detail, we can see three parts to it:

(1) Not all Christians will be dead when Jesus returns. Some will be alive when that event happens.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 | NIV84)

(2) All Christians will receive new bodies when Christ comes back and calls His people to Himself. This will happen at the Rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

(3) The change will happen in an instant to Christians who are alive and those who have already passed.

This will be a victorious event in the life of believers. We don’t think about it often, but death is an ever-present reality that robs us of part of the life God has given us: our physical lives. What kind of salvation saves only our souls and spirits (minds)? God made us whole beings and He saves us wholly. Defeating death means eliminating what death does to us. Jesus will literally stop the reign of death as it relates to Christians and reverse what it has done to them.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Peter’s first letter was written to a number of churches facing horrible persecution.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 | NIV84)

These were second generation Christians; people who, unlike the apostles and original disciples, had never seen Jesus. In spite of that, they were wholly dedicated to their Lord. In the midst of these trials, it is significant that Peter encourages them with words like these:

…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. (1 Peter 1:2 | NIV84)

The very fact that they had been “chosen” implies purpose. And purpose presupposes a plan. Couple that with God’s “foreknowledge,” and these suffering saints had to know what Peter knew: God had a plan for them in spite of their present difficulties. That plan has an air of permanence about it:

…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4-5 | NIV84)

They may be suffering right now. They may have lost possessions and even loved ones, but what God has waiting for them will never be taken from them. Not governments, thieves, nor death will be able to take away the believer’s ultimate inheritance.

Above all else, these believers – and all believers, for that matter – need to keep the faith. Trials, like the ones Peter’s friends were undergoing, come along from time to time to test our faith. These “tests” are not for the purpose of “passing or failing” believers. These tests serve to keep our faith on the promise and the One who made it. Max Lucado expresses it this way:

Jesus gives us hope because He keeps us company, has a vision, and knows the way we should go.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Unlike Peter’s letter, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was written very early in the Church’s history, during the first missionary journey in fact. It was written to correct some false teaching and ideas that had come into that church after Paul, Silas, and Timothy had left. It seems these Thessalonian Christians had some doubts about believers who had died. Convinced as they were about the soon-coming of Jesus, they wondered what would happen to those deceased Christians? Some believed that those unfortunates would miss out on the glories and blessings of the Second Coming. To help them understand what happens to the dead in Christ (Christians who had died, in other words), Paul goes on to tell them about a revelation he received from Christ.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 | NIV84)

There will be a distinct order of events. In terms of the believer’s ultimate salvation – that of his body – the dead in Christ will be called up first, followed almost immediately by those who are still alive at the “event.” This event is the rapture, and during this event all believers, those who have died and those who are alive, will receive their new, heaven-suited bodies.

This event, and in particular the teaching that all believers will receive new bodies, is the final and ultimate proof that, as William Barclay wrote, God cares.

Revelation 19:1-3

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah!Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” (Revelation 19:1-2 | NIV84)

This great moment of worship in Heaven takes place during the Tribulation, a period of God’s judgments on earth. At this time, God will pour out His wrath on all ungodly rebellion, and this will be the cause of great rejoicing in Heaven. It’s not pain and suffering or even vengeance, but rather perfect justice; God’s straightening out a crooked world, that motivates the saints to celebrate.

This, too, is part of salvation. Just as God created our bodies and will deliver them from the effects of sin, so it will be with the world. God created the world and when Jesus returns, He will begin the work of restoring it; of reversing what sin has done to it.

Revelation 19:4-9

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9 | NIV84)

The motivation for this great interlude of worship and celebration in Heaven is God’s actions on earth, but soon the worship moves from what is being done to the One responsible; the One sitting on the throne and to another event in Heaven: the union (“marriage”) of the Lamb (Christ) and His bride (all the saints of God).

This is the believer’s ultimate salvation; the culmination of his salvation. As close as we may get to Christ now, when our salvation is made complete we will be united to Him in a spiritual union impossible to conceive of with our finite, flesh-bound minds. The Bible writers use the term “marriage,” which describes the closest possible union two human beings may enter into, to describe how close our final union to Christ will be.  All believers should look forward to this great day, when our faith becomes reality.

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