Man in His Four-Fold State: Man as Glory Perfects Him Revelation 21:5b
This is an article on the subject of man’s four-fold state, a subject which Thomas Boston enlarges upon in his book of the same name. Only Adam and Eve have ever experienced the first of these states, the perfection of Eden. We call that: “man as God made him”. Tragically, all of us without exception are born into the second of these states, “man has sin marred him”. Genesis three describes the terrible ramifications of this state for all of us. However, the good news is that through Christ we can belong to a third state, “man as grace renews him” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But that’s only the beginning because there is a fourth state to come for the people of God, “man as glory perfects him”. This does not mean that the last of these two states are totally discontinuous – not at all. As someone has said “grace is glory in the bud and glory is grace in full flower”, so there is a close connection between the two. Theologians call this connection “realized eschatology” and the scriptural language of “first fruits” (Romans 8:23) and “earnest of the Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13, 14) hint at the way the two states relate to one another. But there is still a long way to go, isn’t there? What we presently experience is only the first installment of something far greater and Revelation 21:5b tells us what the future holds for all of God’s people “Behold I make all things new”. Here is a description of “man as glory perfects him”.
The occasion is the end of time after Christ returns and from His exalted position on the throne in heaven He will speak a creative word and make all things new. Many today agree with the sentiment of Mary Magdalene as expressed in Jesus Christ Superstar: “he’s a man he’s just a man”. However, at the end of time no-one will ever believe that again. That’s because the Alpha who created this world is also the Omega who will re-create it and on that great day Christ will both declare and bring about the consummation of all things. Make no mistake about it “these words are faithful and true” (Revelation 22:6). The integrity of the speaker and His sovereign control over all things will guarantee their fulfilment.
What are the “all things new” spoken about in our text? Here are three of them.
They include perfection of soul and body for all of God’s people
This will be the immediate portion of the saints still residing on earth at the time of Christ’s return. The portion of those who have already passed on is described in Hebrews 12:22-24. Having already died “in the Lord” they are among “the spirits of just men made perfect”. These saints do have some intimation of what lies ahead because there are already a few in heaven who possess glorified bodies. Our Lord of course is “the first fruits of them that sleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Enoch has also been glorified. He “walked with God and he was not for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). Elijah too was taken “to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1). Moses probably falls into this category as well. The Lord buried him (Deuteronomy 34:45, 6), but the book of Jude speaks about a dispute between Michael the archangel and the devil over his body. The presumption is that it was rescued with a view to his appearance on the mount of Transfiguration. But all the other saints who are presently in heaven are disembodied spirits. The Shorter Catechism summarizes their position: “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory: and their bodies, being still united to Christ do remain the graces till the resurrection”. However, those who remain on earth at the time of the Lord’s return will get everything at once. It sounds almost too good to be true and it includes at least two blessings.
Perfection of soul
Throughout our lives we struggle with indwelling sin. Romans seven is our perennial experience: “the good that I would I do not and the evil that I would not that I do”. This struggle is one of the most painful aspects of our Christian experience. Residual sin bothers us greatly and sometimes we are shocked at the sort of things we are capable of thinking about. Our hearts are a veritable cesspool of iniquity and the depths we can sink to are known only to God alone. It’s a frightening thought, yet true nonetheless, that indwelling sin within a believer is qualitatively no different from that which masters the unbeliever. We are capable of committing any sin an unbeliever perpetrates, apart from dying in a state of unbelief. And growth in grace doesn’t diminish this sense of sinfulness, rather it increases it “they who fain would serve thee best. Are conscious most of wrong within”. But there is a day coming, either when we die, or at Christ’s return, when our souls will be totally free from sin. In a flash there will be a radical transformation and we will never be wretched men and women again. All that will be history and it won’t even be possible for us to be tempted – ever. For those who have never known anything other than an existence characterized by sin the thought of this is almost incomprehensible, but what a relief and a joy that will be after a lifetime struggling to be like Christ! In the context of these words (Revelation 21:4) John mentions five situations which either cause grief to our souls or are visible manifestations of grief in our souls. In heaven we will be done with these forever.
The first is tears. Many situations in life cause our tear ducts to open and rivers of water to flow down our face. One day God Himself will amazingly bring that to an end. Just as you comfort a child by taking out a handkerchief and wiping away its tears, God will do the same to us. The second is death. This is the great divider that knows no respecter of person, but in heaven this enemy will never trouble us again. Whatever we do in the new heavens and earth this much is true: we will have no need of solicitors to draw up wills, funeral directors to arrange funerals, preachers to take services and journalists to write obituary columns. The third is sorrow. Old age in particular can be a time of sorrow (Psalm 90:10) and the death of loved ones also results in sorrow, although if they are believers the sorrow is tinged with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). In heaven there will be no sorrow. The fourth is crying. We cry when we’re upset, can’t cope, get hurt, experience confusion and whenever there is disharmony and tension. In heaven the visible manifestation of those inner hurts will disappear for ever because the cause of those hurts will have also passed away. The fifth is pain. All physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain will be history in heaven because “the former things are passed away”.
Perfection of body
Christ has come to destroy all the works of the devil (1 John 3:18) and since the devil has wrought havoc in our bodies Christ will resolve that problem too. Human beings are body\soul entities and their salvation would be something less than complete if their bodies did not share in the redemption that is in Christ. 1 John 3:2 and Philippians 3:20, 21 describe this bodily hope. It’s undeniable that weakness, pain, and tiredness presently beset us in varying degrees. As time passes the outer man requires more and more attention – hospital appointments increase, medication as well. Furthermore, helps such as glasses, walking sticks, hearing aids etc all become more or less necessary, a clear indication that we’re fighting a losing battle. However, by faith we can say with Job though “worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). Incredibly one day we will have a body perfectly equipped to serve God in the new heavens and the new earth throughout all eternity. Think of what that will mean for those who have been handicapped in this life. The paraplegic Joni Eareckson Tada was once asked what she would like to do when she got to heaven. She answered “dance with my Saviour”. Some may consider that answer flippant, but if you were presently in her position you may think differently!
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul describes the various features of this new bodily existence. He tells us that we will receive an incorruptible body (15:42). Down here we possess the seeds of disease and death, in the final state there will be no more death and we will enjoy an incorruptible existence. We will also receive a glorious body (15:43). Presently we try to honour the dead as best as we can, but there is nothing more dishonourable than being buried. However, when Christ returns we will have a body of glory (Daniel 12:2, Mark 9:3). The thought of this should promote love to one another because we are creatures of amazing potential. We will enjoy a powerful body too (15:43). Down here we are always conscious of our bodily limitations, and as time passes we become even more conscious of them. In glory the weaknesses which hinder us now will disappear forever and we shall serve Christ endlessly without a hint of weariness. Paul also mentions a spiritual body (15:44). Sometimes Christians understand this to mean that we will possess a “non-material body” but that view is mistaken. Our bodies will be just as physical as our Lord’s which comprises flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Anthony Hoekema summarizes the correct meaning of “spiritual” in this context. “Spiritual means someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit, at least in principle, in distinction from someone who is guided by his natural impulses. In similar fashion, the natural body described in 1 Corinthians 15:44 is one which is part of this present, sin-cursed existence; but the spiritual body of the resurrection is one which will be totally, not just partially, dominated and directed by the Holy Spirit”.
The rest of that great chapter also reminds us that in the resurrection there will be both continuity and discontinuity with the present. Paul explains the link using the analogy of a seed and a flower. Plainly there is continuity between these two things because a seed eventually grows into a flower, although the glory of a flower also far excels that of a seed. In other words one day we will be “the same only different”! We’ll just have to wait and see.
They include the renovation of heaven and earth
If God renewed us personally, while leaving our environment unchanged, that would indeed be mighty strange indeed, but in the new dispensation there will be perfect harmony between the two. One day God will effect a salvation that will be both personal and cosmic. I don’t have much time for the Jehovah Witnesses for obvious reasons, but they are right in one matter – they believe that God’s people will one day live on the earth. They are not right about either the number or the identity of those who will live there, but they are right about this: “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Clearly one day God’s people will live in “a new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13). The link between the two is spelled out in (Revelation 21:1, 2). It seems that in the new dispensation heaven will come down to earth and be absorbed in it, in a way that is presently beyond our understanding.
The word “new” that scripture uses to describe the new dispensation is also interesting. In his excellent book “The promise of the future” Cornelius Venema entitles one chapter “all new things”? or “All things made new”? He’s really asking the question “will God entirely obliterate the present heavens and earth and begin all over again, or will He renew what is presently here? Scripture teaches the latter. It’s the difference between two Greek words, “neos”, which means brand new, and “kainos”, which means new in quality. The latter word is used to describe the new dispensation, the same word incidentally which is used to describe the present new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). When God saves someone He doesn’t obliterate them and start all over again. Rather He takes that which is presently marred by sin and renews it entirely. That’s what He will do again at the end of time with the new heavens and the new earth. So the new creation will not be something brand new totally unrelated to the present one, rather, it will be one totally renewed with some continuity with the present. Anthony Hoekema puts it well,
The world into which we shall enter in the Parousia of Jesus Christ is therefore not another world; it is this world, this heaven, this earth, these cities, these streets, these people, that will be the scene of redemption. At present they are battlefields, full of the strife and sorrow of the not yet accomplished consummation; then they will be fields of victory, fields of harvest, where out of the seed that was sown with tears the everlasting sheaves will be reaped and brought home.
Romans 8:19-22 is another helpful passage in this respect because it enables us to contrast the present with the future. In verse 22 Paul describes the present frustration which characterizes this earth. He describes it as “groaning and travailing in birth”. He is personifying creation by applying human characteristics to the world about us and what he is really saying is this: he is saying that if creation could speak this is how it would express itself. It would use the language of childbirth. Obviously all is not well at present with creation. There are thorns and thistles everywhere. Earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural disasters are not uncommon. Furthermore, nature is “red in tooth and claw”. Creation is not evolving upwards towards perfection as evolutionists would have us believe, rather it is running down. The 2nd law of Thermodynamics states that the “entropy of the universe is increasing”. That’s what Paul is saying here. John Murray put it beautifully: “the entire creation, as it were, sets up a grand symphony of sighs”.
However, all is not lost, because the language of childbirth implies that there is hope. What happens after the groaning and travailing of childbirth? A child is born. So just as a mother looks forward to the joy of delivering her child after the pain, creation, so to speak, looks forward to an end of futility and the emergence of a new heavens and a new earth in which dwells righteousness. John Calvin expresses it like this: “because they have a hope of being freed hereafter from corruption, it follows that they groan like a woman in labour until they have been delivered. This is a most appropriate comparison to inform us that the groaning of which he speaks will not be in vain or without effect. It will finally bring forth a joyful and happy fruit”.
In verse 21 Paul goes on to speak about the future emancipation. He tells us that there is a day coming when the earth itself will be delivered from its present bondage. Presently it is like a piece of meat tending towards decay but it won’t always be that way. Creation itself will undergo a similar transformation to that of God’s children, so Christians do not look forward to a vague nebulous state whereby they will sit on clouds and play harps all day. Perish the thought. They shall live again on this earth. This is what our Lord called the “regeneration” (Matthew 19:28). Luke called it the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) and Paul described it as “the reconciling of all things” (Colossians 1:20). Robert Candlish summarizes it well:
What a scene here bursts and breaks on the enraptured view of faith! What a crisis! Christ, the man Christ Jesus, standing again on this earth, in the body; all his redeemed with him in the body; not a breath, not a whisper, of opposition or rebellion anywhere to be heard, throughout all its continents and kingdoms; not a tomb anywhere; not a dying groan; not a trace of sin’s, or of sorrow’s ravages; not the faintest vestige of the footsteps of the Archfiend who first brought sin and sorrow to its shores! Yes! The Lord’s work is done! The end for which he got the kingdom is fully and forever attained. Well may he then utter once more the exclamation of deep satisfaction – It is finished and so deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father.
They include the ingathering of all of God’s people throughout the ages
One of the blessings of this life is fellowship (Malachi 3:16). Admittedly this fellowship is neither unbroken nor perfect. Sin can fracture it, disputes over our understanding of scripture can fracture it, our feelings about the way things should be done can fracture it, our temperaments and emotional outlooks can also fracture it. In fact sometimes fellowship can be greatly marred “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed”. However, in heaven all those sinful tendencies will disappear forever and we will enjoy perfect fellowship with perfect people, forever. And, what’s more, we will have all the time in the world to catch up with everyone who is there. Nowadays time is limited, but in heaven we will have all eternity to meet our fellow believers. Imagine meeting Abraham, Moses, Elijah. Calvin, the Wesley’s, a whole host of others, and above all our Saviour. Scripture teaches that in heaven we will enjoy perfect communion with all the redeemed for ever and it would make no sense at all for the fellowship we enjoy in this world to disappear at death. Thomas Boston put it this way: “The society of the saints among themselves will be no small part of heaven’s happiness”. The imagery of a city hints at the communion saints will enjoy in heaven (Revelation 21:2). Surely the use of this sort of language implies that there is a social dimension to heaven. In other words heaven is a place which in certain respects resembles a city. Of course not all characteristics of city life are positive. For instance in Genesis 4:16 we are told that Cain “went out from the presence of the Lord” and built a city which he called Enoch. In that context city life was a symbol of his rebellion against the Lord. It was an attempt to do things his way without reference to God. The building of the tower of Babel makes the same point (Genesis 11). These passages emphasize the negative side of city life where folk want to make a name for themselves and live life their way, so characteristics of city life such as intense competition, concentration upon sinful activities, striving after money, the desire for reputation, the dog eat dog outlook, the utter loneliness of city life, the coldness and non-caring attitude often found there, will ever be found in God’s holy city. However, there are positive sides to city life which surely this imagery hints at – people interacting with one another, bustling activity, close and intimate contact, a great variety of goings on, mutuality of purpose and harmony. These positive features of city life hint at the social side of heaven. So heaven will be a community, like a city, not a world of isolated individuals doing their own thing. Of course it goes without saying that we will recognize one another there. This is one of the most common questions asked about heaven: “shall we know one another there”? Moses and Elijah obviously knew one another on the Mount (Mark 4), the disciples recognized our Lord after the resurrection (John 21:12) and Paul spoke about the Thessalonians as those who would be his “hope, joy and crown of rejoicing” at “Christ’s return” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). I think he expected to see them again! Someone once asked the question “shall we know one another in heaven”? The answer given was: “shall we be greater fools in paradise than here”?
Nowadays most folk long for something better than the present. They long for freedom from pain, younger looks, a greener environment, more meaningful friendships, but ultimately their hopes are dashed because they live in a fallen world. Yet God’s word promises something far more wonderful than any of these things. Heaven is a place where all the redeemed will be perfectly satisfied for ever (Matthew 25:23). But will you be there? That’s the most important question of all. You will be if you have a living relationship with Christ in the here and now. J Burroughs made this important statement about Christian experience.
Before death, there is a kingdom of God within the soul … He need not wait until afterwards, till he goes to heaven; but certainly there is a heaven in the soul of a godly man, he has heaven already ... There is a heaven within the souls of the saints, that is a certain truth: no soul shall ever come to heaven, but the soul which has heaven come to it first ... If you will go to heaven when you die, heaven will come to you before you die. Now this is a great mystery, to have the kingdom of heaven in the soul; no man can know this but that soul which has it. The heaven which is within the soul for the present is like the white stone and the new name, that none but those that have it can understand it.
And where does this begin? It begins with the new birth which becomes ours in the context of prayer and faith in Christ (Ezekiel 36 and John 3). Once that is true of you then heaven will be your future portion. In other words Christ will make all things new at the end of time for those whom He makes new in the here and now. I sincerely hope to meet you there in that blessed place. As Rutherford said “your heaven would be two heavens to me and your salvation as two salvations to me”.