I admitted to a friend recently that I was not exactly ready for heaven yet. My reluctance has to do with the prospect of meeting Jesus face to face. I don't even know what Jesus looked like when He here on earth--no one does. His blazing, penetrating eyes will surely pierce my soul when I do see Him. He knows everything there is to know about me--and more.
My friend commented that some Catholics believe they have Mary as a go-between. Presumably, they can go to Our Lady first? Perhaps she can plead for one's soul and soften that inevitable face to face encounter? Or, perhaps one can find a way go to heaven first, and make an appointment to see Jesus later--through one of His appointment secretaries--He must be very busy anyway, who I am to take up His time?
My apprehension resulted from a recent Bible study in the Epistles of John.
And now little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 2:28-29, 3:1-3)
I found new clarification about this, as I usually do, by consulting Ray Stedman. Ray says,
In this section John has been thinking of Jesus Christ. He has reminded us that there is coming an hour when each Christian will see him face to face. He is thinking of that encounter and the joy of seeing him again without that incomplete understanding we often experience now. It is not that Christians do not have personal contact with Christ now. We definitely do. It is that which keeps our faces alight, our hearts aflame, and our lives filled with joy. But, as Peter describes it, ours is now an experience of not seeing and yet loving. But John speaks of a day when we shall see him face to face. Suddenly he sees how the knowledge of Christ which we now have, incomplete as it may be, is the key to a problem that every Christian faces at one time or another -- the problem of recognizing other Christians. How to know whether a man or woman, a boy or girl, is genuinely born again. How to distinguish between the phony and the true, the mere professor and the real possessor of Christian life, between the one who is genuinely born again and the religious activist. He says the key is, "every one who does right is born of him"
It does not yet appear what we shall be. Life is full of mystery, and even though we have the enlightenment of the Scriptures there is still much we do not understand. John frankly acknowledges this. But notice, he quickly moves on to a note of certainty:
...but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
We do not know everything, but we do know three definite things about the future:
Certainty #1: We know that he will appear. I wonder if there is anyone here who doubts that. This is the most certain fact of all history. You think death and taxes are sure -- they are nothing compared to this. This is an absolutely inescapable fact in God's program for mankind; he will appear. He appeared once, he will appear the second time. Of this there is no doubt. All history is moving to this goal. You who know your Bibles well know that even the apparent confusion that exists today is but creating the conditions predicted in the Scriptures, and are working out the great purposes of God. Remember, as we saw earlier in John's letter, all this as far as your experience is concerned is no further away than your own death, and you do not know how soon that will come. So this event, this change (we shall be like him when he appears) is no further away than your own death -- and may be much closer than that.
Certainty #2: "We know that we shall be like him. I urge you to read that very carefully now, and note the context out of which it comes. It is linked with our present limited knowledge. Note that it does not say, "when he appears we shall become like him." There is a misconception that has arisen in many Christian minds which seemingly regards this verse as teaching that when Jesus Christ appears, when we see him at death or when he comes into time, we shall all suddenly become like him, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. Certainly as regards the body, this is so. Our bodies become like his. Paul speaks of it to the Philippians, "this vile body of our humiliation shall be made like unto his glorious body, his body of glory. All the groanings and weakness which we experience each day will be forgotten when our body is changed into a body like his. That happens, as Paul tells us in First Corinthians 15, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when this mortal puts on immortality, and "Death is swallowed up in victory," (1 Corinthians 15:54). But the body is but the shell of the inner life. We do not suddenly change our total character and personality when we see Jesus Christ, and there is no Scripture that says so. Rather, as John is saying here, and is brought out in other places as well, what we have been becoming, through the years of our life, will suddenly be revealed when he appears. And what we have been becoming is, little by little, stage by stage, like him. The full extent to which we have become like him will be revealed when we see him, and not before. That is what he means.
The question, of course, that comes shouting out at us from all this is, "How much of my life is becoming like him right now?" What percent of the time am I, as a Christian, like Jesus Christ? How much of my time now, am I projecting the image of his life in me, rather than the image of the flesh in me? That is the crucial question, because that is what will be revealed when we see him. Everything else will be burned, as Paul says in First Corinthians, since it is but wood, hay and stubble. The gold, the silver, the precious stones, are the aspects and parts of our lives in which we have consented to be like him. But those times when we resist him, those areas in which we shut him out and assume that we have what it takes to live as God wants us to live in our own strength and energy, are all wood, hay, and stubble, and will be burned, and we will suffer loss. We have seen all this before. But notice that the change into his likeness must happen now. We are becoming like him right now. Look at Second Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face [i.e., with the blindness taken from our eyes by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who teaches us all things], beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness [right now, as we see the Lord revealed to us from the word by the Spirit, and in the experience of fellowship with one another, we are being changed into his likeness] from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Thus in the day when we see him, when he appears, then we will be like him only to the extent we have learned to be like him now. That is what makes this "light affliction" Paul speaks of so tremendously important, because it is producing this. This light affliction is working for us, Paul says, producing a likeness to him. As we see him in our circumstances, and we learn to accept them, prickly and thorny as they may be, as coming from him, sent by him to work in us that which he desires; as we learn to do this without grumbling, without complaint, or rejection, we discover that we are becoming like him. All these things are God's instruments to shape us and mold us to make us into his likeness. When we grumble and gripe, or complain and try to run away, we are rejecting the instruments God has sent to make us into his likeness. So we face the possibility of becoming much less like him than we could be.
Certainty #3 is mentioned in this verse, "we shall see him as he is." "But," you say, "according to what this verse says, this is the reason we become like him; when we see him as he is then we all become like him." That is exactly what has given rise to what I have previously called a misconception in the Christian life, this idea that everyone is suddenly to become fully like Jesus when we see him as he is. No, no. We are already becoming like him, even when we see him as in a mirror, faintly, darkly, as Paul puts it. It does not take a full-orbed view of Christ to make us like him, that is happening even now.
But this little word for in this verse, is a Greek participle that can also be translated that. The best commentators admit that it is ambiguous whether this should be translated, "we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is" or whether, as I think, it should be translated, "we shall be like him that we might see him as he is," i.e., in order to see him as he is. That is why we are being changed into his likeness now, in order that when we see him we shall see him as he is.
We shall be able to understand him, to enter into communion with him, to fellowship with him. As we well know from our own experience, you must be like something in order to understand it, to enjoy fellowship with it. That is the reason why your dog cannot enter into your sorrows or your joys. You come home brokenhearted and sit down. The dog senses something is wrong. He whines and sits looking up at you with his brown eyes expressive of concern, but he cannot understand, he is puzzled, he does not know what is wrong, he cannot enter in, he cannot comfort you. He does not and cannot understand what you are going through. Again, you are happy, and he knows you are happy. He wags his tail, but he does not know what it is all about. He cannot know because he is a dog and you are a human; therefore, he cannot enter into what you are going through.
Christian friends, that is what the apostle says about us. No man can understand the things of God except the Spirit of God, he only can understand. No man can enter into fellowship with God by himself. We cannot possibly understand this mighty, wonderful, transcendent Being, this great fountain of love and grace and truth. We can never know him until we become like him. But that is what is happening now. Do you understand? That is what is happening to you, through your circumstances, now. If you see it that way, then you will see why John adds this third verse here.
And every one who thus hopes in him [i.e., Christ], purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)
If the degree to which you become like him is the degree to which you will see him as he is, then what a powerful motivation this is to become like him now; to accept your circumstances, to stop quarreling with what God sends to you, and begin in everything to give thanks, allowing these strange instruments of God's grace to do their work in your life. Paul says, "tribulation works patience, and patience, experience," (cf, Rom 5:3ff). Tribulation works patience -- that means it makes you ready to wait and watch and pray for God to work things out. And patience works experience -- experience of what? The experience of seeing God work things out so that again and again you see that the situations which caused you to fear, or made you uncertain, as you patiently waited and looked to God, doing what he indicated you could do at the moment but otherwise resting quietly, began to work out in wonderful ways, time after time. And experience works hope. Not hope in the worldly sense of uncertainty, of chance, but hope in the biblical sense, of certainty, absolute assurance.
A few experiences like this and you know absolutely that God is adequate, that he is able to work everything out. You know that every testing is another opportunity for God to demonstrate his great ability to work things out. Thus hope "makes not ashamed," it gives confidence, a sense of unbeatable confidence which keeps you poised and assured under any circumstance. All that is what happens now, as God begins to work through our circumstances to make us like him. That is why John says that every one who has this kind of hope, this certainty; and understands this process; purifies himself, even as Christ is pure
The provision for our cleansing is the Word of God and the Spirit of God. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin," (cf, 1 John 1:7). "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9 KJV). This means we must begin to take seriously this matter of a break of fellowship with Christ because of an impatient spirit, or an ugly word, or a lustful idea or thought which we have dwelt on. We must realize the stain of it does not disappear by the passage of time. It has interfered with our fellowship with the Son of God, and we must do something about it. We cannot simply forget it, we must do something about it. We must purify ourselves, using the provision he has provided, that we might be clean...
(from Recognizing the Unrecognized, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/1john/0150.html, and What Shall We Be? http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/1john/0151.html), by Ray C. Stedman.
Reconciled to God
Three decades ago I would have said I understood the New Covenant-- "Everything coming from God, nothing coming from me." But each year I see things about this great "arrangement for living" which God put into effect for Israel, and for us, at the Last Supper (Luke 22:20).
...Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain." But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: "The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8)
This past year I have returned again and again to the following brief "New Covenant" section of Scripture in 2 Corinthians:
"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who pride themselves on a man's position and not on his heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer.
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)
This passage says several important things to me. See if you agree. As far as God is concerned all men have already died. Moreover Christ has already died in place of, on behalf of, each and every one of us. He did this in order to carry away all of our sins forever. This means that the central issue today between man and God has to do with forgiveness and mercy. In effect God is saying to us. "Do you want to be forgiven?" "Will you allow me to love you and make you into a new person?" "I know you feel the weight of years of sin and guilt and shame, but I have already taken care of that." "I love for you and I am ready to forgive you fully and drop all charges against you in My Court forever--will you let me do this?"
Because of this full provision for all the sins (past, present and future)--for all men everywhere-- we who know Jesus here and now are urged to view our fellow human beings as if they already have died, and already been forgiven, and already made into "new creations" in Christ. The potential is there. It is only a decision away. Those of us who know Jesus now are not better than anyone else, we can not write anyone off, we must not given up on people until they stop breathing. If all men would say "yes" to Jesus, presumably all men could be saved. The potential is there. The human inclination to come to Jesus is not there. Most everyone hates God and wants no part of Him. (Indifference to God is a very effective form of hatred by the way). They must be persuaded by patient love in virtually every case.
At the end of our lives each one us--one at a time--will give account of himself or herself to this very same Jesus. Consider the situation a non-believer will be in when he faces Jesus. YOU will stand in front of the loving, caring man Jesus who gave his life that YOU might be saved. In spite of every opportunity in YOUR life-time did YOU keep saying to God, "no thanks"? What an ultimate insult this rejection of Him will be to a merciful and compassionate God! But, in addition to being merciful and gracious, God is also Just. He must act justly. Having been unwilling to accept God's offer of reconciliation YOUR entire life (while you were living as a house guest in God's universe), YOU--the guilty sinner--must now pay for YOUR own sins. This means, of course, being separated forever from God, separated from God's people and God's kingdom. C. S. Lewis says,
"I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully 'All will be saved'. But my reason retorts, 'Without their will, or with it'? In fact, God has paid the price, and herein lies the real problem: so much mercy, yet still there is hell.' In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so -- in the life and death of his Son. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does. Hell, it must be remembered, is not only inhabited by Neros or Judas Iscariots or Hitlers. They were merely the principal actors in this rebellious drama. God's heaven is not a bribe: it offers nothing a mercenary soul can desire. The great summons to heaven is that away from self. This is the ultimate law -- the seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters, those who lose their soul will save it. Perhaps self-conquest will never end; eternal life may mean an eternal dying."
It is a wonderful gift God offers us free of charge. Not only should we gratefully receive that gift, (which we obviously do not deserve and can not earn), we ought not refuse to allow God to give us the full benefits of that gift--He wants to make us over into the new persons He designed us to be when He built the universe.
The teaching of the New Testament is that now, at this very moment, there is a Man in heaven appearing in the presence of God for us. He is as certainly a man as was Adam or Moses or Paul; he is a man glorified, but his glorification did not de-humanize him. Today he is a real man, of the race of mankind, bearing our lineaments and dimensions, a visible and audible man, whom any other man would recognize instantly as one of us. But more than this, he is the heir of all things, Lord of all lords, head of the church, firstborn of the new creation. He is the way to God, the life of the believer, the hope of Israel, and the high priest of every true worshiper. He holds the keys of death and hell, and stands as advocate and surety for everyone who believes on him in truth. Salvation comes not by accepting the finished work, or deciding for Christ; it comes by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole, living, victorious Lord who, as God and man, fought our fight and won it, accepted our debt as his own and paid it, took our sins and died under them, and rose again to set us free. This is the true Christ; nothing less will do. (from the pen of A. W. Tozer)
There to Live for? http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/2corinthians/3685.html,
and A Word for this Hour, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/2corinthians/3686.html
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