In the logical order of our salvation, the last redemptive act of God is our glorification. The concept of glorification as the last redemptive act of God is set forth in Romans 8:29-30: “For whom he foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:17 also mentions this concept: “. . . and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Glorification is presented as the capstone of our salvation. John Murray writes, “Glorification is the final phase of the application of redemption. It is that which brings to completion the process which begins in effectual calling. Indeed it is the completion of the whole process of redemption. For glorification means the attainment of the goal to which the elect of God were predestinated in the eternal purpose of the Father and it involves the consummation of the redemption secured and procured by the vicarious work of Christ” (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p. 174).
THE RESURRECTION AND REDEMPTION OF THE BODY
Several redemptive acts are associated with glorification. First, glorification includes the resurrection and redemption of the body. The Bible teaches that at death the souls of believers go immediately into the presence of God and enjoy all the blessings of being made perfect in righteousness, being received into heaven, and beholding the face of God (see: Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:8; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:13). As wonderful as this state is, however, it is not the final goal of God’s salvation. God created man as a union of body and soul and our redemption includes the redemption of the body as well as the soul. This full redemption will occur at the last day in our glorification. Romans 8:23 refers to this aspect of glorification: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” 1 Cor. 15:26 states: “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” Now believers have the first fruits of their salvation. Among other blessings, they are forgiven for their sins, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them, they are adopted into God’s family, they have spiritual union with Christ, and the Holy Spirit is at work in their sanctification. However, believers do not yet have the full redemption of their bodies. Their bodies are subject to aging and a myriad of diseases and physical problems. Death, the last enemy, is not yet abolished. Romans 8:24,25 mentions that believers have the sure hope or expectation of the full redemption of their bodies, but they are still waiting for that aspect of their salvation to become a reality: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” Believers wait eagerly for the redemption of their bodies, a redemption that will take place at their glorification.
This redemption of the body could occur in one of two ways. For believers who die before Christ’s coming, their souls enter into heaven, but their bodies rest in the grave until the resurrection. At Christ’s coming their bodies will be resurrected and their souls reunited with new glorified bodies. 1 Thess. 4:13-18 speaks of this event: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The second way the redemption of the body may occur is in an instant transformation of the body for believers who are alive at the time of Christ’s coming. This is alluded to in the 1 Thessalonians passage when it mentions that those who are alive will not precede those who have died. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 states: “Behold I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'” The believer that is alive when Christ comes will be instantly glorified. This glorified body is like Christ’s glorified human nature. Philippians 3:20, 21 informs us: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” John Murray writes of glorification: “It is the complete and final redemption of the whole person when in the integrity of body and spirit the people of God will be conformed to the image of the risen, exalted, and glorified Redeemer, when the very body of their humiliation will be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory (cf. Phil. 3:21)” (ibid. p. 175).
It is also important to note that all of God’s people enter into this glorification together at the same time. Those who have died are resurrected and glorified at Christ’s coming; those who are alive at Christ’s coming are glorified “in the twinkling of an eye.” Paul emphasizes the point in 1 Thess. 4 when we states that “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.” John Murray states, “This truth that glorification must wait for the resurrection of the body advises us that glorification is something upon which all the people of God will enter together at the same identical point in time. There is no priority for one above the other. In this respect it radically differs from death and the glory with Christ upon which saints enter on that event. Each saint of God who dies has his own appointed season and therefore his own time to depart and be with Christ. We can see that this event is highly individualized. But it is not so with glorification. One will not have any advantage over another – all together will be glorified with Christ” (ibid.).
The story is told of a generation ago when an old farmer brought his family to the big city for the very first time. They had never seen buildings so tall or sights so impressive. The farmer dropped his wife off at a department store and took his son with him to the bank – the tallest of all the buildings. As they walked into the lobby, they saw something else they had never seen before. Two steel doors opened. A rather large and elderly woman walked in, and the steel doors closed behind her. The dial over the door swept to the right and then back to the left. The doors opened and a beautiful young lady walked out. The farmer was amazed. He turned to his son and said, “You wait right here. I’m going to get your mother and run her through that thing.” One day believers will experience the full redemption of their bodies when they are glorified.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states: “At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls for ever” (XXXII/ii). The Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 37 and 38 also addresses this aspect of glorification: “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 rest in their graves till the resurrection. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed to the full enjoying of God to all eternity.” Robert Reymond writes of believers being either resurrected or instantly glorified: “At this point Christians will enter upon their glorified state, the goal toward which the Triune Godhead has been relentlessly driving from the moment of creation, and that ultimate end which was of the first of the decrees in the eternal plan of salvation” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 798).
BELIEVERS WILL FULLY REFLECT THE HOLY CHARACTER OF CHRIST
Besides the redemption of the body, glorification means that believers will be perfectly conformed to the holy character of their Savior. The ultimate goal of our sanctification is conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This includes not only the redemption of the body, but also believers being sealed in righteousness. Hebrews 12:23 speaks of the spirits of believers in heaven before the resurrection being made perfect: “. . . to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. . . .” In glorification, this state is intensified in that believers are made perfectly and immutably righteous in both body and spirit. 1 John 3:2 states: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as he is.” Similarly, Jude 24 says, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. . . .” After being glorified, the will of believers “is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone in the state of glory. . . .” (Westminster Confession, IX/v).
FUTURE GLORIFICATION IS A BASIS FOR PRESENT ENCOURAGEMENT
This Scriptural doctrine has a strong application for Christians now. Romans 8:18 states,
“For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” In the midst of trials and suffering, it is crucial to keep an eternal perspective and remember that the temporal trials and pains of this life cannot even be compared with the future glory that awaits God’s people. The cultivation of an eternal perspective gives comfort during times of suffering. Dr. Richard Pratt writes, “A fellow minister came to me one day with a heavy burden. His ministry was in a mess. A group of disgruntled members had left his church and he was deeply discouraged. ‘I don’t think I can stand it,’ he said. ‘I give all I have and get no reward. It’s just not worth it.’
This minister was closer to the truth than he realized. The sacrifices he made as a servant of the church were not worth the rewards he received in this life. He experienced a few high points here and there. His small successes brought moments of relief from his struggles, but every new day led him into situations that demanded more self-denial. So long as he focused his heart on the rewards of this world, he would have to conclude that the pain was not worth it.
From time to time, all of us face this kind of discouragement. We devote ourselves to parenting. We sacrifice time and energy to one ministry after another. But what do we have to show for years of service? Only demands for more sacrifice. ‘If this is all that comes from my suffering, I just can’t continue,’ we lament.
The cost of sacrificial service to Christ is not worth the results we see in this life. We receive blessings that encourage us along the way: business successes, faithful children, and good health. But these gifts alone a cannot sustain those whose lives are filled with voluntary suffering. They are but sips of water along the Via Dolorosa. To overcome the discouragement that often accompanies suffering, we must follow Paul’s example by turning away from this life and focusing on our reward in the world to come” (Designed for Dignity, p. 186, 187).
THE GLORIFICATION OF BELIEVERS IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE RENEWAL OF CREATION
Along with the consummation of redemption for believers, the renewal of creation will occur. Romans 8:18-22 states: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Paul says that all corruption, chaos, and death in the created order is due to man’s fall into sin. The creation, however, will be set free from its slavery to corruption at the same time God’s people are glorified. John Murray writes, “It is a renewed cosmos, new heavens and new earth, that we must think of as the context of the believers’ glory, a cosmos delivered from all the consequences of sin, in which there will be no more curse but in which righteousness will have complete possession and undisturbed habitation” (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p. 179).
Peter describes this renewed creation as “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 where a new heaven and new earth are prophesied. John declares that in this new heaven and new earth “there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Concerning this new creation Robert Reymond writes, “Biblical scholars have debated whether ‘the new heaven and the new earth’ condition involves simply the renewal of the present universe or a complete destruction followed by re-creation ex nihilo.
The preponderance of evidence suggests the former – a renewal – but the transformation of the universe will be so complete that, for all intents and purposes, it will introduce a radically new order of existence” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 798).
THE GLORIFICATION OF BELIEVERS IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE FINAL GLORIFICATION OF CHRIST
The glorification of believers is glorification with Christ. The glorification of Christians is not the terminus ad quem of God’s eternal purposes. The ultimate goal is the full glorification of his
Son as Savior and Messianic king. Romans 8:17 alludes to this: “. . .and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” The significant point is that believers are glorified with him. Romans 8:29 provides further understanding concerning this: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined
to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. . . .” Commenting on this, John Murray writes, “In Rom. 8:17, believers and Christ are said to be glorified together, and in Rom. 8:29, 30 it is apparent that the glorification spoken of in verse 30 is the realization of the predestinating purpose spoken of in verse 29, namely, conformity to the image of God’s Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. These two texts, therefore, (Rom. 8:17; 8:29, 30), both indicate the inseparable conjunction and community that exists between Christ and believers in respect of what is the final phase of Christ’s exaltation and glorification, and the glorification of the elect. The title, ‘firstborn’ or first begotten’ refers to priority and pre-eminence and points to the supereminence that belongs to Christ. But it is supereminence among brethren, and therefore the supereminence involved has no meaning except in that relation. Hence, though there can be no underestimation of the pre-eminence belonging to the Son as the firstbegotten, yet the interdependence is just as necessary. The glory bestowed upon the redeemed is derived from the relation they sustain to the ‘firstborn.’ But the specific character in being the ‘firstborn’ is derived from the relation he sustains to the redeemed in that capacity. Hence they must be glorified together” (Collected Writings of John Murray, 2:315). Believers are glorified together with Christ and the chief end is the glory of God (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Philippians 1:11). As we think about our own glorification and seek to build an eternal perspective into our lives, this chief end should dominate our thinking and hope. In summarizing this point, Robert Reymond writes, “As so with the church’s glorification and the accompanying – yet more ultimate – glorification of Christ himself, we come to that moment in the execution of God’s work toward which all of history is moving. God will not be finally satisfied until Christ and his church are fully and finally glorified, to the praise of his Son and his own most holy name (Phil. 1:11), and that to eternity” (ibid., p. 800).
Believers have the sure expectation of exceeding glory and eternal bliss which they receive only through the mercy and grace of God. Eternity will not be long enough to give praise and glory to God for his indescribable gift. Robert Murray McCheyne beautifully expressed the gratitude and praise due to God for his great salvation:
When this passing world is done
when has sunk yon glaring sun,
looking o’er life’s finished story,-
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.
When I hear the wicked call
on the rocks and hills to fall,
When I see them start and shrink
on the fiery deluge brink, –
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.
When I stand before the throne,
dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see thee as thou art,
love thee with unsinning heart, –
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.
When the praise of heav’n I hear,
loud as thunders to the ear,
loud as many waters’ noise,
sweet as harp’s melodious voice, –
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.
Chosen not for good in me,
wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Saviour’s side,
by the Spirit sanctified, –
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
by my love, how much I owe.