The title of this message deals with the subject of what it will be like when we see our Lord for the first time in glory. The word "beatific" means to be made happy or blessed. It was largely used in the ministry of the famous American theologian, Jonathan Edwards. I have the privilege of owning a rare copy of Webster's Original Unabridged Dictionary. Mr. Webster, who was a Christian, filled his work with Bible definitions of words and concepts. He defines this word as follows: "To beautify is to bless a person with the completion or perfection of heavenly enjoyment."
I have selected two texts of Scripture from which to develop this theme:
John 17:24 ‑ "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. " Notice the expression, "that they may behold my glory."
I John 3:2,3 ‑ "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." Compare the expression, "we shall be like Him for we shall see Him" with, "I desire that they may behold my glory."
The Psalmist says ‑ "as the heart pants after water brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" My readers, I ask you, do you have that hunger to see your Lord in glory? Do you want to be consumed with His glory? Our happiness is inseparably connected with the glorification of God, and as Edwards so vividly explained it, the glorification of God is inseparably connected with your happiness. Only by becoming consumed with His glory shall we be enabled to be blessed and enjoy happiness forever. What a thought, that my Creator is concerned about my happiness!
When we talk about the beatific vision of seeing Christ, we are not talking about a vision in which our natural eyes see the invisible spirit of God's divine nature. That shall never take place, for God is an invisible Spirit. I remember I had a lady in my congregation one time who was convinced that when she got to heaven, she would see three thrones and three persons sitting on those thrones. That is not taught in the word of God. When it is said that Moses saw Him who was invisible, it means that his soul came to understand what God is like in His moral character, and it gave him delight. It caused him to leave the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the riches of Christ to be greater riches than the pleasures of sin in Egypt.
We shall see Jesus Christ in His human nature or form. We may even see Him as Peter, James and John saw Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, but even that physical vision did not render them sinlessly perfect. Peter made the blunder, right on the spot, of wanting to share Christ's glory with Moses and Elijah. Upon leaving the scene they soon returned to their consuming question of which of them was going to be the greatest in the kingdom. No, a physical vision of Jesus will not perfect our sinful natures.
The vision I am describing is what the soul's intellectual understanding shall comprehend the moment we leave these natural bodies and enter into the presence of Christ. It is then that we shall see the glorified Christ in His role as a perfected servant who is meek and lowly. We shall see that greatness is equated with humility that shall in turn inflame our redeemed souls with love and zeal to be the perfected servants of God and others. When we comprehend that the God who created us, who is worthy of honor and glory, condescended to acquire the nature of a lower creature and suffered and died as a criminal, then we shall learn where greatness lies. When we see Jesus, our heavenly foot washer, if you please, we will grasp that greatness is not in exercising control and dominion over others, but in giving away ourselves in the service of others.
After we explain a concept to someone and they do not understand it, we say, "don't you get it, or "don't you see it?" By those statements we really mean, "don't you understand it?" Jesus used this language when He spoke to Nicodemus. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom." The "kingdom" is the rule of God in the hearts of men. Wherever the will of God is delighted in, there is the "kingdom".
What shall Jesus say to His people when they enter into His presence? "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord." When that concept jells in our thinking, then we will see it. Then we will get it. Then we will see how our love of happiness and complacency is achieved. Not in trying to rule and protect our rights. Not in always being first in line, or holding the number one or two best jobs under the government of Jesus. No, no, but it will come when we see the smile on Jesus' face, as He says, "Go wash feet!" This is why there will be no envy, strife and jealousy in heaven. We shall see that God has invested His glory in serving the happiness of His lower creatures. Therein is the role model of greatness. God's glory manifests itself in the creatures' well‑ being and our happiness is achieved only when we seek to glorify God. Then we shall enjoy Him forever! Why do we have all these envies, strife and divisions down here on earth, even among God's people? Because we do not yet "get it." Even in regenerate hearts, there is the desire to build our little kingdoms here on earth.
Jesus taught this concept throughout His earthly ministry to His selected disciples, and yet they did not get it. In fact, they were still arguing over it at the Last Supper. Those men are no longer arguing about that now. The beatific vision of Christ has now perfected their happiness, and now they are holy. John now understands what he wrote in I John 3:2, "Beloved now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. "
In Revelation 5:5, 6, we have a scene in heaven, "One of the elders said unto me, ‘Do not weep, Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah." This is a vision of Christ on the throne back in verse one. "He has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’ And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. " Notice there are two animals in this vision that represent our Lord Jesus Christ. The two animals are at each end of the spectrum of God's created order. The lion is the King (Lord) of the beasts, the one who dominates, the one who conquers. The lamb is the servant of the beasts, the one who is always giving away its life, the sacrificial beast.
The elders said, "Look, look at the lion," and John turns expecting to see a lion. Instead, to his amazement, he sees not a lion, but a lamb, and the lamb had had its life taken from it. What is being conveyed to us in these figures? It is teaching us that greatness comes not by dominating over others and that the way to conquer is through meekness and lowliness. He that would save his life, must lose it. Do you see what the vision is about? The way to happiness and fulfillment in life is not by dominating over others, it is by giving one's life away in a sacrificial sense to others. This is how we shall be enabled to enjoy our God in heaven for we shall see him as He is; the lamb, the servant, the one who said, "Come unto me, for I am meek and lowly." There is where greatness lies! Do we get it? The disciples now have it, and they are no more fussing over who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom. Their sinful selfishness has been eradicated by the beatific vision of their heavenly "foot washer." Now they are lining up to see who can be the greatest foot‑washer (servant) in heaven. They are seeking to model their glorious Lord.
This vision is the Holy Spirit's final act of sanctification. It is the completion of that which was begun in regeneration. What was it that caused you to come to Christ? You saw a beauty in Him that you had never seen before. That beauty is what is drawing you on to this final destiny that will result in you being perfectly conformed to the moral likeness of Jesus Christ. So what is begun in regeneration is perfected in sanctification at the vision of Jesus Christ as the soul is ushered into His presence.
This vision of Christ to the soul of man is that which ushers in sinless perfection. It occurs at the death of the body for some or at the changing into a glorious body for others at His coming. But while it occurs at the death of the body, it is not the death of the body that sanctifies and produces sinless perfection. Death is not sanctifying. Suffering in and of itself is not sanctifying. It is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, and He completes His work at the time when this mortal life ceases. You may say, "I have always thought that when you died and got rid of this old sinful body, you would be sinless." Ah, but sin is not a physical substance residing in our physical bodies. That was the Grecian error of thinking that sin only resided in the physical component: you get rid of the body, then you would have a perfect soul. But this is unbiblical. Are the wicked made sinlessly perfect when they die? No, death does not change them. The angels do not have physical bodies, and those who fell are still sinning today. Sin is not a substance; it is a moral principle. Holiness is a moral principle. It is the vision of Christ that sanctifies the soul, not the death of the body that occurs at the time of our completed sanctification.
Now what can we learn from this? We can learn why we feel there is something missing in our lives. Everywhere we go people are restless and searching for something that is missing. The ungodly seek to find this missing ingredient by adding some new pleasure or possession to their lives. Even the godly seek it by learning some new doctrine or by experiencing some new experience. Do you know why we feel there is something missing? We feel that way because there is something missing. It is perfect blessedness and perfect happiness, and that will not come until we see Jesus. This present life is not a place for perfect peace and rest. There remains yet a rest for the people of God. We are now in the church militant. When we see Jesus, we will be in the church triumphant.
I remember as a young preacher, I used to listen to old Dr. John R. Rice, and in his preaching he would sometimes burst out singing. I liked that. I tried it a time or two and was told by good friends who had musical knowledge, "Don't do that!" Dr. Rice was a dynamic old preacher. He would break out with this song:
Oh to be like thee, blessed Redeemer, this is my constant longing and prayer.
Gladly I'd forfeit all of earth's treasures, Jesus thy perfect likeness to wear.
Oh, to be like thee, oh, to be like thee, blessed Redeemer, pure as thou art.
Come in thy sweetness, come in thy fullness, stamp thine own image deep in my heart."
Is that your living burning desire today‑‑ to be like Jesus? Then we can close this article with the closing prayer of the Bible, "Even so come Lord Jesus." Come today and take us into your presence where there shall be joys and pleasures for evermore. Amen.
— Jim D. Gables