This is the third installment of a series on “the self” – the identity, character, or essential qualities of a person. Each of us is a “self,” and we move through the years of life as a unique person. There has never been, nor ever will be, another you! Others on this planet may be a lot like you, as in the case of identical twins, but no one is exactly who you are: body, soul, and spirit.
Our Previous and Present Selves
Even though you are one self (oneself), however, you pass through several stages or additional selves during your existence, as we observed in the two earlier segments in this series. You will always be the one, unique person you have always been, but you have changed over the years – and will continue to do so – from one realm of selfhood to subsequent selves, while retaining certain essential qualities of your earlier selves.
As noted previously, we started life as The Initial Self, begun at the moment when the sperm and egg from our parents united. Approximately nine months later, at our birth, we began to be The Independent Self. At that time we became detached from our mother’s body, and have lived as independent selves to this day. Next, we considered The In-Christ Self, begun at the time of our new birth, when (and if) we received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
Selves Yet to Come
We also examined a fourth self – The Intermediate Self – which begins at the moment we die. In this realm of existence we – both believers and non-believers – are conscious and aware of God and others. We live either in blessedness or misery, determined by whether we put our trust in God as Redeemer and Master during our earthly existence. Those now living in the intermediate state – all the deceased from the beginning of the human race to the present – are awaiting the next phase of selfhood: The Resurrected Self.
THE RESURRECTED SELF
While there is some lack of clarity about our mode and manner of existence in the intermediate state (for example, what kind of body we will have), there is much less uncertainty about how we will exist as resurrected selves throughout eternity. Following are some very important scriptures about the bodily resurrection, inspired by God and written by his servants specifically for our instruction and encouragement. (Some of these passages are abbreviated due to space considerations, but are most helpful when read in their entirety.)
“But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise – let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy – your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isa. 26: 19).
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12: 2-3).
“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection” (Lk. 20: 34-36).
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. … Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and now has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. … Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn. 5: 21 -29).
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. … And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. … Listen, I tell you a mystery: We shall 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” (1 Cor. 15: 37-52).
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. … ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore
they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’ “(Rev. 7: 9-17).
After reading these extraordinary words concerning our resurrected selves, we who know Christ are left with adoration, wonder, and praise toward God and anticipation for the life to come in our glorified, resurrected bodies. The above scriptures do not tell us all we would like to know, however, but they reveal all that God wants us to know.
I have been especially blessed over the years to dwell as much (if not more) about what will not be true of our resurrected selves as what will be true. I don’t care to know if I will be able to fly or be transported in Star Trek fashion from point A to point B, but I care and delight greatly to know that I will not experience sickness, sadness, or sin in the new heaven and new earth. Of course, the actual, positive presence of God will be the reason why these negatives will never be found in the heavenly glory. They must flee forever from the presence of the One who is perfect in strength, gladness, and holiness.
We will be embodied and perfected even more wonderfully than Adam and Eve in the garden, because we will be united with God, in Christ, in a way that our first parents were not. Even now we “may participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). How much more will this be true throughout eternity?
Rather than enumerate the features of the resurrection body and the qualities of life as resurrected selves, I will let the listed scriptures instruct us just as they are. It will be a very encouraging exercise, however, for anyone who wishes, to itemize the remarkable characteristics of the resurrected self from the above Bible verses.
Some Will Be Translated
In connection with The Resurrected Self we should mention the translation (sometimes called “rapture”) of all persons living on earth at the time of Christ’s return, mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18. Here we read that when Jesus returns, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. … For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, … and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up [Latin rapiemur] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Does this Bible passage compel me to denote another distinct self – the translated self? For multitudes of people – all Christ-followers alive when Jesus returns – this will surely bring about a new way of being! I see no need, however, to list a distinctly new self, because this study of our different selves is covering only believers as a whole and unbelievers as a whole. It seems best, therefore, to consider these translated saints as a percentage or sub-set of all “resurrected” — that is, fully glorified — selves.
Strictly speaking, because these believers will not have died, they will not be resurrected, but will be transformed and glorified, receiving their eternal bodies at the time Jesus returns, along with all of the resurrected believers. The raptured believers will not experience The Intermediate Self; they will be changed from their earthly selves directly to their glorified selves. While there is much debate about the timing of this translation/resurrection event, there is no debate among Bible believers about the certainty of it! Our theories and arguments about when the rapture will occur will not influence God’s decision on the matter! Our fervent hopes and desires, however, should be ever in tune with the longings of the first-century believers: “Come, Lord Jesus;” “Come, Lord!” (Rev. 22:20; I Cor. 16:22).
THE JUDGED SELF: UNBELIEVERS
There are two more selves that we must (sadly) consider to complete this segment of our study: The Judged Self and The Eternal Self, both for unbelievers. These two selves come so closely together that they might be thought of as one, but we should consider them separately, since the former is likely to be relatively brief whereas the latter is everlasting. The judgment is the gateway event into eternity, just as the judgment of believers will lead into their everlasting state. I take no pleasure in writing about the future of the lost. Rather, I sorrow greatly, as many readers will do in reading these words. But this is part of “the whole will of God” (Acts 20: 27) that must be proclaimed if we wish to be faithful to our Lord. It has been said often, rightly so, that Jesus – the most loving and kind human being who ever lived – spoke more about hell than any other biblical character.
Those who did not respond affirmatively to God’s gracious tug on their hearts during their lifetimes – at whatever level(s) of revelation God was working to enlighten and draw them (Jn. 1:9; 3:17; 12:32-36; Rom. 1:18-20; 2:4; Tit. 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9) – will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment described in the last book of the Bible:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20: 11-15).
The lost are those who in life ignored, suppressed, or rejected God’s voice, whether that voice came through nature, conscience, scripture, experience, relationships, or other means. These are those much like the ones Jesus referred to while lamenting over the city of Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing (Lk. 13:34; see also vss. 23-30).
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. … They [your enemies] will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Lk. 19:41-44).
There will be degrees of punishment for the lost (as well as degrees of reward for the saved), and the Lord will be completely just, and detailed, in this aspect of his judgment. Twice in the above text from Revelation 20 we read that the dead were judged “according to what they had done.” Other key scriptures present this crucial, often overlooked, truth (Eccl. 12:14; Mt. 11:22-24; 12:36; Lk. 12:2-3, 47-48; 20:47). There is no “one-size-fits-all” experience for unbelievers (or believers) in eternity. Each one will be considered personally and fairly.
THE ETERNAL SELF: UNBELIEVERS
At the judgment the lost will be sent away from God’s presence forever. The most graphic description of the unbeliever in eternity is found in the account, referred to earlier in this series, concerning a rich man and a beggar in the afterlife (Lk. 16:19-31). Jesus himself spoke these words, and they are truly heartbreaking! Also from the lips of Jesus we read these statements in his account of the sheep and the goats – those on his right and his left. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to life eternal’ “(Mt. 25: 41,46; see also Lk. 12:4-5, 8-9; 13:23-30; Jn. 8:21-24; 2 Thess.1: 7-9).
This last realm of life for the unbeliever is The Eternal Self. The lost person will have experienced six major crisis points before moving into the loneliness of eternity: conception, birth, death, resurrection, judgment, and dismissal. “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Mt. 7:23). We may be very, very thankful for the words of Abraham some four thousand years ago: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right” (Gen. 18:25)? God will always judge rightly, righteously, and truthfully, because he alone can see the deepest thoughts and intentions of every person’s heart (Jer. 17:9-10; Heb. 4: 12-13). As George MacDonald said, and is often quoted, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ “
God will never send anyone away from him who comes to him – at whatever age — as a little child, in humility and trust. As Jesus said so beautifully, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk. 10:4).
(This document, as well as Parts One and Two of this series on our many selves, may be obtained without cost on the website www.gracequestministries.org. Next time, God willing, for the fourth and last installment in this series, I will consider the remaining selves for the redeemed of all the ages: The Judged Self and The Eternal Self. May our gracious and wise Lord bless you and keep you, now and forever!)