In the early days of the Christian church the doctrine of the last things had three great points of focus: the return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment. Of the three the most significant was Jesus Christ’s return. This was the blessed hope of Christians; it was for this they prayed. With this thought they comforted one another in the face of sorrow, persecutions, death, and martyrdom. We can imagine that as they lay in prison, suffering and tormented, often near death, they looked for His coming and thought that perhaps in an instant and without warning Jesus would appear and call them home. Unfortunately, in our day belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded into a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in many large segments of the Christian church. It is entirely possible that our present lack of courage and lack of joy flows from this attitude.
It’s hard to see how any professing Christian can dismiss the return of Jesus Christ, but some today do. The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians and the very short books such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon. Jesus quite often spoke of His return. John wrote, “Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). It’s the same in the verse that is our text in Philippians 3:20-21. In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return that was to be closely associated with the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies and a final judgment of individuals and nations. They acknowledged that their lives should be lived on a higher plane because of it.
The personal return of Jesus Christ should have a profound bearing on our own life and conduct. The greatest consequence of belief in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be a purification of our conduct. Another consequence of a firm belief in the return of Jesus Christ should be a transformed understanding of suffering. For suffering strengthens our hope and makes our present fellowship with Jesus more wonderful. All of God’s children learn sooner or later that tribulations will come. But the Christian can have a hope in the midst of tribulation that transforms suffering and is strengthened by it.
Up to this point it has been encouraging and it has been intended for Christians. But there is a somber side, for those who do not know Christ and who therefore do not expect Him; Christ is coming, it will be a joy for Christians. But it will also mean the beginning of Christ’s judgments. These will be terrible for those who do not know Him. People react in one of two ways to Christ’s judgment. Some simply disbelieve it, for they think that judgment is incompatible with the character of God. For the unbeliever, who has heard the offer of salvation by grace through the gospel but refers to deal with God’s justice. Pity the man who wants nothing from God but God’s justice! Justice will condemn a person to hell. The only hope for anyone lies in God’s mercy. Humans are condemned by God’s justice. If you seek nothing from God but justice, you will be condemned at Jesus Christ’s return. Fortunately there is no need to meet Him as Judge. For the One is coming in judgment is also the One who once came as the Savior, to die for your sin, to bear your judgment, and to meet you thereafter as your Lord, your friend, and your bridegroom. You must decide how you will meet Him. The decisions of this life affect the issues of eternity.
The resurrection of Jesus is the great historical fact upon which all the Christian doctrines are suspended and before which all honest disbelief must waver. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the unshakeable evidence for our own resurrection. Because He lives we shall live also. That is why Paul says what he says in the verse we have now come to in our study of Philippians 3:21. This verse teaches three things: 1) Jesus is living, 2) because He lives we shall live, and 3) because He was transformed we shall be transformed. Moreover, we know all of these things through the fact of His own resurrection.
Apart from the resurrection of Jesus himself there are only three resurrections recorded in the four Gospels. Each began in mourning and sorrow; each ended in exuberant joy. What made the difference? Nothing but the coming of Jesus! Jesus said of himself, “I am the life,” and where life meets death, death is vanquished. Death was vanquished, and it will be abolished forever for us when Jesus Christ returns. Perhaps you are saying, “Can I really believe that is possible? Is Jesus really able to do the things claimed? Of course, He is! Think of the things for which the Bible tells us He is able in 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 2:18; Jude 24; Eph. 3:20; and Heb. 7:25. Can He do these things? Of course, He can. In the same way He is able to raise up our bodies, transform them by “the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control” (Phil. 3:21).
Philippians 3:20-21 Reflection Questions:
Are you looking for Jesus’ return? If so, how is that affecting your personal conduct and concern on social issues as well as other things?
Does your suffering (whatever that currently may be) bring you closer to fellowship with Jesus Christ?
Do you know Jesus Christ personally?
Do you believe that Jesus is able to rise up our bodies and transform them? If so, how does that affect your living on this side of heaven?