Philippians was written from prison where Paul waited to see whether he would be executed or released. The Philippians were praying for his release and Paul expected that this would be answered and that he could continue his work. But he also knew that in death he would go to be with the Lord. This put him in what he called “a strait betwixt two” (pulled between two choices, hard to decide). One the one hand he wanted to be able to continue to help the church, but he also had a deep desire to go on to heaven. Verse 21 shows his profound confidence of hope. If he lived it would be in the service of Christ, but to die would be gain. We want to look especially at these words in verse 23: “to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.” Heaven is the “far better” place. Another writer expressed it: “knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” (Heb. 10:34).
A Heavenly Country
Heaven is a better place because it is a heavenly country. Abraham lived in this present world for 175 years. He participated in and enjoyed many of the good things of this present world, but was looking for a better place. Hebrews 11:26 says he and others of faith were seeking “a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Verse 10 says, Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
This present world will wear out and be destroyed, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). What will that heavenly country and city be like? Many wonderful metaphors are used to describe it, including streets and walls of gold, and precious stones and pearls. The description is the best that can be stated in human words, but when we have visualized it as best we can, just know that it is far better. It’s the Father’s house with many mansions. It’s paradise, with a river of pure water of life (Rev. 221), and in the middle is the tree of life. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 1:7).
There is an interesting and significant statement in the story of Job. In the midst of his great suffering he was aware that the time would come when his earthly physical body was going to die and decay. But in Job 19:26 he declared his hope for a new body. “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
In the New Testament we are told that we will have a “spiritual body.” A “spiritual body” means a body not limited by the shortcomings of flesh. Philippians 3:21 tells us that Christ will “change our vile body [lowly, earthly, physical body] that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21). John writes of the same thing. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The saved in heaven will have bodies, spiritual bodies. Our finite minds cannot visualize how that is possible, that somehow the dead will be raised and given bodies that are fit for Heaven. That this is something beyond our ability to imagine is discussed in 1 Corinthians 15:25ff. This is a text worthy of much contemplation.
First, the apostle uses the illustration of a seed (36-38). A seed appears lifeless and insignificant, yet it dies in the earth to germinate into a marvelous plant. Let us suppose we had never seen the process in nature. Someone shows us a little brown seed and tells how it will grow into a large plant with green leaves and striking colors. If we had never seen this, if we had never seen a pretty flower develop from a seed, would it not seem impossible to imagine? The apostle’s point is that when we recognize God’s power in the transformation of seed into grain we can believe he can change our bodies from corruptible into incorruptible.
Then the text calls our attention to the great variety in the universe, the different forms of life, the planets and the stars. The point is that if God could make all that we can see, why would we doubt that he can do things we can’t yet see. We don’t know everything and there is much we have never seen. The Creator who made our natural bodies can also make our spiritual bodies. This is Paul’s confidence of faith and hope. “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1).
It is sufficient to know that God has promised a new body, a spiritual body. It will be a body that is relieved of all weariness and stress. The Bible says, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13). “There the weary be at rest” (Job 3:17). It will also be a body without the sadness, suffering, affliction, and death of this present world. Heaven will be better because we will have bodies which can never be touched by afflictions and death. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Heaven is better because of the companions with whom we will share it.
First, we need to know that there will be no bad people there. Job said that there “the wicked cease from troubling” (Job 3:17). No evil person or evil thing can be found there. “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
Consider also that in heaven we will be in the company of the saints of the ages. “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11).
The righteous living and the resurrected “dead in Christ” will be reunited and together forever. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
Some have reasoned that because we will be changed that we will not know one another. Others have argued that if we should know one another we might also be saddened by knowing of loved ones who are not there. This way of thinking seems to count the possibility of that sadness as of greater concern than the possibility of joy in a heavenly reunion. Paul anticipated that his brethren would be his “hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing” when they were in the presence of Christ (1 Thess. 2:19). Arguments that limit our hope are like the reasoning of the Sadducees, whom Jesus said “err because they don’t know the scriptures nor the power of God.”