Seeing Unseen Things
Life on earth is subject to deterioration, but heaven is a place which will never decay.
In chapter 4 verse 18 of 2 Corinthians, the book that is somewhat Paul’s autobiography, the apostle made an extraordinary declaration which suggests that Christians are capable of seeing unseen realities. He said, “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.” This statement sounds paradoxical, but it is in fact designed to establish that there is a difference between things which are seen and those that are unseen.
Classified among the things that are seen is the world around us with its different realities, which we can perceive through our five senses; these are the air, trees, buildings etc. Also included in this category are the circumstances of life as well as everything that goes on within the “inner man” ( v. 16), especially painful experiences. All these, Paul explained, are fundamentally “temporal,” which means that they are bound to come to an end. On the other hand, unseen things concern the glories of heaven, and they are distinctly “eternal” (cf. Hebrews 11:1). These include the spiritual body that the children of God will each possess, and which will be of the same nature as Christ’s (1 John 3:1-2).
In talking about things which are seen, the apostle was referring to the evil that befell him and his companions while preaching the gospel. Earlier in the chapter, he spoke of how they were “troubled on every side”, “perplexed”, “persecuted” and “cast down” (vv. 8-9). The affliction, in some cases, was the result of mishaps; in others, it was man-made. Paul recounted in 2 Corinthians 11:24 that he was beaten by his fellow Jews who opposed the gospel. He said, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one” [that’s 39 stripes times five, CC]. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren”.
But here in v. 18, Paul made the point that the bodily suffering would endure but for a little time, just as would all good things that earthly life offers, such as wealth, pleasure and fame. This truth was to Paul and his co-workers a source of motivation to carry on serving Christ and God. All believers who go through tribulations as they live the Christian life need to remember this certainty and take comfort in it as well. Furthermore, they need to come to the realisation that the earthly difficulties weigh almost nothing in comparison with the glory of eternal life. In Romans 8:18, Paul said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”.
Therefore, Paul encourages us to not look at the things which are seen. In other words, Christians need to make the effort not to make the things of this life their goal (that’s the meaning of the phrase “look at”). Instead, they’d rather focus their attention on and desire heaven through faith. This admonition Paul made plainer in Colossians 3:1-2. There he said, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
There are many reasons to desire heaven. I’d like to cite only a few of them. We should want heaven because it’s a place that will never decay. Peter said that there is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). In heaven, we will not see buildings deteriorate and crumble as is the case in this life, neither will our changed bodies be subject to corruption (2 Corinthians 5:1). But we know how our bodies can be devastated and ravaged by some diseases. The Bible has the promise that in heaven God will “wipe away all tears there” as John wrote in Revelation 21:4. This is the significance of the hymn “No Tears in Heaven” that we often sing in our congregations, and which is on page 456 of the song book Praise For The Lord. John went on to say, “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”.
Dear reader, when you think about the fact that heaven is a wonderful place where there is no death, surely you will want to become a Christian and live in a way God wants you live so that you can go there. If you do, respond to the gospel call of Jesus Christ today and obey His command to be baptised for the salvation of your soul.