The Monarch Butterfly—an Illustration of Transformation—the Caterpillar Phase
Part One of this series laid the foundation for God's process, power, principles, and pattern of creating and transforming not only the entire material universe but also a human mind and heart.
‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You
— Jeremiah 32:17
The number four, as was exhaustively studied in Part One, themes both the Biblical creation account as well as so many features of the Monarch in its four-fold transformation process from a tiny helpless egg into a glorious and majestic butterfly. As we shall see the details of this process will illustrate for us the creation and transformation God wishes to do inside of us by for stages:
- resulting in glorification
All of which are dependent upon His work in us yet requiring our participation and cooperation.
Exodus — Stage One Salvation
We left off in the developmental stage of a Monarch's life, in Part One, with a tiny egg deposited on the underside of a Milkweed plant which metaphorically represents our beginning without God and in need of deliverance and salvation.
The little worm's exit from the egg is a type of "Exodus". It is called out of its shell by its sheer hunger and thirst for something more. This can demonstrate for us the beginning of our journey as the insatiable creatures that we are.
"God's great object in all His dealing with men is to bring them to realize their utter need of Him and the salvation that He has provided through the Lord Jesus Christ"
— A.B Simpson "The Christ in the Bible"
The mother butterfly lays her eggs in the most suitable places for the caterpillars to find their only source of nourishment and satisfaction which is Milkweed. No other plant will do. And so it is with us.
He (God)... has determined their (humans) preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him...
— Acts 17:26-27
The need for salvation is expressed in terms of hunger and thirst in what is known as "The Gospel of Isaiah" that cries out to all those who are wandering in the dry and desolate wilderness of this world.
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
— Isaiah 55:1
Milkweed — Milkword
Once freed from the captivity of its shell, the hungry Monarch caterpillar begins, immediately, to feast on Milkweed, it's the only source of sustenance for both the first and second phase of its life's journey.
Its total mission at this stage of development is growing, as it prepares for its miraculous future transformation. Eating Milkweed images for us the absolute necessity of consuming the milk of God's Word to sustain our spiritual growth as saved creatures with an eternal destiny and purpose
The Bible refers to the Word of God being milk, and the only way to sustain our Christian life and grow.
as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby
— I Peter 2:2
This is also true with babies, in that their first and only food is milk. It is noted in a previous article El Shaddai that...
Breast milk is an entirely sufficient means to provide everything a baby needs nutritionally.
...Showing us the complete sufficiency of God's Word for us.
How equally interesting as well that breast milk also contains antibodies that help the babies immune system fight off illness-causing agents. Milkweed, our example in this lesson of the milk of God's word, contains a poisonous substance that is fatal to many Monarch predators.
if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments...The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated
— Deuteronomy 28:1,7
Consuming the Word of God and acting in obedience to it, is much like the caterpillar that eats Milkweed, It causes us to contain a substance that is noxious to the enemy of our souls, whose desire it is to devour us.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour
— I Peter 5:8
The Caterpillar spends a good portion of the day eating during this 14-day phase of its life.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
— Joshua 1:8
Thus revealing how our spiritual lives are so deeply dependent on being nourished from the sufficiency of His Word.
...Give attention to my words...for they are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh
— Proverbs 4:20,22
Every year my granddaughters and I bring about 3 or 4 Monarch caterpillars in the house to observe their process of transformation. We make sure that they have fresh Milkweed daily reminding us of the importance of the daily manna (Word) we are to gather every morning as the children of Israel did on their wilderness journey which was their main source of sustenance as well.
Presently the Monarch population has dropped 90%, one of the reasons being its lack of available milkweed due to herbicide usage. What a great image that reveals how true spiritual life and transformation cannot take place without the word.
I have discovered that there are predators of the Monarch caterpillar that don't seem to be affected by the noxious milkweed. Orioles, Grosbeaks, wasps, and spiders all from the outside. The apostle Peter gives us a spiritual application for this.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
— I Peter 5:8
There is also two internal enemies of the Monarch. The Tachinid fly and Chalcid wasps inject their tiny larvae into the caterpillar. This little larva will eat the caterpillar from the inside out. This can be a metaphor for our enemy called the flesh that dwells inside of us.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find
— Romans 7:18
The only way to protect the vulnerable caterpillars from these enemies is to isolate them and raise them inside a protective container. I personally bring them into the house. If left outside they only have a 10% chance of survival. If brought into the house it increases that chance to 90%.
What a fabulous illustration of evangelism. This year's Monarch salvation effort will amount to approximately seventy successful releases which are a relatively small number when compared to the total Monarch population, along with the fact that each mother Monarch lays about 400 eggs.
“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
— Matthew 9:37-38
It should be noted that I can't just bring caterpillars into the house and not tend to them. I have to provide a growing environment for them to thrive in making sure that they have fresh food available. This could be likened to discipleship.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
— Matthew 28:19
Another necessary component to protection from our spiritual predators is prayer. Prayer. Prayer can be likened to being shut in with God and fits with our metaphor of being inside the house.
when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place
— Matthew 6:6
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
And shut your doors behind you;
Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment,
Until the indignation is past
— Isaiah 26:20
A much necessary activity I have observed in caterpillar behavior that images this for us the principle of prayer is that it rests quietly in between times of feasting, mainly at night and early morning. This illustrates for us the life of prayer that quickens and enlivens the Word of God to us by communing with God. This is something Jesus exampled for us Himself and is another necessary element of the growth phase of the Monarchs transforming journey.
Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed
— Mark 1:35
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane He scolded His disciples for sleeping instead of praying because He knew that in order to live the life of transformation they would need the power of His Holy Spirit to do so.
"Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak"
— Mark 14:38
It is illustrated by Peter the results of sleeping rather than praying when he succumbed to the temptations of denying Christ in the face of persecution.
"Few who name the Christian name, spend more than five minutes of each day alone with God? If so, the weakness, and worldliness, and unfruitfulness of the professing Church are explained at once...without this deep fellowship, this secret communion with the Unseen, there will be no growth for any of us"
— G.H. Knight "In the Secret of His Presence"
It is in prayer that the Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to do His work in us. Luke records in chapter three that when Jesus was baptized He prayed and while He was praying the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came upon Him. It was immediately following this event that Jesus victoriously overcame the flesh and the devil in the wilderness temptations.
"O! May God awaken us all, and stir us up to pray, for when we pray we shall be victorious"
— Charles Spurgeon
Luke also records in chapter nine that it was during prayer that Christ was transfigured. The word transfigured in this verse is one of the four uses of the Greek word metamorphoo referred to in our foundation verse about being transformed.
do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
— Romans 12:2
Prayer is an exercise of the spirit and a connecting with God in face to face fashion. It leads to the idea of intimacy. I am reluctant to describe it as such, in that, I wish not to reduce it to the modern associations of mere feelings and selfish satisfaction, but rather would hope to communicate with this word intimacy the closeness and nearness to God that can only be experienced in prayer.
"A prayerless soul is a Christless soul"
— Charles Spurgeon
Most recently, I have been wrestling in frustration concerning the development of fruit in my Christian life, the fruit of the Spirit that is, and as I inquired of the Lord concerning this I believe His reply to me was...
"There can be no fruit without intimacy"
The seed of the Word can only be fertilized and grow via the intimate communion with Him.
It is in prayer that we behold Him most nearly and dearly. That is true intimacy. As we behold Him we become changed. This is imaged for us by Moses in Exodus chapter 34, who after he had been in the presence of God his face shone brightly. This is also confirmed in the New Testament Transfiguration event with one of the four uses of the Greek word "metamorphoo" meaning "transformed".
Word and Prayer
we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
— II Corinthians 3:18
We become what we worship which is evidenced by who we listen to (Word) and what or whom we behold. (Prayer).
In terms of the renewing of the mind and its transforming effects, as our foundation verse admonishes us to do, prayer is just as essential as the reading and hearing of His Word. According to Rob Moll in his book "What Your Body Knows About God," he writes,
"twelve minutes of attentive and focused prayer every day for eight weeks changes the brain significantly enough to be measured in a brain scan. Not only that, but it strengthens areas of the brain involved in social interaction, increasing our sense of compassion and making us more sensitive to other people...strengthens parts of the brain that helps us override our emotional and irrational urges"
Both Word and prayer are necessary for our growth and spiritual development. My Bible study teacher Jean Karau taught us a little saying to remember this necessary balance
"If your only in the Word you will dry up, If your only in prayer you will blow up, but if you are in the Word and prayer you will grow up"
How relevant that during the transfiguration referenced earlier, Moses representing the law (Word) and Elijah representing the Spirit (prayer), were both present.
What poor starvelings some saints are who live without the diligent use of the Word of God and secret prayer!
— Charles Spurgeon "Morning and Evening" devotional January 2
He gave us a book as a love-token. and he desired us to read it, for it was full of love to us; and we have kept it fast closed till the very spiders have spun their cobwebs over the leaves. He opened a house of prayer and bade us go there, and there would he meet with us and speak to us from off the mercy seat; but we have often preferred the theater to God's house and have been found listening to any sound rather than the voice which speaketh from heaven.
— Charles Spurgeon "The New Heart"
Stage Two — Justification — Living the Exchanged Life
This second phase of the Monarch's life, that of a caterpillar, represents the justification and righteousness that became ours at salvation resulting in our becoming a new creature in Christ through His eternal life imparted to us and is showcased for us in the caterpillar's life in what is known as imaginal cells that reside within it.
...He has put eternity in their hearts
— Ecclesiastes 3:11
These cells contain the blueprint and construction material necessary to develop the adult structures of a fully formed butterfly and represent the eternal deposit that resides within us.
when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory
— Ephesians 1:13-14
How fascinating that science has named these cells imaginal with the idea that It represents a transformation and renewal that has already taken place and realized on the inside but isn't fully manifested in its outward appearance.
The Caterpillar's visible external changes at this point are evidenced by its growth. As growth occurs its outer skin or flesh can no longer contain it and there is a shedding of skin that gives us our final lesson in the practical living out of this eternal justified and righteous life we have been so graciously given through the putting off of our flesh and putting on a new man.
Put Off Put On — Living Out Our Justification
The Monarch Caterpillar sheds its skin five times. This speaks of shedding from ourselves the things of the flesh and putting on the new things that are consistent with the new creation we have become as represented by the imaginal cells in the caterpillar.
put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness
— Ephesians 4:22-24
put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him
— Colossians 3:8-10
The necessity of the mind being renewed from Romans 12 is again repeated in the above verses and is essential to the transformation process.
The fifth shedding of the caterpillar's flesh is significant, in that, five is the number of God's grace by which we are justified and enabled to live that out.
we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another...having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life
— Titus 3:3,7
"Everything from His heart and hand bears the imprint of His greatness. All of His creative works pale into insignificance alongside His saving grace and power"
— Herbert Lockyer "All the Doctrines of the Bible"
We are justified and made right on the inside by the grace of God through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are to work out this reality and righteousness in practice much like the wrestling and squirming caterpillar observed in the video on the right, who puts off its old skin and exhibits the new, with the understanding that it is God who does the work of His Holy Spirit.
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure
— Philippians 2:12
The problem is we still look like a worm representing us still living in a body of sin.
Paul, in Romans 12, is describing this very concept of the transformation process with consideration of the new nature we have received when he writes.
...do not be conformed to this world
Wuest Word studies in the Greek New Testament defines the word "conform".
"the act of an individual assuming an outward expression that does not come from within him, nor is representative of his inner heart life... as a regenerated child of God."
In other words, to be conformed to this world is to act in a manner inconsistent with the new creation that we are. Paul admonishes us that we are not to look at nor behave in the manner of our old worm nature. The author of Hebrews offers a remedy of rather than looking at our worminess we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith
— Hebrews 12:1-2
Even though we live in the resemblance of the worm (picture of the flesh)...
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me
— Galatians 2:20
The revelation of this new man and creation we are and are becoming is reportedly an internal process that is lived out in the daily practices of life.
we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day
— II Corinthians 4:16
This concludes part two of this series showing us how the caterpillar illustrates the necessary components and instructions for those who have trusted in the salvation of Jesus Christ. Like the worm that still lives in a body of flesh yet contains everything necessary to live a transformed life as new creatures through Him who loved us...
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness
— II Peter 1:3
and when it is time and that process is complete...
...we shall be changed
— I Corinthians 15:52
Part three will examine the Chrysalis phase of a Monarch's life representing the death of self. It will image for us the most dramatic of changes in the butterfly's transformation, and we will see how, just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the deep primordial soup in the work of creation, so His miraculous and creative power, and work will be done in us.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
— Philippians 3:21
© 2014 Tamarajo