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The Monarch Butterfly—an Illustration of Transformation—the Caterpillar Phase

Tamarajo is an avid Bible Studier who loves nothing more than to seek out the treasures in God's Word and share them with others.

There is nothing insignificant in God's universe. Everything that He has made has a meaning and a purpose. There is not a curl in a cloud, or a curve in a leaf, or a tint on a blossom, but has a reason for it, and speaks of its origin. H. Macmillan

There is nothing insignificant in God's universe. Everything that He has made has a meaning and a purpose. There is not a curl in a cloud, or a curve in a leaf, or a tint on a blossom, but has a reason for it, and speaks of its origin. H. Macmillan


In a related lesson, the number four and its connection to transformation processes were studied exhaustively. As we shall see, the details of this process will illustrate for us the creation and change God wishes to do inside of us by four stages:

  1. salvation,
  2. justification,
  3. sanctification,
  4. resulting in glorification

All of which are dependent upon His work in us yet requiring our participation and cooperation.


Exodus—Stage One Salvation

The life-cycle of the Monarch begins as a tiny egg deposited on the underside of a Milkweed plant. The lonely beginning illustrates 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. As the little worm eagerly eats its way out of its shell, it demonstrates the beginning of our journey as the insatiable creatures 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 "Gospel of Isaiah" expresses our innate need for salvation through hunger and thirst metaphors. The prophet cries out to all those 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



Once freed from its shell's captivity, the hungry Monarch caterpillar begins, immediately, to feast on Milkweed. It's the only source of sustenance for both the first and second phases of its life's journey.

Its total mission at this stage of development is growing as it prepares for its miraculous future transformation. The baby caterpillar eating Milkweed illustrates 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

A baby's first and only food is milk. Breast milk is an entirely sufficient means to provide everything a baby needs nutritionally, demonstrating the complete sufficiency of God's Word.

Breast milk also contains antibodies that help the baby's 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 harmful substance 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


Fresh Daily Sustenance

The Monarch 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

The caterpillar's constant eating illustrates 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 transformation process. We make sure that they have fresh Milkweed daily. The parallel lesson in the caterpillar's need for fresh food can be found in our need for God's Word. Our spiritual lives must gather manna every morning as the children of Israel did on their wilderness journey.

Presently the Monarch population has dropped 90%, one of the reasons being its lack of available Milkweed due to herbicide usage. The Monarch's decline because of lack of food reveals how real spiritual life and transformation cannot occur without God's Word.



Contrary to popular belief, the Monarch caterpillar does have predators that aren't 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 are also two internal enemies of the Monarch caterpillar. The Tachinid fly and Chalcid wasps inject their tiny larvae into the caterpillar. The fly and wasp larva will eat the caterpillar from the inside out. We, too, have an internal 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, therefore, 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%.

Finding and saving caterpillars by bringing them into the house demonstrates how evangelism looks. 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

When I bring a caterpillar into the house, I have to provide a growing environment for them to thrive in. I need to make sure that the very vulnerable baby caterpillars have fresh food available. The nurturing aspect of bringing them in could be compared 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 can be likened to being shut in with God and fits 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-needed activity I have observed in caterpillar behavior that depicts the principle of prayer is that it rests quietly in-between times of feasting. The caterpillar rest periods illustrate for us the life of worship that quickens and enlivens the Word of God to us by communing with God. Rest periods are something Jesus exampled for us Himself and are another necessary element of the growth phase of the Monarch's 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 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

The apostle Peter illustrates 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 allowed to do His work in us. Luke records in chapter three that the heavens were opened during Jesus's baptism while He prayed, 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 the transfiguration of Christ occurred during prayer. In this verse, the word transfigured is one of the four uses of the Greek phrase 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 connection with God in a face-to-face fashion. It leads to the idea of intimacy.

"A prayerless soul is a Christless soul"

— Charles Spurgeon

A common problem with fruit development in the Christian life can be a lack of intimacy with the Lord. There can be no fruit without intimacy.

The seed of God's Word can only be fertilized and grow via intimate communion with Him.

It is in prayer that we behold Him most nearly and dearly. That is real intimacy. As we see Him, we become changed. This type of change is depicted for us by Moses in Exodus chapter 34, who, after he had been in the presence of God, his face shone brightly. The New Testament Transfiguration event is 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, evidenced by who we listen to (Word) and what or whom we behold. (Prayer).

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 essential 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"

During the transfiguration, Moses, who represents the law (Word), and Elijah, who represents the Spirit (prayer), were there.

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

For Consideration

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

The second phase of the Monarch's life-cycle represents the justification and righteousness that became ours at salvation. Through Christ, we have been justified and made right with God. This newfound position resulted in our becoming a new creature in Christ and an inheritor of eternal life.

. . . He has put eternity in their hearts.

— Ecclesiastes 3:11

The caterpillar depicts this idea with its imaginal cells that reside within it. Imaginal cells contain the blueprint and construction material necessary to develop a fully formed butterfly's adult structures and represent the eternal deposit that lies 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

Imaginal cells represent a transformation and renewal that has already occurred and realized on the inside but not 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. Next, a shedding of skin gives us our final lesson in the practical living out of this eternal justified and righteous life we have been so graciously given by putting off our flesh and putting on a new man.

Put Off Put On—Living Out Our Justification

The Monarch Caterpillar sheds its skin five times. The sheds speak of shedding from ourselves 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 renewal of the mind, from Romans chapter 12, is again repeated in the above verses and is essential to the transformation process.

The Forming and Conforming

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.

In Romans 12, Paul describes 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" in the following way.

"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."

To be conformed to this world is to act inconsistently with the new creation that we are. Paul admonishes us that we are not to look at nor behave in the way 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), we have a new life.

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 becoming is reportedly an internal process we live 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


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

When it is time and that process is complete, we will be entirely new both inside and out.

. . . we shall be changed.

— I Corinthians 15:52

The Chrysalis phase of a Monarch's life represents the death of self. The dying process demonstrates the most dramatic changes in the butterfly's transformation. Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the deep primordial soup in the work of creation, His miraculous and creative power and work will complete 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

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