the glorious Liberty
of the children of GOD
Our first task in this Study is to define and understand exactly what is this Glorious Liberty, which evidently belongs to the children of GOD. The promise is found in the eighth chapter of the apostle Paul's epistle to the believers at Rome?
- ROMANS 8:21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Two ideas are set forth here, the one upon and above the other. First, the creature (mankind, see J. Stuart Russell's The Parousia, pages 224-225) is said to be in bondage to corruption, which no doubt means that he is wholly and fully encased and imprisoned within a decaying body (1 CORINTHIANS 15:42, 50). There appears to be no escape from it, and as his body continues to decay, man is corrupting with it. But then somehow he is to be set at liberty and this liberty has to do with being a son of GOD.
Some might think that when we became Christians that maybe it was then that we escaped corruption and were at that time delivered into this glorious liberty. Howbeit, that is probably not the case for Paul's continual and re-occurring theme here was the resurrection. In verse eleven he declared that GOD, who raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken (give life to, NRSV) their mortal bodies. In verse thirteen he promised that if they shall mortify (put to death, NRSV) the deeds of the body then they shall live, no doubt in resurrection. Then a couple of verses after the passage we are studying Paul reveals that he too was waiting for this deliverance, this adoption, the redemption of his body.
- ROMANS 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
This passage itself is most curious and deserves a brief comment. Paul stated here that they were groaning within themselves as they waited for their adoption, which was to coincide with the redemption of their bodies. What else can this mean than that their resurrection and adoption would happen together, or at least in close proximity to one another.
We should note that Paul was careful to make the distinction here that these sons of GOD were adopted children (ROMANS 8:15), and not begotten. Yeshua (Jesus) was GOD's only begotten Son (JOHN 1:18; 3:18 1 JOHN 4:9), all others are adopted (see the Study, By Birth or Adoption?).
We may be called sons of GOD now, but the fulness of the reality and all that that entails we won't enter into until after our resurrection. Following our death and resurrection, after our gathering together into heaven, into the kingdom of GOD and HIS Son, we shall then be formally declared GOD's adopted sons (EPHESIANS 1:4-5) and deemed joint heirs with Christ, then entering into that glory (ROMANS 8:17, 19). It is only then that we shall receive new bodies, like unto His (PHILIPPIANS 3:21). It is then that we shall receive eminent and profound responsibilities, like unto His (2 TIMOTHY 2:10 REVELATION 3:21).
One of the primary reasons for the ancient adoption process was so that a wealthy or powerful individual would have a qualified heir to assume and continue his estate in the case of his death. We probably first meet with this in scripture in the case of Abraham, whom having a barren wife and no child of his own, was expecting that one of his servants would then become his heir (GENESIS 15:3).
The adoption process had four specific details which had to be met on the occasion of the adopter's death. The first was that the adopted person was to be transferred to another family. Second, the adopted person had to have his name changed. Third, the adopted person had to change his residence. And fourth the adopted person had to assume new responsibilities and privileges (from page 212, Just and the Justifier, by Charles Welch).
We see all four of these circumstances met in the believer's resurrection. That he is transferred to another family we gather from REVELATION 22:4 where it is stated that Yeshua's "name shall be in their foreheads". That his name is changed we know from REVELATION 2:17 where it is explicitly stated that the believer shall have a new name. That the believer's residence is changed we know from a multitude of passages, including 1 THESSALONIANS 4:17 where we are told that those gathered together will be caught up into the clouds to ever be with the Lord. Finally, that the adoptee shall receive new responsibilities and privileges we shall gather from this present Study.
To grasp the depth and magnitude of all that Paul intended by this Glorious Liberty, let us begin by considering the context of his statement. Chapter eight comes off of chapter seven, for Paul emphatically stated in the first verse, "Therefore now"! Therefore means that we must look at what preceded the therefore to see exactly what he intended his reader to understand.
But chapter seven cannot be understood, indeed is not understood, unless we first perceive just what the entire epistle is about. This is thoroughly and minutely set forth by Paul S. Minear in his book, The Obedience of Faith, but we will give a brief summary of it here.
In his epistle, Paul was addressing a schism which had developed in the Christian fellowships at Rome (ROMANS 11:18; 12:3, 10, 16, 18-21; 14:2-3, 10, 13-15, 20; 15:2, 5). He was first confronting some of the Jewish believers who had become put off with and even separated themselves from many of the Gentiles believers because these were not willing to observe many aspects of the Jewish law (ROMANS 2:1, 17-29, 27-28; 4:1-17; 8:2-6; 9:6-13, 30-33; 10:1-11, 19-21; 11:9-11; 13:8, 10).
Following this, some of the Gentile believers had been ridiculing the weak faith of their Jewish brethren because of their strict observance of that same Jewish law, which these Gentiles deemed useless and unnecessary. Paul then had to remind these Gentiles not only of the special Jewish position but also how they themselves must not live a loose and lax lifestyle (ROMANS 3:1-2, 31; 6:1, 12-23; 7:12; 9:3-5; 11:1-5, 12-22, 25-32; 13:9, 12-14; 14:1, 21; 15:1, 8-12).
Nevertheless, as a result of this growing schism evidently a substantial portion of the Jewish Christians had been refusing to eat or fellowship with their Gentile brethren and the whole controversy was ripping the Church at Rome apart, which had been intended by GOD to be one unified and edifying fellowship (ROMANS 3:29; 4:9; 9:24; 10:12; 15:27).
Thus, in the seventh chapter, Paul rehearsed with them how he also had been misled by his misunderstanding of the true nature of the Mosaic Law (7:8-12), even condemning to prison and death those with whom he disagreed. For the interested reader we have set forth this exposition of the seventh chapter of ROMANS in more detail in the Study, No Condemnation.
So then in the eighth chapter Paul was building off of these preliminary remarks to declare that they likewise should not be condemning one another for how they each chose to live their lives (8:1), either Jews or Gentiles. If the Jews wanted to abstain from certain foods (14:2-3), the Gentiles shouldn't condemn them for it. And if the Gentiles didn't want to observe any of the Jewish holy days, then the Jews shouldn't condemn them for that either (14:5).
As such, chapter eight was Paul expounding unto them much that awaited them as adopted sons of GOD, in the kingdom of heaven. How can they, he was asking, then lower themselves and be carnally minded (verse 6) by condemning one another? The body is dead, only the spirit is life, and HE that raised up Christ from the dead shall soon raise them up also (verses 9-11), if indeed they have the spirit of GOD.
Paul was endeavoring to lift their aspirations up from the petty affairs of this earthly existence to the future glory of that heavenly hope by encouraging them to view their fellow believers not from an earthly perspective but from an heavenly perspective, not after the flesh but after the spirit (verses 12-13). Thus, if they were to be adopted as GOD's sons, then they all, Jews and Gentiles, were destined to be heirs of GOD and even joint-heirs with Christ (verses 16-17).
Paul further added that this earthly existence can not even be fairly compared with that glory which awaits the believer (verse 18), for with earnest expectation (meaning with his neck outstretched in anticipation) man in general intently looks for that deliverance from the bondage of corruption into that glorious liberty of the sons of GOD (verses 19-21).
But as noted above, the apostle Paul along with all of his readers, were still waiting for the redemption of their bodies, when they shall formally be declared the sons of GOD (verse 23). At the writing of this epistle Yeshua had of course already entered into that glory, but other believers must await His return and their own day before HIS throne (REVELATION 20:12-15) to discover and actually receive the glorious inheritance which awaited them.
Howbeit, however strange or foreign it may sound, a good argument can be made that Christ has indeed already returned and gathered together His Church into heaven, probably a little over a dozen years after Paul wrote ROMANS (see the Study, Whatever Happened to Timothy?). That would mean that the gathering together of the first century saints has now already transpired. That further means that we today must wait, not for His Return, but rather for our own death and resurrection (1 CORINTHIANS 15:23) so as to enter His kingdom.
That the return of Christ has already occurred might at first seem disconcerting to the modern Christian, but it is the only sensible explanation for the many and oft repeated statements in scripture concerning the Lord's expected return, which for the first century believers was fast coming upon them (REVELATION 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20).
- MATTHEW 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Yeshua plainly said here that some of His listeners would not die till He had returned "in the glory of His Father with the angels". Not only so, but every single writer of the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) wrote of the expected return of Christ being in their very near future. Only Church Traditions have deceived and convinced the modern Church-goer that this Parousia was for some reason held off, held in abeyance, or postponed, now for over two thousand years. But when the scriptures are read as they were plainly written, then we don't have to invent silly excuses for His assumed delay.
What all of this means is that the first century believers have already been gathered together into heaven and some have been seated upon thrones, receiving crowns and thereby ruling the multitudes. Since then, since that first gathering together, believers now die and are then resurrected according to the order GOD has predetermined and deemed fit (1 CORINTHIANS 15:23).
But in this present Study about this Glorious Liberty, let us look into the different aspects of that heavenly calling and see if we can understand more perfectly the promise and hope of that summons. Let us then consider what awaits us in His kingdom, what might be our responsibilities and purposes in that heavenly realm. Let us discover and at least glimpse that glorious liberty which continues to await the sons of GOD.
Not long before His capture, and torture, and crucifixion, Yeshua instructed His followers concerning many aspects of His Father's kingdom when He proclaimed several parables specifically detailing that kingdom. One particular parable had to do with a certain man traveling into a far country (MATTHEW 25:14), which no doubt mirrored His own approaching death and departure a short time later, when He ascended into heaven after His resurrection.
In the parable Yeshua taught that before this man left for his journey, that he granted his servants certain talents which they were commissioned to put to use. Then at his subsequent return he rewarded them accordingly. Yeshua closed the parable with these most solemn words;
- MATTHEW 25:31-34 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations [ethnos, not necessarily nations in particular but more so the multitudes]: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
- Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Some of those gathered together were to inherit a kingdom which had been prepared for them even from the foundation of the world. A kingdom is not a fluffy cloud where one kicks back and relaxes, enjoying idleness and easy living. A kingdom is a place that must be governed, it must be administered, it must be kept up. A kingdom has rulers and servants; it has friends and enemies; it has obligations.
By this parable of the three men who received the talents, Yeshua was clearly revealing certain aspects of this heaven kingdom. He was plainly explaining to His listeners that how one conducted his affairs in this life, was most definitely going to affect his responsibilities in the next life. We are not here on earth to just get saved and then go to heaven. We are here to prove our own worth (2 THESSALONIANS 1:5). We are here to learn discipline and forgiveness and mercy. We are here to produce the fruit of the spirit.
This parable was about three servants, two who were diligent in varying degrees with their talents but another who was weak, perhaps lazy, at least fearful. The parable is the intricate and graphic backdrop of Yeshua's promise about a future kingdom for His faithful followers. Evidently, faithfulness in this present life was to be recognized and rewarded in the next life. Evidently, proper stewardship in this present life was to be put to use in the next life. The message is as clear as can be.
As we go through this Study, we shall see this theme repeated over and over in the scriptures. We shall read of promises and hopes and expectations for the faithful followers of Yeshua when they are resurrected to eternal life. They were not expecting some eternal rest from all of life's annoyances. Instead they found themselves being prepared for future challenges, for future endeavors, for future conquests.
This earthly existence is for the sole purpose of preparing us for that next life, that life after our resurrection. Then it will be that we shall realize how important it was for us to remain faithful to our calling. Then it will be that it fully dawns on us why GOD raised us up to learn and live by HIS precepts. Then we shall understand just how critically important the race set before us has been.
A good place for us to launch out upon this quest is with Yeshua's unprecedented Sermon on the Mount. In it He declared certain truths which are often received with some doubt and even skepticism. But all is made clear when we consider His words in light of the resurrection.
- MATTHEW 5:3, 5, 10 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. . . . Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the poor and meek and persecuted. This concept is hardly sensible to the modern ear. Yet if His words are considered in the context with which He delivered them, the context of not an earthly but a resurrected existence, then His words are perfectly logical. Only then, after resurrection are His promises intelligible. The poor and meek and persecuted in this life will be immeasurably blessed in the next life.
We should note that Yeshua declared here that the meek were going to inherit the earth and evidently not heaven. But it is not this earth where sin and rebellion abound. It is rather a new earth, where righteousness and godliness shall flourish (REVELATION 5:10; 21:1).
Only when we consider His words in the light of the resurrection, that He was not speaking of this present world, but He was speaking of a future life, can His words then comfort and guide us into the truth. It was the resurrection kingdom for which He lived. It was the resurrection kingdom for which He gave His life. It was the resurrection kingdom to which he continually pointed His followers (for other references to the resurrection in this same sermon, see MATTHEW 5:20, 29; 6:19-21, 33; 7:13-14, 21).
- MATTHEW 8:11-12 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. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This was where His mind was set, on the resurrection. That is what He lived for and this is where He was continually directing His followers. But He also realized that many of them would fail the test. Many would not be faithful with the talents committed to their trust. Yeshua was well aware that after their resurrection many of them would weep and many others were going to gnash with their teeth. They would weep because they would only too late realize that they had wasted away their lives on trivial pursuits. They would gnash with their teeth in anger and bitterness because they were to be cast out into outer darkness, and not welcomed into the banquet hall.
These parables were Yeshua drawing the curtain back just a little, and giving us a glimpse of that hidden world which awaits each of us after this earthly life has run its course and come to its conclusion. But His message was not going to be received by everyone, for He repeatedly said, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (MATTHEW 11:15; 13:9, 43). Some heard and then realigned their goals and ambitions, some didn't. Rejecting His words too many of them continued to live as if this present existence had no bearing on the next life.
The consequences of this earthly life is not something for us to toy with. This present existence is not to be taken lightly. This is a serious business with which we are to concern ourselves; it is vital and crucial to future life. Indeed, learning and heeding His guidance is our entire purpose and should be our whole-hearted and faithful pursuit. To try to live life as if the resurrection had no bearing upon it, is like trying to live life with no purpose or direction.
The genius of it all is that GOD designed HIS creation so that no one can evade HIS justice; no one will be able to avoid the fact that HE will have the last word. Many might think that they can ignore or elude their Maker as they go about their daily routines, but it is like we are all adrift upon the same ocean current, gently floating towards the same final destination. As much as we may fight against the drift, we can't long avoid the rocky coastline. As we then crash into the shore and are later pulled from the wreckage of death to the safety of the beach, we shall then each receive our just rewards (MATTHEW 16:27).
- JOHN 5:28-29 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [judgment, Concordant Version of the New Testament].
During this earthly existence we may each go our own way and think that we are choosing our own path, but eventually all of us will have to answer for each of our decisions. Some may mock this whole idea of a final judgment; some may doubt and ridicule the scriptures; some may laugh us to scorn; some may even curse their Maker and turn away from HIS calling; but in the end HE shall have the last word. In the end our Creator shall decide and declare where each of us will spend eternity, either in HIS kingdom or in eternal death.
Yet HE is not a shrewd or unjust GOD. HE desires that all men be saved and make it into HIS kingdom (1 TIMOTHY 2:4). Familiar scripture tells us that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (JOHN 3:16). Thus, Yeshua promised His disciples that He was going away to prepare a place for them, so that where He was they could be also (JOHN 14:2-3). He more than once prayed to the Father that His followers would be allowed to be with Him and behold His glory (JOHN 17:24). But He also fully realized the hard fact that many would just not believe. Many were not going to hear and heed His warnings and instructions. Indeed, many were going to reject all which He was endeavoring to reveal.
Yeshua therefore sought out faithful stewards to be His fellow-heirs, those who could be trained to be trusted, those who had proved their loyalty and faithfulness to GOD. Thus He admonished them that if they were not faithful in that which is least, if they had not been faithful even in unrighteous mammon, or that which is another's (LUKE 16:10-13), then why would they suppose that the true riches would be entrusted to them?
Our tests await us in this life. Here is where we are given countless opportunities to prove ourselves. It is in the here and now where we are faced with multiple chances to demonstrate our own worth (2 THESSALONIANS 1:3-5).
James, one of Yeshua's foremost apostles and disciples (see the Study, The Kingdom of GOD in Heaven) also carried this same message, that it was in the kingdom of heaven, after the resurrection, where the believer who had cultivated and harvested this faith, was going to find true and everlasting riches.
- JAMES 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
Hearken! he said. The poor of this world are frequently rich in faith because they are the ones who often have no where else to go but to GOD. The rich and powerful do not usually need GOD. They have adequate insurance and available credit to get them out of most any jam. But the poor are the ones who must rely on their Maker and not their money. The poor are the ones who must cast all their care upon HIM (LUKE 16:25).
As such, the poor of this world were to be heirs in the next world; and not just heirs but heirs of a kingdom. In other words, they were to inherit and be possessors of a future kingdom, no doubt vastly superior to any earthly one. But it was still a kingdom none the less, which would need to be ruled and administered. It was an inheritance which would need to be stewarded, and governed and reigned over (MATTHEW 24:47). And it was an inheritance which was to be "incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away" (1 PETER 1:3-4).
Evidently those heirs were not to be just idle inhabiters of this kingdom, but they were to be active rulers, for we are further told that some of them were to be given crowns.
- JAMES 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
- 1 PETER 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
- 2 TIMOTHY 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
- (see also REVELATION 3:11; 4:4, 10)
These crowns were to be awarded after the resurrection when the chief Shepherd returned and gathered together His flock into heaven. We should note that a crown usually sets one individual apart from others, often for some special responsibility. The crown not only recognized one's accomplishments but frequently signified some special privilege or authority. Thus there were different crowns for different purposes and different accomplishments.
As noted above, James wrote that they were to be awarded crowns after they had endured temptation. Likewise, Paul wrote that these crowns were given to those who had mastered self-control or temperance. The crowns were to be awarded there, in a future kingdom, as rewards for accomplishments and achievements made here. Thus, it is only natural to conclude that overcoming today's trials and tribulations earn crowns in the next life.
Peter wrote that the crowns were to be awarded to those who willingly fed the flock of GOD; not for money or as being lords over the Church, but as being righteous examples for the other believers to imitate (1 PETER 5:2-4). If they proved themselves responsible in handling the Christian fellowships here, and lived righteous godly lives here, then they could expect to be rewarded with crowns of glory in the next life.
As we go through and consider the book of REVELATION we will be given further insight into the purpose and function of these crowns (2:10; 3:11; 4:4, 10; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14). Yeshua Himself had promised that "he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power [exousia, authority] over the nations [ethnos, the multitudes]" (REVELATION 2:26). The Greek word ethnos, rendered here and elsewhere as nations, doesn't necessarily mean nations as we today think of the word. The Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon defines ethnos as one of five possible groups.
- 1. a multitude (whether of men or beasts) associated or living together;
- 2. a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus
- 3. race, nation
- 4. foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles
- 5. Paul uses ethnos even of Gentile Christians
We must therefore look at and rely on the context of the word so as to understand to what ethnos Yeshua was referring. The second and third chapters of REVELATION were written to and about seven Churches in Asia. REVELATION itself was written concerning the end of the age when Jerusalem and much of the Land of Israel were to be destroyed and laid bare. John's visions had mostly to do with the tribes and peoples of Palestine and not the far flung distant nations of the globe. Note also that the Greek word ge, which is often translated earth in modern versions, doesn't necessarily mean planet earth at all, but more appropriately is often referring to the land, usually the Land of Palestine.
Even so, some sort of authority was to be given to those who were deemed qualified to receive it; those who had overcome the trials and tribulations of this life. And further, this was to be an authority which some of the over-comers were going to wield over multitudes. To what purpose? The next verse tells us, "And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers".
This is quite an astounding passage. Those who were faithful to keep Yeshua's works were going to be given authority to rule the multitudes with a rod of iron; and some of those multitudes were evidently going to be smashed into bits and pieces. We must wonder how this could be? In what manner could a resurrected believer in a future kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, exercise such rule over multitudes?
The entire context of Yeshua's discourse here (the second and third chapter) was concerning the members of seven particular Churches, who were being encouraged to persevere with labor (faith, charity and patience) so as to overcome various challenges (tribulation, poverty, idolatry, fornication, adultery, and even prison) which they were then facing. As such, those who repented of their sins, those who were faithful unto death and kept the word of His patience, were to be awarded crowns so that they themselves would then have authority to rule over others.
This phrase about ruling the multitudes with a rod of iron is found three times in the Christian scriptures (REVELATION 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). It is probably a quotation from PSALM 2:8 where a king of Israel was being congratulated for his triumph over the neighboring kingdoms (see Crawford Howell Toy's Quotations in the New Testament, page 204). These heathen rulers were raging against GOD and HIS newly anointed king, asserting independence from their authority. Howbeit, GOD laughed at their pathetic boastings, warning them of the fatal mistake they were together contemplating.
No matter how we slice it, when it comes to ruling the multitudes with a rod of iron, it does not appear that we can get around the fact that somebodies were going to be getting their heads knocked together. Sure, sometimes rule (poimaino) can mean to feed (see LUKE 17:7 and JOHN 21:16) and a rod can be a staff (MARK 6:8 and HEBREWS 11:21), but the context on all four of the occasions of this phrase substantiates the meaning which the translators have given it. Some obdurate and unrepentant multitudes were going to be ruled, over-ruled evidently against their own will, and then as the need required they faced the possibility of being smashed to pieces as clay vessels.
In this discourse in REVELATION Yeshua had instructed His apostle John to tell the Ephesian Church that if they refused to repent, then He would come and remove their candlestick out of its place (REVELATION 2:5). Loosing the candlestick, which in 1:20 represented the Church, no doubt meant that the congregation would no longer have a guiding light in their presence, illuminating and guiding them. Yeshua said as much when in His Sermon on the Mount He declared that men do not "light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house" (MATTHEW 5:15). Its goes without saying that without the candlestick there was no light, no illumination.
Thus, we are to understand that if these church-goers failed to repent and walk worthy of their calling, that they would evidently then be removed and isolated from His guidance and instruction. If the Church is removed, then its true teaching, and fellowship, and guidance is also removed.
Then we are told that unless the sinner repented of his sins, the Lord would come and fight against him with the sword of His mouth (2:16). This no doubt indicated that words would be His weapons. The words of truth would be plunged or driven deep within the sinners soul, sometimes perhaps inflicting severe mental stress, but then at other times resulting in his repentance.
Then we have this most astounding declaration to the Church at Thyatira.
- REVELATION 2:22-23 Behold, I will cast her [Jezebel] into a bed [Aramaic has grave], and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
Whether this Jezebel was a real individual in the Church at Thyatira or some person represented by the evil queen of former times, it can not be known. But it is noted that she was a false prophetess who was teaching and seducing the believers, even leading them to commit fornication. No doubt the children mentioned in the passage were her devout followers; those who participated with her in her sins (1 JOHN 3:10).
We should consider how Alfred Edersheim described queen Jezebel, who was the wife of king Ahab, in Book Five of his Old Testament Bible History, on page 178.
- A clever, strong, bold, and unscrupulous woman, she was by conviction a devotee to the most base and revolting idolatry which the world has ever known, combining with this reckless contempt of the rights and consciences of others, and the utter indifference as to the means employed, which characterize the worst aspect of Eastern despotism. That she would hate the religion of Jehovah, and seek utterly to destroy it- and, indeed, whatever would not bend to her imperious will; that she would prove the implacable foe of all that was pious or even free in Israel; and that she would not shrink from the wholesale murder of those who resisted or opposed her, follows almost as a matter of course.
Thus, we must conclude that many in the Church at Thyatira had some real serious problems. They had allowed this false teacher to teach and seduce many of the believers away from the truth. No doubt some of them had wandered so far away from godliness that their return was not likely or expected.
We must surmise then that these scenes in John's visions are explaining to us what it is to be smashed to pieces as potter's vessels. Yeshua was exercising the authority given to Him by GOD, so as to set things right and correct those going astray. But even beyond that He was also given authority to remove, even kill with death those causing others to go astray.
Thus, if the resurrected believers are to be joint heirs with Christ (ROMANS 8:17), seated on thrones in semblance to His throne (MATTHEW 19:28), then should we not see the two roles corresponding with one another? As King of kings and Lord of lords He will have other kings and other lords ruling under Him. Is it not natural for us to then conclude that these other kings and other lords are those believers which have been given crowns after their own resurrection (REVELATION 1:6)?
Further on in the next chapter we are told that those who do not overcome will evidently have their names blotted out of the book of life (REVELATION 3:5). This reinforces for us the idea that as adopted sons, we are not formally so acknowledged until after our resurrection, at HIS judgment seat. Only then will the final decision be declared whether or not one is to be adopted as a son. It is here suggested that if an individual fails to stand the test, his adoption can be passed over or even reversed.
We have inferences in the scriptures of others, who even though they were first accepted as heirs, they were later removed from any inheritance. Abraham had intended Ishmael to be his heir but GOD had other plans (GENESIS 21:10). Moses himself was adopted into the family of Pharaoh (EXODUS 2:10), but later he was no doubt disinherited (EXODUS 2:15). Even the nation of Israel was adopted as GOD's son (ROMANS 9:4), but then because of their refusal to repent of their many scandalous sins, they were later rejected (HOSEA 4:6). We should also remember that the apostle Paul warned Timothy that if any denied Christ, then He would surely deny them (2 TIMOTHY 2:12).
A few verses later in REVELATION we are told that the Church at Philadelphia was warned that if they failed to hold fast to what they had, that they were in danger of loosing their crown (REVELATION 3:11). We picture here an heavenly court (REVELATION 4) being held where various individuals have had their cases reviewed and presented to the Judge by certain witnesses (HEBREWS 10:28; 12:1). Judgment is passed and some enter into their inheritance, perhaps even being awarded certain crowns while others are rejected and are sentenced to eternal death.
Yeshua closed this most interesting section of scripture with the following important declaration.
- REVELATION 3:20-22 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
What a most remarkable imagery this produces for us. Yeshua standing and knocking at the door, waiting for the inhabiter to respond and answer His call. All that He requires is for the individual to hear His voice and open the door of his heart. If he does this, all that follows can be a life full of growth and learning, a life of fellowship and intimate communion. He will then train us to be over-comers. He will teach us all the necessary abilities so as to qualify us to sit with Him on His throne. What is required of us to initiate this transformation is simply for us to hear His voice and then to open our hearts.
We are told in scripture that the goodness of GOD leads us to repentance (ROMANS 2:4), but it is actually the preaching and teaching of the word which convicts the heart and ultimately causes each of us to repent (MATTHEW 12:41 LUKE 16:30 ACTS 2:37 2 TIMOTHY 2:22). The goodness of GOD acts upon our hearts to bring us to the point and place where we are willing to consider and ponder HIS word, but it is the words of GOD which finally causes within us a change (2 CORINTHIANS 7:8-10).
Thus, having rule over the multitudes, Yeshua was declaring that He would come and set all things right. He will first give the sinner space to repent (REVELATION 2:21), but if they obstinately refuse, then they might eventually find themselves being smashed to pieces, as clay vessels. Perhaps this will occur upon their death even as they crash against the rocky coastline after a life of aimless drifting.
We know that elsewhere in scripture we humans are referred to as earthen vessels (ISAIAH 64:8 2 CORINTHIANS 4:7). We are both fragile and fleeting, as intended by the Creator. Any one of us can succumb to any number of diseases or accidents that can either disable us or even end our lives. In this present life the clay of our vessel is tender and pliable. It can be shaped and formed by the different forces upon it. But after our death and resurrection the clay is fired and becomes hard and permanent. Now in this present life is when we have the opportunity to change into the vessel GOD would want us to be, so that in the next life we are enabled to function as intended.
Life is full of examples of GOD taking advantage of man's frailty so as to exercise HIS will. Imagine any battlefield and one can readily perceive and picture bodies being shattered to pieces. Our Creator not only has the right but the duty to wield this rod of iron so as to accomplish HIS will. And if HE so elects, we can well understand how this authority can be delegated to Yeshua and those under Him who have proved themselves worthy.
Sometimes this authority might be used to correct a wayward son, but just as well it might be used to emasculate or even destroy an evil and ruthless ruler. Consider Herod, or Nero, or Hitler or any number of other depraved sovereigns who were inflicting unimaginable pain upon their fellow man. If we accept the fact that our Creator is a just and all knowing GOD, then we should be able to accept HIS decisions and actions upon those whom HE has created (JEREMIAH 18). HE gave life so HE is certainly justified in taking it back.
We should naturally accept then that this ruling the multitudes might also be the role of the resurrected believer. When some are set upon thrones under His, will they not likewise be performing the same functions as their Lord (ROMANS 6:5)? Yeshua pointedly stated that He would give the over-comers this power to rule the multitudes. And we can further surmise that they are still ruling today (REVELATION 22:5). They are at this very hour, in some fashion, still ruling from heaven with that rod of iron.
But who exactly were the multitudes over which Yeshua (and the over-comers) were to rule? Evidently they were both the believers and the unbelievers. They were members of the seven Churches as well as members of the Church of Satan (REVELATION 2:9; 3:9). They were both believers and deceivers. They were the erring Jewish Christians who were being called on to repent, and they were the false prophetess along with the followers which she had been deceiving. In essence, the multitudes were every and all.
Let us then further consider what other activities Yeshua was involved in after being ascended into heaven and seated upon His throne in GOD's heavenly kingdom. We first see Him standing for Stephen as this first martyr gave his life for his Savior (ACTS 7:56). Then we read about Him confronting Saul as he proceeded to Damascus in his mad persecution of the saints (ACTS 9:4).
And of course we have the entire Book of REVELATION where He was not only revealing to His apostle John many details about the coming days of GOD's wrath upon the Land, but He was Himself personally waging war with the Adversary (REVELATION 19:11f). Then after the Resurrection He was also going to be busy feeding and leading the saints unto the fountain of living waters (REVELATION 7:17). Citizens in this resurrection kingdom were definitely going to be active and engaged.
The epistle of HEBREWS repeatedly called the resurrected Yeshua the High Priest (HEBREWS 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9:11; 10:21), which means that He was going to be acting in that capacity and performing those functions perhaps to the end of time. Yeshua was also called the Captain of Salvation, which suggested that He was guiding and directing His vessel, which no doubt contained His followers, through troubled waters into the safe harbor of salvation (HEBREWS 2:10). Thus, in resurrection He likewise was indeed a very busy Lord.
Resurrection life then is for those who have learned in this present world to be righteous. It is for those who have over-come the temptations and trials of this life so as to develop the fruit of the spirit for the next life (see the Study, The Fruit of the Spirit). In the resurrection some of them are then given crowns because having first proved themselves able to control their own passions and desires, they have therefore proved themselves qualified to rule the multitudes.
- 2 PETER 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
These exceeding great promises of which Peter spoke here, have to do with the glorious liberty which awaits the children of GOD, after their resurrection. He then went on a couple of verses later (1:7) to explain that the trial of their faith was much more precious than gold, expecting that when Christ returned they would then find praise, and honor, and glory. Praise, honor and glory are awarded in the next life for accomplishments in this life.
In this same epistle Peter stated that righteousness dwells in the new heavens and the new earth (3:13). This explains why we must learn to be righteous now, for there, in the resurrection, unrighteousness will not be tolerated. Thus, it is in this life where GOD is striving to make us perfect.
- 1 PETER 5:10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect [katartizo, to render fit or complete], stablish, strengthen, settle you.
After they had suffered a while, Peter wrote, then they were to be made perfect, and be established, strengthened and settled. As such we are not told that the believer can live an unholy life now, participating in all of the sins of the world, and then at his resurrection that he will be touched with a magic wand and be made righteous. No, according to the context here and elsewhere, he is to learn to be righteous by self discipline. This of course tells us that the challenges and struggles of this present life prepare us for that next life, after resurrection.
- 1 PETER 1:13-14 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:
To gird up the loins of one's mind, means to grab hold of your mind and force it to do what is right. In Charles Biggs' book, The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, he has the following comment on this word.
- anazosamenoi. "Having girded up the loins of our mind"; the verb is used of gathering or tucking up long skirts by means of a belt so as to be ready for energetic action. . . . Those who have girded up their loins are ready for instant obedience. (page 112)
If we are to be obedient, then we must be disciplined. We must learn to control what we think and do. Thus, Peter wrote in the next few passages that being no longer fashioned by their former lusts, they were to be holy, for at the resurrection each of them were to be judged, not according to his whims or good intentions, but rather according to his works.
Peter went on in his second epistle to encourage them to diligently pursue such things, that at the resurrection they might be found without spot and blameless (2 PETER 3:14). If they were going to be found blameless, then they were not going to be living in sin. No where does Peter suggest anything about the sinner being cleansed or made perfect after his resurrection. It was all to be done here, in this present life. As such, they were to obey the Lord's precepts and learn to discipline themselves to live godly, righteous lives.
John plainly wrote in his first epistle that the believer is perfected only as he keeps Yeshua's word (I JOHN 2:5). This word perfected is from the Greek word teleioo, defined by Vine's Dictionary as brought "to an end by completing or perfecting". It elsewhere has reference to one being mature (HEBREWS 5:14), lacking nothing (JAMES 1:4), and who is able to control his impulses (JAMES 3:2). In other words, a perfect man is one who has by discipline and determination learned to be righteous and godly (MATTHEW 5:48).
This is what scripture refers to when it speaks of the old man and the new man (EPHESIANS 4:22-23), the old creation and the new creation (2 CORINTHIANS 5:17 NRSV). The old man is the original creation which has not yet learned the Christian virtues. The new man is the new creation which is nurturing and producing the fruit of the spirit (COLOSSIANS 3:5-10). Each start out as blabbering infants, both the old man and the new man, but each likewise have the potential to become mature and wise adults.
It is almost beyond comprehension how one can think that this perfecting will be accomplished in the next life, regardless how one conducts himself in this present life. If we are all to be made blameless after our resurrection (which some teach), regardless how we conducted our lives in the here and now, then what is the point of us being found blameless? To be found blameless means that GOD was looking for someone who was blameless and then HE found them. But if we are all going to be made blameless, after our resurrection, then what sense does it make that GOD would be looking for someone who was blameless, if HE was going to make everyone blameless anyway?
Peter capsulized much of this in the opening of his second epistle.
- 2 PETER 1:5-11 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. . . .
- But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Twice here Peter instructed his readers to be diligent. This was perhaps a reflection of those servants with the varying talents of whom Yeshua had taught in His parable which we noted earlier. Two were diligent, the other was not. At their master's return, two were given further responsibilities while the other was stripped of the little which had been entrusted to him.
Then Peter wrote them to add to their faith virtue, and then knowledge, and then temperance, and then patience, and then godliness, and then brotherly kindness, and finally charity. All of this demands effort and decision and discipline. But if one is not disciplined and has not learned to produce these fruit, then as Peter said, he "is blind and cannot see afar off", which means that he does not look at life in the perspective of the resurrection. He is living solely for this earthly existence and does not realize, or seem to realize, that there is a judgment day fast approaching.
Howbeit, for those who did what Peter instructed, for them an entrance was to be opened into that everlasting kingdom of the resurrection (1:12). Those who learned to produce and harvest these fruit were assured a seat at the table in that heavenly banquet (GALATIANS 5:21-22). All others were wandering around lost and confused, bewildered about all which life seemed to throw at them. They look at life as unfair and perhaps see GOD as cruel or uncaring, or unable to manage HIS creation.
We have many more details concerning the Glorious Liberty in this future kingdom spelled out for us in HEBREWS.
- HEBREWS 2:5-10 For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying,
- What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet [PSALMS 8:4-6].
- For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.
- But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
Evidently then, the world to come was to be put in subjection to man, just as the present world was also under his dominion. This revelation is most intriguing. Even from the beginning man was given rule over GOD's creation (GENESIS 1:26), and in the present world man rules within the parameters which GOD allows. He cannot govern beyond the laws of nature, so to speak. Nor can he inflict injustice beyond what GOD might allow. As such, in the world to come, those found worthy to be resurrected and granted crowns to rule, shall also be subject to their higher power. GOD is over all, then Yeshua rules under HIM. Others might then be appointed to rule under them.
This resurrection kingdom is the better country which the Hebrew believers desired (HEBREWS 11:16), where GOD would not be ashamed to be called their GOD. If GOD is not ashamed of them, then HE must be proud of them. Proud of their accomplishments. Proud of their achievements. Any decent father wants his children to be successful and prosperous. So it must be with our heavenly Father. But HE can't possibly be proud of us if we insist on wallowing in sin and obdurate disobedience.
In this resurrection kingdom is also the city they looked for, whose builder and maker was GOD (HEBREWS 11:10 REVELATION 21:10). Here in this present life, in this present country, we have no continuing city, no permanent home. Instead we should seek a future home (HEBREWS 13:14), a heavenly city. Thus we should not be overly concerned with whether or not we live today in a luxurious residence nestled along the ocean beach or perched upon a mountaintop. The world is full of castles and fortresses long ago abandoned by their builders whose eternal home is now a cold grave somewhere obscure.
We are also told in this epistle that these believers were partakers of a heavenly calling (HEBREWS 3:1). This no doubt intimates that they were aware of a distant tugging on their heart strings. They were being exhorted and encouraged to pursue that calling which was echoing out from heaven itself. They were being instructed to seek that which is above rather than the trivial pursuits of this present life (MATTHEW 6:33 COLOSSIANS 3:1).
Scripture also described a rest which the people of GOD were to anticipate and enter into. But this rest was not an eternal rest, where one was to endlessly recline on some fluffy cloud somewhere in the wild blue yonder. This rest was instead likened to the rest which the ancient Hebrews were to experience sometime after they entered the Promised Land (HEBREWS 3:18). A lifetime of fruitful and joyful activity awaited them there, but not a sleepy lazy existence.
Let us briefly recall what exactly happened when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, into this Promised Land. First they had to fight the inhabitants to gain control of their cities and towns. Then they would no doubt have to rebuild some of that which had been destroyed by the conquest. Eventually they would need to till the soil, care for the sheep and raise the cattle up into great herds. God did not call them to this Promised Land so that they could be idle and then become fat and lazy. HE gave this new Land as an opportunity for their growth and greatness. Not for their fleshly lusts but for their service to the nations, as GOD's priests (EXODUS 19:5-6).
We should note that the writer of HEBREWS also likened this rest to the rest which GOD took on the seventh day after HIS creation work was finished (HEBREWS 4:4, 10). Howbeit, no where in scripture is it intimated that this rest was eternal. Instead it was plainly stated that GOD rested on this one day, but then probably on the very next day HE was back at work managing HIS creation (EXODUS 31:17).
Thus it was exactly the same with the Sabbath which man was thereafter commanded to observe. He was to rest on one day and then after that refreshment he was to get back to work. As such, the Sabbath rest was meant to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the believer for future labors. We should then naturally conclude that the rest awaiting the people of GOD in resurrection is not an eternal rest but a short respite, perhaps for the reason of re-setting our bearings and becoming familiar with and adjusting ourselves to our new home. It is also in all likelihood a chance for us to recall much that GOD had done for us during our own wilderness journey (DEUTERONOMY 5:12-15).
But this is not the kind of life which most of us have been led to believe is waiting for us after our resurrection, where it has been said that we will recline in some sort of an eternal rest. Instead there is every indication in scripture that we are going to be kept very busy and engaged with our various responsibilities. Responsibilities which we are being trained and prepared for during this present life.
- HEBREWS 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
It was labor for the week so as to rest for a day. The believer was never instructed in scripture to set back and enjoy endless idleness. Instead they were told to "hold fast our confidence. . . firm unto the end" (HEBREWS 3:6). They were instructed to obey Him who was made perfect (HEBREWS 5:9). Yeshua Himself obtained His glory only after He had patiently endured (HEBREWS 6:15). Thus, the obedient follower is also to patiently endure that they too might be made perfect and thus become partakers of HIS holiness (HEBREWS 12:10), apart from which it is stated that no man shall see the LORD.
As such, the believer is continually being prepared for the responsibilities which he is to be expected to perform in that next life, that resurrection life, in the kingdom of heaven (HEBREWS 8:10-11).
- HEBREWS 10:35-39 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
- Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
This passage says it in all of its beautiful particulars. The believer is instructed to remain confident in his calling, always cognizant that there awaits in resurrection great rewards. They had need, then and there, for patience. Acquiring patience is hard work. It takes discipline and much tenacity to sustain our steadfastness in the face of mounting fears and troubles.
For the first-century believer Yeshua's return was near, very near; a little while off this writer promises. But if his readers don't remain faithful to their calling they shall evidently find entrance into the kingdom of GOD difficult at best, if not entirely elusive.
Thus, a little later on the readers were encouraged to remember and keep in mind that this faith they were to live by required the believer to first and foremost recognize that GOD is; and then secondly that HE will indeed reward those who diligently seek HIM (HEBREWS 11:6). This is in essence all which is required for a life of faith. First believe in GOD's existence and then over the course of our lives diligently seek HIM, realizing that in the end we will be amply rewarded.
The believers were further assured that as heirs, they were to be helped along by ministering spirits (HEBREWS 1:13), sent forth to help and assist them during their own wilderness journey.
Further illumination of that resurrection day is given us in the twelfth chapter of HEBREWS.
- HEBREWS 12:18-24 The Jerusalem Bible What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking . . . .
- But what you have come to is mount Zion and the city if the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a 'first-born son' and a citizen of heaven.
- You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel's.
These passages paint for us a most wonderful scene where the writer is depicting what it was going to be like for his readers when they were all gathered together into heaven. They had been pressured, threatened and coerced by their fellow countrymen into forsaking their heavenly calling and instead to take up arms in a rebellion against the Romans. Yeshua had foretold and forewarned them that this coming war was simply GOD's wrath being let loose upon this evil Land (LUKE 21:20-24), yet many of them were still being drawn away and tempted to fight Israel's lost cause.
The writer of this epistle was explaining that they were now at the precipice; it was the very eve of Yeshua's return which would culminate in the absolute and total destruction of their City, and Temple, and Nationhood. Still, as the writer noted, there was nothing visible which betrayed the nearness and immensity of the coming catastrophe. There was nothing that by their senses they could point to and foresee the great calamity which was upon them. There was no hint that GOD and HIS mighty angels were behind the scenes working to bring everything to a final conclusion.
Yet the writer saw it. He knew that shortly, in only a brief period, that they would all be brought to another Mount Zion and that they would very soon be standing before the great Judge; and he saw that the faithful believers would be gathered together into another Jerusalem, a heavenly Jerusalem. There, they would be accompanied by myriads of angels, all decked out for the great celebration, the festival which recognized the coming of a new age, a new and eternal covenant of GOD with HIS people.
He was endeavoring to make them also see it. It was so close that he could write that figuratively speaking they were already there. Perhaps it was only a breath away, the twinkling of an eye, just around the next corner. One more step or movement and they would be there, crossing that great divide which has always separated the earthly from the heavenly.
Then, in the resurrection kingdom, they would be so thankful that they hadn't traded their inheritance, their birthright, for the momentary satisfaction of their physical needs and desires, as Abel had done ages ago (HEBREWS 12:16-17). Then they would be glad that they had laid aside every weight and sin which might have beset them and instead with patience they finished the race which had been laid out before them (HEBREWS 12:1). He was beseeching them to look at the closeness and immensity of the resurrection, and was encouraging them to endure their trials just a little longer, "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (HEBREWS 10:37).
The apostle Paul likewise wrote and warned often of this need for self discipline and faithful stewardship as requirements for entering the resurrection kingdom.
- 2 CORINTHIANS 4:17-18 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 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.
The troubles of this present life works for the believer. These so-called afflictions can effect in him that which is necessary to produce the fruit of the spirit. All which is eternal; righteousness, godliness and perfectness are the virtues and attributes which the believer needs for entering into his inheritance in the eternal kingdom of GOD.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
"Be not deceived" was Paul's plain warning. Apparently some were being deceived. Those individuals who had given themselves over to the pleasures of their flesh and had failed to nurture and produce the fruit of the spirit were evidently going to find themselves shut out of the kingdom when their present life had come to its conclusion.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
- Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
"Know ye not?" Paul expected them to recognize this basic and fundamental truth, that as athletes train and practice to compete in a footrace for a simple wreath of leaves, so his readers were training and practicing as they ran the race of life. As such, Paul encouraged them that as he himself worked to control the desires of his own body so should they. As he brought into subjection the longings of his flesh, so must they.
This same warning he issued to the believers at Galatia.
- GALATIANS 5:21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
As he stated here, these are warnings which he had made before, evidently on more than one occasion. There is just no way an individual who continually practiced these works of the flesh was going to find entrance into the kingdom of GOD. As difficult as it might be to reconcile these passages with Church Traditions and Dogma, these lost souls were evidently going to find themselves shut out of eternal life.
Scripture gives us many keys enabling us to escape this corruption but it is always up to us whether or not we shall insert the key and open the door. We are the ones to decide how we respond to His gentle knock upon the entrance of our heart. We are the ones who decide if we are going to chase after the things which are seen, or are we going to seek that which is unseen (2 CORINTHIANS 4:18).
As lost wanderers we must first come to recognize the goodness of GOD (ROMANS 2:4). This is often accomplished as we pause from our daily grind and take time to consider and ponder some of HIS many blessings upon our lives. We might recall a particular mishap which we barely avoided, by what at the time seemed like mere chance. We might also remember the fortunate coincidences which by simple happenstance totally changed the direction of our lives. Once we recognize and become thankful for that divine favor, then our interest is aroused and we are induced to take a closer look and consider more deeply our Creator's concern for our well-being.
Then we might graduate to the next step, which is to open the Book and receive with meekness that engrafted word which is sown in our hearts. We let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. We remain faithful to our heavenly calling and begin to be transformed, renewing our minds to what the scripture teaches (ROMANS 12:2). We learn to refuse to again allow ourselves to be conformed to that which the world is peddling. The fruit of the spirit thus begins to grow and develop within us and we learn to overcome our physical desires and instead pursue and direct our efforts to live for heavenly things (COLOSSIANS 3:1-4).
- REVELATION 22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
If we are ever going to be welcomed into that heavenly Jerusalem, that city whose builder and maker is GOD, then we must by discipline and determination master the desires of the flesh and begin to cultivate and nurture the fruit of the spirit. It is all that simple. But it is also that utterly vital.
- 2 CORINTHIANS 5:1-4 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. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Paul was writing that if he and his fellow ministers and preachers (4:5) would happen to die, that it's not the end of the their existence, for they have a place prepared for them, eternal in the heavens. It is just natural then that they should groan; that they should earnestly desire and long to be clothed with that house which is not made with hands, their resurrection body. But obviously that does not mean that they should seek death, for without the resurrection Paul acknowledged that then they would simply be found naked. Rather, they looked for the resurrection, where mortality was then to be swallowed up by eternal life.
Our physical fleshly bodies are of course only temporary tabernacles which must be discarded before we are able to enter resurrection (1 CORINTHIANS 15:50). We sometimes hear people talk about their bodies being their own to do with as they choose, but this is not really the case. Our bodies are only on loan to us. They belong to our Creator for HE shall someday, at our death, take them back. They are only entrusted to us for a short time, giving us another opportunity to demonstrate whether or not we are responsible stewards. Evidently, how we have managed and taken care of all which GOD has given us, including our physical bodies, will reflect upon us at the day of judgment (LUKE 16:10 I TIMOTHY 4:8 NRSV).
- 1 CORINTHIANS 15:42-44 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Paul here stated that in our original state, our natural body was first created weak and without honor. But when we are resurrected, then it will be in glory and power. He then goes on to further differentiate between the earthly man and the heavenly man (1 CORINTHIANS 15:47-50 NRSV). Here in this present life we bare the image of this earthly man, but in the resurrection we will bare the image of the heavenly man. The reader should note that the phrase the Lord in the forty seventh verse was added by a later hand. Paul was not thinking here of Yeshua's resurrection but of the believer's.
Again, the sole purpose of this present life is to teach and prepare us for that next life. This treasure which GOD is perfecting within an earthly vessel is being prepared for a grand and glorious entrance into HIS kingdom. There in that heavenly City, the over-comers, the joint heirs with Christ, those who are to receive crowns of glory, will use the talents and abilities which they have developed in this present life to serve the Lord in that resurrection life (HEBREWS 12:28 REVELATION 22:3-4).
This next heavenly vision which John also imparted to his readers was filled with many spectacular details of that resurrection kingdom.
- REVELATION 7:9, 13-19 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands . . . .
- And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
- Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
First we are told that many individuals were in his vision; multitudes. As is evidenced by the palm leaf being waved in their hands, this incident probably had to do with and reflected the Feast of Tabernacles (LEVITICUS 23:40), which was a celebration commemorating Israel's original entrance into the Promised Land. Here in REVELATION it was a sign that they had entered a New Promised Land, the heavenly kingdom of their GOD. Thus, in this passage we are no doubt dealing not so much with Gentile believers but rather with the Jewish Dispersion, them being from every nation, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues (ACTS 2:5).
These were clothed in white robes which were tokens of innocence and emblems of victory (J. Stuart Russell's The Parousia, page 396). This elder had explained to John that these individuals had the white robes because they had come out of great tribulation. But according to the Greek text, the passage should read that they had come out of the great tribulation, which must have been the great tribulation which Yeshua had warned them of (MATTHEW 24:21). This of course suggests that they had persevered and endured the struggle of faith which they had been repeatedly warned about throughout the Christian Scriptures (The New Testament).
Strangely, we are also told that they had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. But note this interesting comment by E. W. Bullinger in his Commentary on the Book of Revelation, page 290.
- Not "in the blood"; nothing under the Law was ever washed "in blood," nothing can be made white "washed in" blood. It is through a forced literal meaning of the preposition en which has led to this false notion. This preposition constantly means by, or through: and is translated "by" 142 times and "through" 37 times.
According to the Concordant Commentary of the New Testament, "The literal sense of this passage is that they cleansed themselves by their behavior". It was something that they had themselves done. They washed their robes, they made them white. What else is this but a nurturing of the fruit of the spirit? What else is this but by discipline and training they proved themselves worthy for the kingdom of GOD.
It was of course through the faithful determination of Yeshua, His willingness to set aside His fleshly desires for the will of GOD, that opened the door and pointed the way for the believer to be made righteous. Despite the joy and glory that was already set before Him as the Son of GOD, He willingly allowed Himself to be taken and killed (HEBREWS 12:2). Yeshua learned obedience (HEBREWS 5:8) so that we could learn obedience. He learned to trust GOD so that we could learn to trust GOD. He learned faithfulness so that we also could learn faithfulness.
Further on in John's vision we are told that these multitudes were not just reclining back in an eternal rest on some fluffy cloud, but they were actively serving GOD, day and night in HIS temple. And in that eternal kingdom, GOD dwells among them; and not only so but also that Yeshua feeds them, and leads them unto the fountain of living waters. We are not expecting that they were to be fed with turkey and dressing or enjoy a refreshing drink from a clear mountain stream. These physical nourishments were no doubt figures of speech representing the multitudes being fed by the words of truth (JOHN 4:13-14; 6:49-50). As such, they were to be fed and sustained with the word of GOD (HEBREWS 8:10-11).
According to Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, GOD wanted the believer to know, to understand and be enlightened as to many of the particulars of this hope. HE desired them to realize just what the "riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints" (EPHESIANS 1:18) meant, referring to it specifically no less than three times in just this first chapter.
First he told them that they were blessed with all spiritual blessings (1:3); not necessarily in this present life, but rather in resurrection. Next he revealed to them that they were chosen before the foundation of the world so as to become holy and therefore without blame (1:4). And as a result of this holiness and blamelessness, they were to be adopted as GOD's own children (1:5), thereby proving themselves to be accepted by GOD (1:6). Paul then reaffirmed to them that Christ had paid the price for their redemption with His own life (1:7). And so, with all of this as a precurser, according to GOD's own good pleasure, HE had decided to make know to them this great mystery (1:9).
- EPHESIANS 1:10-11 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
The faithful were to obtain an inheritance in a future kingdom, when GOD had gathered together all things in Christ. As legal heirs, they were to inherit all of the privileges and responsibilities which go with that glorious position. This is resurrection talk. When we read and consider these passages in light of the resurrection, only then do they open before us in all of their beauty and magnificence.
Now, in this present life, the faithful believers had only a token of that inheritance (1:14). It would not be fully bestowed upon them until after they had been resurrected into the kingdom of heaven. There they would be officially recognized as adopted sons of GOD. There they would be given new bodies (PHILIPPIANS 3:21) and some of them would be given crowns in recognition of their previous works.
- GALATIANS 6:9-10 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
They were promised that if they fainted not, if they endured unto the end, then at the final harvest they would reap the fruits of righteousness (PHILIPPIANS 1:11). Therefore, they were to look for and recognize GOD-given opportunities to do good. They were to expect that their Creator was at work within them, making them ready for HIS kingdom (PHILIPPIANS 1:6).
- COLOSSIANS 3:23-25 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
All will be put right then. At the resurrection all of man's works shall be rewarded by a just and all-knowing GOD. Then we shall see that we were made ready for all which that sonship was to require.
Another amazing vision of that heavenly kingdom is again related to us by the apostle John.
- REVELATION 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
- And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
These are glimpses into that hidden kingdom of GOD. We are being privy to court proceedings which had been kept veiled and concealed from the preceding ages. Thus, it is all about resurrection. It is all about that next life. We will be judged there for works done here. That future life is what we are being prepared for. That is the whole purpose of our existence. That is the reason for all of our experiences, all of our trials and tribulations. We are being prepared for that resurrection life. We are being groomed and trained for those responsibilities which await us, there.
- 2 CORINTHIANS 4:14 Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
Just as surely as GOD raised Yeshua from among the dead, so shall HE raise others. And further, those who have remained faithful to their calling will then be presented together with Him. These are promises which should be of great encouragement and comfort to the believer. These are assurances which should give immense consolation to the down-trodden and rejected of this present life.
In this next passage we are told that in the ages to come, no doubt meaning after resurrection, that GOD intends to show the faithful believer the exceeding riches of HIS grace.
- EPHESIANS 2:6-10 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
- For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
From Paul's perspective, his reader's resurrection is a done deal. He sees them already seated in the heavenliness, receiving all of the blessings which that inheritance promises. In his Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Dr. Bullinger mentions on page 518 a figure labeled, The Past for the Future, noting,
- This is put when the speaker views the action as being as good as done. This is very common in the Divine prophetic utterances: where, though the sense is literally future, it is regarded and spoken of as though it were already accomplished in the Divine purpose and determination: the figure is to show the absolute certainty of the things spoken of.
Then Dr. Bullinger goes on to list a few of the occurrences of this figure of speech which are found in the original text of the Bible; GENESIS 45:9-10, EXODUS 17:4, 1 SAMUEL 2:31; 10:2; 6:7-8, JOB 19:27, PSALM 23:5; 107:42, PROVERBS 1:22; 11:7, 21; 12:21, JEREMIAH 21:9, JOHN 3:13; 4:38, ROMANS 8:30, EPHESIANS 2:6, HEBREWS 2:7; 3:14; 12:22.
Thus, because of this figure of speech we can understand Paul's intention in this passage. He was not confused or in error about his tenses, but he was simply emphasizing the future reality of his readers' resurrection.
Because of the wording of this passage and a few others, it is also commonly thought and taught that grace and works are not compatible, indeed at variance with one another. They suppose that works have no place in our salvation and resurrection because we are saved by something that Yeshua did, and thus our own activities have no bearing on our salvation. Many hold this view only because of a simple misunderstanding of the meaning of grace.
Howbeit, grace is not GOD giving us a pass regardless of our sinful lifestyle. Rather, grace is GOD offering to us some favor, usually as a result of our attitude (JAMES 4:6 1 PETER 5:5). Most often, that favor is HIS word being given to us, but it could also be a favor in some other form. We have endeavored to set all of this forth in the Study, The True Meaning of the Grace of GOD.
In the above passage the reader is told that he was saved by grace, but that does not mean that GOD ignored all the sins and evil deeds of the individual. It means that GOD looked past previous sins and instead offered the believer an open door out of his sin. HE did not ignore the sins but rather with perfect foreknowledge GOD determined that if HE showed the believer some particular favor here and there, that the believer would respond in a favorable manner. By the very definition of the word, to believe means to respond. Thus, believing the gospel is responding to it by obedience (see the Study, The How of Believing).
Before we believed we did not perceive the eternal significance of our earthly life, for before GOD's favor came to us we were totally blind to the possibility of a resurrection experience. Nor was it by our own works that we came to recognize that life which lay beyond this present one. All of this came our way by GOD's merciful grace. But, after we have been made aware, after we came to realize all that our present actions effect, then by our own works, by our own discipline and determination we turn from sinning to striving for righteousness and godliness. One just cannot continue sinning after he has been enlightened by the word of GOD, and still expect to be forgiven (HEBREWS 6:4-6).
- GALATIANS 3:23-26 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [paidagogos, guardian] to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all [becoming, the present tense with the indicative mood suggests a progressive or continuous action] children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Prior to believers developing a true and vital relationship with GOD through faith, they were kept in ward, which phrase has to do with a child being looked after and shielded from harmful influences to his character. The law was their paidagogos, guiding and training their moral and physical well-being (Vine's Commentary on Galatians, page 104), until they acquired faith. Schoolmaster was a poor choice of word here by the Translators, for the paidagogos didn't necessarily have anything to do with education, but was more concerned with the child's general supervision.
But afterwards, after they finally learned to desire HIS will over their own, or rather after they made their own will to track with HIS, then living and being ruled by faith became a daily routine and reality for them. Having finally achieved control over their own carnal desires, then there was no further necessity for a guardian.
Paul continued to explain that, even though a person might be destined to be an heir someday, until then, until that day of his adoption, he still must live under the rules and regulations of this present life.
- GALATIAN 4:1-7 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
- Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
- And because ye are [becoming] sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
As in the passage from EPHESIANS quoted just above, Paul here sees the believer already formally adopted and seated as an heir of GOD. Of course that promise won't become a reality until after the believer's resurrection, but Paul sees it in their future, as a done deal. Thus he says that GOD sent Yeshua to redeem them, that they might become adopted sons. Obviously the might suggests that they might not. It all depends on their faithfulness to the gospel. But if they continue living by faith, then at their resurrection they will find themselves formally being declared adopted sons of GOD and joint-heirs with Christ.
In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul also wrote that GOD has already translated or removed his readers into the kingdom of HIS Son, even though they are still bound to this earthly world. Looking forward to their resurrection Paul sees this in their future, but presently they are not yet there.
- COLOSSIANS 1:12-13 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
The twelfth verse reads in the KJV that the Father had made them meet to be partakers of this inheritance, which seems to suggest that the believer had no role in his becoming meet, or adequate as others render it. But the passage should more properly be rendered that the Father made it possible for them to become partakers, as The Jerusalem Bible renders it. GOD's grace made it possible, but HE still requires obedience and faithfulness to HIS words.
In one of John's final visions given him by the Lord, we see this truth set forth most explicitly.
- REVELATION 21:5-8 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
- I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
In this new heaven and earth, there will evidently be no inheritance for those who fail to overcome. Those who overcome do so by their own discipline and determination, of course always aided by GOD's mercy and grace. Thus, according to John vision of the resurrection, GOD's blessings are reserved for those who have thirsted for the truth, not for those who have rejected it. The fearful and unbelieving and sinners shall have no part in that kingdom. They only share in death, the second death, the permanent death.
We might be called unto HIS heavenly kingdom, but we probably won't find entrance into it unless we have proved ourselves worthy (1 THESSALONIANS 2:12). We might be called unto eternal life, but we can only lay hold on that calling if we "fight the good fight of faith" by following after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience [endurance] and meekness (1 TIMOTHY 6:11). These terms are concerning an athletic contest where the participant grabs hold of the prize after victoriously contending in the games. Of course the prize to which Paul referred was for the winners, not the losers.
- 2 TIMOTHY 2:4-7 The Jerusalem Bible In the army, no soldier gets himself mixed up in civilian life, because he must be at the disposal of the man who enlisted him; or take an athelete- he cannot win any crown unless he has kept all the rules of the contest; and again, it is the working farmer who has the first claim on any crop that is harvested. Think over what I have said, and the Lord will show you how to understand it all.
Obviously Paul's whole argument falls apart if the believer has no responsibility for his own actions. We are being trained here for important responsibilities there. Here in this present life we are being fashioned and formed into vessels fit for HIS use. All of our experiences, our trials and tribulations mold us and prepare us for what we will need to be in the next life.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 6:2-3 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
This is quite an astounding passage. Paul wrote that the resurrected believer shall be responsible to judge angels. As such, they had better quit bickering and fighting over trivial matters and wake up to the reality of their resurrection. They had better learn to put aside their petty grievances and instead begin to nourish the fruit of the spirit. They had better become spiritual soldiers and athletes and begin training for their important roles in that next life.
Of course even Paul was well aware that he had not yet reached the place in his growth where he needed to be, but he was committed to push forward, giving every effort to claim that prize which awaited him.
- PHILIPPIANS 3:13-16 New Jerusalem Bible I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I can forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, to the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus. We who are called 'perfect' must all think in this way. If there is some point on which you see things differently, God will make it clear to you; meanwhile, let us go forward on the road that has brought us to where we are.