|Topical Bible Study||February 1957|
God and Creation—Article XIII
Heirs and Joint-heirs
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” —Romans 8:17
ONE of the amazing features of the Creator’s plan for restoring the fallen race to life, and to at-one-ment with himself is that a limited number of mankind are invited to participate with Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior, on a partnership basis, sharing his glory and participating in the great work of extending blessings of life to “all the families of the earth.” In our text these are referred to as the Lord’s ‘children’ who are ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’. In the context (vs. 22) we read, that “the whole creation,” or as the Marginal Translation states, “every creature, groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” and in verse 19 we read that the “earnest expectation of the creature [the whole creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” It will be through the ‘manifestation of the sons of God’ that the promised blessings of life and happiness will reach the ‘groaning creation’.
In many of the Old Testament promises of God pertaining to the future deliverance of the human race from sin and death there is no indication that the great Deliverer, the Messiah, would have others associated with him in this work; but some do reveal this fact. The prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 53, is one of these instances. It is in this prophecy that the suffering and death of Jesus are foretold, with the explanation that his soul would be made an offering for sin. In the 12th verse Jesus’ high reward is described. Concerning him Jehovah says, “I will divide him a portion with the Great.” Here the Creator is referring to himself as the ‘Great’, and saying that Jesus would be exalted to share His greatness. That this promise was fulfilled is confirmed in the New Testament. Paul speaks of the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power “which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenlies.” (Eph. 1:19,20) In Hebrews 12:2 we read that Christ is now “set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Peter writes concerning Jesus, saying that he is “gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”—I Pet. 3:22
Truly, Jesus was given a portion with the ‘Great’. And in his Father’s promise of this we find this further statement, “He shall divide the spoil with the strong.” (Isa: 53:12) The word ‘spoil’ suggests the reward of a victorious struggle, or battle. The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy urges him to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (II Tim. 2:3) Using a similar figure of speech, Paul again writes, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.”—Eph. 6:10,11
Paul explains in his letter to the church at Corinth that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” but nevertheless, “mighty through God,” enabling the Christian to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:4,5) And it’ is these who are ‘strong in the Lord’, and who successfully battle against the selfish spirit of the world, against their own fallen flesh, and against the efforts of the Devil to lure them away from obedience to the Lord, with whom the highly exalted Jesus ‘divides the spoil’. Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Because he was an overcomer he received the reward of an overcomer, and in Revelation 3:21 he says, “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.” It is possible that in making this promise to his followers, Jesus had in mind his Father’s promise to give him a ‘portion with the Great’, and is saying, in effect, “My Father has fulfilled his promise to me; I have been highly exalted to his right hand; and now I will share my reward with other overcomers, those who are ‘strong’ because of trusting in the power of God to help them overcome.”
On Mount Zion
As the Redeemer of the world, Jesus was led as a “lamb to the slaughter.” (Isa. 53:7) He is the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) This title remains with Jesus after his exaltation to heavenly glory, and is used with respect to him in Revelation 14:1, which reads, “I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” Mount Zion in Jerusalem was the ‘Capitol Hill’ of ancient Israel, and is used in the prophecies of the Bible to symbolize the kingdom of Christ, that promised “government” which rests upon his shoulder. (Isa. 9:6) And here we learn that in this ‘government’ there will be a hundred and forty-four thousand associated with him.
These are the strong with whom he divides the spoil of victory. They are said to have “his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” This identifies them as members of the divine family, the ‘children of God’ of our text, who are ‘heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ’. They are shown with the Lamb because they will be associated with him in the kingdom work of extending salvation to the world. In the last verse of the prophecy of Obadiah we read, “Saviors shall come up on mount Zion, … and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Jesus is, of course, “the” Savior of the world, but in this prophecy those with whom he shares his reward of exaltation and glory are also said to be ‘saviors’, because they participate in the kingdom work of restoring the dead world to life.
Jews and Gentiles
In the Bible, a city is sometimes used as a symbol of a government. We are told that Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:10) So far as the record goes, God did not use the word ‘city’ in his promises to Abraham. All he promised him was that he would make of him a great nation, and that his ‘seed’ would bless all the families of the earth. Evidently Abraham took these promises to mean that one of his descendants would become the head of a government under the jurisdiction of which all the nations of the earth would receive a blessing.
This thought becomes more apparent when we consider the circumstances of Abraham’s day. There were then no large metropolitan centers such as we call cities today. A city of that time was often made up of a relatively small association of people, the majority of whom were usually related to one another as members of one family, or tribe. Thus we have “the Horites in their mount Seir,” the Amalekites, and the Amorites. (Gen. 14:6,7) These tribes might be spread out over considerable territory, but to whatever extent they were subject to governmental control, their government would be in the hands of the tribal heads in the city.
When God first spoke to Abraham he lived in Ur of the Chaldees. (Gen. 11:28) There he said to him, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” (Gen. 12:1,2) Here God told Abraham that he and his ‘seed’ were to become the heads of a new nation. Abraham believed this, and left his home in Ur, went to the land God had promised to him, and dwelt in tents the rest of his life, waiting for the building of that ‘city’ which he visualized in the promise God made to him.
Abraham died in faith without receiving the fulfillment of the promises God made to him. But these promises were the bases of a hope that continued with his descendants from generation to generation. When the Hebrew people left Egypt, God entered into a covenant with them, and promised that if they were faithful to his covenant he would make of them a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exod. 19:5,6) Here, again, the thought of a kingdom, a government, is associated with the natural descendants of Abraham, his seed according to the flesh.
To actually inherit this kingdom it was required of the Hebrews that they be faithful to the covenant into which they had entered with the Lord. But they were not faithful except for short periods of time. Nevertheless, God continued to send his prophets to this people, reminding them of their obligation to the Law, and reiterating the promises of a coming Messiah, in association with whom their nation would rule the world. The final test of their worthiness of this exalted position was their opportunity to accept the Messiah when he did come.
But, as we know, the nation of Israel did not accept their Messiah. Under the leadership of their religious rulers they cried out against him and demanded that he be put to death. Near the close of his ministry, when it became apparent that the nation would reject him as their Messiah, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof,” that is, the fruits of loving devotion and obedience to God. (Matt. 21:43) Here again the ‘kingdom’ is associated with a ‘nation’. Israel could have been that kingdom nation, but now, as Jesus said, the kingdom was to be taken from Israel and given to another nation.
And what ‘nation’ is it to which the kingdom is given? The Apostle Peter answers this question. Writing to followers of the Master, the ‘children of God’, he says, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, … which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” (I Pet. 2:9,10) Those who in ‘time past’ were not the people of God were evidently Gentile converts. Now they were the people of God, and part of that ‘holy nation’ to which the kingdom had been given.
Actually, however, this new nation is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Although Israel as a nation rejected the Messiah, there were individual Israelites who enthusiastically accepted him and became his disciples. In John 1:11,12 we read concerning these, “He came unto his own [the Jewish nation], and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” These, then, are the first of the new nation to whom the kingdom was given, and the first also of the ‘children’ who are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
There were not enough believing Israelites to make up the foreordained number of these children of God who were to reign with Christ, so the Gospel invitation was extended to the Gentiles. Thus Gentiles who accepted the invitation became the people of God together with the believing Israelites. These become ‘one’ in Christ Jesus, and together with him constitute the faith ‘seed’ of Abraham through which all the families of the earth are to be blessed. As God looks upon these children whom he has made his heirs, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female.” As Paul states it, all are “one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:28,29
The Hope of Glory
That members of the fallen and dying race would be given an opportunity of being associated with the Messiah as rulers in his kingdom, and sharing his glory, as well as the glory of the Creator, was kept secret until it was brought to light by Jesus and the apostles. Paul refers to it as the “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”—Col. 1:26,27
To Christians in Rome Paul wrote, “By whom [Christ] we have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:2) The meaning of the expression, ‘glory of God’, is quite beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend. However, various promises of the Bible give us an inkling of what it implies. As we have seen, when Jesus was raised from the dead he was highly exalted to the divine nature, and to the right hand of God. The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) John realized the limitations of the human mind in understanding matters pertaining to the spirit world. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” he concedes, “but we know that, … we shall be like him [Christ].”
Yes, like Christ, to whom was given “all power in heaven and in earth”; like Christ who was made a “quickening spirit” that he might give life to the dead world of mankind; and like Christ who is now the “express image” of his Father’s person, having partaken of his glory. (Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 15:45; Heb. 1:3) These are some of the aspects of the ‘glory of God’ to which the children of God are heirs. They have to do with the personal glory of God, the glory of the ‘divine nature’. And Peter writes that unto us have been given “exceeding great and precious promises” that by these we might become “partakers of the divine nature.”—II Pet. 1:4
But there is also the official glory to which the Gospel Age sons of God are heirs. As Jesus was exalted to share his Father’s throne, so we are promised, if faithful, that we shall sit with Jesus in his throne. (Rev. 3:21) Jesus is now the great King—the “King of kings,” and his joint-heirs are to be made kings, to “reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:10) When the disciples asked Jesus what they would receive in return for taking up their cross and following him, he said that they would sit on “thrones,” and that this would be during the time of “regeneration” when the human race will be restored to life and harmony with the Creator.—Matt. 19:28
God’s Ruling House
Many fail to appreciate the great truths pertaining to the kingdom of Christ because they think of this kingdom as having been established at the time of his First Advent, failing to realize that before the kingdom could begin to reign, all who are to be rulers in it must be “called,” “chosen,” and found “faithful.” (Rev. 17:14) It is this feature of the divine plan that has been in progress during the present age. If Jesus alone was the King in this kingdom it would have begun to reign at the beginning of the age. But, as we have seen, his faithful followers are to reign with him, and these, as sons of God, together with Jesus, his beloved Son, as the Head, will be the divine ruling house.
The Lord’s kingdom is symbolized in Old Testament prophecies by a mountain, and called the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” This simply means the kingdom of the Lord which will be in the hands of his ruling house of sons. This kingdom was not due to be set up until the ‘last days’, the last days, that is, of the reign of sin and death, the last days of Satan’s rulership as the ‘prince of this evil world.’ The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills [dominating, that is, all the nations of earth]; and all nations shall flow unto it.”—Isa. 2:2
Another prophecy pertaining to the ‘last days’ is found in the 2nd Psalm. Here Jehovah says, “I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” (vs. 6) In the 8th and 9th verses Jehovah says to his Son, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [the nations] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” In Revelation 2:26,27 Jesus makes a promise to the children of God who are joint-heirs with him, saying, “He that overcometh, and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.” Yes, the honor and authority of the kingdom which Jehovah promised to Jesus will be shared by the entire ruling house of sons.
Just as the kingdom promises God made to the natural descendants of Abraham were dependent upon being faithful to him and to the terms of the covenant into which they had entered with him, so throughout the Gospel Age God’s kingdom promises to members of the prospective new nation—the “sons” who will make up his ruling house—are also conditional, those conditions again being faithfulness to him and to the doing of his will. The Apostle Peter admonishes these to add to their 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. … 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 Savior Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:4-11
Another condition attached to God’s promises of joint-heirship with Christ as ruling kings in his kingdom is stated by Paul in II Timothy 2:12: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” This same condition is set forth in our text, which declares that we are “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him.” Again in Revelation 20:4 a similar thought is expressed. We read, “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
The ‘beheading’ referred to in the text last quoted is figurative, indicating that one has surrendered his own will and accepted the headship of Christ. It is a ‘beheading’ for the ‘witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God’. It implies, in other words, full devotion to the cause of Christ, laying down one’s life in his service and in proclaiming the truths of the ‘Word of God’. To his disciples Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) But “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Consequently, those who have borne witness to the truth have been persecuted. (John 3:19) Thus they have suffered and died with Christ, encouraged by the hope of living and reigning with him.
Setting Up the Kingdom
It is in the ‘last days’ that the ‘mountain of the Lord’s house’ is established, as we have seen. (Isa. 2:2) Authority and great power are required in the setting up of any governmental authority, especially when other kings have to be conquered—and Christ’s kingdom is to be exalted above all others. When the enemies of Jesus put him to death, one of the charges against him was that he claimed to be a king. They probably thought that they had permanently disposed of this pretender. But they were mistaken. It was God who had decreed that Jesus should be a reigning king, so he raised him from the dead. Never before in the annals of history had such power been utilized to make sure of the establishment of a kingdom. In view of this miracle, it would be folly to suppose that any set of circumstances could prevent, or even delay, the fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises as they centered in Jesus.
That mighty miracle was at the beginning of the Gospel Age. It was the introduction to that period. in the divine plan during which the joint-heirs of Christ are selected and prepared to live and reign with him. As each of these has proved faithful unto death, it has been with the hope and assurance expressed by Paul concerning himself, when he wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 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.”—II.Tim. 4:7,8
All the faithful children of God throughout the age have waited in the sleep of death until their ‘fellows’ were made ready to reign with Christ, and then, at this end of the age comes another mighty miracle in the setting up of the kingdom—their resurrection from the dead. that they might be joined with Christ, share his glory, and live and reign with him. This is described as the ‘first resurrection’, and we read in Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
Can God’s plan to set his kingdom in the hands of his ‘children’ fail when such power is utilized to raise them from the dead? Surely not! Nor will the glorious work of that kingdom fail. It will bring peace to the people. The inhabitant of that day shall not say, I am sick; and death and hell will deliver up the dead which are in them.—Mic. 4:1-4; Isa. 33:24; Rev. 20:13