|Topical Bible Study||May 1959|
The Bible versus Tradition—Article V
A Heavenly Inheritance
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy Math begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed In the last time.” —I Peter 1:3-5
THE thought of leaving this earth and going to heaven to spend eternity is almost in-separately associated with the Christian religion in the minds of people. There have always been a few sincere and ardent Christian believers to whom this has been a bright prospect, something which they have anticipated with a considerable measure of joy. To the vast majority, however, even of professed Christian believers, it has appeared merely as an alternative to going to a place of torment at death. These would much rather remain alive on the earth; but since they cannot do this they would, of course, rather go to heaven than to eternal torture.
And this is understandable, for according to tradition heaven has not been specially inviting, the main reason being that tradition pictures it largely as a place of idleness or, at the best, of harp playing and singing. In the Bible there is a definite heavenly hope held out to the faithful followers of Jesus, and while it is impossible for our finite minds to understand heavenly conditions, the Bible does assure us that there is a real purpose in exalting some to this high position in the divine arrangements, that heaven is not designed as an escape from a fiery hell.
Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) Here we could properly think of the “Father’s house” as the entire universe, and the “many mansions” as the numerous places of abode, or spheres of life, which had already been created at the time Jesus made this promise to his disciples, including the various orders of angelic creation.
An old Gospel hymn states, “I want to be an angel, and with the angels stand.” This is a laudable desire, but the Bible gives no assurance that humans, no matter how faithful to the Lord they may be, will ever become angels. The angels are a separate order of creation. Their plane of life and dwelling place is one of the “mansions” in the “Father’s house.” But Jesus said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you, a “place” or mansion which did not then exist.
In this promise Jesus said, “If I go … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” From this we learn that the hope of the Christian outlined in this promise by Jesus is not realized until the time of his return. This is contrary to the tradition that Christians, when they die, go immediately to heaven. No, they remain asleep in death, and are resurrected and exalted to their heavenly home at the return of the Lord.
A Priesthood to Bless
HEBREWS 3:1 reads, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” In keeping with this, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”—I Peter 2:9
These two texts reveal that those who receive the “heavenly calling” are inducted into a “priesthood.” This terminology is based upon God’s dealings with ancient Israel. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and one of them—the tribe of Levi—was set apart from the other tribes for minister to the nation in holy things. One of the families of the tribe of Levi was chosen to be priests. The priests of Israel offered sacrifices and, upon the basis of their sacrifices, extended blessings to the people.
So, Paul and Peter explain that in the present age, beginning with Jesus’ first advent, the Lord is calling a people to be a priesthood under Christ as Head, or High Priest. These also offer sacrifice, not of bulls and goats as did the priest of Israel, but themselves.
Jesus gave his human life for the sins of the world. We are invited to be co-sacrificers with him. Based upon this work of sacrifice, we will also extend blessings to the people. But before these blessings reach the people, this antitypical priesthood will all be exalted to heavenly glory. Their calling is not only to a priesthood, but to heaven also.
The divine plan to bless the world of mankind through Jesus and his true church is shown in God’s promise to Abraham that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) The Apostle Paul explains that Jesus and his true followers are this foretold “seed” of Abraham. In Galatians 3:16 Paul identifies Jesus as being the chief one in this “seed” class, and then in verses 27-29 of the same chapter he says, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Yes, the great objective of the divine plan of salvation through Christ is the “blessing of all the families of the earth” upon the earth. The purpose of the “heavenly calling” is not to afford an escape from torture for a few of God’s favorites, but to select and prepare representatives from among mankind to be associated with Jesus in extending blessings of life to the remainder of the human race.
IN ORDER to help us understand more clearly all that is involved in the “heavenly calling” of a few in order that they may be used as channels of blessing for the remainder of mankind, the Lord refers to these under various symbols. As we have seen, they are a priesthood to offer sacrifice, and later to extend blessings to the people.
They are also spoken of as the “bride” of Christ. In Revelation 19:7 we read, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb [Christ Jesus] is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” In chapter 21 we read, “There came unto me one of the seven angels, … and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”—vss. 9,10
The “holy city,” then, is not a place to which Christians go to escape hell-fire, but is the “bride, the Lamb’s wife,” composed of the true followers of Jesus. This “holy city” comes down from God out of heaven after the saints are united with Jesus, and “the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.”—vss. 24-26
The “open gates” of this city suggest that Jesus and his church will welcome the peoples of earth to “come in” and to receive the blessings of life provided for them through the death of Jesus, the “Lamb that was slain.” (Rev. 5:12) In chapter 22, verse 17, we read, “The Spirit and the bride (the Lamb’s wife) say, Come, … and take of the water of life freely.” The true followers of Jesus will not be sitting on clouds playing harps for all eternity. Instead, for the first thousand years of their existence, they will be engaged with Christ in the wonderful work of “blessing all the families of the earth.”
IN OUR text Peter speaks of Christ’s disciples as being “begotten … again.” When Nicodemus went to Jesus at night to learn more about him and about the message he was presenting to the people, Jesus said to him that in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven he would have to be “born again.”
Nicodemus did not understand this, so Jesus explained that those who are born again are able to come and go as the wind, meaning that they are invisible and very powerful. This was Jesus’ way of describing some of the characteristics of those who enter into the heavenly inheritance to which they are called. This was literally true of Jesus after his resurrection, for, with the exception of the few brief times he appeared to his disciples, he was invisible to human eyes. When he appeared in their midst they knew not from whence he came; and when he disappeared from their midst they did not know where he went. Thus “is every one that is born of the Spirit,” Jesus explained.—John 3:8
And it is this that is involved in our hope of being “born again” into the heavenly phase of Christ’s kingdom. In our text, Peter says that we are “begotten” to this hope. This new life has begun in our minds, but will not come to birth until, in the resurrection, we shall be made like Jesus and, like him, be invisible and powerful.
The Apostle John wrote concerning this glorious hope of the true Christian, saying, “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 3:1-3) While the disciples, after Jesus was raised from the dead, were able to see and feel the various earthly bodies in which he appeared to them, they did not really see him “as he is.” As John explains, it is only those who are, in the resurrection, made like him, that will be able to see the divine Jesus.
The “Last Time”
IN OUR text Peter speaks of a revealment of the heavenly class “in the last time.” The present age in the plan of God to save the world from death and to restore the willing and obedient to perfection of human life on the earth, is for the purpose of calling from the world this class who will enter into the heavenly inheritance to live and reign with Christ. They have been unknown to the world, and often persecuted by those who have been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the “god of this world,” who is the Devil.—II Cor. 4:4
But in the beginning of the new age, the age of Christ’s kingdom, the final age or “last time” in the plan of God, the true position of these faithful ones will be revealed. Then it will be recognized by all mankind that this “little flock” of misunderstood and persecuted followers of the Master were really the Lord’s true people, and that now they have been raised from the dead, exalted to heavenly glory, and together with Jesus, are the new spiritual rulers of the world.
And it is fitting that these should receive a heavenly inheritance, for they gave up all earthly honor and advantage in order that they might devote their lives wholly to following in the footsteps of their Master, Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul was a good example of this spirit of full devotion to the Master. He wrote:
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 3:8-14
Paul’s use of the expression, “high calling,” is revealing. It indicates that those to whom the promise of a heavenly reward has been offered are invited to a very special place in the divine arrangements. It is not, as tradition would have us believe, an alternative to being tortured forever, a sort of emergency escape from an eternity of doom. It is not a matter merely of being saved, but a “calling,” an invitation, to participate in the divine plan for the blessing of all the families of the earth.
Children and Heirs
IN A passage already quoted, the Apostle John refers to this class to whom the “high calling” is extended as being “sons” or children of God. Paul also wrote concerning these: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 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. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”—Rom. 8:16-19
The expression “earnest expectation of the creature,” is, in the Revised Version, more properly translated, “earnest expectation of the creation,” the reference being to God’s human creation, the whole world of mankind. In verses 22 and 19, Paul speaks of the “whole creation,” which “groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” waiting for the “manifestation,” or revealment, of “the sons of God.”
The world of mankind, blinded by the great Adversary, the Devil, does not understand the plan of God. The people are blind to the glorious provision of life through Christ which has been made for them by divine love. Nevertheless, in their “groaning” and “travailing” they are ever hopeful that conditions will change, and that happiness will in some way replace misery. Pain and death shall indeed be destroyed in God’s due time, and this will be done through the power of the divine Christ, made up of Jesus, the Head, and his body members, the “house of sons,” who have been made partakers of the “heavenly calling.”
When these “children of God” are revealed together with Christ, in power and great glory, then the promised kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth will begin. The “sons of God” themselves will occupy a heavenly position, being exalted to “glory and honor and immortality.” (Rom. 2:7) In this position of authority and power, they will be the instruments of God in extending blessings of health and life on the human plane to all who, when they are enlightened, accept the gift of life through Christ, and obey the laws of the kingdom which will then be in force.