Heavenly Aspirations

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” —Colossians 3:1-3

THAT JESUS WAS raised from the dead is fundamental to our faith and hope as Christians. It would be difficult to emphasize this more strongly than did the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”—I Cor. 15:17,18

In I Corinthians 15:5-8, Paul mentions the various witnesses who saw Jesus after he was raised from the dead, including himself, who saw the risen Lord as “one born out of due time.” Here Paul is referring to his experience on the Damascus road, when, as Saul of Tarsus, he was determined to destroy the church which was made up of the followers of the hated Nazarene. Saul, by a miracle, was then given a brief glimpse of the resurrected Jesus as he really is—exalted to the divine nature and resplendent in glory.

With the others who saw Jesus after his resurrection it was different. Mary saw him as a gardener. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus saw Jesus as a stranger. Knowing that Thomas refused to believe that he was raised from the dead without seeing the nail wounds in his hands, Jesus appeared to the eleven in the upper room in a form that convinced the doubter. But none of these actually saw Jesus as the divine being which he now is, except Saul, and then the brightness of the divine glory blinded him. And no doubt even he saw only a representative of Jesus, or a representation, for no human can actually see a divine being and live.

Paul explained that he saw Jesus as “one born out of due time.” The reference here is to being ‘born of the Spirit.’ Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven he would need to be “born again.” Elucidating the characteristics of one who is born of the Spirit, Jesus said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:8

The point of this illustration is that those who are born of the Spirit are invisible to human eyes, and yet are able to exercise great influence in the physical world. After he was raised from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that he possessed these characteristics. There were forty days between his resurrection and his ascension, yet during all this time he was visible to his disciples for only a few short periods, and then only because he miraculously manifested himself to them. Besides these appearances, he exercised superhuman power. He entered the upper room while the doors were closed, and probably locked. He controlled the fish in the Sea of Galilee, causing the disciples’ nets to be filled when they lowered them on the other side of the boat.

It is clear, then, that in his resurrection, Jesus experienced this miraculous Spirit birth, and it was the divine Jesus whom Paul glimpsed briefly on the Damascus road. This experience came to him, Paul explains, as “one born out of due time.” The implication is that in “due time” Paul expected that he also would be born of the Spirit, and that then he would be able to see Jesus and be with him in glory. This is the glorious hope that is held out in the Scriptures to every faithful follower of the Master.

On the night before Jesus was crucified he said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) On the same night Jesus prayed for his disciples, saying, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me from before the foundation of the world.”—John 17:24

The Apostle John was greatly impressed with what Jesus said that night, and later he wrote, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 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 3:1,2

The human mind cannot comprehend the glory and other characteristics of a divine being. Although we have the assurance that in the resurrection we will be with Jesus and be like him, we cannot now visualize or understand what that will mean. But it will be different then; for as John explains, if faithful, we will be made like the glorified Jesus, and then, O happy thought, we shall “see him as he is”!

This will be when, in the resurrection, we are “born of the Spirit.” No wonder Nicodemus could not grasp the full significance of what Jesus told him, and inquired, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9) Jesus said to Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12) Yes, being born again and capable of exerting power invisible to the human eye, was a great truth which pertained, not to earthly blessings, but to the resurrected heavenly life which, like Jesus, his followers enter into when resurrected.

This is a great truth pertaining to the Christian’s heavenly inheritance. The Apostle Peter was aware of this glorious hope of every Christian, and wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath 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. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”—I Pet. 1:3-7

Yes, it is at the second presence of Jesus Christ that every faithful Christian enters into that heavenly inheritance and sees Jesus as he is. But by a special miracle Paul glimpsed him briefly, ahead of time, as it were, or as he explained it, as ‘one born out of due time’. This sight of Jesus’ heavenly glory was a great inspiration to Paul, for it doubtless helped to give him a more realistic conception, not only of the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but also of the vital importance of this great truth to the Christian’s hope, and also the hope of life for all mankind.

Suffering with Jesus

When Paul saw Jesus on the Damascus road and heard him speak, he realized that he was the Christ, the Messiah of promise, and at once desired to enter into his service. Later, the Lord, when sending Ananias to instruct Paul, said, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) So Paul learned that if he was to live and reign with Jesus it would be necessary for him to suffer and to die with him. He thoroughly believed that the one would follow the other, even as day follows night. To Timothy he wrote, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.”—II Tim. 2:11,12

But this ‘faithful saying’ would not be ‘faithful’ if Christ had not been raised from the dead. In this case, suffering and dying with Christ would be pointless and empty of any worthwhile significance in the great plan of God. Or as Paul wrote, our “preaching” would be “vain,” and our “faith” also would be vain, and we would still be dying as sinners, rather than sacrificially with Jesus as a part of the “better sacrifices” of the Gospel Age.—Heb. 9:23

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then there is no hope of a resurrection for those who die following in his footsteps. “If in this life only, we have hope in Christ,” Paul wrote, then “we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19) Men and women in the world who have not denied themselves and taken up their cross to follow Jesus into death are free to strive for whatever legitimate rewards this present life may have to offer, but not so the Christian. We are admonished to set our affections on “things above,” not on things of the earth. But “if Christ be not risen” then there are no “things above,” and we are setting our hopes and affections on something which does not exist.

If Christ be not raised, and consequently there is no resurrection for his followers, what point is there in being “baptized for the dead”? (vs. 29) In Romans 6:3-6 Paul likens our dying with Christ to a “baptism,” or burial. We are “baptized into his death.” This is a baptism “for” the dead because it is in preparation for the blessing of the dead world of mankind through Christ and his church as the “seed” of Abraham.—Gal. 3:8,16,27-29

But here again, the promises of God relating to the great privilege we have of being workers together with God in his great plan for blessing mankind with life are without vital meaning if Christ is not risen from the dead, and consequently there is no resurrection of the dead for his followers or for mankind in general. To be baptized for the dead implies sacrifice and suffering, but why sacrifice and suffer if there be no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection, then “why stand we in jeopardy every hour?” Paul asks. “If after the manner of men,” he continues, “I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink: for tomorrow we die.” (I Cor. 15:30,32) “Be not deceived,” Paul wrote. (vs. 33) There were those in the church at Corinth who did not believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and did not believe that anyone else would be raised from the dead. They liked the moral and ethical teachings of Christ, and professed to be his followers, but their relationship to him was of necessity limited to this life, and, under the circumstances, largely an empty and meaningless life.

Christ Is Risen

Startling indeed is the thought of all the empty hopes and aimless strivings of the Christian should it be that Christ is not risen from the dead! But Paul brushes all this negative reasoning aside with that one sweeping, positive assertion, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (vs. 20) Paul knew this, for he had seen his Lord, he had seen a glimpse of him for one enthralled moment “as he is,” saw him, as all the “firstfruit” class will see him when they are made like him in the “first resurrection.”

To Paul this left no room for doubt. The ‘if’ in, “If Christ be not risen,” was changed to ‘is’! “Now is Christ risen.” The only ‘if’ that remains is related to our position as followers of Christ. It is the ‘if’ mentioned in our text, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.” Obviously the reference here is to having entered into a new life with Christ by faith, the resurrected life of Christ being used as symbolic of our walking in “newness of life” with him.—Rom. 6:4

Are we walking in “newness of life”? Have we set aside all our worldly and earthly hopes, aims, ambitions, values, comforts, and joys? Have we dedicated ourselves so fully to God that every fiber of our being is now being used to his glory? Have we denied ourselves so fully, so completely, that we are no longer walking “after the flesh,” but following the leadings of the Holy Spirit of God in the way of self-sacrifice, conscious of the fact that the end of this way will be reached only when we have been fully and completely baptized into Jesus’ death? Is it really true of us that “old things”—all “old things”—have “passed away,” and that “all things are become new”?—II Cor. 5:17

Here is an ‘if’ that can be answered only in the heart of the consecrated child of God. If we can sincerely, and with joy, answer this question in the affirmative, saying that we have denied self and that we are, by divine grace, endeavoring to walk in newness of life, then it is our privilege to set our affections “on things above” rather than on “the things of the earth.”

The “things of the earth” here referred to by Paul may not be sinful things. Indeed, those who learn to know the loving plan of God for the restoration of mankind to life upon the earth during the “times of restitution” know that the material good things of the earth, including health and happiness as humans, are designed by God for the enjoyment of mankind. It is not a sin to desire these good things of the earth.

But if we have dedicated ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, and are now walking in a new way of life, then we should be setting our affections on things above, and seeking those heavenly things by daily sacrificing the flesh and all its earthly interests. We cannot successfully compromise between the things “below” and the things “above.” We cannot safely hold on to the earthly things with one hand while we reach out for the heavenly blessings with the other. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,” wrote James.—James 1:8

It is only through the medium of faith that we are able to set our affection on “things above.” Our finite minds cannot grasp the reality of heavenly things. We “look” at things which are “not seen.” (II Cor. 4:18) Ours is the vision of faith—faith in the promises of God, and the assurance that his promises have been ratified by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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