Foretaste of Glory
John’s declaration of the literal incarnation of our Lord in John 1:14 carries with it the observation that he dwelled or “took up residence among us” (NET).1 The Greek verb translated “took up residence” (ske„no„) means literally “to dwell in a tent,” thus, “to live temporarily.” Its association with the noun ske„ne„ (“tent”), used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to designate the Mosaic tabernacle and to point out God’s “dwelling” among his people, gave to the New Testament the further sense of “tabernacling.” The similarity in the Greek (skn) and the Hebrew (sŒkn) roots for “dwelling” provided the Greek writers with further cause for using ske„no„ to express the truth of the immediate presence of God, in all his “shekinah” glory, among men. Thus understood, John’s simple statement takes on a rich heritage of spiritual truth.
The shekinah glory had descended on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:16-17) and then had guided the Israelites all along the wilderness journey (Num. 9:15-17) to the land of inheritance (Deut. 12:10-11). God’s glory had filled both tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38) and temple (1 Kings 6:11-13). But due to Israel’s apostate heart, the shekinah left both the temple and Jerusalem (Ezek. 10:18-19; 11:22-25), not to return until the great millennial reign of Messiah among his repentant and redeemed people (Joel 3:17-21).
John later looks even further beyond, to the great and glorious everlasting reign of Christ over a refreshed and glorified earth, when he shall dwell among a believing mankind (Rev. 21:3). John’s message in John 1:14, however, reports that before that great day, there was a first residing of God among men that was no less glorious. When Christ “became flesh,” it was no less than a visitation of the shekinah glory. He was the promised Immanuel—God with us! Nor was he less glorious when he hung on the cross for man’s salvation and rose triumphant from the grave (John 12:23-28; 17:1-4). In the following discussion we shall note various aspects of Christ’s victory and their implications for Christian believers.
Christ’s Victory and the Believer’s Walk
The victory that our Savior won through his cross and his resurrection was followed by his triumphant ascension into Heaven. There he “tarries” in glory awaiting his glorious return as conqueror and king. Believers do indeed look forward to that glorious day when “the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16; cf. Rev. 19:11-16). As Thomas Kelly wrote:
Look, ye saints! The sight is glorious.
See the Man of Sorrows now.
From the fight returned victorious,
ev’ry knee to him shall bow.
Crown Him! Crowns become the Victor’s brow.2
Such is proclaimed gladly by the apostle Paul in several contexts and particularly in two important passages (2 Cor. 2:14 -15; Col. 2:15), each of which is tied to the key verb thriambeuo„, “to triumph,” or “lead in triumph.” The background of this word gives insight into Paul’s precise meaning. Interestingly, the Greek verb had an unsavory history before its utilization in the New Testament. The verb derives from the Greek noun thriambos, a hymn sung in the festal processions connected with the Greek god Bacchus (or Dionysius), whose base and sensuous rites were aimed at understanding the mysteries of life, death, and immortality. The noun thriambos passed, via the Etruscans, into the Latin triumphus, descending ultimately in our English word triumph. The Latin noun was used characteristically of the triumphal processions of Roman generals who returned from their successful campaigns, carrying behind them their spoils of war and leading their captured foes before the on-looking multitudes that thronged the processional way. Customarily, sweet spices would be used at specified intervals so that their odors might contribute to the splendorous scene. This derived meaning can be felt in the Greek verb thriambeuo„, which appears in the Greek papyri and later writings to designate the person over whom a triumph is gained, the spoils of which were displayed in a triumphant scene. It was also used in a general sense of putting something on public display.
Paul adopts much of this later imagery and relates it to God’s victory in Christ and of the believer’s position as united to Christ. Paul rehearses God’s great victory in Colossians 2:15: “Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The force of the Greek text here indicates that God stripped off, as one casts off a constraining garment, the powers of evil that veiled His glory when Christ achieved the victory at the cross. Henceforth, the now defeated, discarded, and powerless antagonists are boldly displayed as spoils of Christ’s triumph. Moreover, the cross, the place of seeming defeat, has become the instrument of ultimate triumph for all who know Christ as Lord. As Bruce explains, “Christ by his cross releases his people not only from the guilt of sin but from its hold over them…. Not only has he blotted out the record of their indebtedness but he has subjugated those powers whose possession of that damning indictment was a means of controlling them.”3 Dunn adds:
The force of images of what happened on the cross is powerful: a spiritual circumcision achieved and a body of flesh stripped off, a burial with Christ and resurrection with Christ, a being made alive with Christ from a state of death, and a wiping out of the record of transgression and destruction of that record. But the final one is boldest of all: a stripping off of the rulers and authorities as discarded rags, putting them to public shame and triumphing over them in him.4
The Greek verb is also used by Paul to remind the believer of the means of continuous victory in this life: “But thanks be unto God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists in the knowledge of him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14). The verb thriambeuo„ is often translated “cause to triumph,” but is better translated here as in the NET. Thus the apostle thanks God that he stands captive in Christ’s victory procession (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9). In context the reference is primarily to Paul and his apostolic team. Hubbard remarks that, “Although formerly an ‘enemy of the cross’ (Phil. 3:18; see Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:13), Paul now sees himself as Christ’s slave (Rom. 1:1; 2 Cor. 4:5) whose suffering and ministry are offered as a continuous testimony to the glory of Christ and as a fragrant sacrifice… of thanks to God… Paul portrays his crushed and vanquished apostolic existence as the means through which the aroma of the crucified Christ is mediated to those around him.”5
Nevertheless, a wider application to all believers as servants of Christ may well be taken. For, “Christ had triumphed and now led believers in him as his captives (the image is similar to that of being Christ’s servants) cf. Psalm 68:18, used in Ephesians 4:8.”6 Thus whereas in Colossians 2:15 the powers of evil are portrayed as spoils of the victory gained at the Cross, we believers, (just like Paul) who were at one time enemies of God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1: 21-23) and servants of sin (Eph. 2:1-3) are pictured here as those who have found freedom from sin and victory in life by becoming trophies of Christ’s conquest. In Christ, then, all believers find reception by God, for they stand accepted in the Beloved One (Eph. 1:6). United to Christ we find enablement for living as God leads in his continued triumph through us, and he makes us to be vessels through whom the sweet fragrance of Christ is released in our spiritual walk and service.
Among the many descriptions of service for Christ, laboring is perhaps most often overlooked. Several Greek words for labor are found in the New Testament and three appear as distinct synonyms: mochthos, “hardship,” was often used to describe the physical or mental toil that is the common lot of all men; ponos, “effort,” suggested that the task in which a man was engaged demanded his whole strength; and kopos, “weariness,” emphasized the fatigue resulting from extreme toil. 7
Ponos occurs four times in the New Testament. In three of these cases the idea of heavy exertion has passed over into the full effect of pain (Rev. 16:10, 11; 21:4). In its other occurrence, it poignantly describes Epaphras’s full commitment in prayer and concern for the saints in Asia Minor. Thus Paul testifies that, “he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” Mochthos is used three times (always in conjunction with kopos) to underscore the actual hard work that Paul experienced in his efforts to minister the gospel to others. Thus he reminds the Thessalonian believers, “For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (I Thess. 2:9; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23; 2 Thess. 3:5). Walvoord points out that, “in Apostolic times it was customary to stop work when darkness came and go to bed. When a person labored night and day it was the unusual thing, but that was what Paul did.”8 The idea contained in kopos is utilized more frequently, the root appearing either as a noun or a verb some forty times.
Paul uses these words to indicate not only the physical labor necessary to support himself as a gospel minister (1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:5), but also his toilsome efforts in that ministry. He declared, “I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). He realized, however, that Christian service is no empty labor and so he urged the believers, “Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). He was consumed with a passion to make Christians fully aware of the power and potential of the indwelling Christ, so he might have the pleasure of presenting “every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Accordingly, he expended all his being with the full force that only Christ’s energy could provide: “Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29).
The key to such basic Christian service lies in Paul’s well-known commendation to the Thessalonian Christians: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). Here he declares that a full commitment to the three great spiritual excellencies: a dynamic and active faith, a deep and all-encompassing love, and a settled and confident hope (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13)—is necessary in the believer’s service for Christ. Indeed, without that commitment, our work, labor, and patience may fall short of full godliness (cf. Rev. 2:2-4). One might paraphrase Paul’s words to the Thessalonians as stressing the work that faith produces, the laboring toil that flows out naturally from love, and the steadfast and patient endurance that hope inspires. A vital faith, a virtuous love, and a victorious hope will inevitably produce a Christian servant who so labors that he will expends himself totally in wearisome but joyful work for Christ (cf. Rom. 16:12; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; 1 Tim 4:8-10). As Oswald Smith writes,
“There is joy in serving Jesus,
as I journey on my way,
joy that fills the heart with praises,
every hour and every day.9
Paul knew no greater joy than laboring for Christ, even though such dedicated service had at times had brought hardship and pain (e.g., 2 Cor. 11: 23-33). Yet it was assuredly worth it all (Phil. 2:14-17). Therefore, he could assure the Philippian Christians that the Lord was with believers at all times “for the sake of his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). He could further admonish them to live their lives [much as Jesus did and Paul was doing] in sacrificial service to God (vv. 14-16). Yet Paul knew intimately the joy of the privilege of serving Christ, even if it meant the loss of his life: “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you” (v. 17).
Paul’s choice of the word translated “service” is very instructive. The Greek word leitourgia, translated “service” in our text, had had a long history and by Paul’s day had seen a distinct change in emphasis. Most commonly, the word had dealt with doing a community service that benefited society as a whole. From this it developed as a term of religious service. It was therefore a perfect word for the Greek translators of the Hebrew Old Testament of words from the Hebrew root sharet, “to serve or minister,” for the Hebrew root could also be used of both religious and secular duties.
Sharet was employed often to depict the religious duties of the Levites and priests who served in the tabernacle and temple services (cf. Exod. 28:35, 43; 1 Chron. 6:17; 16:4, 37). As a noun the word became a technical term for one who does special or responsible service. Joseph was a minister to Potiphar (Gen. 39:4); Joshua was Moses’ minister (Exod. 24:13); and Elisha performed a similar function for Elijah (1 Kings 19:21). In some cases the word is used for those whose service made them ministers to the king himself (2 Chron. 22:8; Esth. 2:2).
Both its earlier use and the Old Testament context are gathered up by the Greek word leitourgia for usage in the New Testament, especially in the sense of priestly service. The writer of Hebrews employs it frequently to describe the work of Christ, the believers’ great High Priest (Heb. 8:6; 9:21-28). So also believers, as a kingdom of priests (cf. Exod. 19:6; Isa. 56:6-9 with 1 Peter 2:9), are said to do spiritual service for God (Rev. 1:6; see also Acts 13:2). Thus Paul commends the Phillipian Christians not only for their sacrificial faith but for their selfless service for Christ. Because their lives spoke of sacrificial dedication and a ministering service (much as in the burnt offering and the meal offering), for Paul likewise to live his life in total commitment even to the point of death could only be a joyous tribute to them and their stand for Christ (much as the drink offering).
As well, this word and its Old Testament counterparts remind all those who minister for or serve God that no less that, no less than the Philippians, theirs must be even as Jesus declared, a “perfect” (i.e. wholesome, balanced, and spiritually maturing) walk: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48 cf. Ps. 101:6 with Gen. 17:1; Deut. 18:13; 2 Cor. 13:11). The text in Philippians 2:17 reminds all believers that all of life, “sacred and secular,” must be spiritual service for Christ (cf. Rom. 15:26-27; 2 Cor. 9:12-13). Indeed, the various contexts of the Bible remind believers of the high calling that each believer has. For in their spiritual service they serve Him who is not only High Priest (cf. Heb. 9:23-28) but also the great King (cf. Rev. 19:16).
Paul’s choice of the drink offering in Philippians 2:17 (Greek, spendomai) to express his joy of living his total life in complete devotion and dedication to Christ, whatever the personal difficulty or cost, is also instructive. According to Old Testament practice, the drink offering occupied the high point of spiritual expression in the sacrificial system. Symbolizing the fruitfulness of life which God produces in the believer (cf. Gen. 49:22), the drink offering signified the full consecration of the believer whose life was poured out in joyous, dedicated service to God. It was employed chiefly to accompany and cap those sweet savor offerings that symbolized full dedication (the burnt offering, together with its meal offering, signifying active service) and loving communion (the peace offering) with God (cf. Num. 15:1-10 with Num. 28:26-31; 29:30). Through this imagery Paul emphasizes both the Philippians’ consecration and his own commitment to Christ’s will for his life. Were Paul to die in the Roman prison from which he is writing, his death would be merely a joyous drink offering to their dedicated sacrifice (the burnt offering) and priestly service (the meal offering) which the Philippians’ faith had evidenced. Therefore, he could rejoice and urges them to rejoice. Theirs had been a sacrificial faith and loving service. What would be more appropriate than for Paul to crown that consecration with the drink offering of his life. O’Brien points out that it was the Philippians’ sacrifice that was “the focus of Paul’s attention. … Theirs is the main sacrifice offered to God. The apostle is willing that, if one thing remains to make that sacrifice perfectly acceptable, his own life be sacrificed…and credited to their account. But he describes that pouring out of his life in death by means of the modest drink offering… He is also able to rejoice with all of them… in their sacrificial service since it is an offering acceptable to God, and now, with the addition of Paul’s libation, it is complete.” 10
Although Paul apparently was not executed on this occasion, later he was to use the same illustration as he faced impending death in a Roman prison for a second time (2 Tim. 4:6-7): “I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” This time there would be no reprieve, no escape. Already he was being poured out as a drink offering and the time of his departure was near. He had fought a good fight, but he was now ready to cap his dedicated labors and ministry for Christ with the joyous drink offering of his own life.
J. S. Baxter tells the following story concerning the eminent Scottish professor, Henry Drummond. When Henry was a lad scarcely ten years of age, his home village was preparing paper streamers in honor of the soon arrival of the queen. When the paper supply began to grow scarce, young Drummond was asked to go fetch some more. At first he refused. But later he was seen running at top speed to get the required supplies. He changed his mind when someone reminded him that even this seemingly menial task was OHMS, “On Her Majesty’s Service.” May we ever remind ourselves that whatever we do in our service as ministers of Christ is unto him (Col. 3:17)—It’s OHMS—On His Majesty’s Service.” 11
May we learn a lesson from Paul’s words of strong dedication and devotion. May our churches, like that of Philippi, have the kind of people for whom Paul, or our pastor, or fellow believers would gladly die. May our lives be characterized by a faith that produces such a total dedication that it issues forth in fruitful service for Christ, lives that are consciously poured out in joyous surrender to him who “poured out his life unto death” (NIV) for the sins of a needy mankind (Isa. 53:12).
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.12
Summary and Concluding Considerations
In the above discussion we have chronicled several biblical themes, which contain many truths concerning the believer’s life and walk. In the introductory remarks we noticed that Christ’s incarnation was in a very real sense the earthly presence of God. Christ came to earth at a distinct period of time in order to accomplish victory over sin for a needy mankind: “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father” (John 1:14). The Greek verb translated, “took up residence” carries with it the sense of “tabernacling” (or living in a tent), hence a temporary dwelling.
It is of interest to note, therefore, that Paul uses the idea of a temporary dwelling to assure believers that this body in which they presently live is not the final mode of living that God intends for them. Rather, this present bodily “tent” will at death be cast off for an eternal dwelling that God has prepared for them (2 Cor. 5:1-5). Indeed, Jesus himself promised his followers, “I am going away to make ready for you a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you. I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too” (John 14: 2-3; cf. Heb. 8:5). 13 Thus Jesus’ death and return to Heaven not only assures believers of a heavenly home for them but points to Christ’s second coming in which they shall enjoy his presence forever. Concerning that future day the Apostle John foresaw:
A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist…And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! The residence of Gods is among human beings. He will live and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21:1-3).
We noted further that the present reality for this longed-for glory is resident in the fact that as united to Christ (cf. Eph 2:19-22) believers participate in Christ’s victory procession. In addition, the victorious Christ has so equipped believers that they may readily utilize the spiritual gifts that he gives to them as members of his victory train. Thus Paul declares, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of God” (Eph. 4:7).14 Paul goes on to point out that although some have been given distinctly special gifts (vv. 11-14), all believers have nonetheless been gifted according to the needs of their avenue of service. As Hoehner remarks, “Paul states that each believer is sovereignly and graciously given a gift or gifts. Such gifts are not, as some think, limited only to church leaders….Christ, as Victor over Satan, sin and death, grants gifts to the redeemed, who then can minister in his power.”15
Thus as united to Christ the Christian has not only a sure hope of that glorious future (Col. 1:27), but an ever-present source of strength in his spiritual service (2 Cor. 12:9). As believers await the assured hope of their eternal destiny with Christ, not only do they have the stabilizing influences of joy and peace, but they have the high privilege of serving him in their earthly walk. It is to be a labor of love (Eph.4:15-16)
We saw that that labor of love, which is also a “walk of faith” (1Thess. 1:3), can take many forms. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Christian service (or labor) could be described as accompanied by such things as hardship, weariness, and effort. As did Paul, believers, too, can experience troublesome days. These can provide the enemy with an opportunity to bring discouragement and doubt. How often the Tempter comes to make God’s children question his love and purpose for them (Gen. 3:4-5), especially in the troublesome times of life (1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 2:10). But in those times the believer has a resource, which can provide comfort and rest. During such occasions, the believer is to cast himself upon the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7), doubting nothing (James 1:2-7). As the psalmist observed, the believer needs to consider the prior claim of God upon his life (Ps. 77:10-15) and God’s great power to deliver and lead His children (Ps. 77:16-20; cf. Judg. 5:4; Pss. 18:13-20; 68:33; Hab. 3:8-15). He is to put his hope (Pss. 42:5, 11; 43:5) and confident trust in God (Ps. 46:1-3; Isa. 26:3), for he hears both the audible and silent prayers of His own (Ps. 55:16-17) and delivers them (Ps. 65:5-7). May we say as did the psalmist, “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. As for me, God’s presence is all I need” (Ps. 73:23, 28).
Certainly on our part there is the need for individual commitment at all times. Such comes from the exercise of the whole soul in solid faith: intellect, emotions, and will. Thus David challenged believers to:
Trust in the Lord and do what is right!…
Then you will delight in the LORD,
and he will answer your prayers.
Commit your future to the LORD!
Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf…
Wait patiently for the LORD!
Wait confidently for him! (PS 37:3-5, 7).
It is also true that Christian service is a spiritual ministry that includes all of the believer’s life. Whether designated as spiritual or secular, whether in good times or difficult, ours is a priestly ministry (Phil. 2:17; cf. 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 5:10). As believers we have the privilege of serving our triumphant and ascended Lord with and to one another, as well to a lost and needy mankind. Perhaps our sense of unrest in seasons of distress might also be well served not only by remembering and appropriating the Lord’s provision for His own (Ps. 116:7; Rom. 8:26-27), but by reaching out to those who stand so desperately in need of the peace and comfort that only Christ can supply (John 16:33; Rom. 5:1; 8:35-39).
Yes, we may have to labor in difficult or even dangerous places or times, but whatever the place or time we are assured that we are not alone. Whatever or wherever our ministry or service we need not rely on our own strength. “We are God’s co-workers” (1 Cor. 2:9). The realization that we are laborers together with God and that we find our source of strength and direction under his leadership is underscored by the biblical teaching concerning the believer’s union with Christ. Long ago Augustus Strong observed that this vital, spiritual of Christ and the believer is represented in the New Testament by eight “togethers.”16 Strong’s observation is strengthened by noting that in each case the Greek preposition sun (“with,” “together with”) is present in the context, thus suggesting or indicating the idea of “togetherness.” Building on Strong’s data we may suggest another way of looking at this very important truth. The Pauline “togethers” can be viewed as consisting of a triple triad of “togethers” plus one, hence ten “togethers.” Three “togethers” are concerned with the past: believers were crucified together (Gal. 2:20) and died together with Christ Col 3:3), and were buried together with him (Rom. 6:4). A second group of “togethers” reflect both past and present aspects: believers are made alive together (Eph. 2:5) and raised together in Christ (Eph. 2:6) and seated with him “in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). A third triad contains both present and future realities: believers may suffer together with Christ (Rom 8:17) but will be glorified together with him (Rom. 8:17) and ultimately will reign with him (2 Tim: 2:12). Meanwhile, a tenth “together’ reminds believers that they labor, serve, and minister together with God” (Cor. 2:9). What a joy and blessing is ours to be united with Christ and have the honor of serving as his representatives (2 Cor. 5:20)! Well did Bernard of Clairvaux write:
Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
as Thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be Thou our glory now
and through eternity.17
May we, like Paul, pour out our lives in humble, faithful, committed service to Christ (Phil 2:17; cf. 2 Tim 4:6-8).
Moreover, to the believer there has been given divine assurance of the reality of all of this. It is expressed vividly in the Greek word arrabo„n, traditionally translated “earnest,” but better understood as “down payment” (NET). A loan word from the Semitic world where it was widely employed since very early times as an economic and commercial term, arrabo„n was also used extensively in Greek and Latin (and is still attested in the French word arrhes). The Hebrew equivalent is found three times in Genesis 38 (vv. 17, 18, 20), where it is usually translated as “pledge,” that is, that which is given in lieu of a forthcoming but different thing that had been promised. In the Greek world, however, the term takes on an added dimension. The “pledge” becomes here a first installment of the full sum that will be given. Thus it was used as earnest money or a down payment and guarantee that an item bought would be paid for in full. It could designate as well a retaining fee or “up front” money used in engaging the services of a professional craftsman, workman, or entailer. The point of all such Greek usages was that the earnest was of the same kind and was counted as part of the final settlement. Thus Barclay points out that, “In secular Greek contemporary with the NT arrabo„n is regularly a part payment which is an assurance and a guarantee that full payment will follow; it is an instalment [sic] paid down in advance which is the proof and the pledge that the whole sum will in due course be forthcoming.”18
The full weight of this business term can be felt in three contexts in which Paul employs this word with great care and precision. In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul reminds the believers that the great affirming “yes” to God’s promises is found in Christ, whose servant Paul was. Still further, it was God Himself who had established Paul and his company together with the Corinthians in Christ. It was he “who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment (vv. 21-22).” Thus the glorious promises of God in Christ, which are yet to be known in fullness, are already being experienced by the Spirit-filled believer. Paul elsewhere calls this the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23), a foretaste of the full and final harvest of salvation that the Christian is yet to enjoy.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul employs the figure of an earthly house or tent to be cast off so as to obtain a heavenly home. In so doing he points out that the earnest of the Spirit serves as both the assurance and a foretaste of the Christian’s eternal life. As Hodge observes, “The simple idea is that the soul, when it leaves its earthly tabernacle, will not be lost in immensity, nor driven away houseless and homeless, but will find a house and home in heaven… Being made by God it is eternal…The object of the apostle’s desire was…the state of glory immediately subsequent to death. It is therefore of that the Holy Spirit is here declared to be the earnest.” 19 In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul adds that the Holy Spirit is “the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.” Moreover, “This Spirit is also a powerful presence within us as a resource for living the Christian life. The Spirit, in fact, has his own agenda, which involves promoting and empowering a holy life.”20 As heirs and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), believers not only anticipate a further rich and final salvation experience, they partake of that fullness even now through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In all of this it is evident that the earnest of the Spirit is no mere pledge of the believer’s life in its final form, but is a foretaste of that completed salvation. Our life now should qualitatively partake of the richness of the glorious life that yet awaits us. The Christian life is no mere static, passive business transaction between God and the believer, but is an active, living, growing, and productive experience, capped by the enablement of the Holy Spirit’s progressively sanctifying work (cf. Rom. 8:14-23). It is small wonder, then, that Christians are admonished not to quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19) so that the fruits of the Spirit may be evidenced in the believer’s growth in grace (Gal. 5:22-23) and in victory over sin (Rom. 8:1-11).
May we live so as to let our heavenly Earnest do his sanctifying work in our lives in order that we may truly enjoy the abundant life that Christ himself has promised (John 10:10). And as we do so, even now in this present life, we can experience the living reality of the divine presence, which comes through our spiritual union with Christ (Col. 1:27) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23-27).21 Not only will we have an abiding sense of God’s presence with us, but a growing assurance of the truth of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) and of that eternal life that we shall enjoy with our Lord. Life here and now can truly be “a foretaste of glory.” Accordingly, we can rejoice with Fanny Crosby in singing heartily, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!”22
1 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical citations are taken from the NET.
2 Thomas Kelly, “Look, ye saints! The sight is glorious.”
3 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 110.
4 James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 169-70.
5 Moyer V. Hubbard, “2 Corinthians,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. ed. Clinton E. Arnold, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 3:207.
6 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary, New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992) , 496.
7 See further, Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 377-78.
8 John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, [n. d.]), 30.
9 Oswald J. Smith, “Joy in Serving Jesus.”
10 Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) , 310, 312.
11 J. Sidlow Baxter, Awake My Heart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 224.
12 Frances R. Havergal, “Take My Life and Let It Be.”
13 For details as to the background imagery of Jesus’ words, See Andreas Kostenberger, John , Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert Yarborough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 424-27. For various views as to the meaning of John 14:2-3, see Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, 13 vols., rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,, 2007), 10: 561.
14 It should be noted that Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:8-10 have been subjected to several interpretations. In verse 8 Paul seems clearly to be citing or alluding to Psalm 68:18, where it is said that the victorious conqueror has received gifts from those vanquished. Because Paul speaks of Christ’s giving of gifts, some have found a biblical contradiction here. Yet, Paul is clearly citing a variant textual tradition, which speaks of the giving of gifts. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s ascent and descent “to the lower regions” (vv.9-10) has also generated many interpretations over the centuries of Christian history. Despite the difficulties inherent in the passage (see NET text note), it seems simplest and best to follow the NET translation that by “the lower regions” is meant, “namely, the earth.” See further, the NET textual note on 1 Pet. 3:19. Thus the incarnate Christ, having been victorious over Satan, sin and death, was resurrected and has ascended back to heaven.
15 Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008), 16:83, 86. As to the distinctive gifts of spiritual leaders and all believers, see Arnold, Ephesians, 255.
16 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), 803.
17 Bernard of Clairvaux, “Jesus, the very Thought of Thee.”
18 William Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook (New York: Harper & Brothers, [n. d.]), 25.
19 Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, [n. d.]), 112- 113, 120.
20 Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, in Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2010), 97.
21 For a discussion of the presence of God, see Richard D. Patterson, “The Pleasure of His Presence,” Biblical Studies Press, 2010.
22 Fanny J. Crosby, “Blessed Assurance.”