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An Early Text for Later Messianic Conceptions: A Look at Genesis 49:8-12

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The New Testament (NT) writers constantly employed the Old Testament (OT) in their preaching about Christ. And there is good reason, of course, for they believed that all of the OT spoke to the coming of Christ, either directly or indirectly, by type, example, etc. Jesus said in Luke 24:44 that everything that was spoken about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. This means that in some way there is reference to him as the messiah/savior/priest/king throughout the whole OT, including the Pentateuch (for this made up the “law” as Luke referred to it here). It is to the Pentateuch, and to Genesis 49:8-12 in particular, that we now turn our attention in this short paper. (This paper is one of several to follow which will attempt to show Davidic regal conceptions in the Old Testament as backdrop for the NT presentation of the Messiah.)1

Perhaps one of the most intriguing traditions found in the “Testament of Jacob,” as Genesis 49:3-27 is often referred to,2 concerns the blessing on Judah in vv. 8-12. According to Wenham this passage alone “has provoked more discussion than the whole of the rest of the chapter.”3 Questions about the precise significance of the various images (e.g., “lion’s cub,” “between his feet,” etc.), the original wording of v. 8 (cf. 1QM 12:10),4 the use (i.e., Sitz im Leben) of the tradition before its incorporation into the text, and the essential unity of the poem as a whole, are legion and it appears that no consensus is in sight on most of the issues; the passage has had, especially since the 19th century and the rise of critical scholarship, a diverse history of interpretation.5 It is not our purpose here to attempt systematic answers to all the queries arising out of this text, but instead to surface certain elements important for understanding regal hope in the Old Testament and the kinds of ideas NT writers were free to draw on and utilize in their preaching about Christ. It is the images concerning Judah which will become important for subsequent Jewish thinking about the Messiah and his kingdom for they outline in incipient form a portrait of a coming king. The focus of this study is not on the NT’s use of Gen 49:8-12, but on the text of Genesis 49 itself and the kinds of regal ideas it advances.

Date and Literary Integrity of Genesis 49:8-12

The prevailing view among critical scholars today regarding the date of the traditions reflected in the poem partly depends on one’s view of the literary integrity of the unit. For those who see the poem as essentially a collection of disparate traditions the dates range accordingly, from pre-monarchic for certain traditions to post-exilic for others. For those, on the other hand, who maintain the essential literary integrity of the unit, the date of composition ranges, based on internal considerations such as the places where the tribes are said to live (cf. Zebulon in v. 13) and the exalted emphasis on Judah vv. 8-12 and the tribe of Joseph, from some time in the period of the Judges with still later modifications in the monarchic period.6 There is, however, good evidence for an even earlier date (e.g., the lack of reference to Mosaic legislation of any kind), but on any reasonable reckoning it may be considered one of the oldest parts of the Bible.7

Regal Conceptions in Genesis 49:8-12

There are several features of the coming ruler and his rule that Genesis 49:8-12 introduces and upon which, either verbally or conceptually, later writers appear to make use. The beginning of verse 8 ühT*a hd*Why+ (“You are Judah”) with the use of the second person pronoun serves to underscore the fact that the predication to follow uniquely and singularly concerns Judah,8 that is, ultimately the tribe as a whole, and though some commentators disagree, the verses as a whole are extremely lauditory in nature.9 It is said that Judah will be praised by his brothers (v. 8a) and that they will bow down to him (v. 8c) probably because he has earned it in that he has conquered his enemies (i.e., put his hand on their necks10) and undoubtedly because, as his brothers, they will certainly benefit in Judah’s victories.11 As the tribe goes so goes the nation. This will be developed quite extensively in the covenant made with David some years later (2 Sam 7:6-16).

The idea of Judah’s strength is evidenced in the reference to him as “a lion’s cub going up (tyl!u* yn]b= [rF#m!) from the prey.” Though some have understood tyl!u* as a reference to “being reared” on prey (cf. Ezek. 19:3), “it is better to understand it of the lion’s ascent, after a raid, to his mountain fastness, where he rests in unassailable security.”12 Thus the image speaks of Judah’s power and supremacy among the tribes and over her enemies. His sovereignty is expressed in that no one dare challenge him, i.e., “rouse him.” This brings to mind the comments of the psalmist who, when speaking of God’s Davidic king, said, “Therefore you kings be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment” (Psalm 2:10-12a NIV; see also Ps 110).

Though some have found the transition to the metaphor of a scepter (fb#v@) and ruler’s staff (qq@{jm=13 [v. 10]) a difficult one, it need not be if the general underlying principal of leadership and dominance be seen to be carried through in this second image. There are many difficult phrases to translate and deal with here, but the overall thrust is clear enough. The point of the image is that Judah will continue to rule14 until hylv (Shiloh) comes and the obedience of the nations is his [i.e., hlyv]. Thus the rule of Judah as crystallized in hlyv is here envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world, though perhaps not in a completely absolute sense. The fact that the nations of the earth shall benefit (i.e., on the idea of a beneficial rule see comments on v. 11, 12) is in keeping with the author’s view of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” But we must return now to take a closer look at the enigmatic hylv.

There are four prominent interpretations of Genesis 49:10b which will be briefly cited here.15 First, the text may be translated as “until he comes to Shiloh.”16 The point, then, would be that a Judean ruler will come to control Shiloh which is understood to refer to a sacred sanctuary in Ephraim. A significant problem with this view is that here the writing of hlyv is plene, but the place name is written defectively, hlv. Second, the LXX (and other versions) read “until he comes whose it is.” The point of the statement, then, is that rulership (i.e., the scepter and the rod) will not depart from Judah until one comes to whom the right to rule belongs. Third, Westermann17 and von Rad18 suggest that hlyv was originally hlvm and, therefore, referred to a Davidic ruler or messianic figure. Fourth, several commentators suggest that the Hebrew need only be repointed as h{l yv^ ab*y| “until tribute is brought to him” to make good sense. As Wenham argues, this “solution has the advantage of requiring no consonantal changes and makes a nice parallel with the following clause.”19 The most important point for our consideration, however, is not the precise referent for the term alyv but the fact that on any reasonable reading of the passage, a future ruler is envisaged and that he may well go beyond just a political figure, but indeed may be characterized as an escahtological20 regal triumphant figure.21 As Gunkel points out, the mention of olw+ clearly indicates that a person is in view here.22

The images in verse 11 have undergone no little discussion, but while there are differences of opinion on specific points the overall meaning is fairly straightforward. Here the promised ruler of the preceding verse is seen to tether his donkey to a vine, wash his clothes in wine, and his appearance speaks of beauty and health.23 The lavish language describes a time when there will be extravagent blessing symbolized by the abundance of wine and milk. The image “is a common biblical figure of divine favor and prosperity.”24 The connection of an ideal earth with a coming ruler was made at several points in later writers (cf. e.g. Isa 11:1-9; Ezek 34:23-31; Amos 9:11-15; Ps 72:16). There may also be another inference to be drawn from the grape imagery which could have implications for later writers. Hamilton explains:

It is clear that wine is not exactly the same as grape’s blood. The first refers to the finished product. The second refers to the crushing of the grapes. May we have here a pastoral image, but within which there is the intimation of violence? May there be both a laundering of wine and a laundering of blood? To his own this one will bring joy and fullness; to those who reject him he brings terror.25

Summary

In summary, then, Genesis 49:8-12, while containing many exegetical difficulties, nonetheless provides a well of very early regal conceptions which later writers were free to draw from, use (cf. Pss 45, 72, 89, 110, 132; Hos 3:5; Amos 9:11-15; Is 9:6-7; 11:1ff, etc.), and adapt according to the profile of the regal/eschatological figure they wished to sketch.26 The passage, then, is a prophecy of David and the Davidic kingdom. It envisions a regal figure who will come from the tribe of Judah. Both Judah’s brothers and many others will benefit as a result of his rule. He will exhibit strength and defeat his foes with none to overthrow him. The scope of his rule includes not only the tribes of Israel, but also the nations. In connection with his coming there will be tremendous blessing and divine favor. In light of vv. 11-12 it is highly likely that later writers would not have viewed the prophecy as in any real final sense fulfilled at the time of David, but that more could be anticipated at a future time. This, of course, is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who as a descendant of David and the line of Judah is the only One who exhausts the regal language employed in the text. The Lord will ultimately defeat all his enemies (Rev 19) and there will be a time of great worldwide blessing to Israel and the nations through him (Rom 11:25-32; Rev 20:4-6). Certain aspects of the kingdom have been inaugurated at the king’s first coming and the consummation awaits his return. For example, we have the Spirit now, but we will be completely glorified when he returns (cf. e.g., Acts 3:19-22 and 13:16-41) and Israel will be restored to the kingdom at that time (Rom 11:25-32). The next paper in this series will focus on the “star” imagery of Numbers 24:17-19 where these regal hopes are further elaborated upon.


1 There is an ongoing discussion among scholars as to the precise date for the development of the “messianic” idea in Israel. The present author is not arguing that this text as originally given has all the messianic intent of later texts, but only that with its exalted regal language it is ripe fodder for later writers to nourish their messianic hopes on. After we have looked at several texts throughout the OT and the intertestamental period, we will then examine the NT to see where and how these ideas are utilized.

2 See E. A. Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible, vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 370.

3 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, ed. John D. W. Watts (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1994), 2: 475. See also Andr Caquot, “La parole sur Juda dans le testament lyrique de Jacob,” Semitica 26 (1976): 5, who says, “Sans tre la plus obscure des onze paroles que Gense 49 prte Jacob, la sentence du patriarche concernant son fils Juda est l’une des plus discutes.”

4 For the argument, on the basis of parallels with 1QM 12:10, that this line was originally a couplet, see S. Gevirtz, “Adumbrations of Dan in Jacob’s Blessing on Judah,” ZAW 93 (1981): 23-24.

5 For a history of the interpretation of Genesis 49:10 and its relation to Deuteronomy 33 see J. D. Heck, “A History of Interpretation of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33,” BSac 147 (1990): 16-31. He says that “there continue to be two major streams of interpretation, the traditional and the critical, with the latter predominating and with each position largely rejecting the other. Among critical scholars, those who follow the Albright-Bright-Wright reconstruction of Israelite history are in the minority. Those who follow the Noth-Alt-von Rad reconstruction of Israelite history with its amphictyonic hypothesis reflect the dominant interpretation of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33.”

6 See for example, Hermann Gunkel, Genesis, Mercer Library of Biblical Studies, trans., Mark E. Biddle (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 452, who says, “The sayings of Gen 49 belong to various eras. The saying concerning Judah clearly presupposes that Judah rules the other tribes. The context of the song shows how Judah acquired the birthright. This points to the time of David or Solomon.” Gunkel’s statement rests on the premise that the poem was not a unified composition, but instead a collection of divergent traditions, and a vaticinium ex eventu approach to prophetic material. The latter premise remains to be argued by those in theology and philosophy (and one which the present author strongly rejects as necessary), but the former has been critiqued by several scholars. See e.g. Von Horst Seebass, “Die Stmmesprüche Gen 49 3-27,” ZAW 96 (1984): 333-50; Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis, 2 vols., trans., Sophia Taylor (n.p.: T & T Clark, 1888; reprint Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1978), 2:366, reacts to the idea that the poem as a whole belongs in the period of the Davidic monarchy, or in the period of the Judges, but insists that it goes back to Jacob himself and that “testamentary words of a prophetic character might be expected from the departing ancestor of the chosen people.”

7 See Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 155, 56 for arguments against dating that rests on the so-called J editor at the time of the united monarchy and later.

8 The contrast between Judah and the other tribes, including Joseph (though he is accorded much in the blessing as well; vv. 22-26) is apparent from even a cursory glance at the poem as a whole (cf. Reuben, vv. 3-4, who will no longer excel; Simeon and Levi, vv. 5-6 whose unrighteous and uncontrollable anger is cursed; Issachar, vv. 14-15 will submit to forced labor, etc.).

9 The expression “your brothers will praise you” (;yj#a^ ;Wdoy) invovles assonance and a word-play (i.e., pun) between ;Wdoy and hd*Why+. The fact that Judah is praised is important for indicating the positive nature of the blessing, for on only three other ocassions are people said to be praised in the OT: Job 40:14; Pss 45:18[17], 49:19[18]. But cf. Edwin M. Good, “The Blessing on Judah in Genesis 49: 8-12,” JBL (1963):427-32, who argues that the blessing only appears to be laudatory and messianic, but is underneath built on irony and results in a scathing indictment on the tribe for Judah’s dealings with Tamar in chapter 38. At certain points Calum M. Carmichael, “Some Sayings in Genesis 49,” JBL (1969): 435-444, follows Good, but disagrees with inferring from the “staff” something about the conception of the twins; he does not see the same connections to chapter 38 on the basis of fbv since in 38:18 the term is hfm. According to Carmichael, the connection, if it exists at all, is only by a “loose association of ideas.” He also disagrees with Good’s interpretation of the ass and vine imagery. But we must reject this approach outrightly because it 1) is extremely subtle [Carmichael admits as much, p. 438] and at certain points quite strained; and 2) rests on the dubious reading of verse 8 as judgmental. See Wenham, Genesis, 475; Hamilton, Genesis, 2:657.

10 Usually it is the foot that the victor puts on the neck of the downed foe, but here it is the hand—a fact which has led to attempts at emendation. See e.g., Anderson, “Orthography in Repetitive Parallelism,” JBL 89 (1970): 344. The occurrence of the phrase, however, at Qumran, i.e., 1QM 12:11, should quell the need for such hypothetical reconstructions: 1QM 12:11 says: “…Set Thy hand upon the neck of Thine enemies and Thy foot upon the heap of the slain” (italics mine)! See A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumran, ed. Geza Vermes (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1973), 187.

11 That there is indeed a causal relationship between the praising and the fact that Judah has subdued his enemies is evidenced by the causative hiphil form of W;doy in the first line of the blessing.

12 John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The International Critical Commentary, ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C. A. Briggs, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1930), 519.

13 The two terms fb#v@ and qq@{jm= are interchangeable in that they both represent political authority and leadership. So Claus Westermann, Genesis 37-50, trans. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1982), 230. See also B. Margulis, “Gen. XLIX/DEUT.XXXIII 2-3: A New Look at Old Problems,” VT 19 (1969):203.

14 The phrase “between his feet” is not a euphemism for the male sexual organ, but shows the mace or ruler’s staff placed in a position of authority; it is from this position of authority and leadership that the staff will not depart. See ANEP no. 463; Hamilton, Genesis, 2:658, n. 26.

15 Other solutions involve emendations to the consonantal text or unlikely etymologies. See Margulis, “Gen. XLIX/DEUT.XXXIII 2-3,” 203, who proposes yv^ <a!B> a{by` for the MT. See also L. Sabotka, “Noch Einmal Gen 49:10 Bib 51 (1970): 225-29, who understands the Hebrew preposition du to refer to a “throne.” Westermann, Genesis 37-50, 3:231, suggests (along with several other commentators) alyv be explained on the basis of an Akkadian loanword @l% “ruler.” These solutions are precocious and tenuous at best.

16 In this reading the h in hlyv is directive.

17 Westermann, Genesis 37-50, 3:231.

18 G. von Rad, Genesis, 425, 26. He says that the one to come, in light of verses 11 and 12 “is almost a Dionysiac figure” which is probably saying too much about this person.

19 Wenham, Genesis, 478.

20 By the term eschatological here we refer to the time envisioned in vv. 11-12 wherein there is an abundance of divine blessing concomitant with the arrival of the regal figure.

21 Cf. Gunkel, Genesis, 456.

22 Gunkel, Genesis, 456.

23 Gunkel, Genesis, 458.

24 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis ty?arb, The JPS Torah Commentary, gen. ed. Nahum M. Sarna (Philadelphia/New York/Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 337.

25 Hamilton, Genesis, 662.

26 We will deal with those passages as we move through the survey.

Related Topics: Christology, Prophecy/Revelation

Preface to Genesis: from Paradise to Patriarchs

As the result of a tragic incident, a very young woman had a child out of wedlock. This child was given up for adoption, not to be seen or heard from for many years. As this woman entered the later years of her life, that son called her on an Easter weekend. When this mother and son met for the first time in many years, her son told her of the efforts he had expended to find her. His adoptive parents were wonderful, loving people, but he was compelled to meet his biological mother. He wanted to know from whence he had come, and the one who had begotten him.

This story could be repeated, in various forms, many times over. We all want to know where we have come from. Gentiles who have come to faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted into the family of God. In biblical terms, we have been grafted into the life of the vine, and that vine is Israel (see Romans chapter 11). Our “roots” as Christians run very deep in Bible history. We should want to know where we have come from, and it is the Book of Genesis that describes these origins.

In Genesis, we find an account of the origin of our world, and of mankind (chapters 1 and 2). We find as well the origin of human depravity and sin in the “fall of man” depicted in Genesis chapter 3. We see its devastating effects in the wickedness of men and its dire consequences in the judgment of God in the curse (chapters 3 and 4), in the flood (chapters 6-9), in the confusion at Babel (chapter 11), and in the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah (chapters 18 and 19). We also see the grace of God in His provisions for man’s salvation, beginning with the promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15, being further evidenced in the ark and God’s covenant with Noah (chapters 6-9), in the rescue of Lot and his family (chapter 19), in the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.), and in the sojourn of Israel in Egypt (chapters 37ff.).

Genesis is not a “once upon a time” fairy tale. It is history, but written in such a way as to hold our attention throughout its 50 chapters. Let us approach this study with the enthusiasm it deserves. Let us listen and learn from whence we have come, as well as to learn more of that “paradise” to which all true Christians are destined.

I would suggest that before you begin to study this book (and these messages about it) in detail, you begin by sitting down and reading through the entire book, in one sitting if possible. It will be time well spent. And then I would urge you to pray that God would make the message and the meaning of this book clear to you, in a way that will be a part of the transformation of your life (see Ephesians 4:17-24). And when you pray, ask God that He would grant that you see more of Christ, for He is certainly to be found in this great book.

A Walk Through the Book of Genesis

Introduction

Perhaps the most forthright and concise introduction I have ever heard about is the one which Readers Digest tells us occurred at the men’s night meeting of the Philomathic Club. The speaker didn’t receive the usual flower phrases of introduction. Instead, the woman simply said, “Get up, Gilbert.” The speaker was none other than the woman’s husband.

I probably feel the same way about introductions as “Gilbert” does. I especially dislike the introduction that goes like this: “And now it is my pleasure to introduce a man who needs no introduction.”

With this message we are commencing a study of one of the great books of the Bible, the book of Genesis. It does need an introduction. Derek Kidner says of this book,

There can scarcely be another part of Scripture over which so many battles, theological, scientific, historical and literary, have been fought, or so many strong opinions cherished.1

Our attitudes and presuppostions which we bring to the book of Genesis will largely determine what we get from it. For this reason, we must devote our attention to some introductory matters.

Title

The title “Genesis” is a transliteration of the Greek word which is the title of the book of Genesis in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew text, the word Bereshith, is the first word of the text, being translated, “in the beginning.”

Authorship

J. Sidlow Baxter, in his excellent work, Explore the Book, sums up the difficulty of authorship by the question, “Is it Mosaic, or a mosaic?”2

That, in a nutshell, is the issue.

Traditionally, Moses has been held to be the author of Genesis over the centuries. A number of inferential evidences favor this conclusion.3 It would appear from a number of passages (e.g., Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Leviticus 1:1; 4:1; 6:1,8,19,24; 7:22,28, etc.) that Moses wrote the other books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). It would indeed be unusual for the first word of Exodus to be “and” unless Moses wrote it as well.

In the New Testament, our Lord seemingly attributes the Pentateuch to Moses (Matt 8:4; 19:7,8; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:3,4; Luke 5:14; 16:29,31; John 5:45,46; 7:22,23). Other New Testament writers follow this same approach (Acts 3:22, 13:39; Rom 10:5,19; I Cor 9:9; II Cor 3:15). It is therefore hard not to conclude that Moses wrote all the Pentateuch, in spite of no one air-tight statement to this effect.

Critics have not been content with this conclusion, however. Beginning with J. Astruc (1753),4 “scholars” have attributed this book to the work of an unknown redactor who skillfully compiled the writings of four or more editors. Generally the four primary sources are referred to as J, E, D, and P. J is the “Yahwist”; E, the “Elohist”; D is the work of the Deuteronomist; and P, the priestly document.

Several lines of evidence are given to support the Graf-Wellhausen or Documentary hypothesis. First would be the different names which are employed for God.5 For those who hold to the Documentary hypothesis, the change from Elohim to Yahweh signals a change of author. One major flaw in this approach is that within “E” passages the word Yahweh is also employed (e.g. Genesis 22:11, 14; 28:17-22) and vice-versa.

Secondly, we are pointed to different expressions referring to some act, such as that of making a covenant. “Cut a covenant,” “give a covenant,” and “establish a covenant”6 are variously employed, by the different authors of the Pentateuch. This leaves the author with no opportunity for stylistic change or for a change in the nuance of a word. One would hate to write under such restrictions today.

Thirdly, we are told that the Pentateuch contains “doublets,” that is duplicate accounts of the same event.7 One such instance would be the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. Worse yet are supposed “doublets” where there is any semblance of similarity between two accounts, such as Hagar’s two departures from home (Genesis 16, 21).

While multiple authorship8 or the use of existing documents9 should pose no great difficulty to the doctrine of the Bible’s inspiration and inerrancy, the Documentary hypothesis stands condemned on two counts. First, it is based upon the very thin ice of conjecture of scholars who are supposedly better informed than the author(s) of old; and secondly, it has placed most of the emphasis upon the isolation of fragments and their authors, rather than upon the interpretation of the text itself.10 They are more concerned about an alleged Redactor, than the Redeemer.

Thus, we must agree with the conclusion of Sir Charles Marston:

So J., E. and P., the supposed authors of the Pentateuch, are becoming mere phantom scribes and fetishes of the imagination. They have made Old Testament study unattractive, they have wasted our time, and they have warped and confused our judgments on outside evidence. It has been assumed that they possessed some sort of prescriptive right and authority superior to the Sacred Text. In the clearer light that Science is casting, these shadows that have dimmed our days of study and devotion are silently stealing away.11

The Outline of the Book of Genesis

Nearly every student of the book of Genesis agrees that it falls logically into two sections: chapters 1-11 and 12-50. The first eleven chapters focus upon the ever widening ruin of man, fallen from his created perfection and coming under the judgment of the Creator. Chapters 12-50 describe God’s ever narrowing program of man’s redemption.

The first division of the book, chapters 1-11, can be summarized by four major events: the creation (chapters 1-2), the fall (chapters 3-5), the flood (chapters 6-9), and the confusion of languages of the tower of Babel. The last division of Genesis, chapters 12-50, can be remembered by its four main characters: Abraham (12:1-25:18), Isaac (25:19-26:35), Jacob (27-36), and Joseph (37-50).

While there are more complicated schemes for the book, this simple outline should assist you to think in terms of the book as a whole. Every incident, every chapter should be understood as it contributes to the argument of the book.

The Importance of the Book of Genesis

A surveyor must always begin from a point of reference. So, too, history must start at some definite place of beginnings. The Bible is, through and through, a historical revelation. It is the account of God’s activity in history. As such, it must have a beginning. The book of Genesis gives us our historical point of reference, from which all subsequent revelation proceeds.

In this book we find the “roots” of the inhabited world and the universe, of man and nations, of sin and redemption. Also, we find the foundation of our theology. Fritsch, in The Layman’s Bible Commentary has referred to Genesis as “the starting point of all theology.”12 J. Sidlow Baxter has written,

The other writings of the Bible are inseparably bound up with it inasmuch as it gives us the origin and initial explanation of all that follows. The major themes of Scripture may be compared to great rivers, ever deepening and broadening as they flow; and it is true to say that all these rivers have their rise in the watershed of Genesis. Or, to use on equally appropriate figure, as the massive trunk and wide-spreading branches of the oak are in the acorn, so, by implication and anticipation, all Scripture is in Genesis. Here we have in germ all that is later developed. It has been truly said that “the roots of all subsequent revelation are planted deep in Genesis, and whoever would truly comprehend that revelation must begin here.”13

Genesis is particularly crucial in the light of the doctrine of progressive revelation. This doctrine attempts to define the phenomena which occurs in the process of divine revelation. Essentially initial revelation is general while subsequent revelation tends to be more particular and specific.

Let me try to illustrate progressive revelation by an examination of the doctrine of redemption. The first promise of redemption is definite but largely undefined in Genesis 3:15: “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Later in Genesis we learn that the world will be blessed through Abraham (12:3). The line through which Messiah would come was through Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Finally in Genesis we see that Israel’s coming ruler will be of the tribe of Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).

Later on we learn that Messiah will be the offspring of David (II Samuel 7:14-16), to be born in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Literally hundreds of prophecies tell in greater detail, the coming of the Messiah.

The striking realization is that Genesis (and the Pentateuch) contain the broad outlines of virtually every major area of theology. For those of us who tend to lose our sense of perspective between fundamental and incidental truths, a study of Genesis will tend to remind us of those areas of theology which are most fundamental and foundational.

Genesis also sheds light on contemporary events. The bitter struggle which is currently going on in the Middle East is explained in the book of Genesis. Abram, who wanted to help God along with His plan, took matters into his own hands. The result was the birth of a child to Sarai’s handmaid, Hagar. The Arabs of today claim to have descended from Ishmael.14

The Interpretation of Genesis

Francis Schaeffer mentions four different interpretations of the Genesis account of creation:

For some this material is simply a Jewish myth, having no more historical validity for modern man than the Epic of Gilgamesh or the stories of Zeus. For others it forms a pre-scientific vision that no one who respects the results of scholarship can accept. Still others find the story symbolic but no more. Some accept the early chapters of Genesis as revelation in regard to an upper-story, religious truth, but allow any sense of truth in regard to history and the cosmos (science) to be lost.15

How one approaches the book of Genesis largely determines what they will get from its study. I would like to mention three methods of interpretation which we must avoid.

Neo-orthodox theologians are willing to grant that the Bible contains truth, but will not go so far as to accept it as the truth. They suspect that throughout its transmission down through the ages it has become something less than inspired and inerrant. These untrue accretions which have become mixed with biblical truth must be exposed and expunged. This process is referred to as demythologizing Scripture. The great difficulty is that man determines what is truth and what is fiction. Man is no longer under the authority of the Word, but is the authority over the Word.

A second method of interpretation is called the allegorical approach. This method is barely one step removed from demythologizing. The biblical account is not nearly so important as the “spiritual” message conveyed by the passage. The difficulty is that the “spiritual message” seems to differ with every individual, and it is not tied in with the historical-grammatical interpretation of the text. In popular group studies this usually fits under the heading of “what this verse means to me.” The interpretation of a text should be the same for a housewife or a theologian, a child or a mature Christian. The application may differ, but the interpretation, never!

Closely related to the allegorical method of interpretation is the typological approach. No one questions that the Bible contains types. Some of these types are clearly designated as such in the New Testament (Rom 5:14; Col 2:17; Heb 8:5, etc.). Other types can hardly be questioned, while not specifically labeled as such. For example, Joseph seems to be a clear type of Christ.

Oftentimes in my experience people have “found” types where they seem not to exist. While the meaning of such interpretation may be one that conforms to Scripture (or may be taught elsewhere), there is no way to prove or disprove the type. The more spiritual one is the more types he or she seems to find. And who can question them? But in this search for types, the plain and simple interpretation is obscured or overlooked. Let us exercise great caution here.

I would like to suggest that we approach the book of Genesis as the book presents itself to us. I believe the first verse makes clear the way we must approach the entire work.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Beside this verse I have written in the margin of my Bible, “This account either explains it all or it does not explain it at all.”

No, don’t tell me that I am seeing too much here. Some books begin, “… Once upon a time … ”

When we find such an introduction we immediately understand that we are reading a fairy tale. So also the conclusion, “… and they lived happily ever after.”

Genesis 1:1 is totally different. The mood is authoritative and declarative.

The claim implied by this verse is much like that of our Lord when He presented Himself to men. No one can logically tip their hat to Jesus Christ as a “good man,” “a wonderful example,” or a “great teacher,” He was either Who He claimed to be (the Messiah, the Son of God), or He was a fake and a fraud. There is no middle ground, no riding the fence with Jesus. Jesus does not deserve mere courtesy. He demands a crown or a cross.

So it is with this verse. We dare not call it good literature. It claims authority and veracity. From this verse one should either read on, expecting a revelation from God in this book, or he should set it aside as mere religious rhetoric.

Let us remember that no one witnessed the creation:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? Or where were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7).

There are only two viable options as to where Genesis 1:1 (and the rest of the book) came from. Either it was a product of a human author’s imagination, or it is divinely revealed truth. If it is the former, we should value it only as a work of antiquity, on the same level as other ancient cosmogonies. If the latter, we must come on bended knee, willing to hear and obey it as an authoritative word from God.

This view of Genesis as divine revelation, the historical account of our origins, is that of the remainder of the Scriptures.

To Him who made the heavens with skill, for His lovingkindness is everlasting; to Him who spread out the earth above the waters, for His lovingkindness is everlasting; to Him who made the great Lights, for His lovingkindness is everlasting; the sun to rule by day, for His lovingkindness is everlasting, the moon and stars to rule by night, for His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalm 136:5-9).

The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these. It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, and I ordained all their host. For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the Lord, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:7,12,18).

For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression (I Tim 2:13-14; cf. also Matt 19:4-6; Rom 5:14f).

Our Approach to the Book of Genesis

We will therefore come to the book of Genesis as divine revelation. We shall endeavor to interpret the book literally, in the light of the culture and customs of its day. We will attempt to find eternal principles which are as true today as they were those many years ago. We will then suggest how these eternal truths relate to us in our own age.

This series will not be (Lord willing) a message marathon, persisting forever and ever, age without end. My purpose is to deal with Genesis on a chapter by chapter basis, keeping an understanding of the argument of the book as a primary goal.

I will not deal extensively with the theory of evolution in the first two chapters. This is for several reasons. First, I do not think this issue is within the primary thrust of the book. I would have to depart from the text and to speculate much to deal effectively with evolution. Secondly, I have little interest and little expertise in this scientific area.

(I refuse to attack scientists out of my own ignorance, and I do not wish to be “drawn offsides” so to speak by theories which are critical of divine revelation.) Thirdly, I wish to stay within the Bible’s emphasis and application when dealing with creation. For thousands of years evolution was not an issue. What did people learn from Genesis 1 and 2 all those years? Fourth, most Americans are either tired of hearing about evolution or don’t believe in it anyway: “Half of the adults in the U.S. believe God created Adam and Eve to start the human race.”16

The issue of creationism is ultimately not one over facts, but of faith:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Romans 1:20-21).

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible (Hebrews 11:3).

I must say that I am eager to begin this study of Genesis. I would ask you to study the book carefully and prayerfully. Most of all, I would hope that in its study we would come to know God as did men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.


1 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 9.

2 J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), I, p. 22.

3 For a more detailed analysis of the authorship of Genesis, cf. Kidner, pp. 15-26; Baxter, I, p. 22; H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), I, pp. 5-9.

4 Kidner, p. 16.

5 Cf. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), pp. 110-115.

6 Cf. Kidner, pp. 20-21.

7 Cf. Kidner, pp. 21-22; Archer, pp. 117ff.

8 As we have in Psalms or Proverbs, for example.

9 “No lack of such sources, oral and written, however, need be supposed for an author of the period indicated in section a. (pp. 15f.), since Abram had migrated from a country that was rich in traditions and genealogies, and Joseph (like Moses after him) had lived many years in the intellectual climate of the Egyptian court on the one hand (with access to, e.g., the detailed ethnography reflected in Genesis 10) and of the patriarchal society on the other, with ample opportunities of preserving these stores of information.” Kidner, pp. 22-23.

10 “With the study of Genesis on its own terms, that is, as a living whole, not a body to be dissected, the impression becomes inescapable that its characters are people of flesh and blood, its events actual, and the book itself a unity. If this is right, the mechanics of composition are matters of small importance, since the parts of this whole are not competing for credence as rival traditions, and the author of the book does not draw attention, as do the writers of Kings and Chronicles, to the sources of his information.” Ibid, p. 22.

11 Quoted by J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, I, p. 22.

12 As quoted by H. C. Leuphold, “Genesis,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), II, p. 679. This excellent article has a helpful summary of the book, chapter by chapter.

13 Baxter, Explore the Book, I, p. 23.

14 Kidner, p. 127.

15 Francis A. Schaeffer, Genesis in Time and Space (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), p. 9.

16 “We Poll the Pollster,” Christianity Today, December 21, 1979, p. 14.

An Introduction to the Book of Exodus

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I. TITLE:

A. In Hebrew the name of the book is taken from the first two words in the book twmv hlaw (these are the names). Sometimes it is shortened to simply names (twmv).

B. In the Greek LXX the book is named EXODOS (Exodus) emphasizing the departure of Israel from Egypt

II. DATE OF THE EXODUS 1446 BC

A. This date emphasizes the literal interpretation of the biblical numbers in Exodus 12:40 (Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years), Judges 11:26 (While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?) and 1 Kings 6:1 (Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord).

B. Hill and Walton offer the following arguments for an early date:1

1. 1 Kings 6:1 indicates the Exodus occurred 480 years prior to the 4th year of Solomon's reign. His 4th year is variously dated at 966/960/957 B.C., placing the Exodus at 1446/1440/1437.

2. According to Judg. 11:26, Israel had occupied Canaan for 300 years before the judgeship of Jephthah, which is dated between 1100 and 1050. This dates Joshua's conquest between 1400 and 1350. Adding Israel's 40 years in the desert puts the Exodus between 1440 and 1390.

3. Moses lived in exile in Midian 40 years (Acts 7:3; cf. Exod. 2:23) while the pharaoh of the oppression was still alive. The only pharaohs who ruled 40 years or more were Thutmose III (1504-1450) and Rameses II (1290-1224).

4. The Merneptah Stela (ca. 1220) indicates Israel was already an established nation at the time.

5. The Amarna tablets (ca. 1400) speak of a period of chaos caused by the Habiru, very likely the Hebrews.

6. The early date allows for the length of time assigned to the period of the judges (at least 250 years). The late date allows only 180 years.

7. The Dream Stela of Thutmose IV indicates he was not the legal heir to the throne (i.e., the legal heir would have died in the tenth plague).

8. Archaeological evidence from Jericho, Hazor, etc., supports a 15th-century date for the Exodus

9. Exod. 12:40 dates the entrance of Jacob into Egypt during the reign of Sesostris/Senusert III (1878-43) rather than during the Hyksos period (1674-1567).

10. Therefore a plausible (and approximate) reconstruction would be as follows:2

a. 966 = 4th full year (actually into the fifth) of Solomon's reign (971-931) when the Temple was begun

b. +44 yrs = start of David's reign (1010)

c. +40 yrs = start of Saul's reign (1050)

d. +40 yrs = the time from Saul to Jephthah's statement (1050-1090)

e. +300 yrs = the time in the land (Jephthah's statement) (1390)

f. +16 yrs = Joshua's leadership (1406)

g. +40 yrs = wilderness wondering (1446)

This matches 1 Kings 6:1 where 966 + 480 = 1446!

 

+430 yrs = the time that Israel lived in Egypt before the Exodus (Ex. 12:40) and therefore Jacob moved to Egypt in 1876.

III. PHARAOH OF THE EXODUS:

A. Rameses II:

1. Scholars who hold to a late date of the Exodus (c. 1290-1225 BC) identify Rameses II (c. 1304-1237) as the Pharaoh of the Exodus

2. In addition the name of the city in Exodus 1:11 is Rameses

a. It is possible that Rameses II merely took credit for the city and the biblical reference was modernized3

b. It is possible that the Ramasides was to be identified with the Hyksos who oppressed Israel and that the city was called Rameses in their time4

B. Amenhotep II (c. 1436-1410)

1. It is possible that Hatshepsut (1490-1469) may have been the princess who reared Moses

2. Thutmose III (c. 1490-1436?) ruled as co-regent with his stepmother until her death for 56 years. This allows for the time when Moses was in exile in Midian (cf. Acts 7:3; Exodus 2:23)

3. Amenhotep II (c. 1436-1410) may have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Note that the Bible does not say that he drowned but that he led a battle to the water's edge.

4. The dream inscription of Tutmose IV (c. 1410-1402?) may indicate that he was not originally intended to be Pharaoh. Therefore, his brother would have died in the plagues5

IV. ROUTE OF THE EXODUS

A. Two Basic Views:

1. The Northern View: The Exodus took place at a lagoon bordering the Mediterranean Sea

2. The Southern (Central) View: The Exodus took place south of Succoth near Lake Balah or Lake Timsah

B. Textual Clues (Exodus 13:17-22; 14:1-2; Num 33:1-49)

1. The Lord did not lead Israel by the way of the land of the Philistines (probably the Way of the Sea which was the direct route along the Mediterranean coast to Palestine)6 13:17

2. The Lord led the people by the way of the wilderness to the Red7 Sea 13:18

3. The Lord led Israel from Rameses to Succoth Ex 12:37; Num 33:5

4. Israel set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness 13:20

5. Israel turned back and camped before Pihahiroth, between Midgol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephron opposite it by the sea 14:2

6. Israel went by the Way of the Wilderness (Ex 13:18) after crossing the Sea of Reeds and entered the Wilderness of Shur (Ex 15:22; Num 33:8) in the Northwest Sinai peninsula

C. Although a definitive conclusion is not possible because of the uncertainty of many of the locations in the biblical text, it seems that the Southern (Central) view matches what is known more than the northern view8

D. The Location of Mount Sinai Seems to Be Southern:

1. Some have located Mount Sinai in northwest Arabia partly on the grounds that it was considered that a volcano was required to explain the events in Exodus 19:16-25, but this is better understood as a typical Theophany. Also, Moses was not only related to the Midianites (Ex 3:1; 18:1) whose homeland was considered to be in the region of Arabia, but he was related to the Kenites who were a nomadic Midianite clan whose presence in the Sinai region is well documented (cf. Judges 1:16; 4:11)

2. The biblical text indicates that Mount Sinai was an eleven-day journey from Kadesh-barnea (Dt 1:2)

3. Elijah took 40 days and 40 nights (a long journey?) to reach Sinai from Beersheba (1 Kgs 19:8)

4. Jebel Musa (Arabic for Mountain of Moses), or Mount Horeb, in the southern Sinai peninsula has been identified as the Mount Sinai of Moses' revelation by Christian tradition dating to the fourth century AD9

V. DATE OF THE BOOK OF EXODUS: Probably 1446 B.C.

A. The journey between Egypt and the Wilderness of Sinai and Mount Sinai took three months to the day (Ex 19:1-2)

B. It is possible that Moses composed the book during or shortly after the encampment of the people at Sinai (1446)

C. The book occurred sometime before Moses' birth in 1526 (Ex 2)

D. Therefore, the book of Exodus covers events around the birth of Moses to events at Mount Sinai (c. 1526-1446 BC)

VI. PURPOSES FOR THE BOOK OF EXODUS

A. To introduce Israel to her national beginnings by narrating the events which form the people and the nation and by instructing the people in the covenant relation and his ritual dwelling10

B. To narrate the battle between YHWH and Egypt on behalf of his people to bring about their deliverance from slavery

C. To explain the readiness of the people to accept YHWH's revelations of the Law

D. To describe the impatience of the people awaiting YHWH's enthronement among the people according to his design

E. To present the new constitution under which Israel will relate to YHWH (the Mosaic Covenant)

F. To connect the people under the God's promise to Abraham to the beginning of the theocratic kingdom under Moses

G. To reveal God as YHWH--the one who will keep his promises

H. To express the importance of maintaining covenant relationship with YHWH


1 A Survey of the Old Testament, 108.

2 Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, 88-90.

3 Unger, Archaeology of the Old Testament, 149.

4 Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, 93.

5 Unger, Archaeology of the Old Testament, Prichard, ANET, 449.

6 This argues against the northern route.

7 More literally this refers to the Sea of (papyrus) Reeds ([Ws <y) describing the area between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean Sea were there are many marshy lagoons and lakes.

8 Also See Hill and Walton, A Survey of the OT, 108-10; Hannah, Exodus, 107, Merrill, Numbers, 253-54 BKC.

9 See La Sor et al, Old Testament Survey, 130, n. 38.

10 Elliott E. Johnson, Class notes taken by student.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

The Creation of the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

Introduction

I want to be especially careful as we approach this first chapter of the book of Genesis. This past week I read an account of a man who attempted to quote Scripture from our passage as a proof text for smoking pot. Here is the account as given by Christianity Today a couple of years ago:

Arrested in Olathe, Kansas, for possession of the drug, Herb Overton based his defense on Genesis l:29: “and God said, … I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth …”

Judge Earl Jones doubted Overton’s hermeneutics, however. According to a Chicago Tribune account, the judge told the Bible-quoting defendant: “As a mere mortal, I’m going to find you guilty of possession of marijuana. If you want to appeal to a higher authority, that’s fine with me.”17

We can all read of such an event and laugh about it. While Herb Overton’s error is comical, there may be a less obvious error of which many Christians may be guilty—and it is not a laughing matter.

This week my attention was arrested by a brief article in Eternity magazine entitled, “Evangelicalism’s Six Flaws.” Most of the article has me still scratching my head, but I was particularly troubled by this statement:

We have treated creation as a static occurrence—arguing whether or not God has created it in seven days, thus missing the point of the religious meaning of creation and the ongoing activity of God in history.18

As I have considered Robert Webber’s accusation, it seems to me that we evangelicals have made five major errors in the way we have handled Genesis over the past few years. Most of these errors are in part a reaction to the three-fold attack of atheistic evolution, comparative religion and literary criticism.19

(1) We have dealt with the creation account according to a scientific grid. Some recent theories and conclusions of scientists have challenged the traditional interpretation of the biblical creation accounts. In a conscientious effort to prove the Bible to be scientifically accurate, we have approached the first chapters of Genesis from a scientific point of view. The problem is that these chapters were not intended to give us an account of the creation that would answer all of the scientific problems and phenomenon.

Dr. B. B. Warfield has stated the problem well:

A glass window stands before us. We raise our eyes and see the glass; we note its quality, and observe its defects; we speculate on its composition. Or we look straight through it on the great prospect of land and sea and sky beyond. So there are two ways of looking at the world. We may see the world and absorb ourselves in the wonders of nature. That is the scientific way. Or we may look right through the world and see God behind it. That is the religious way.

The scientific way of looking at the world is not wrong any more than the glass-manufacturer’s way of looking at the window. This way of looking at things has its very important uses. Nevertheless the window was placed there not to be looked at but to be looked through; and the world has failed of its purpose unless it too is looked through and the eye rests not on it but on its God.20

The author of Genesis has not written the creation account for the glass maker. Rather he urges us to look through the glass of his account to the Creator behind it all.

(2) We have used the creation account of Genesis as an apologetic, when its primary purpose is not apologetic. The apologetic use of the early chapters of Genesis, while of value,21 is not in keeping with the author’s purpose for writing. Genesis was written to the people of God, not unbelievers. Men who refuse to believe in creationism do not do so for lack of facts or proof (cf. Rom 1:18ff), or due to their greater knowledge (Psalm 14:1), but due to a lack of faith (Hebrews 11:3). Genesis is much more of a declaration than a defense.

(3) We have attempted to find in Genesis one the answers to mysteries which may or may not be explained elsewhere. We may wish to learn, for example, just where Satan’s fall and judgment fit into the creation account, but may not be given such information because it was not the purpose of the author to answer such questions.22

(4) We have failed to study Genesis one in its historical context. I suppose that it is easy to commit such an error here. We may doubt that there is any historical background. Or we may conclude that this is precisely the purpose of the chapter—to give us a historical account of creation.

The background which is vital to our grasp of the meaning and message of creation is that of those who first received this book. Assuming Moses to be the author of Genesis, the book most likely would have been written sometime after the Exodus and before the entrance to the land of Canaan. What was the situation at the time of the writing of this creation account? Who received this revelation and what needs were to be met by it? This is crucial to rightly interpreting and applying the message of the creation.

(5) We have often failed to apply the first chapter of Genesis one in any way that is relevant to our own spiritual lives. As one of my friends put it, “We come to a message on Genesis chapter one expecting nothing more than to have our apologetic batteries recharged again.”

The creation account becomes a prominent theme throughout the Old and New Testaments. Here, as elsewhere, we cannot do wrong by allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. When the creation theme occurs in Scripture, it calls forth a response from men. We have frequently failed to call for any such response as we have taught Genesis chapter one.

The Historical Backdrop of Genesis 1

Revelation never is given in a historical vacuum. The Bible speaks to men in specific situations and with particular needs. We cannot rightly interpret Scripture or apply it to ourselves until we have answered the question, “What did this passage mean to those to whom it was originally given?” From archaeological studies much is known of the literature, culture, and religions of those who surrounded the Israelites. Understanding the contemporaries of the Israelites greatly enhances our grasp of the meaning of the creation account according to divine revelation as found in Genesis one.

First, we know that virtually every nation had its own cosmogony, or creation account(s). Somehow I had always thought that the account of Genesis one was something new and original. Actually this revelation came late compared to other near eastern nations. Antiquity had devoted a great deal of time and effort to its origins. The account of Genesis chapter one had to ‘compete,’ so to speak, with the other accounts of its day.

Secondly, there is an almost remarkable similarity between these pagan cosmogonies. From her study of twelve myths, Ms. Wakeman has identified three features always present: “1) a repressive monster restraining creation, 2) the defeat of the monster by the heroic god who thereby releases the forces essential for life, and 3) the hero’s final control over these forces.”23

Third, while distressing to some, there is considerable similarity between the pagan creation myths and the inspired account of creation in the Bible.24 The correspondence includes the use of some of the same terms (e.g. Leviathan) or descriptions (e.g., a man-headed sea monster), similar literary form,25 and a parallel sequence of events at creation.26

The explanation of these similarities by some are unacceptable. For example, we are told that these similarities evidence the fact that the biblical cosmogony is no different than any other ancient creation myth. Others would assure us that while there are similarities, the Israelites ‘demythologized’ these corrupted accounts to assure an accurate account of the origin of the earth and man.27 Some conservative scholars simply call the correspondence coincidence, though this seems to avoid the difficulties, rather than to explain them. The most acceptable explanation is that the similarity is explained by the fact that all similar creation accounts attempt to explain the same phenomenon.

Early races of men wherever they wandered took with them these earliest traditions of mankind, and in varying Latitudes and climes have modified them according to their religions and mode of thought. Modifications as time proceeded resulted in the corruption of the original pure tradition. The Genesis account is not only the purist, but everywhere bears the unmistakable impress of divine inspiration when compared with the extravagances and corruptions of other accounts. The Biblical narrative, we may conclude, represents the original form these traditions must have assumed.28

More important than the fact that the nations surrounding Israel had their own (perhaps older) accounts of creation, was the use to which these were put in the ancient Near East. Ancient cosmogonies were not carefully recorded and preserved out of a love for ancient history; they were the foundation of religious observance.

In the ancient world their deities were nature gods, sun gods, moon gods, rain gods, and so on.29 In order to assure the on-going of the forces of nature and guarantee bountiful crops and growing herds of cattle, the creation myths were re-enacted every year.

Myth, therefore, in the ancient world was mimetically re-enacted in public festivals to the accompaniment of ritual. The whole complex constituted imitative magic, the effect of which was believed to be beneficial to the entire community. Through ritual aroma, the primordial events recorded in the myth were reactivated. The enactment at the appropriate season of the creative deeds of the gods, and the recitation of the proper verbal formulae, it was believed, would effect the periodic renewal and revitalization of nature and so assure the prosperity of the community.30

From this background we can begin to realize how vital a role was played by cosmogony in the ancient Near East. Israel’s social and religious life, like that of her neighbors, was based upon her origin. The Genesis account of creation laid the foundation for the remainder of the Pentateuch.

In this light we can see the significance of the contest between the God of Israel and the ‘gods’ of Egypt. Pharaoh dared to ask Moses, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2).

The answer of the Lord was a series of ten plagues. The message of these plagues was that Israel’s God is the creator of heaven and earth.

For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord (Exo 12:12; cf. 18:11; Num 33:4).

It would seem that each plague was a direct affront to one of Egypt’s many gods. While a direct correlation of each plague to a specific god may be somewhat speculative,31 the battle of the gods is evident.

No wonder that the covenant sign of the Israelites was the keeping of the Sabbath:

But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.… It is sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever, for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed” (Exo 31:13,17).

Observing the Sabbath identified Israel with their God, the Creator Who ceased from labor on the seventh day.

The miracles of the Exodus, then, served a function similar to the signs and wonders performed by our Lord. They authenticated the message which was proclaimed. In our Lord’s case, it was the words He proclaimed and the inspired writers preserved. In the case of the Exodus, the Pentateuch was Moses’ written revelation of God which his miracles authenticated. The Exodus proved Yahweh to be the only God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Pentateuch provided the content for the faith of Israel, of which the creation account is the foundation.

Genesis 1:1-3

Many interpretations exist for the first three verses of the Bible, but we will briefly mention the three most popularly held by evangelicals. We will not spend a great deal of time here because our conclusions will be tentative and the differences have little bearing on the application of the text. Let me simply begin by saying that we who name the name of Christ as Savior must ultimately take Genesis 1:1 at face value on faith (Heb 11:3).

View 1: The Re-creation (or Gap) Theory. This view maintains that Genesis 1:1 describes the original creation of the earth, prior to the fall of Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12ff). As a result of Satan’s fall the earth lost its original state of beauty and bliss and is found in a state of chaos in Genesis 1:2. This ‘gap’ between verses 1 and 2 not only helps to explain the teaching of Satan’s fall, but it also allows for a considerable time period, which helps to harmonize the creation account with modern scientific theory. It does suffer from a number of difficulties.32

View 2: The Initial Chaos Theory. Briefly, this view holds that verse one would be an independent introductory statement. Verse 2 would describe the state of the initial creation as unformed and unfilled. In other words the universe is like an untouched block of granite before the sculpter begins to fashion it. The creation is not in an evil state, as the result of some catastrophic fall, but merely in its initial unformed state, like a lump of clay in the potter’s hands. Verses 3 and following begin to describe God’s working and fashioning of the mass, transforming it from chaos to cosmos. Many respectable scholars hold this position.33

View 3: Precreation Chaos Theory: In this view (held by Dr. Waltke), verse one is understood either as a dependent clause (“When God began to create … ”) or as an independent introductory summary statement (“In the beginning God created … ”). The creation account summarized in verse one begins in verse two. This ‘creation’ is not ‘ex nihilo’ (out of nothing), but out of the stuff existing in verse 2. Where this comes from is not explained in these verses. In effect, this view holds that the chaotic state does not occur between verses one and two, but before verse one of an unspecified time. The absolute origin of matter is, then, not the subject of the ‘creation’ account of Genesis 1, but only the relative beginnings of the world and civilization as we know it today.34

We might summarize the difference between these three viewpoints in this fashion:35

The Six Days of Creation
(1:1-31)

It is important to recognize that verses 2-31 do little more than expand upon verse 1. They do not fully (certainly not in a scientific fashion—who would have cared over the centuries until now?) explain creation. Neither do they prove it, for this is ultimately a faith issue. The facts upon which this faith must be based are simply stated.

There does seem to be a pattern to these six creation days, which many Bible students have observed. It can best be illustrated graphically:

Formlessness Changed to Form

Emptiness Changed to Habitation

vv 3-5

Day 1

Light

vv 14-19

Day 4

Luminaries (sun, moon, stars)

vv 6-8

Day 2

Air (upper expanse)
Water (lower expanse)

vv 20-23

Day 5

Fish, Birds

vv 9-13

Day 3

Dry land plants

vv 24-31

Day 6

Animals, Man

Seen in this way, the first three days remedy the situation of formlessness described in Genesis 1:2. The 4-6 days deal with the state of ‘void’ or ‘emptiness’ of verse 2. There also seems to be a correlation between days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. For example, the air and water receive corresponding life forms of fish and birds, though this should not be pressed too far.

Two other observations should be pointed out. First, there is a sequence to the six days. It is clear that this account is arranged chronologically, each day building upon the creative activity of previous days. Secondly, there is a process involved in the creation, a process involving the change from chaos to cosmos, disorder to order.

While God could have instantaneously created the earth as it is, He did not choose to do so. The clear impression given by the text is that this process took six literal days, and not long ages. Nevertheless, the eternal God is not nearly so concerned about doing things instantaneously as we are. The process of sanctification is only one of many examples of God’s progressive activity in the world.

The Meaning of
Creation for the Israelites of Old

Before we approach the question of what the creation should mean to us, we must deal with its meaning for those who first read these inspired words from the pen of Moses. The initial purpose of this account was for the Israelites of Moses’ day. What should they have learned? How should they have responded?

(1) The creation account of Genesis was a corrective to the corrupted cosmogonies of their day. We have already said that Egypt, for example, believed in a multiplicity of nature-deities. We need to recognize that Israel, due to her close and prolonged contact with the Egyptians, was not unaffected by their religious views.

“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

It was not enough to regard Yahweh merely as a god, one among many. Neither should He be conceived of as just the God of Israel. Yahweh is God alone. There is no other god. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is not merely superior to the gods of the surrounding nations; He alone is God.

The tendency to begin to confuse God with His creation was a part of the thinking of the ancient world. He must be regarded as the God of creation, not just God in creation. Every attempt to visualize or humanize God in the form of any created thing was a tendency to equate God with His creation. So it was, I believe, with Aaron’s golden calf.

(2) The creation account describes the character and attributes of God. Negatively, Genesis one corrects many popular misconceptions concerning God. Positively, it portrays His character and attributes.

  • God is sovereign and all-powerful. Distinct from the cosmogonies of other ancient peoples, there is no creation struggle described in Genesis one. God does not overcome opposing forces to create the earth and man. God creates with a mere command, “Let there be … ” There is order and progress. God does not experiment, but rather skillfully fashions the creation of His omniscient design.
  • God is no mere force, but a Person. While we must be awed by the transcendence of God, we should also be His immanence. He is no distant cosmic force, but a personal ever-present God. This is reflected in the fact that He creates man in His image (1:26-28). Man is a reflection of God. Our personhood is a mere shadow of God’s. In chapter two God provided Adam with a meaningful task and with a counterpart as a helper. In the third chapter we learn that God communed with man in the garden daily (cf. 3:8).
  • God is eternal. While other creations are vague or erroneous concerning the origin of their gods, the God of Genesis is eternal. The creation account describes His activity at the beginning of time (from a human standpoint).
  • God is good. The creation did not take place in a moral vacuum. Morality was woven into the fabric of creation. Repeatedly, the expression is found “it was good.” Good implies not only usefulness and completion, but moral value. Those who hold to atheistic views of the origin of the earth see no value system other than what is held by the majority of people. God’s goodness is reflected in His creation, which, in its original state, was good. Even today, the graciousness and goodness of God is evident (cf. Matt 5:45; Acts 17:22-31).

The Meaning
of Creation for All Men

The theme of God as Creator is prominent throughout Scripture. It is significant that the last words of the Bible are remarkably similar to the first.

And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).

The truth that God is the Creator of heaven and earth is not merely something to believe, but something to which we must respond. Let me mention just a few implications and applications of the teaching of Genesis 1.

(1) Men should submit to the God of creation in fear and obedience. The heavens proclaim the glory of God:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2).

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Romans 1:20-21).

Men should fear the all powerful God of creation:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6-9).

The greatness of God is evident in the work of His hands—the creation which is all about us. Men should fear and reverence Him for Who He is.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers, flaming fire His ministers. He established the earth upon its foundations, so that it will not totter forever and ever. Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled; at the sound of Thy thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which Thou didst establish for them. Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over; that they may not return to cover the earth ( Psalm 104:1-9).

(2) Men should trust in the God of creation, to provide their every need.

Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tenth of all. And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” And Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share (Genesis 14:17-24).

Abram offered tithes to Melchizedek on the basis of his profession that Abram’s God was “God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth” (verse 19,20). And yet while Abram gave a tithe to Melchizedek, he refused to benefit in any monetary way from the pagan king of Sodom, for he wanted this man to know that “God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth” was the One Who made him prosper.

We sing, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills … I know that He will care for me.” That is good theology. The God Who is our Creator, is also our Sustainer. You see God did not wind up the universe and then leave it to itself, as some seem to say. God maintains a continual care over His creation.

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart. The trees of the Lord drink their fill. The cedars of Lebanon which He planted, where the birds build their nests, and the stork, whose home is the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers. He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. Thou dost appoint darkness and it becomes night, in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw, and lie down in their dens, man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening (Psalm 104:14-23).

The New Testament goes an additional step by informing us that the Son of God was the Creator, and continues to serve as the Sustainer of the creation, holding all things together:

For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

(3) Men should be humbled by the wisdom of God as evidenced in creation. Job had endured much affliction. But finally, enough was enough. He began to question the wisdom of God in his adversity. To his questioning God responded,

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7).

Job was challenged to fathom the wisdom of God in creation. He could not explain or comprehend it, let alone challenge it. How, then, could Job possibly question the wisdom of God’s working in his life. True, he could not see the purpose in it all, but his perspective was not God’s. Let any who would question God’s dealing in our lives contemplate God’s infinite wisdom as seen in creation, and then be silent and wait upon Him to do what is right.

If man should choose to ponder any question, let him attempt to fathom why an infinite God would so concern Himself with mere man:

When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the Stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? and the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5).

(4) Man should find comfort in times of distress and difficulty, knowing that His creator is able and willing to deliver him.

Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (I Peter 4:19).

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary (Isaiah 40:27-31).

Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it, ‘I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:5-6).

I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these (Isaiah 45:5-7).

(5) Man should respond to the God of creation with the praise that is due Him:

Let the glory of the Lord endure forever; let the Lord be glad in His works; He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 104:31-35).

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded and they were created. He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away (Psalm 148:1-6).

Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker (Psalm 95:6).

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth, Who hast displayed Thy splendor above the heavens! (Psalm 8:1).

Conclusion

My friend, the teaching of Genesis one is a great and mighty truth. It is one that demands more than assent; it necessitates action. And yet, great as it is, it has been paled by the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as God proclaimed, let there be light, so God has once and for all spoken in these last days (Heb 1:1-2) in His Son, Who is the light:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (II Corinthians 4:6).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:1-5).

There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:9-13).

While God revealed Himself faintly in creation, He has disclosed Himself fully in His Son:

No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:18).

We cannot avoid the biblical revelation that the God Who created heaven and earth, the God Who redeemed the Israelites from Egypt, is the God-man of Galilee, Jesus Christ. Just as He fashioned the first creation (Col 1:16), so He has now come to accomplish a new creation, through His work on the cross of Calvary:

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (II Corinthians 5:17).

Beyond this there will soon come a day when the heavens and the earth will be purged of the effects of sin and there will be a new heaven and a new earth:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:10-13).

Are you ready for that day, my friend? Have you become a new creation in Christ? Genesis one reveals how God has taken chaos and fashioned it into cosmos—order and beauty. If you have never come to Christ, I can say with total confidence that your life is formless and empty; it is chaotic and lifeless. The same One Who turned chaos into cosmos can make your life anew.


17 “Pot Proof,” Christianity Today, September 22, 1978, p. 43.

18 “Evangelicalisms Six Flaws,” Eternity, January, 1980, p. 54. This article by the Staff of Eternity magazine is a summary of an article by Robert E. Webber, published in the October issue of New Oxford Review.

19 Dr. Bruce Waltke briefly describes this threefold attack:

First, there came the challenge of the scientific community. In the wake of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary hypothesis of evolution to explain the origin of species, the majority of the scientific community fell in with Darwin’s hypothesis against the Bible. They believed that they could validate Darwin’s theory by empirical data, but they thought that they could not do the same for the Bible.

The second challenge came from the comparative religionists who sought to discredit the biblical story by noting the numerous points of similarity between it and ancient mythological creation accounts from various parts of the near East being studied at that time. . . . According to his (Gunkel’s) view, the Hebrew version of creation was just another Near Eastern folk tale but in the process of time the transmitters of the story improved it by their creative and superior philosophical and theological insights.

The third challenge came from literary criticism. The case was stated most persuasively by Julius Wellhausen in his most influential classic, still available in paperback on book stands, entitled, Pro Legomena to the Old Testament. Here he argued that there were at least two distinct accounts of creation in Genesis l and 2 and that these two accounts contradicted each other at various points. Bruce Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, Oregon: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974), pp. 1-2.

20 Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. I, edited by John E. Meeker (Nutley, N.J. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970), p. 108.

21 I must stress here that we should take seriously Peter’s instruction, “ . . . always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give on account for the hope that is in you . . . ” (I Peter 3:15). Even here, in what might be called an exhortation for apologetic readiness, the message most needed by the unbeliever is the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. My experience is that few are saved by the use of the Genesis account of creation as an apologetic. For those who are seriously considering the claims of Christ, but fear the Bible to be untrustworthy, such effort may well be worthwhile.

22 “First we can say, that the Book of Genesis does not inform us concerning the origin of that which is contrary to the nature of God, neither in the cosmos nor in the world of the spirit. Where does the opposite of Him that is good and bright originate? When we delve into the problem of the origin of evil in the moral realm, we come upon a great mystery. Suddenly, without explanation, in Genesis 3 an utterly evil brilliant, intelligent personality appears in the Garden of Eden masquerading as a serpent. The principle of origins, so strong in our minds, demands on explanation. But the truth is that the Book mocks us. Likewise, when we come to that which is negative in the cosmos, something devoid of form and dark, the Bible provides us with no information. Here are some of the secret things that belong to God” (Waltke, Creation and Chaos, p. 52). While I do not prefer Dr. Waltke’s choice of words (“the Book mocks us”), I do agree with his position that Genesis does not tell us all we might desire to learn.

23 Wakeman, as quoted by Waltke, Creation and Chaos , p. 6.

24 Waltke demonstrates the similarities between the biblical cosmogony with the creation myths of the ancient near east:

First, by a comparison of Psalm 74:13,14 with the Ugaritic Text 67:I: 1-3 (Waltke, p. 12).

Psalm 74:13-14: “Thou hast broken the sea with Thy might, even smashed the heads of the monster of the waters, Thou hast crushed the heads of Leviathan, even given him as food for the people. . . .”

Text 67: I . 1-3, 27-30: “When thou smitest Lotan (Leviathan) the evil dragon, even destroyest the crooked dragon, the mighty one of the seven heads. . . .”

Second, by a comparison of Isaiah 27:1 with the Ugaritic Text ‘nt:III: 38-39 (Waltke, p. 13):

Isaiah 27:1: “On that day God will visit, with his sword (that is) mighty and great and powerful, Leviathan the evil serpent, even Leviathan the crooked serpent, and slay the monster that is in the sea.”

Text ‘ni:III: 38-39: “The crooked dragon, the mighty one of the seven heads.”

25 Cf. Waltke, Creation and Chaos, pp. 33,35. Actually, this similarity in form between the biblical text of the Pentateuch and the ancient Near Eastern texts has proven to be a blessing to those who hold to a unified (Mosaic) authorship:

“Kitchen compared the Pentateuch with ancient Near Eastern texts and discovered that the same features used by the critics as a divining rod to divide up the Pentateuch were present in these texts, written on rock with no pre-history.” Waltke, pp. 41-42.

26 Ibid, p. 45.

27 “The most common explanation of those scholars who regard the world as a closed system without divine intervention is that Israel borrowed these mythologies, demythologized them, purged them of their gross and base polytheism, and gradually adapted them to their own developing and higher theology.” Ibid., p. 46.

28 Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament, p. 37, quoted by Waltke, p. 46.

29 “In Canaan at the time of the Conquest, each city had its own temple dedicated to some force of nature. The name Jericho derives from the Hebrew word, yerah, which means “moon” for its inhabitants worshipped the moon, the god “Yerach.” Likewise, on the other side of the central ridge of Palestine, we find the city of Beth Shemesh, which means “Temple of the Sun” for Shamash, the sun god, was worshipped there.” Waltke, p. 47.

30 Sarna, Understanding Genesis, p. 7, as quoted by Waltke, p. 47.

31 “The knowledge extant concerning the practical everyday worship of the Egyp. pantheon is meager, and for all intents and purposes little or nothing is known about their metaphysical assumptions from the documented sources. It is obvious, however, that the twenty-two Egyp. provinces each had their respective religious center and totemic animal or plant. It is precisely the attributes of these deities that are involved in the plagues, but whether each of the plagues was thought to be the special domain of one or another of the Egyp. gods cannot be stated with certainty.” W. White, Jr. “The Plagues of Egypt, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), IV, p. 806.

32 Cf. Waltke, pp. 21-25.

33 For example, E. J. Young, In the Beginning (Carlisle; Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 20ff.

34 “But what shall we say about the uncreated or unformed state, the darkness and the deep of Genesis 1:2? Here we enter a great mystery for the Bible never says that God brought these into existence by His Word. What can we say about them?” Bruce Waltke, p. 52.

35 Adapted from Waltke, p. 18.

Related Topics: Creation

The Meaning of Man: His Duty and His Delight (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:4-25)

Introduction

Within the last several weeks a rather frightening case was reported in the newspaper. Its implications are almost incredible. The suit involved an elderly gentleman who was apparently a bit senile, and who was also on dialysis. The family determined that the old gentleman had passed the time of productivity and, if he had the mental ability to reason it out properly, would have wished to terminate his meager existence. Had the nurses, who had grown to love this man, not protested, this man might be dead today.

We live in a frightening age. We now have awesome technological and biological powers in our hands, but no solid ethical or moral basis for the determination of how these powers are to be used. Not only have we made it convenient and inexpensive to kill children while still in the womb, there is actually serious discussion of issuing a life certificate which would pronounce an infant legally alive, just as one is now legally certified to be dead. This certificate would not be issued until after the birth of a child, when a complete battery of tests could be administered. Any ‘inferior’ or potentially non-productive infant would simply be rejected and not pronounced ‘alive’ and thus terminated. I am told that in some places of the world suicide is not considered a crime and counsel is now given to those who wish to pursue it—but not to convince them of the error of their ways!

In a day when the power of life and death seems to be more in the hands of men than ever before, we find our society in a moral vacuum in which these life and death decisions are to be made. The age-old philosophical questions about the meaning of life are no longer simply academic and intellectual—they are intensely practical and must be answered.

In the light of such issues, never have these verses in Genesis 1 and 2 been of more importance than they are today. In them we find the meaning of man. I have therefore entitled this message, The Meaning of Man: His Duty and His Delight. To rightly understand this passage is to grasp eternal principles which should determine many of our ethical and moral decisions. Beyond this, we are reminded anew of what it is that really makes our lives worthwhile.

While we have already dealt with the six days of creation in a very general way, it is important for us to understand the relationship between the first three chapters of Genesis. Chapter one outlines creation chronologically. (Actually verses 1-3 of chapter two should be included here also.)

God created the heavens and the earth, and all life in six days, while He rested on the seventh day. Man is pictured as the crown of God’s creation. In order to maintain a chronological format, only a very general description of man’s creation is given in verses 26-31.

Chapter two returns to this matter of the creation of man with a much more detailed account. Far from contradicting chapter one, as some scholars have suggested, it greatly compliments it. While it is stated that God created man, both male and female (1:26-27), it is described more fully in chapter 2. In chapter one man is given every plant to eat (1:29-30), in chapter two man is placed in a lovely garden (2:8-17). In the first chapter man is told to rule over all God’s creatures (1:26, 28), in the second man is given the task of naming God’s creatures (2:19-20). Contradictions between these two chapters must be contrived, for it is clear that the writer of the first chapter intended to fill out the details in the second.

Furthermore, chapter two serves as an introduction and preparation for the account of the fall in chapter three. Chapter two gives us the setting for the fall of man which is described in chapter three. We are introduced to the garden (2:8-9), the two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9). The woman who was to be deceived is introduced in chapter two as well. Without chapter two the first chapter would be far too brief and the third would come upon us unprepared.

If chapter one is laid out in chronological fashion—that is in a sequence of seven days, chapter two is not chronological, but logical. Of course the events of chapter two fit into chapter one’s order, but the chapter is laid out differently. If chapter one is creation as seen through a wide angle lens, chapter two is viewed through a telephoto lens. In chapter one man is found at the top of a pyramid, as the crown of God’s creative activity. In chapter two man is at the center of the circle of God’s activity and interest.

Man’s Dignity
(1:26-31)

Since chapter two builds upon the bare details of 1:26-31, let us begin by considering these verses more carefully. Man, as we have said before, is the crown of God’s creative program. This is evident in several particulars.

First, man is the last of God’s creatures. The whole account builds up to man’s creation. Second, man alone is created in the image of God. While there is considerable discussion as to what this means, several things are implied in the text itself. Man is created in the image and likeness of God in his sexuality.

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27).

This is not to say that God is male or female, but that God is both unity and diversity. Man and woman in marriage become one and yet they are distinct. Unity in diversity as reflected in man’s relationship with his wife reflects one facet of God’s personhood.

Also, man somehow is like God in that which distinguished him from the animal world. Man, as distinct from animals, is made in the image and likeness of God. What distinguishes man from animal must therefore be a part of His reflection of God. Man’s ability to reason, to communicate, and to make moral decisions must be a part of this distinction.

Further, man reflects God in the fact that he rules over creation. God is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. He has delegated a small portion of His authority to man in the rule of creation. In this sense, too, man reflects God.

Notice as well that it is man and woman who rule: “… and let them rule … ” (Genesis 1:26, cf. verse 28).

Them refers to man and his wife, not just the males He has made. While Adam has the function of headship (as evidenced by his priority in creation,36 his being the source of his wife,37 and his naming of Eve38), Eve’s task was to be a helper to her husband. In this sense both are to rule over God’s creation.

One more point should be made here. There seems to be little doubt that in the provision God has made for man’s food, only vegetarian foods are included at this time:

Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life; I have given every green plant for food; and it was so’ (Genesis 1:29-30).

It was not until after the fall, and perhaps after the flood, that meat was given as food for man (cf. Genesis 9:3-4). Shedding of blood would have significance only after the fall, as a picture of coming redemption through the blood of Christ. In the Millennium we are told,

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain, says the Lord (Isaiah 65:25).

If I understand the Scriptures correctly, the Millennium will be a return to things as they once were before the fall. Thus, in the paradise of Eden, Adam and Eve and the animal kingdom were all vegetarians. How, then, can some speak of ‘survival of the fittest’ until after the creation of all things and the fall of man?

But more important than this is the fact that man’s dignity and worth are not imputed by man, but they are intrinsic to man as one who has been created in the image of God. Man’s worth is directly related to his origin. No wonder we are hearing such frightening ethical and moral positions proposed today.

Any view of man’s origin which does not view man as the product of divine design and purpose, cannot attribute to man the worth which God has given him. To put it another way, our evaluation of man is directly proportionate to our estimation of God.

I am no prophet, my friend, but I will venture to say that we who name the name of Christ are going to have to stand up and be counted in the days to come. Abortion, euthanasia, and bioethics, to name just a few, are going to demand ethical and moral standards. The bedrock principle upon which such decisions must be made, in my estimation, is the fact that all men are created in God’s image.

In this light, I can now see why our Lord could sum up the whole of the Old Testament in two commands,

And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-40).

The attitude of the future seems to be to love only those ‘neighbors’ who are the contributors to society, only those who may be considered assets. How different is the value system of our Lord, who said,

Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:40).

In my estimation, here is where we Christians are going to be put to the test. Some are strongly suggesting that those who our Lord called ‘the least’ are precisely those who should be eliminated from society. May God help us to see that man’s dignity is that which is divinely determined.

Man’s Duty
(2:4-17)

While Genesis 1 describes a progression from chaos to cosmos, or disorder to order, chapter two follows a different pattern. Perhaps the literary thread which runs throughout the passage is that of God’s creative activity in supplying those things which are deficient.

Verse 4 serves as an introduction to the remaining verses.39 Verse 5 informs us of the deficiencies which are supplied in verses 6-17: No shrub, no plant, no rain, and no man. These are satisfied by the mist (verse 6) and the rivers (verses 10-14), the man (verse 7), and the garden (verses 8-9).

The deficiency of verses 18-25 is, simply stated, “no helper suitable for Adam” (cf. verses 18,20). This helper is provided in a beautiful way in the last part of chapter 2.

Again, let me emphasize that Moses goes not intend to give us a chronological order of events here, but a logical one.40 His purpose is to more particularly describe the creation of man, his wife, and the setting into which they are put. These become key factors in the fall which occurs in chapter 3.

While as yet no rain had ever fallen, God provided the water which was needed for plant life. “But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6).

There is some discussion over this word ‘mist’ (‘ed). It could mean a mist or a fog, as some contend.41 The Septuagint used the Greek word pege, which means ‘spring.’ Some have understood the Hebrew word as being derived from a Sumerian word, referring to subterranean waters.42 It may be that springs flowed out of the ground and that vegetation was perhaps watered by irrigation or channels. This could even explain, in part, the work of Adam in keeping the garden.

The water being supplied, God created the garden, which was to be the place of man’s abode, and the object of his attention. It was well-supplied with many trees which provided both beauty and food.

And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).

Specifically, two trees are mentioned, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This latter tree was the only thing forbidden man.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:16-17).

It is interesting that seemingly Adam, alone, is told by God that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil must not be eaten. One can only conjecture as to how effectively God’s command to Adam was communicated to Eve. Could this explain Eve’s inaccurate appraisal in 3:2-3?

Into this paradise,43 man was placed. While he was surely to enjoy this wonderland, he was also to cultivate it. Look again at verse 5:

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground (Genesis 2:5).

When placed in the garden, Adam was to work there: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Adam’s creation is described more fully in 2:7 than in chapter one. He was formed44 from the dust of the ground. While this is a humbling fact, it is also obvious that man’s origin is not from the animal world, nor is man created in the same way as the animals. In part, Adam’s dignity stems from the fact that his life breath is the inspiration of God (verse 7).

Here was no mythical garden. Every part of the description of this paradise inclines us to understand that it was a real garden in a particular geographical location. Specific points of reference are given. Four rivers are named, two of which are known to us today. We should not be surprised, especially after the cataclysmic event of the flood, that changes may have occurred, which would make it impossible to locate this spot precisely.

I find it most interesting that the Paradise of Eden was a place somewhat different from what we envision today. First of all, it was a place of work. Men today dream of paradise as a hammock suspended between two coconut trees on some desert island, where work is never again to be contemplated. Furthermore, heaven is thought of as the end of all prohibitions. Heaven is frequently confused with hedonism. It is very self-centered and pleasure-oriented. While Adam’s state was one of beauty and bliss, it cannot be thought of as unrestricted pleasure. The forbidden fruit is a part of Paradise, too. Heaven is not the experiencing of every desire, but the satisfaction of beneficial and wholesome desires.

Servanthood is not a new concept in the New Testament. Meaningful service provides fulfillment and purpose for life. God described Israel as a cultivated garden, a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2ff.). Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches. The Father tenderly cared for His vineyard (John 15:1ff.). Paul described the ministry as the work of a farmer (II Timothy 2:6).

While the church of the New Testament may be better described as a flock, nevertheless the image of the garden is not inappropriate. There is a work to be done for the child of God. And that work is no drudgery, no duty to begrudgingly carry out. It is a source of joy and fulfillment. Many today have no real sense of meaning and purpose because they are not doing the work that God has designed for them to carry out.

Man’s Delight
(2:18-25)

One deficiency remains. There is now adequate water, the beautiful and bountiful provision of the garden, and a man to cultivate it. But there is not yet a companion suitable for man. This need is met in verses 18-25.

The garden, with its pleasures and provisions for food and meaningful activity was not sufficient unless these delights could he shared. God would provide Adam with that which he needed most.

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18).

Adam’s mate was to be a very special creation, a ‘helper, suitable for him’ (verse 18). She was to be a ‘helper,’ not a slave, and not an inferior. The Hebrew word ezer is most interesting. It was a word that Moses obviously liked, for in Exodus 18:4 we are told that this was the name he gave to one of his sons.

And the other was named Eliezer (El=God), for he said, ‘The God of my father was my help (ezer), and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’ (Exodus 18:4).

The other three times ezer is found used by Moses in Deuteronomy (33:7,26,29), it refers to God as man’s helper. So also in the Psalms (20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9; 121:1,2; 124:8; 146:5).

The point of the word as it is most often employed in the Old Testament is that the help given implies no inferiority whatsoever. In a way consistent with its usage, God is helping man through women. What a beautiful thought. How far above some conceptions this is.

Then also, she is a helper who ‘corresponds to’ Adam. One translation reads, “… I will make a helper like him.”45

This is precisely opposite the point. Yet this is often what we consider the perfect wife—one who is just like us. Incompatibility is by divine design in many instances. As Dwight Hervey Small has correctly observed,

Incompatibility is one of the purposes of marriages! God has appointed conflict and burdens for lessons in spiritual growth. These are to be subservient to high and holy purposes.46

Just as Eve was fashioned so as to correspond to Adam in a physical way, so she complimented him socially, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.

As a result, when I counsel those who plan to marry, I do not seek to discover as many points of similarity as possible. Instead, I am concerned that each partner has an accurate view of what the other is really like, and that they are committed to the fact that God has joined them permanently. A recognition that God has made man and woman differently by design, and a determination to attain unity in this diversity is essential to a healthy marriage.

Before creating this counterpart, God first whet his appetite. The creatures which God had formed are now brought to Adam to name. This naming reflected Adam’s rule over the creatures, as God intended (cf. 1:28). It probably involved a careful study on Adam’s part to note the unique characteristics of each creature.47

This naming process may have taken some time. In the process, Adam would observe that no mere creature could ever fill the void in his life. Further, I would use a little sanctified imagination to conjecture that Adam observed each creature with its mate, a wonderfully designed counterpart. Adam must have realized that he, alone, was without a mate.

At this moment of intense need and desire, God put Adam in a deep sleep,48 and from his rib and attached flesh49 fashioned the woman.50 He then presented the woman to the man.

What excitement there is in Adam’s enthusiastic response:

And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (Genesis 2:23).

I like the way the RSV renders Adam’s initial response, “at last … ”51

In this expression there is a mixture of relief, ecstasy, and delighted surprise. “This (for Adam has not yet named her) is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23a). The name of Adam’s mate is woman. The English translation nicely picks up the play on similar sounds. In Hebrews, man would be pronounced ’ish; woman would be ’ishshah. While the sounds are similar, the roots of the two words are different. Appropriately ’ish may come from a parallel Arabic root, conveying the idea of ‘exercising power,’ while the term ’ishshah may be derived from an Arabic parallel, meaning ‘to be soft’.52

The divinely inspired commentary of verse 24 is of utmost import:

For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

From the account it is imperative that a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. What is the relationship between this command to leave and cleave and the creation of women? Verse 24 begins, “For this cause … ” What cause is this? We can understand the reason only when we explain the command. Man is to leave his parents, not in the sense of avoiding his responsibility to them (e.g. Mark 7:10-13; Ephesians 6:2,3), but in the sense of being dependent upon them. He must cease to live under their headship and begin to function alone as the head of a new home.53

The woman is not commanded similarly because she simply transfers from one head to another. While she once was subject to her father, now she is joined to her husband. The man, however, has the more difficult transition. He, as a child, was dependent upon and submissive to his mother and father.

When a man marries he must go through the more radical transition from a dependent, submissive son to an independent (from a parents) leader, who functions as the head of the home.

As many have observed, the husband-wife relationship is permanent while the parent-child relationship is temporary. Even if the parents are unwilling to terminate the dependent relationship of son to parents, the son is responsible to do so. To fail to do so is to refuse the kind of bond necessary with his wife.

Now, perhaps, we are in a position to see the relationship of this command to the creation account. What is the reason for its mention here in Genesis? First of all, there are no parents to whom Adam or Eve have been born. Eve’s origin is directly from her husband, Adam. The union or bond between Adam and his wife is the union of coming from one flesh (Adam’s) and of becoming one flesh (in physical union). This bond is greater than that between parent and child. A woman is, of course, the product of her parents, as the man is of his. But the original union involved no parents, and the wife was a part of the flesh of her husband. This first marriage, then, is evidence of the primacy of the husband-wife relationship over that of the parent-child relationship.

The last verse is not incidental. It tells us a great deal that we need to know. “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

We learn, for example, that a sexual side of this relationship was a part of the paradise experience. Sex did not originate with or after the fall. Procreation and physical intimacy were intended from the beginning (cf. 1:28). Also we see that sex could be enjoyed to its fullest in the divine plan. Disobedience to God did not heighten sexual pleasure; it diminished it. Today the world wishes to believe that they have invented sex and that God only seeks to prevent it. But sex, apart from God, is not what it could or should be.

Ignorance, if you will forgive me for saying so, is bliss. In our generation we are cool, if you prefer, sophisticated, only if we know (by experience) all there is to know about sex. “How naive are those who have never had sex before marriage,” we are led to believe. There are many things it is better not to know. Sex was never enjoyed so much as it was in sweet ignorance.

Later revelation does add much light to this text. Our Lord, significantly, quotes from chapter one and chapter two as though from one account (Matthew 19:4,5), a fatal blow to the source document critics.

The divine origin of marriage means it is no mere social invention (or convention), but a divine institution for man. Because God joins a man and woman in marriage, it is a permanent union: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

The fact that Adam preceded his wife in creation and that Eve was brought forth from Adam also establishes the reasons why the husband is to exercise headship over his wife in marriage (cf. I Corinthians 11:8-9; I Timothy 2:13). The role of women in the church is not just Paul’s idea, restricted to the time and culture of the Corinthian Christians. The biblical role of women is established on the biblical account of creation (cf. also I Corinthians 14:34).

Conclusion

Having considered the passage in terms of its parts, let us focus our attention on this passage as a whole. No passage in all of the Bible so concisely defines the things which really count in life. Life’s meaning can only be grasped in relationship to the God Who has created man in His image and likeness. While this image has been distorted due to the fall, those who are in Christ are being renewed in Christ’s image:

… and that you be renewed in the Spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:23,24).

… and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:10).

Furthermore, man’s meaning in life is not only found in the dignity which God has given him as being created in His image, but in the work which He gives him to do. Men often view work as a curse. While work has been affected by the fall (Genesis 3:17-19), it was given before the fall and is a means of blessing and fulfillment if it is done as unto the Lord (cf. Colossians 3:22-24).

Last, the institution of marriage is given by God to deeply enrich our lives. The work we are to do is much richer and fuller when we share it with God’s counterpart for us. Here, then, is the real essence of life—a recognition of our divinely ordained dignity, our duty, and our delight. Our worth, our work, our wife are all a source of great blessing if they are ‘in the Lord.’


36 I Timothy 2:13.

37 I Corinthians 11:8,12.

38 Genesis 2:23.

39 “Now it is a well-known fact that the book of Genesis is by its own author divided into ten sections, to each of which he gives the title ‘story’ (toledoth); cf. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, (9); 37:2. This circumstance alone, plus the use of the round number ten, would definitely point to the fact that here the expression, ‘these are the toledoth’ must also be a heading. In all other instances of its use in other books the same fact is observable; cf. Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; I Chron. 1:29; it is as always a heading.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), I, p. 110.

40 “Verse 4b takes us back into the time of the work of creation, more particularly to the time before the work of the third day began, and draws our attention to certain details, which, being details, could hardly have been inserted in chapter one: the fact that certain forms of plant life, namely the kinds that require the attentive care of man in greater measure, had not sprung up. Apparently, the whole work of the third day is in the mind of the writer.” Ibid., p.112.

“I have been very insistent that the first chapter is to be understood chronologically. What is seen by the order of development, the progression of thought. It is seen also by the chronological emphasis--day one, day two, and so on. You do not find that in the second chapter of Genesis. There, instead of giving a chronological order of statement, the Lord is stating matters step by step to prepare for the account of the temptation.” E. J. Young, In The Beginning, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 70.

41 Such appears to be the view of Leupold, I, pp. 113-114.

42 “What are we to understand by the ‘ed? Not a mist! The word is apparently related to a Sumerian word. It seems to refer to subterranean waters, and what we have here is either a breaking forth of water in some way from under the ground, or possibly a river overflowing its banks. I do not think we can be dogmatic here.” Young, pp. 67-68. Cf. also Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), pp. 59-60.

43 “The word ‘Eden’ in Hebrew may mean a delight or a pleasure. I am not sure that that is what it means here. There is a Sumerian word that means a steppe, or a plain, a wide plain, and in the eastern part of this plain God planted a garden. Without being dogmatic I give my opinion that that is what ‘Eden’ means. So the garden is planted.” Young, p. 71.

44 “The verb employed here accords more with the “Yahweh” character of God; yatsar means to ‘mold’ or ‘form.’ It is the word that specifically describes the activity of the potter (Jer. 18:2ff). The idea to be emphasized is that with the particular care and personal attention that a potter gives to his task. God gives tokens of His interest in man, His creature, by molding him as He does.” Leupold, p. 115.

45 Cf. Leupold, p. 129.

46 Dwight Hervey Small, Design For Christian Marriage (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1971), p. 58. Elsewhere Small remarks, “As Elton Trueblood has suggested, a successful marriage is not one in which two people, beautifully matched, find each other and get along happily ever after because of this initial matching. It is, instead, a system by means of which persons who are sinful and contentious are so caught up by a dream and a purpose bigger than themselves that they work through the years, in spite of repeated disappointment, to make the dream come true.” p. 28.

47 “For the expression to give names, in the Hebrew usage of the word ‘name,’ involves giving a designation expressive of the nature or character of the one named. This was not a crude fable, where, according to a Hebrew notion, the accidental ejaculations at the sight of new and strange creatures were retained as names for the future.” Leupold, p. 131.

48 “Tardemah is indeed a ‘deep sleep,’ not a state of ecstasy, as the Greek translators render; nor a ‘hypnotic trance’ (Skinner), for traces of hypnosis are not to be found in the Scriptures. A ‘trance’ might be permissible. The root, however, is that of the verb used in reference to Jonah when he sleeps soundly during the storm.” Ibid, p. 134.

49 “The word tsela translated ‘rib,’ definitely bears this meaning, (contra v. Hofman), although it is not necessary to think only of the bare bone; for, without a doubt, bone and flesh will have been used for her of whom the man afterward says ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,’” (v. 23). Ibid.

50 “The activity of God in fashioning the rib taken from man is described as a building (wayyi ‘bhen). Rather than being an indication of the work of a different author, the verb grows out of the situation as being the most appropriate. It would not have been seemly to use yatsar ‘to mold,’ a verb applicable in the case of clay, not of flesh. ‘Build’ applies to the fashioning of a structure of some importance; it involves constructive effort.” Ibid, p. 135.

51 Or, as Leupold suggests, “Now at length” (p. 136).

52 Leupold, pp. 136-137.

53 Caution must be exercised, I believe, in the application of Bill Gothard’s principle ‘chain of counsel.’ While the wise will seek counsel and some of that may well come from parents, undue dependence is a real danger. The problem is not so much with the principle, but with its application.

Related Topics: Man (Anthropology)

The Christian's Present Possessions in Christ

The first three chapters of the epistle deal with doctrine; the last three chapters, with duty. In the first half Paul explains the riches of God’s grace; in the last half he exhorts the recipients of God’s grace.

Two verses give Paul’s usual method of opening a letter. In this, the salutation, the writer designates the author and the addressee: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1).

There are no serious doubts among commentators concerning the Pauline authorship of this epistle. Confined in a prison in Rome, well stricken in years, Paul writes a letter different from his other epistles. Controversy is absent. Warning against any particular error of doctrine is missing. Yet this particular difference causes no concern, for both the external and internal evidence are convincingly strong.

Paul designates himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He was alike Christ’s possession and His representative. The risen Lord having both saved and sent him, Paul became God’s minister to the Gentiles. Having completely surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, his learning, zeal, and teaching ability were all consecrated to the service of his Master. He was truly an apostle “by the will of God.”

“By the will of God” gives additional authority to Paul’s position as an apostle. When a man is sent by the will of God, then his hearers will do well to heed his message. Right here we might notice that the will of God is mentioned four times in this first chapter (verses 1, 5, 9, 11). The will of God reaches far back into eternity past, long before the foundations of the earth were laid. What a blessed privilege every servant of God has when he is called to make this known to others! Let us exercise the greatest care lest we interpose anything between the will of God and ourselves while we are here on earth. The human will has no place or function in redemption or in active service apart from the divine will. Every exercise of the spirit, mind and body reaches its loftiest position only when it is motivated by God’s will.

The letter is addressed “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word for “saint” is hagios, and it means a holy one. Paul usually applied this term to the true child of God. The primary meaning of the word is separated or set apart.

The Roman Catholic Church has tainted the word “saint” with so much superstition that it is almost impossible to restore it to its original and intended use. Today its application is to any who exhibit an exceptional, artificial type of piousness, or to those whose own works merit the Pope’s canonization. According to the Bible, all Christians are saints (Heb. 10:10, 14). The temple was at one time holy, not because of its materials and magnitude, but because it was a set-apart place for the service of Jehovah. The altars were holy, the vessels were holy, the sacrifices were holy, the priests were holy, all because they were divinely chosen to discharge the function of holy service to the Lord. People in their ignorance call theirs the “All Saints Church,” and refer to the apostles as “Saint Peter” and “Saint Paul,” but God calls all who have been washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus and born again by the Holy Spirit “saints” (I Cor. 1:2).

It is God who sanctifies us. He sets us apart; we do not consecrate ourselves. “Saint” suggests no personal merit on man’s part, but a condescending act of Almighty God in setting apart those who believe in His Son. H. A. Ironside has said: “We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.”

The letter, moreover, is intended for “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The “faithful” are not mere professors but those who demonstrate their sainthood by their saintliness. Faithfulness to Him whose name is held, bears witness to others of God’s calling. Faith in Christ is much more than intellectual assent; it includes a surrender of the intellect, the heart, and the will to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The name and fame of a church and its testimony will remain only so long as its members are “faithful in Christ Jesus.” When a man truly has faith in Christ he will keep faith with Christ. If one is not true to Christ, then he has exercised no faith in Christ.

The typical Pauline salutation continues with the words: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Paul combined the two forms of salutation used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to send his Christian greeting. Here is a twofold blessing from two persons. The Father sends His grace and peace; the Son says: “Give them Mine, also.” It could not be otherwise, since the Son shares the exalted position with the Father “in the heavenlies.” God and Christ are One, thus they are the one source of “grace and peace.” The gospel that Paul preached is always known as the gospel of grace, the gospel of the unmerited favor of God.

Notice that God will not offer peace apart from grace. Nor can any man have peace before he accepts God’s grace. These two words form no mere conventional courtesy, as the Greeks and Hebrews might use them, but rather are they a rich Christian blessing.

Are we saints? Then let us receive and appropriate what is ours, for what is sent to us we have a right to possess. All through the pages of the New Testament the grace and peace of God in Christ shine gloriously forth. To accept His grace is to know His peace--peace not only with Him but with others also. Ephesians will unfold for us “the riches of His grace” (1:7). Twelve times in this one epistle Paul uses the word “grace.” May each of us lay claim to our possessions.

All of the following blessings are ours because of grace:

  • salvation (Eph. 2:8)
  • justification (Rom. 3:24)
  • victory over sin (Rom. 5:20)
  • power to testify (Rom. 12:3, 15:15; Col. 4:6)
  • strength for service (II Tim. 2:1; Heb. 12:28)
  • a spirit of generosity (II Cor. 8:7)
  • sweetness in singing (Col. 3:16)
  • ability to stand (I Pet. 5:12)
  • strength in suffering (II Cor. 12:9)

There are doubtless many more, but these will suffice to show us the greatness of our need in appropriating God’s grace.

1. Paul’s Praise to God for What We Received (1:3-14)

The next verse is the key verse in the first half of the epistle, since it introduces us to the source of our wealth in Christ. It is definitely a word of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (1:3).

The adjective translated “blessed” means to celebrate with praises. At the very outset Paul magnifies the grace of God toward the Ephesians so that they, too, might be filled to overflowing with praise. God is said to bless us when He bestows upon us every provision for our spiritual peace and prosperity. We are said to bless God when we offer praise and thanksgiving for His provision.

More than twenty-five years had passed since Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ near Damascus. Still he was counting his blessings and praising God for them. Paul is not praising God because God desires to bless him, nor because God has determined to bless him at some future time, but because God “hath” blessed him. Yes, and “us”! God is the Blesser, and the blessed are those, and those only, who have received His Son as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “us” here are the “saints,” and as God’s set-apart ones we are eligible for the blessings.

The nature of the blessings is said to be “spiritual.” There is possibly more than one explanation of this. First, Paul might have intended to distinguish the blessings from those mercies of God that are material, physical, and temporal, that are intended particularly for the body. Second, Paul possibly meant by “spiritual blessings” those blessings pertaining to the Holy Spirit and intended to minister to the human spirit. The saint’s citizenship is in heaven, hence he no longer sets his affection on things in the earth. Moreover, his principal needs are spiritual so that he must be “strengthened with might by His [God’s] Spirit in the inner man” (3:16).

Too many of us place the emphasis upon those things that are temporal and transient while we neglect the values that are spiritual and eternal. The Father designed every spiritual blessing for the Church. They are ours “in Christ,” and are delivered to us by the Holy Spirit. The lasting joy that God bestows upon us is not in the things of this world, but rather in “heavenly places” or, better still, “in the heavenlies.” Ours are heavenly experiences and heavenly privileges conferred upon us by God in Christ. They originate among the eternal and unseen things.

The first of the believer’s possessions for which Paul praises God follows: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (1:4). We must see at the outset that all that God had done for us in Christ is “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). In eternity past, God had certain settled purposes which He accomplished at various times during the dispensations of human history, and here we are carried back into the remotest ages of past eternity where, says Paul, God was loving us and planning that all who are “in Christ . . . should be holy and without blame before Him.” God’s eternal choice, then, was that all who are in Christ should be a holy people.

The phrase “chosen us in Him” could be rendered “chose us for Himself.” Chose us for what? Not to everlasting life, but that we should be spotless for Himself! The election in the divine Mind was that all those in Christ should be “holy ones,” free from every defilement of sin.

It is not difficult to see how God should purpose in His heart, before the world came into existence, that He was going to have a holy people who would be to the praise of His glory and grace. To that end God created Adam, and in spite of the fall of man, God is still going to carry out His purpose in Christ. The divine choice will find its consummation when Christ returns for His bride “to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Temporarily we are in this world, but not of it. We were chosen to be holy before its foundations were laid; we are merely passing through it to another world. We might fail to practice holiness here, but the eternal purpose of God will be fulfilled when our Lord Returns and “we shall be like Him” (I John 3:2).

God has selected a people to be His holy habitation. Are you in that company, my friend? You are, if you are “in Christ.” If you are not, you may this very day join that holy band by trusting Him as your Saviour. Then you, too, will be a part of the true Church of God’s creation and design which, on the great presentation day, will be presented a glorious Church, “holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

The ultimate purpose of God’s choice is not salvation but sanctification. John Calvin stated that it is wrong to say that any of us may attain perfection in this life; nevertheless, this is the goal to which the whole course of our lives must be directed, even though we cannot reach it till we have finished our course. Let us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying with Paul: “. . . neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). And let us praise God that we have been chosen to be a part of the completed structure, a perfect Church throughout all eternity.

When God designed His Church in eternity past He “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (1:5). The American Standard Version makes it clear that the verb translated “predestinated” is “foreordained.” It means to appoint, or to determine beforehand.

To what have we been predestinated? Neither this verse nor any other verse in the Bible teaches that God decrees that some men are foreordained to everlasting life while others are foreordained to everlasting death. Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), and “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:3, 4).

Notice, please, that we have been foreordained unto adoption as sons. The word “adoption” is used only by Paul. To understand its meaning, you must lay aside the idea of the word as used today when, by a legal act, an adult person takes a minor, not his own, into the relation as his child. The adoption of the believer is still future, being a divine act whereby God sets a goal for the believer. Paul states clearly that our adoption is something for which the believer is “waiting” (Rom. 8:23), having been foreordained “unto” adoption. Although we do have here and now the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), His Presence in us is merely the seal, or guarantee of a future act of son-placing. Adoption does not mean son-making, for in eternity we shall be sons no more than we are now but, rather, at that time, we shall be properly placed in God’s show-case and displayed as sons. God has predestinated us unto the adoption--it is future. Therefore, His sovereign act of adoption can have nothing whatever to do with His choice of us.

In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul explains how Jesus Christ secured our adoption for us by His death at Calvary in order that “we might receive” it (Gal. 4:5). Our present standing is that of sons; for, “beloved, now are we the sons of God.” And how wonderful this is! But, adds the Apostle John: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be” (I John 3:2). The fact of our present son-making and our future son-placing were all “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Our future position, which was God’s choice, was not only His will but His enjoyment. The mightiest angel in heaven will not share in the glory of the believer’s future position.

If you, dear reader, are not a son of God, your future is dark indeed. But even now there is time. If you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, God will make you His son now and place you in an exalted position as His son in eternity. Then you, too, will join in praise to God for His goodness.

Verse six teaches us that every true believer has been foreordained to be such a trophy of the grace of God as to cause men to praise the glory of His grace. Paul writes: “To the Praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). These words, not to be considered by themselves, are just a link in a golden chain of thoughts beginning with verse 3.

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing because He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, one day to place us on display as His glorified sons. Then His holy and unblemished Church will cause men and angels to acknowledge the wonders of His infinite love and grace toward sinners.

God has foreordained that men shall extol and praise His grace in all its eternal glory. This is the terminus of His kindness toward sinners. Today this is demonstrated only meagerly in the lives of His true followers, but in the end of the age “He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (II Thess. 1:10).

The Lord of heaven and earth will be wondered at by all when the Church Age has run its course and the last member has been added to the Church. With mingled surprise and admiration, the spectators of earth and hell will marvel at the monument of divine grace. All who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are certain to be present and a part of that magnificent exhibition, for, adds the apostle: “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” We are already accepted in the Father’s presence because we are in Christ. What condescending love and grace! We are accepted, but only because the Father has “made us” so. Let us continue to praise God, not only for what we have been saved from, but for what we are saved to.

These verses (1:3-14) are referred to by Charles R. Erdman as a hymn of praise consisting of three stanzas. He says that the first relates to the past: God the Father is the subject, and the refrain closes with the words, “To the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). The second stanza relates to the present: God the Son is the subject, and it concludes “to the praise of His glory” (1:12). The third stanza relates to the future: God the Holy Spirit is the subject, and it concludes “unto the praise of His glory” (1:14). And then Dr. Erdman shows that the three stanzas are bound into a harmonious unity by recurring references to Christ: “In the Beloved,” “In Christ,” “In Whom.”

We have come now to the second stanza of Paul’s wonderful hymn of praise (1:7-12). The first stanza makes clear the work of God in grace in eternity past. The second shows God’s grace manifested toward us now in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Paul continues: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (1:7). Before the sinner becomes saved he is a captive in the slave-market of sin. He is sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil. As a slave in bondage he needs to be freed. Someone must purchase him and take him out of the market of sin. Christians, once bondmen, now have redemption.

The word “redemption” appears three times in Ephesians, and it means to set free by the payment of a ransom. The ransom price of the slave is the blood of Jesus Christ, and if any man is to be released from the power and penalty of sin it must be “through His blood.” The penalty for sin is death (Gen. 2:17). Death is sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23). Only a substitute life will satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the Son of man gave His life a “ransom” (Matt. 20:28), all who trust in Him are assured of release from sin’s power and penalty, but only “through His blood.” In the first stanza, the Father plans our redemption (1:4-6); in the second, the Son provides it. We shall never be able to overestimate the worth and power of the death of Jesus Christ. God displayed His wisdom and power in creation, but only in the death of His Son do we see a manifestation of divine compassion for sinners, and the only responsibility imposed upon sinners is that of believing. Redemption is a present fact: “we have redemption.”

Paul includes in the same sentence, “the forgiveness of sins.” To “forgive” is to release from guilt. God holds resentment against the unbeliever, the resentment being justly provoked by a violation of His holiness; but when the sinner comes to Christ, guilt is removed and resentment ceases. A man may forgive a friend who has wronged him, but the forgiveness cannot cancel the guilt. But when God forgives a sinner He actually remits the sin and removes the guilt. Forgiveness for the believing sinner is an act of God whereby He sets aside absolutely and eternally, by judicial decree, all condemnation and guilt. Judicial forgiveness, in contradistinction to the Father’s forgiveness of His sinning child (I John 1:9), covers all sin, and by it the believing sinner is pardoned forever. It forever absolves and acquits the sinner. But forgiveness was dear to the Forgiver. It cost the life of God’s Son.

Observe the measureless abundance of divine forgiveness--“according to the riches of His Grace” (1:7). No adequate explanation of divine forgiveness can be made apart from those beautiful and precious words. Only the view of the depth and degradation of our sin will cause us to appreciate in any degree the limitless ill-merited favor of God. The word “according” shows the measure of God’s grace in forgiveness. “Riches” suggests the inexhaustible springs of liberality. Have you ever tried to estimate how rich God is in grace? He has grace enough for every sinner and riches to spare. And to think He gives liberally to all in proportion to His riches!

That we might know the eternal purpose of God provided for us in His Son, “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (1:8). God makes His purpose known and then gives His children the capacity to understand and appreciate it. The truths of God are deep truths, but “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). The desire in the Father’s heart is that His Church should know the secret things of His divine plan. The Word of God is the revelation of His counsels, and all who search the Word may have an intelligent understanding of His wonderful plan. We, as the redeemed saints of God, “have the mind of Christ” and can foresee the ultimate destiny of the whole creation.

How does God abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence? The answer comes to us in the next verses: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness 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” (1:9-10). This is the manner in which He made His grace to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligent understanding. He made known unto us the mystery.

A mystery is a truth once hidden but now revealed. A mystery is not mysterious in the present connotative meaning of the word but a secret now revealed by God. There are a number of mysteries in the New Testament, the true meaning of which God disclosed to Paul. In confidence God has much to tell His own concerning His plan for Israel, the Church, and the world. All of the purposes of God find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This present dispensation began with the revelation of God in the virgin birth and virtuous life of His Son. The revelation reached its climax at Calvary. And He continued to reveal Himself in His bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven.

At this moment the authority of Jesus Christ is not fully acknowledged in the earth, but in the end of the age all things in heaven and in earth will find their headship in Christ. In Colossians, Christ is seen as “the Head of the body, the Church,” but when He comes again, by Him God will reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things in the earth or things in heaven. God will head up all things in Christ. Many military leaders have dreamed of world empires, but God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

The “times,” or seasons, suggest that God is developing His plan through a series of definite and successive stages, the fullness of which has not yet come. However, it is God’s intention in the final important season to send His Son to earth again to sum up all things in Him. This divine intention was at one time unknown, even to the prophets, but according to God’s good pleasure He has made it known to us now. Our Lord’s first coming was in the fullness of time. However, in that day He will not merely offer Himself but will establish His throne and rule with a rod of iron.

When speaking of the future glory of Christ, the apostle is reminded again of the believer’s position, for in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (1:11). The real meaning of this verse is missed entirely if we hold to the King James Version. Let us see it in the American Standard Version--“In whom also we were made a heritage . . .” (1:11, A.S.V.). We just saw in verse 10 how that everything in heaven and earth will be unified in Christ. Now Paul adds that, in Christ, the believer is God’s chosen portion or private possession. The saints are predestinated to be His inheritance. Of Israel it was said: “Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance”; “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deut. 9:29; 32:9). When Christ returns in glory to establish His kingdom, all history and creation will be combined in a glorious and harmonious consummation as His inheritance, but the apex of His inheritance will be those whom He has redeemed with His own blood along with regathered Israel. This is God’s eternal purpose and He works all things after the counsel of His own will. What majestic beauty and simplicity in the purpose of God! It is not merely that Christ shall receive the earth and all that is in it, but that we have been made His heritage.

Only as we are “in Christ” are we God’s inheritance, and the reason He made us His inheritance is “That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ” (1:12). Though now we are the objects of His love and mercy, eventually we shall be the subjects of His glory.

Speaking through the Prophet Malachi, God said: “And they shall be Mine . . . in that day when I make up My jewels” (Mal. 3:17). Here the word “jewels” means special treasure, and it is used first of David who, upon setting his affection on the house of the Lord, stored away his treasure of gold and silver for the building of the temple. Even so God is storing away His special treasure, building a holy temple, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). As God looks down upon this sinful earth He sees a company of despised followers of His Son, and He says: “They shall be Mine when I make up My special treasure.”

We are of greater worth to God than angels. We are His costly treasure! Someone has said: “When God found me, I was no better than a cobblestone--not worth picking up. But He took me into His laboratory of grace, and by the chemistry of atoning blood He processed me, and I came out as His jewel--a bit rough, I’ll admit, but after a few years of cutting, buffing, and polishing, He will present me at last before His throne absolutely flawless.” How wonderful it all is! Thus the second stanza of this wonderful hymn of praise concludes “to the praise of His [Christ’s] glory.”

We come now to the third and last stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise (1:13-14). In the first stanza (1:3-6), we saw the plan of the Father wherein we were chosen, predestinated, and adopted that we might be to the praise of His glory. In the second stanza (1:7-12), we saw the provision of the Son wherein we were redeemed and forgiven that we might be to the praise of His glory. Now we are to look at the last stanza (1:13-14), wherein we see the pledge of the Spirit unto the praise of His glory. The Father finished His plan. The Son finished the work which the Father gave Him to do. Now the Holy Spirit is in the world fulfilling His pledge.

Verse 13 contains three prominent words, each essential to the other. They are “heard,” “believed,” and “sealed.” Here we shall see the work of the Holy Spirit in the divine plan. All three Persons in the Godhead have had a pertinent part in man’s redemption.

What is the Spirit’s work? All men being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, man needs new life. Since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), He quickens us from spiritual death.

How does the Spirit accomplish this quickening? The instrument He uses is the Word of God. In Ephesians it is called “the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Elsewhere we are reminded that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Paul says: “Ye heard,” and “ye believed.” It is through the Word that men are born again, “For the Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, A.S.V.). Only when we hear the gospel are we born again by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5), “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23). The written Word of God is the living, active, sharp, penetrating, discerning sword of the Spirit by which men are brought face to face with God’s plan of salvation. The duty of the sword of the Spirit is to bring life, but all who refuse it are slain by it. We cannot adequately explain our salvation apart from the Spirit’s ministry through the Word.

Upon “hearing” and “believing” the Word, immediately “ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). When we hear the gospel our part is to believe; it is God’s part to seal. We are not sealed by the Spirit but, rather, with the Spirit. Better still, the Spirit is the seal. It is “God who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (I Cor. 1:21-22).

A seal is a mark of authenticity or genuineness. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). True believers are the credentials of Christ, His letters of recommendation to a lost world. A letter is the written expression of the writer; hence the children of God are not those whose names are written in ink or engraved in stone, but those upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has written the evidence of the power of God’s Word. The distinguishing mark between the false professor and the true Christian is the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, a seal is the mark of ownership. God knows us by His seal. Jesus said: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14). As livestock are distinguished by the owner’s brand, even so God has His own special brand whereby we are marked out as His possession, and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). The stamp of validity is God’s seal, the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the sign that we are His people and members of the true Church of Jesus Christ.

Then, too, the seal is the mark of security, for the Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:14). Here is the answer to the problem some men have regarding the preservation of the believer. Wherein does our security lie? The word “earnest” denotes a down payment, or a pledge that an agreement will be kept. Now God has offered us eternal life upon belief on His Son. But can we be certain that we shall enter into that life after we die? Yes, indeed! The earnest bound the bargain, and the deposit will not be returned until the remainder of our redemption, which is the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23) is fully realized. The Holy Spirit is in the earth as God’s deposit, or guarantee, until Jesus Christ comes again to receive His own unto Himself. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee of a finished transaction and a safe delivery of spirit, soul, and body to heaven. Our future inheritance of glory is assured, for the sealing with the Spirit is designed to give us certainty that the future will bring a completed redemption, and that “unto the praise of His glory.”

2. Paul’s Prayer to God for What We Require (1:15-23)

The epistles of Paul are noted for their prayers offered to God in the interest of the saints. W. H. Griffith Thomas has said that there are few more precious subjects for meditation and imitation than the prayers and intercessions of the great apostle. The greatness of the man and his ministry can be attributed in a large part to his prayer life.

There are two prayers of Paul recorded in Ephesians. The first prayer is before us; the second is to be found in 3:14-19. If prayer for others is a test of one’s own spiritual life, then Paul ranks high among the godly leaders in the history of the Church. Most of our prayers are taken up with ourselves or with those nearest and dearest to us. Needs of others occupy a small place in our prayer life. Paul’s prayers are included by the Holy Spirit as a corporate part of the epistle.

First, consider the occasion of the prayer. It commences with the word “wherefore,” which literally means on account of this. In the preceding verses Paul has issued, by the Holy Spirit, some profound teaching on the work of the triune God in making plans for the completed redemption of all believers. Now, because of this, he desires that they should possess an experiential knowledge, having the doctrine transmitted into actual experience. He would have them enjoy the full scope of their inheritance in Christ.

Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for the saints at Ephesus, for, says he: “I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints” (1:15). Two things about the Ephesian Christians were controversial pieces: (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love to all the saints.

The object of their faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not ashamed of Him, for obviously others were hearing of their faith. Paul says: “I heard.” Where people are soundly saved they will not hide their light under a bushel, but will proclaim the joys of salvation found in Christ. Then, too, where faith is genuine, love will be in evidence. One of the unmistakable signs of the new birth is one’s conduct toward “all the saints.” True Christian love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Where He is in control, there must be love to all the saints. Love is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, for “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). While true love embraces all men, it reaches out in a particular way to those who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6:10). Faith begets love.

Let us consider further the objectives of the prayer. Paul’s earnestness made his prayers intelligent and specific. He knew that general prayers could expect general answers, so why pray if there was nothing to pray about? But he did pray, and the Holy Spirit has preserved for us one of the most profound petitions in all of the apostle’s writings.

The prayer is addressed to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory” (1:17). This suggests to us that the Christian’s God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Father to whom glory belongs, for He is “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2). And to think that the Father to whom glory belongs, who is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), the “Father of [our] Spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and the “Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17), is our Father! O Christian, rejoice! How can a Christian ever think of calling any man his holy father, as Romanists do, when he has God as his Father? Our heavenly Father is the source of every blessing. To Him be all glory! The first request in the prayer is for “wisdom and revelation” (1:17). When Paul requests for the saints “the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” he is not praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit’s Presence. They have already received the Holy Spirit as the divine seal (1:13). Paul desires for them that heavenly wisdom and revelation which is imparted by the Holy Spirit.

“Revelation” is the important word here, for revelation is the key to all knowledge. The ministry and office work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the Christian the meaning of all truth, whether historical or prophetical (John 14:26; 16:12-15). The Christian has no excuse for ignorance, since the Holy Spirit was given to reveal even “the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10). Some men are wise in Hebrew and Greek grammar and the mechanics of Bible interpretation, but Paul is not praying for the tools of knowledge. He covets for them a wise and understanding spirit that none can impart but the Holy Spirit Himself.

Why do Christians not have a wise and understanding spirit in things pertaining to God’s Word? The answer lies, in part, in the last phrase of verse 17, namely, “in the knowledge of Him.” Christ is true wisdom and true knowledge. Three other translations of this verse make the deeper meaning clear:

That the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father glory-clad, may, in bestowing the full knowledge of Himself, bestow on you the Spirit which is manifested in divine illumination and insight into the mysteries of God (Way).

For I always beseech the God of our Lord Jesus Christ--the Father most glorious--to give you the spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him (Weymouth).

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may grant you the Spirit to give wisdom and revelation which come through a growing knowledge of Him (Williams).

Surely you have caught the force of Paul’s statement. Wisdom and revelation come to us only by intimate associations with our Lord. A growing knowledge of the Author of the Bible guarantees a wise and understanding spirit in discernment of His Word. Paul would have us seek to know God, for then we shall have a Spirit-given knowledge which is accurate and thorough (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9), not merely an intellectual knowledge. Human philosophy says: “Know thyself.” Our Lord said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). Ordinary knowledge may be acquired; spiritual insight into the deep things of God is a gift (Jas. 1:5).

The prayer continues: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (1:18). The American Standard Version reads: “the eyes of your heart,” not mind. The “heart” is the inner man, including the emotion and will; it is the whole self, man’s inward being. This marvelous faculty of spiritual sight is lacking in the unregenerated man. He is powerless to apprehend spiritual things. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Now the eyes of the believer’s heart must be continually taken up with his Lord in order that his knowledge of spiritual truth might increase.

Paul requests for the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ that they might know three things:

(1) “The hope of His calling.” God has called us, but to what purpose? He has called us to perfection in the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; I John 3:1-2). He has called us to a completed righteousness and to the completed redemption of our bodies. He does not call a believer to hope for the forgiveness of his sins: they are gone. The hope of His calling is to see Him and be one with Him. One day our Lord will come again, and we shall all be changed to see Him as He is and to be like Him. Such a glorious hope inspires to holy living and to a hatred of all that is of this world. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3). All Christians have the same hope. It is Christ’s coming to take His own to be with Himself.

(2) “The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Here Paul prays that we might have a full appreciation of our worth to God. Already we have noted that God made us His heritage that we should be to the praise of His glory (1:11-12). God has an inheritance. His inheritance is in His saints. The gold and the silver and all the universes are His. He has riches untold. But His riches are not in the universes that He possesses, nor in the substance of the earth that is His, but in the saints that He purchased at infinite cost, namely, the precious blood of His only begotten Son (I Pet. 1:19). Beloved Christian, think not of what you can get from God but, rather, think of what you mean to God. The Christian Church is precious to God. He purchased it and paid for it with the blood of His Son. Paul would have us appreciate our dignity. I cannot understand how this can be, but I know that God has an inheritance even in me.

(3) “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (1:19). What an objective in prayer! That men might know the measure of God’s power. The Christian needs supernatural power, and God would have us see how great is His power to accomplish His purposes in us. How much spiritual strength is available for me in my daily life? How much divine energy is at my disposal? The power that God has made available to the believer is “according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (1:19-21). Here is the inexhaustible strength of God in taking His crucified Son who was dead and buried, and raising Him from among the dead to His present majestic position in heaven. What power! The same continuous current of His mighty power stands available to the faithful, to all who will believe.

Can you conceive this? The power which raised Christ from the grave, lifted Him to heaven, put all things under His feet and made Him the Head over all to the Church, is to us-ward who believe. How can we fail with Him as our Head and with such power at our disposal?

Now consider the last phrase. God “gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (1:22-23). Jesus Christ has been exalted to absolute authority over His Church, hence through His sovereign Person and exalted position the Church takes her orders. He is the exalted Head over all. The order of the Church must be His will and every activity must exalt Him, since it is in the capacity of Head over all that God gave Him to the Church. When the members of the Church recognize this, then there will be no lack, for the Church will receive its fullness from Him. As the recognized Head He imparts the needed strength to accomplish every task. When the visible body of Christ on earth recognizes the invisible Head in heaven, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Popes, cardinals, and bishops are merely men; and when any man sets himself up as the head of Christ’s Church, it is sacrilege of the basest sort. Beloved, let us take our position in subjection to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may enjoy victory all along the way, for we cannot be complete without Him (Col. 2:9-10).

Related Topics: Christology, Ecclesiology (The Church)

The Calling and Design of the Church: (Ephesians 1-3)

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Introduction

The Epistle to the Ephesians, along with those letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, is a Christological Epistle. Careful examination unfolds the grandeur and the glory of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that this book of six chapters is a treatment of the design and destiny of the Church, we must be careful to observe that the Church has her calling and consummation “in Christ.” All of her blessings are in Him. All of the purposes of God toward the Church are related to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the Church, in its calling as an organism and in its conduct as an organization, is seen from the Christocentric standpoint. The most significant phrase in the epistle is made up of the two words, “in Christ.” If one is not “in Christ” he can know nothing experientially of these “spiritual blessings.” R. W. Dale has said: “The doctrinal teaching of this epistle is very little more than a development of the single expression, ‘in Christ.’” Except a man be “in Christ,” he can claim none of the blessings of God as his redemption rights. We cannot by-pass Jesus Christ to get to God.

Chapter 1:
The Christian’s Present Possessions in Christ

The first three chapters of the epistle deal with doctrine; the last three chapters, with duty. In the first half Paul explains the riches of God’s grace; in the last half he exhorts the recipients of God’s grace.

Two verses give Paul’s usual method of opening a letter. In this, the salutation, the writer designates the author and the addressee: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1).

There are no serious doubts among commentators concerning the Pauline authorship of this epistle. Confined in a prison in Rome, well stricken in years, Paul writes a letter different from his other epistles. Controversy is absent. Warning against any particular error of doctrine is missing. Yet this particular difference causes no concern, for both the external and internal evidence are convincingly strong.

Paul designates himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He was alike Christ’s possession and His representative. The risen Lord having both saved and sent him, Paul became God’s minister to the Gentiles. Having completely surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, his learning, zeal, and teaching ability were all consecrated to the service of his Master. He was truly an apostle “by the will of God.”

“By the will of God” gives additional authority to Paul’s position as an apostle. When a man is sent by the will of God, then his hearers will do well to heed his message. Right here we might notice that the will of God is mentioned four times in this first chapter (verses 1, 5, 9, 11). The will of God reaches far back into eternity past, long before the foundations of the earth were laid. What a blessed privilege every servant of God has when he is called to make this known to others! Let us exercise the greatest care lest we interpose anything between the will of God and ourselves while we are here on earth. The human will has no place or function in redemption or in active service apart from the divine will. Every exercise of the spirit, mind and body reaches its loftiest position only when it is motivated by God’s will.

The letter is addressed “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word for “saint” is hagios, and it means a holy one. Paul usually applied this term to the true child of God. The primary meaning of the word is separated or set apart.

The Roman Catholic Church has tainted the word “saint” with so much superstition that it is almost impossible to restore it to its original and intended use. Today its application is to any who exhibit an exceptional, artificial type of piousness, or to those whose own works merit the Pope’s canonization. According to the Bible, all Christians are saints (Heb. 10:10, 14). The temple was at one time holy, not because of its materials and magnitude, but because it was a set-apart place for the service of Jehovah. The altars were holy, the vessels were holy, the sacrifices were holy, the priests were holy, all because they were divinely chosen to discharge the function of holy service to the Lord. People in their ignorance call theirs the “All Saints Church,” and refer to the apostles as “Saint Peter” and “Saint Paul,” but God calls all who have been washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus and born again by the Holy Spirit “saints” (I Cor. 1:2).

It is God who sanctifies us. He sets us apart; we do not consecrate ourselves. “Saint” suggests no personal merit on man’s part, but a condescending act of Almighty God in setting apart those who believe in His Son. H. A. Ironside has said: “We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.”

The letter, moreover, is intended for “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The “faithful” are not mere professors but those who demonstrate their sainthood by their saintliness. Faithfulness to Him whose name is held, bears witness to others of God’s calling. Faith in Christ is much more than intellectual assent; it includes a surrender of the intellect, the heart, and the will to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The name and fame of a church and its testimony will remain only so long as its members are “faithful in Christ Jesus.” When a man truly has faith in Christ he will keep faith with Christ. If one is not true to Christ, then he has exercised no faith in Christ.

The typical Pauline salutation continues with the words: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Paul combined the two forms of salutation used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to send his Christian greeting. Here is a twofold blessing from two persons. The Father sends His grace and peace; the Son says: “Give them Mine, also.” It could not be otherwise, since the Son shares the exalted position with the Father “in the heavenlies.” God and Christ are One, thus they are the one source of “grace and peace.” The gospel that Paul preached is always known as the gospel of grace, the gospel of the unmerited favor of God.

Notice that God will not offer peace apart from grace. Nor can any man have peace before he accepts God’s grace. These two words form no mere conventional courtesy, as the Greeks and Hebrews might use them, but rather are they a rich Christian blessing.

Are we saints? Then let us receive and appropriate what is ours, for what is sent to us we have a right to possess. All through the pages of the New Testament the grace and peace of God in Christ shine gloriously forth. To accept His grace is to know His peace--peace not only with Him but with others also. Ephesians will unfold for us “the riches of His grace” (1:7). Twelve times in this one epistle Paul uses the word “grace.” May each of us lay claim to our possessions.

All of the following blessings are ours because of grace:

  • salvation (Eph. 2:8)
  • justification (Rom. 3:24)
  • victory over sin (Rom. 5:20)
  • power to testify (Rom. 12:3, 15:15; Col. 4:6)
  • strength for service (II Tim. 2:1; Heb. 12:28)
  • a spirit of generosity (II Cor. 8:7)
  • sweetness in singing (Col. 3:16)
  • ability to stand (I Pet. 5:12)
  • strength in suffering (II Cor. 12:9)

There are doubtless many more, but these will suffice to show us the greatness of our need in appropriating God’s grace.

1. Paul’s Praise to God for What We Received (1:3-14)

The next verse is the key verse in the first half of the epistle, since it introduces us to the source of our wealth in Christ. It is definitely a word of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (1:3).

The adjective translated “blessed” means to celebrate with praises. At the very outset Paul magnifies the grace of God toward the Ephesians so that they, too, might be filled to overflowing with praise. God is said to bless us when He bestows upon us every provision for our spiritual peace and prosperity. We are said to bless God when we offer praise and thanksgiving for His provision.

More than twenty-five years had passed since Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ near Damascus. Still he was counting his blessings and praising God for them. Paul is not praising God because God desires to bless him, nor because God has determined to bless him at some future time, but because God “hath” blessed him. Yes, and “us”! God is the Blesser, and the blessed are those, and those only, who have received His Son as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “us” here are the “saints,” and as God’s set-apart ones we are eligible for the blessings.

The nature of the blessings is said to be “spiritual.” There is possibly more than one explanation of this. First, Paul might have intended to distinguish the blessings from those mercies of God that are material, physical, and temporal, that are intended particularly for the body. Second, Paul possibly meant by “spiritual blessings” those blessings pertaining to the Holy Spirit and intended to minister to the human spirit. The saint’s citizenship is in heaven, hence he no longer sets his affection on things in the earth. Moreover, his principal needs are spiritual so that he must be “strengthened with might by His [God’s] Spirit in the inner man” (3:16).

Too many of us place the emphasis upon those things that are temporal and transient while we neglect the values that are spiritual and eternal. The Father designed every spiritual blessing for the Church. They are ours “in Christ,” and are delivered to us by the Holy Spirit. The lasting joy that God bestows upon us is not in the things of this world, but rather in “heavenly places” or, better still, “in the heavenlies.” Ours are heavenly experiences and heavenly privileges conferred upon us by God in Christ. They originate among the eternal and unseen things.

The first of the believer’s possessions for which Paul praises God follows: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (1:4). We must see at the outset that all that God had done for us in Christ is “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). In eternity past, God had certain settled purposes which He accomplished at various times during the dispensations of human history, and here we are carried back into the remotest ages of past eternity where, says Paul, God was loving us and planning that all who are “in Christ . . . should be holy and without blame before Him.” God’s eternal choice, then, was that all who are in Christ should be a holy people.

The phrase “chosen us in Him” could be rendered “chose us for Himself.” Chose us for what? Not to everlasting life, but that we should be spotless for Himself! The election in the divine Mind was that all those in Christ should be “holy ones,” free from every defilement of sin.

It is not difficult to see how God should purpose in His heart, before the world came into existence, that He was going to have a holy people who would be to the praise of His glory and grace. To that end God created Adam, and in spite of the fall of man, God is still going to carry out His purpose in Christ. The divine choice will find its consummation when Christ returns for His bride “to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Temporarily we are in this world, but not of it. We were chosen to be holy before its foundations were laid; we are merely passing through it to another world. We might fail to practice holiness here, but the eternal purpose of God will be fulfilled when our Lord Returns and “we shall be like Him” (I John 3:2).

God has selected a people to be His holy habitation. Are you in that company, my friend? You are, if you are “in Christ.” If you are not, you may this very day join that holy band by trusting Him as your Saviour. Then you, too, will be a part of the true Church of God’s creation and design which, on the great presentation day, will be presented a glorious Church, “holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

The ultimate purpose of God’s choice is not salvation but sanctification. John Calvin stated that it is wrong to say that any of us may attain perfection in this life; nevertheless, this is the goal to which the whole course of our lives must be directed, even though we cannot reach it till we have finished our course. Let us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying with Paul: “. . . neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). And let us praise God that we have been chosen to be a part of the completed structure, a perfect Church throughout all eternity.

When God designed His Church in eternity past He “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (1:5). The American Standard Version makes it clear that the verb translated “predestinated” is “foreordained.” It means to appoint, or to determine beforehand.

To what have we been predestinated? Neither this verse nor any other verse in the Bible teaches that God decrees that some men are foreordained to everlasting life while others are foreordained to everlasting death. Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), and “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:3, 4).

Notice, please, that we have been foreordained unto adoption as sons. The word “adoption” is used only by Paul. To understand its meaning, you must lay aside the idea of the word as used today when, by a legal act, an adult person takes a minor, not his own, into the relation as his child. The adoption of the believer is still future, being a divine act whereby God sets a goal for the believer. Paul states clearly that our adoption is something for which the believer is “waiting” (Rom. 8:23), having been foreordained “unto” adoption. Although we do have here and now the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), His Presence in us is merely the seal, or guarantee of a future act of son-placing. Adoption does not mean son-making, for in eternity we shall be sons no more than we are now but, rather, at that time, we shall be properly placed in God’s show-case and displayed as sons. God has predestinated us unto the adoption--it is future. Therefore, His sovereign act of adoption can have nothing whatever to do with His choice of us.

In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul explains how Jesus Christ secured our adoption for us by His death at Calvary in order that “we might receive” it (Gal. 4:5). Our present standing is that of sons; for, “beloved, now are we the sons of God.” And how wonderful this is! But, adds the Apostle John: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be” (I John 3:2). The fact of our present son-making and our future son-placing were all “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Our future position, which was God’s choice, was not only His will but His enjoyment. The mightiest angel in heaven will not share in the glory of the believer’s future position.

If you, dear reader, are not a son of God, your future is dark indeed. But even now there is time. If you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, God will make you His son now and place you in an exalted position as His son in eternity. Then you, too, will join in praise to God for His goodness.

Verse six teaches us that every true believer has been foreordained to be such a trophy of the grace of God as to cause men to praise the glory of His grace. Paul writes: “To the Praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). These words, not to be considered by themselves, are just a link in a golden chain of thoughts beginning with verse 3.

God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing because He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, one day to place us on display as His glorified sons. Then His holy and unblemished Church will cause men and angels to acknowledge the wonders of His infinite love and grace toward sinners.

God has foreordained that men shall extol and praise His grace in all its eternal glory. This is the terminus of His kindness toward sinners. Today this is demonstrated only meagerly in the lives of His true followers, but in the end of the age “He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (II Thess. 1:10).

The Lord of heaven and earth will be wondered at by all when the Church Age has run its course and the last member has been added to the Church. With mingled surprise and admiration, the spectators of earth and hell will marvel at the monument of divine grace. All who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are certain to be present and a part of that magnificent exhibition, for, adds the apostle: “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” We are already accepted in the Father’s presence because we are in Christ. What condescending love and grace! We are accepted, but only because the Father has “made us” so. Let us continue to praise God, not only for what we have been saved from, but for what we are saved to.

These verses (1:3-14) are referred to by Charles R. Erdman as a hymn of praise consisting of three stanzas. He says that the first relates to the past: God the Father is the subject, and the refrain closes with the words, “To the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). The second stanza relates to the present: God the Son is the subject, and it concludes “to the praise of His glory” (1:12). The third stanza relates to the future: God the Holy Spirit is the subject, and it concludes “unto the praise of His glory” (1:14). And then Dr. Erdman shows that the three stanzas are bound into a harmonious unity by recurring references to Christ: “In the Beloved,” “In Christ,” “In Whom.”

We have come now to the second stanza of Paul’s wonderful hymn of praise (1:7-12). The first stanza makes clear the work of God in grace in eternity past. The second shows God’s grace manifested toward us now in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Paul continues: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (1:7). Before the sinner becomes saved he is a captive in the slave-market of sin. He is sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil. As a slave in bondage he needs to be freed. Someone must purchase him and take him out of the market of sin. Christians, once bondmen, now have redemption.

The word “redemption” appears three times in Ephesians, and it means to set free by the payment of a ransom. The ransom price of the slave is the blood of Jesus Christ, and if any man is to be released from the power and penalty of sin it must be “through His blood.” The penalty for sin is death (Gen. 2:17). Death is sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23). Only a substitute life will satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the Son of man gave His life a “ransom” (Matt. 20:28), all who trust in Him are assured of release from sin’s power and penalty, but only “through His blood.” In the first stanza, the Father plans our redemption (1:4-6); in the second, the Son provides it. We shall never be able to overestimate the worth and power of the death of Jesus Christ. God displayed His wisdom and power in creation, but only in the death of His Son do we see a manifestation of divine compassion for sinners, and the only responsibility imposed upon sinners is that of believing. Redemption is a present fact: “we have redemption.”

Paul includes in the same sentence, “the forgiveness of sins.” To “forgive” is to release from guilt. God holds resentment against the unbeliever, the resentment being justly provoked by a violation of His holiness; but when the sinner comes to Christ, guilt is removed and resentment ceases. A man may forgive a friend who has wronged him, but the forgiveness cannot cancel the guilt. But when God forgives a sinner He actually remits the sin and removes the guilt. Forgiveness for the believing sinner is an act of God whereby He sets aside absolutely and eternally, by judicial decree, all condemnation and guilt. Judicial forgiveness, in contradistinction to the Father’s forgiveness of His sinning child (I John 1:9), covers all sin, and by it the believing sinner is pardoned forever. It forever absolves and acquits the sinner. But forgiveness was dear to the Forgiver. It cost the life of God’s Son.

Observe the measureless abundance of divine forgiveness--“according to the riches of His Grace” (1:7). No adequate explanation of divine forgiveness can be made apart from those beautiful and precious words. Only the view of the depth and degradation of our sin will cause us to appreciate in any degree the limitless ill-merited favor of God. The word “according” shows the measure of God’s grace in forgiveness. “Riches” suggests the inexhaustible springs of liberality. Have you ever tried to estimate how rich God is in grace? He has grace enough for every sinner and riches to spare. And to think He gives liberally to all in proportion to His riches!

That we might know the eternal purpose of God provided for us in His Son, “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (1:8). God makes His purpose known and then gives His children the capacity to understand and appreciate it. The truths of God are deep truths, but “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). The desire in the Father’s heart is that His Church should know the secret things of His divine plan. The Word of God is the revelation of His counsels, and all who search the Word may have an intelligent understanding of His wonderful plan. We, as the redeemed saints of God, “have the mind of Christ” and can foresee the ultimate destiny of the whole creation.

How does God abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence? The answer comes to us in the next verses: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness 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” (1:9-10). This is the manner in which He made His grace to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligent understanding. He made known unto us the mystery.

A mystery is a truth once hidden but now revealed. A mystery is not mysterious in the present connotative meaning of the word but a secret now revealed by God. There are a number of mysteries in the New Testament, the true meaning of which God disclosed to Paul. In confidence God has much to tell His own concerning His plan for Israel, the Church, and the world. All of the purposes of God find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This present dispensation began with the revelation of God in the virgin birth and virtuous life of His Son. The revelation reached its climax at Calvary. And He continued to reveal Himself in His bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven.

At this moment the authority of Jesus Christ is not fully acknowledged in the earth, but in the end of the age all things in heaven and in earth will find their headship in Christ. In Colossians, Christ is seen as “the Head of the body, the Church,” but when He comes again, by Him God will reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things in the earth or things in heaven. God will head up all things in Christ. Many military leaders have dreamed of world empires, but God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

The “times,” or seasons, suggest that God is developing His plan through a series of definite and successive stages, the fullness of which has not yet come. However, it is God’s intention in the final important season to send His Son to earth again to sum up all things in Him. This divine intention was at one time unknown, even to the prophets, but according to God’s good pleasure He has made it known to us now. Our Lord’s first coming was in the fullness of time. However, in that day He will not merely offer Himself but will establish His throne and rule with a rod of iron.

When speaking of the future glory of Christ, the apostle is reminded again of the believer’s position, for in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (1:11). The real meaning of this verse is missed entirely if we hold to the King James Version. Let us see it in the American Standard Version--“In whom also we were made a heritage . . .” (1:11, A.S.V.). We just saw in verse 10 how that everything in heaven and earth will be unified in Christ. Now Paul adds that, in Christ, the believer is God’s chosen portion or private possession. The saints are predestinated to be His inheritance. Of Israel it was said: “Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance”; “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deut. 9:29; 32:9). When Christ returns in glory to establish His kingdom, all history and creation will be combined in a glorious and harmonious consummation as His inheritance, but the apex of His inheritance will be those whom He has redeemed with His own blood along with regathered Israel. This is God’s eternal purpose and He works all things after the counsel of His own will. What majestic beauty and simplicity in the purpose of God! It is not merely that Christ shall receive the earth and all that is in it, but that we have been made His heritage.

Only as we are “in Christ” are we God’s inheritance, and the reason He made us His inheritance is “That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ” (1:12). Though now we are the objects of His love and mercy, eventually we shall be the subjects of His glory.

Speaking through the Prophet Malachi, God said: “And they shall be Mine . . . in that day when I make up My jewels” (Mal. 3:17). Here the word “jewels” means special treasure, and it is used first of David who, upon setting his affection on the house of the Lord, stored away his treasure of gold and silver for the building of the temple. Even so God is storing away His special treasure, building a holy temple, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). As God looks down upon this sinful earth He sees a company of despised followers of His Son, and He says: “They shall be Mine when I make up My special treasure.”

We are of greater worth to God than angels. We are His costly treasure! Someone has said: “When God found me, I was no better than a cobblestone--not worth picking up. But He took me into His laboratory of grace, and by the chemistry of atoning blood He processed me, and I came out as His jewel--a bit rough, I’ll admit, but after a few years of cutting, buffing, and polishing, He will present me at last before His throne absolutely flawless.” How wonderful it all is! Thus the second stanza of this wonderful hymn of praise concludes “to the praise of His [Christ’s] glory.”

We come now to the third and last stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise (1:13-14). In the first stanza (1:3-6), we saw the plan of the Father wherein we were chosen, predestinated, and adopted that we might be to the praise of His glory. In the second stanza (1:7-12), we saw the provision of the Son wherein we were redeemed and forgiven that we might be to the praise of His glory. Now we are to look at the last stanza (1:13-14), wherein we see the pledge of the Spirit unto the praise of His glory. The Father finished His plan. The Son finished the work which the Father gave Him to do. Now the Holy Spirit is in the world fulfilling His pledge.

Verse 13 contains three prominent words, each essential to the other. They are “heard,” “believed,” and “sealed.” Here we shall see the work of the Holy Spirit in the divine plan. All three Persons in the Godhead have had a pertinent part in man’s redemption.

What is the Spirit’s work? All men being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, man needs new life. Since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), He quickens us from spiritual death.

How does the Spirit accomplish this quickening? The instrument He uses is the Word of God. In Ephesians it is called “the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Elsewhere we are reminded that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Paul says: “Ye heard,” and “ye believed.” It is through the Word that men are born again, “For the Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, A.S.V.). Only when we hear the gospel are we born again by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5), “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23). The written Word of God is the living, active, sharp, penetrating, discerning sword of the Spirit by which men are brought face to face with God’s plan of salvation. The duty of the sword of the Spirit is to bring life, but all who refuse it are slain by it. We cannot adequately explain our salvation apart from the Spirit’s ministry through the Word.

Upon “hearing” and “believing” the Word, immediately “ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). When we hear the gospel our part is to believe; it is God’s part to seal. We are not sealed by the Spirit but, rather, with the Spirit. Better still, the Spirit is the seal. It is “God who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (I Cor. 1:21-22).

A seal is a mark of authenticity or genuineness. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). True believers are the credentials of Christ, His letters of recommendation to a lost world. A letter is the written expression of the writer; hence the children of God are not those whose names are written in ink or engraved in stone, but those upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has written the evidence of the power of God’s Word. The distinguishing mark between the false professor and the true Christian is the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, a seal is the mark of ownership. God knows us by His seal. Jesus said: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14). As livestock are distinguished by the owner’s brand, even so God has His own special brand whereby we are marked out as His possession, and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). The stamp of validity is God’s seal, the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the sign that we are His people and members of the true Church of Jesus Christ.

Then, too, the seal is the mark of security, for the Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:14). Here is the answer to the problem some men have regarding the preservation of the believer. Wherein does our security lie? The word “earnest” denotes a down payment, or a pledge that an agreement will be kept. Now God has offered us eternal life upon belief on His Son. But can we be certain that we shall enter into that life after we die? Yes, indeed! The earnest bound the bargain, and the deposit will not be returned until the remainder of our redemption, which is the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23) is fully realized. The Holy Spirit is in the earth as God’s deposit, or guarantee, until Jesus Christ comes again to receive His own unto Himself. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee of a finished transaction and a safe delivery of spirit, soul, and body to heaven. Our future inheritance of glory is assured, for the sealing with the Spirit is designed to give us certainty that the future will bring a completed redemption, and that “unto the praise of His glory.”

2. Paul’s Prayer to God for What We Require (1:15-23)

The epistles of Paul are noted for their prayers offered to God in the interest of the saints. W. H. Griffith Thomas has said that there are few more precious subjects for meditation and imitation than the prayers and intercessions of the great apostle. The greatness of the man and his ministry can be attributed in a large part to his prayer life.

There are two prayers of Paul recorded in Ephesians. The first prayer is before us; the second is to be found in 3:14-19. If prayer for others is a test of one’s own spiritual life, then Paul ranks high among the godly leaders in the history of the Church. Most of our prayers are taken up with ourselves or with those nearest and dearest to us. Needs of others occupy a small place in our prayer life. Paul’s prayers are included by the Holy Spirit as a corporate part of the epistle.

First, consider the occasion of the prayer. It commences with the word “wherefore,” which literally means on account of this. In the preceding verses Paul has issued, by the Holy Spirit, some profound teaching on the work of the triune God in making plans for the completed redemption of all believers. Now, because of this, he desires that they should possess an experiential knowledge, having the doctrine transmitted into actual experience. He would have them enjoy the full scope of their inheritance in Christ.

Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for the saints at Ephesus, for, says he: “I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints” (1:15). Two things about the Ephesian Christians were controversial pieces: (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love to all the saints.

The object of their faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not ashamed of Him, for obviously others were hearing of their faith. Paul says: “I heard.” Where people are soundly saved they will not hide their light under a bushel, but will proclaim the joys of salvation found in Christ. Then, too, where faith is genuine, love will be in evidence. One of the unmistakable signs of the new birth is one’s conduct toward “all the saints.” True Christian love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Where He is in control, there must be love to all the saints. Love is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, for “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). While true love embraces all men, it reaches out in a particular way to those who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6:10). Faith begets love.

Let us consider further the objectives of the prayer. Paul’s earnestness made his prayers intelligent and specific. He knew that general prayers could expect general answers, so why pray if there was nothing to pray about? But he did pray, and the Holy Spirit has preserved for us one of the most profound petitions in all of the apostle’s writings.

The prayer is addressed to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory” (1:17). This suggests to us that the Christian’s God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Father to whom glory belongs, for He is “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2). And to think that the Father to whom glory belongs, who is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), the “Father of [our] Spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and the “Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17), is our Father! O Christian, rejoice! How can a Christian ever think of calling any man his holy father, as Romanists do, when he has God as his Father? Our heavenly Father is the source of every blessing. To Him be all glory! The first request in the prayer is for “wisdom and revelation” (1:17). When Paul requests for the saints “the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” he is not praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit’s Presence. They have already received the Holy Spirit as the divine seal (1:13). Paul desires for them that heavenly wisdom and revelation which is imparted by the Holy Spirit.

“Revelation” is the important word here, for revelation is the key to all knowledge. The ministry and office work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the Christian the meaning of all truth, whether historical or prophetical (John 14:26; 16:12-15). The Christian has no excuse for ignorance, since the Holy Spirit was given to reveal even “the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10). Some men are wise in Hebrew and Greek grammar and the mechanics of Bible interpretation, but Paul is not praying for the tools of knowledge. He covets for them a wise and understanding spirit that none can impart but the Holy Spirit Himself.

Why do Christians not have a wise and understanding spirit in things pertaining to God’s Word? The answer lies, in part, in the last phrase of verse 17, namely, “in the knowledge of Him.” Christ is true wisdom and true knowledge. Three other translations of this verse make the deeper meaning clear:

That the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father glory-clad, may, in bestowing the full knowledge of Himself, bestow on you the Spirit which is manifested in divine illumination and insight into the mysteries of God (Way).

For I always beseech the God of our Lord Jesus Christ--the Father most glorious--to give you the spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him (Weymouth).

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may grant you the Spirit to give wisdom and revelation which come through a growing knowledge of Him (Williams).

Surely you have caught the force of Paul’s statement. Wisdom and revelation come to us only by intimate associations with our Lord. A growing knowledge of the Author of the Bible guarantees a wise and understanding spirit in discernment of His Word. Paul would have us seek to know God, for then we shall have a Spirit-given knowledge which is accurate and thorough (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9), not merely an intellectual knowledge. Human philosophy says: “Know thyself.” Our Lord said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). Ordinary knowledge may be acquired; spiritual insight into the deep things of God is a gift (Jas. 1:5).

The prayer continues: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (1:18). The American Standard Version reads: “the eyes of your heart,” not mind. The “heart” is the inner man, including the emotion and will; it is the whole self, man’s inward being. This marvelous faculty of spiritual sight is lacking in the unregenerated man. He is powerless to apprehend spiritual things. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Now the eyes of the believer’s heart must be continually taken up with his Lord in order that his knowledge of spiritual truth might increase.

Paul requests for the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ that they might know three things:

(1) “The hope of His calling.” God has called us, but to what purpose? He has called us to perfection in the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; I John 3:1-2). He has called us to a completed righteousness and to the completed redemption of our bodies. He does not call a believer to hope for the forgiveness of his sins: they are gone. The hope of His calling is to see Him and be one with Him. One day our Lord will come again, and we shall all be changed to see Him as He is and to be like Him. Such a glorious hope inspires to holy living and to a hatred of all that is of this world. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3). All Christians have the same hope. It is Christ’s coming to take His own to be with Himself.

(2) “The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Here Paul prays that we might have a full appreciation of our worth to God. Already we have noted that God made us His heritage that we should be to the praise of His glory (1:11-12). God has an inheritance. His inheritance is in His saints. The gold and the silver and all the universes are His. He has riches untold. But His riches are not in the universes that He possesses, nor in the substance of the earth that is His, but in the saints that He purchased at infinite cost, namely, the precious blood of His only begotten Son (I Pet. 1:19). Beloved Christian, think not of what you can get from God but, rather, think of what you mean to God. The Christian Church is precious to God. He purchased it and paid for it with the blood of His Son. Paul would have us appreciate our dignity. I cannot understand how this can be, but I know that God has an inheritance even in me.

(3) “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (1:19). What an objective in prayer! That men might know the measure of God’s power. The Christian needs supernatural power, and God would have us see how great is His power to accomplish His purposes in us. How much spiritual strength is available for me in my daily life? How much divine energy is at my disposal? The power that God has made available to the believer is “according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (1:19-21). Here is the inexhaustible strength of God in taking His crucified Son who was dead and buried, and raising Him from among the dead to His present majestic position in heaven. What power! The same continuous current of His mighty power stands available to the faithful, to all who will believe.

Can you conceive this? The power which raised Christ from the grave, lifted Him to heaven, put all things under His feet and made Him the Head over all to the Church, is to us-ward who believe. How can we fail with Him as our Head and with such power at our disposal?

Now consider the last phrase. God “gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (1:22-23). Jesus Christ has been exalted to absolute authority over His Church, hence through His sovereign Person and exalted position the Church takes her orders. He is the exalted Head over all. The order of the Church must be His will and every activity must exalt Him, since it is in the capacity of Head over all that God gave Him to the Church. When the members of the Church recognize this, then there will be no lack, for the Church will receive its fullness from Him. As the recognized Head He imparts the needed strength to accomplish every task. When the visible body of Christ on earth recognizes the invisible Head in heaven, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Popes, cardinals, and bishops are merely men; and when any man sets himself up as the head of Christ’s Church, it is sacrilege of the basest sort. Beloved, let us take our position in subjection to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may enjoy victory all along the way, for we cannot be complete without Him (Col. 2:9-10).

Chapter 2:
The Christian’s Past Position in the World

The theme of Ephesians is Christ and His Church. In chapter one, the Church is likened to a body of which Christ is the Head. The Head is in heaven, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world, the Body, which is Christ’s purchased possession, is being formed. The Head without the Body is incomplete. When the Body is complete, the Head will come to unite the Body to Himself, never to be separated.

The symbolism is beautiful. In chapter two, the Church is likened to a building. Paul speaks of its foundation as being “the apostles and prophets,” its chief Corner-Stone is “Jesus Christ Himself,” and believers fitly framed together form “an holy temple in the Lord . . . for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (2:19-22). Such is the creation and design of the Church.

Ephesians is the thrilling story of how God creates anew the man that He created originally in His own image and likeness, but who, through disobedience, fell from his lofty position. The plan involved a perfect Head for the Body and a perfect Head-Stone for the Building. So in the fullness of time God sent His Son in a human body, and through His virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection, and visible return, He is restoring to the Father His fallen creature.

In our present chapter Paul shows the need for being made a new creation by reviewing the believer’s past history before he became saved. He shows the unregenerated man to be separated from God both by death and distance. It is a portrait of what every unsaved man is, and what every saved person was before trusting in Christ.

1. Separated by Death (2:1-10)

These verses are marked by a series of triplets. The three’s of the Bible make for interesting and instructive teaching. Bible triads represent strength and completeness. The Scripture says that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12). The verses before us contain a triad of evil and a triad of good: (a) the three ravaging forces are the world, the flesh, and the devil (verses 1-3); (b) the three redeeming facts are mercy, love, and grace (verses 4-6); and (c) the three resulting features are that the saints are made alive together with Christ, raised up together with Christ, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ.

    (a) Three Ravaging Forces (2:1-3)

The believer’s past position in the world was that of every unsaved man, “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1). The clearer the picture of our destitute condition before we were saved, the greater is our appreciation of what God has undertaken to do for us. The natural man is dead, a state into which he has come through trespasses and sins. “Man is separated from God because the life-cord has been severed.”

God had warned Adam: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Our first parents ignored the warning, and “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Sin and death came through Adam. In Adam’s sin all sinned; therefore in Adam’s sin all die. Because of the solidarity of the human race, no man has escaped sin. Therefore, death is universal.

Never in Scripture does death mean annihilation. H. S. Miller defines death as the separation of a person from the purpose or use for which he was intended. There are three kinds of death: (1) physical, the separation of the soul, or life, from the body (I Cor. 15:21-22; Heb. 9:27); (2) spiritual, the separation of the spirit from God (2:1; 4:18; I John 5:12); and (3) eternal, the everlasting banishment from the Presence of God (I Cor. 6:9, 10; II Thess. 1:9).

In Ephesians Paul speaks of spiritual death. The unsaved man may be physically and mentally alive to all of the pleasures of this world but dead spiritually (I Tim. 5:6). How foolish for someone who is spiritually dead to try to live the Christian life! It cannot be done. Suppose a person allows himself every indulgence and says to himself: “Ah, this is the life.” Then he comes to church occasionally to imitate the Christian life. Such effort is futile. You see, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men until we are made partakers of the life of God. Someone has said: “You cannot live a life for God until you receive life from God.” In physical death, the function of the body ceases; in spiritual death, there is no function of man’s spirit toward God. As far as the relation of the nations of the earth toward God is concerned, we live in a world of dead men. There is a state of intense physical activity, but until a man passes from death unto life (John 5:24), he remains alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18).

Three opposing forces of evil are responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death. The first of these is the world: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world . . .” (2:2). Here the word “world” should be translated “age.” The course of this age Paul describes in Galatians as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). The nature of the unregenerate man responds to the direction of the age, and the god of this age is Satan (II Cor. 4:4). This vile world is no friend to grace to help us on to God. Be not conformed to this age (Rom. 12:2) nor court its friendship (Jas. 4:4). Certainly “love not the world” (I John 2:15). The unsaved will follow the course and traditions of this world, but the Christian never! The world may answer the requirements of the unregenerate heart, but God’s true children seek those things which are above.

The second of the opposing forces responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death is the devi1. Paul said that in times past we walked “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (2:2). It has been pointed out already that a personal devil is the god of this age. The saints who have been born again were born into God’s kingdom (John 3:3), having been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). The unsaved man is still in Satan’s kingdom and therefore is Satan’s slave. Satan separates men from God by blinding their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (II Cor. 4:4). Of course their blindness is self-chosen. They refused to believe. By rejecting their Deliverer, they fell into the clutches of Satan.

The great spiritual struggle in the world is the control of the soul of man--the God of light and life versus the god of darkness and death. If you are a rebel against God, then you are ruled by Satan, and he will continue his evil work in you to keep you separated from God. I shrink from the horror of my past, but I praise God for His remarkable delivering power.

The spiritually dead are held in separation from God, not only by the world and the devil but also by the flesh: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (2:3). With our sin-controlled nature we formerly behaved ourselves according to our sensual appetites. Beloved Christian, this was our past. When I look at the pleasure-mad, lust-craving throngs today, I see myself as I was before God saved me by His power. And all Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, yielded to the desires of the flesh and the cravings after those things that were not good for them. I was a corpse in the cesspool of corruption when the Lord Jesus found me, but, praise God, He has given me His life and now my desires are toward Him. I was worthy to be judged, but now I am justified in Christ.

    (b) Three Redeeming Facts (2:4-5)

After Paul shows how three ravaging forces of evil separated us from God, he lists three redeeming facts: the fact of God’s mercy, the fact of His love, and the fact of His grace. The transition is marked with the words, “but God” (2:4). These words mark the turning point of man’s destiny. We were separated from God by the world, the devil, and the flesh, “but God!” God intervened and, were it not for His divine intervention, we would still be dead in our sins and separated from Him. Against the dark picture of human ruin we see divine redemption. Doomed to wrath, but God!

There is the fact of His mercy: “But God, who is rich in mercy . . .” (2:4). Praise God for His mercy, for it was mercy we needed. What is mercy? It is God’s exercise of pity and compassion upon the sinner with a forbearance he does not deserve. The whole of our salvation is ascribed to the mercy of God, and He is “rich in mercy.” Indeed, the Lord is merciful, full of mercy (Psalm 103:8). When the holy and eternal God who hates sin, loves and saves the sinner, that is mercy. He is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), and we need only come to His throne of grace to obtain mercy (Heb. 4:16). In chapter one we saw “the riches of His grace” (1:7) and “the riches of His glory” (1:18), and here we read that He is rich in mercy. Let us say with the Apostle Peter: “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” (I Pet. 1:3).

Then, too, there is the fact of His love: “. . . for His great love wherewith He loved us” (2:4). Abundant mercy and great love! Oh, the love of God! Who can fathom it? Who can explain it? We can do nothing better than ponder His own Word: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9).

Could I with ink the ocean fill,
Were the whole sky of parchment made,
Were every blade of grass a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though spread from sky to sky.

Finally, there is the fact of His grace: “By grace ye are saved” (2:5, 8). Grace is everything for nothing. It is helping the helpless, going to those who cannot come in their own strength. Grace sets aside my unrighteousness and demerit and gives me a righteousness I do not merit. God owes me nothing but He offers me complete salvation. That is grace. Man could do nothing whatever to plan his own salvation. It was planned by God before the foundation of the world. The world, the devil, and the flesh separated me from God; but by His mercy, love, and grace, He saved me.

    (c) Three Resulting Features (2:5-10)

We are to see now, in part, what God’s mercy, love, and grace accomplished for us. First, with Christ we were made alive--“quickened together” (2:5). We were spiritually dead; now we have been made spiritually alive. The believer passes through the same experience spiritually that the Lord Jesus did physically. We were crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). We died with Christ (Rom. 6:8); we were buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12); we have been made alive with Christ. Since He died our death, we died with Him. When you were saved, a dead man became alive, and to you was given a life you never possessed before. The same life-giving power that was demonstrated when our Lord gave life to the dead, when He Himself came forth from the dead, and when He will yet call forth from the graves all who have died, is the power at work in giving new life to the sinner who is spiritually dead. Our Lord Jesus said: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). That is the power at work when one is born again. The voice of God is the voice of power, and when a man hears and believes the Word of God, he “is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

Men do not get life through baptism, or the Lord’s supper, or church membership, but through hearing and believing the Word of God. And if the Word of life goes unheeded, the same God who offers new life to the sinner will one day banish the unbeliever from His presence forever. “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). Spiritual life, if it comes at all, must come from God. God wants to put new life in man, His own life, and this He will do only by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit. The receiving of this life is instantaneous the moment we, by the Spirit, believe the Word. Christ died and came forth from the grave alive; thus the believing sinner receives the life of the Son of God which is both spiritual and eternal.

The second miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “hath raised us up together . . . in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Dr. A. C. Gaebelein has pointed out that quickening and resurrection are not one and the same thing. Quickening means the giving of life. Resurrection, however, is the placing of that given life into the proper sphere. Having been quickened, or made alive, God has given to us a new position in the world.

When our Lord called Lazarus from death and the grave, “he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:43-44). In contrast to the condition of Lazarus when he received life, John and Peter, upon looking into Christ’s tomb, found both the linen clothes and the napkin that was about his head still lying in the tomb (John 20:4-7).

Too many professing Christians are like Lazarus who, while testifying to the fact of having received new life, know nothing of the blessed liberty that accompanies the new life. Many professing Christians are still bound by the grave-clothes of tradition and law and unbelief. You see, the unloosing of the grave-clothes was the condition of exercising the life in its proper sphere. Moreover, if the grave-clothes had not been removed, Lazarus would have sunk back into the tomb. When our Lord imparts new life, He delivers the sinner from the grave-clothes, which speak of the bondage of the law and sin. How sad to find so many in our churches cumbered with the death wrappings of those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins! “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The believer’s resurrection with Christ is an escape from the bondage of sin, for he is “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Our spiritual resurrection is to effect a walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

Romans 6 explains how God deals with sin in the believer’s nature. The believer’s old nature, with its sinful possibilities, is never eradicated in this present life. Instead of the false teaching of eradication of sin, the Scriptures affirm the truth of the believer’s identification with Christ. Our Lord not only died for our sins (I Cor. 15:3), but “He died unto sin” (Rom. 6:10), and in the divine reckoning we died with Christ to sin. However, Christ did not remain in the grave; He was raised from the dead henceforth to walk in a new kind of life. Now “if we [believers] have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). No one can share Christ’s resurrection life who has not died with Him and who has not been made alive with Him. Judicially, Christ did not die His own death but ours. Likewise, when He was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him.

It is an essential fact that the saved man has been made alive with Christ. By an amazing and mighty act of God He reached down through human history and made His Holy Son one with the entire human race, thereby bringing into a perfect and mysterious union and oneness the life of the perfect Son of God and that of the sin-scarred posterity of Adam. The persons, then, who stand fused in this remarkable coalescence are Jesus Christ and the believing sinner. While some professing believers do not break completely from the fetters of the old life, there is a glorious future awaiting the redeemed. Paul wrote: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).

Dear reader, do you say that you are a Christian? “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1, 2).

The third miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Not only was our Lord made alive and raised from the dead, but He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10-11), even “on high” (Eph. 4:8) where God has highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:9). So it is with the Christian. He has been delivered from hell to heaven itself. This experience is not perfected in this present life, but it is very definitely so in a spiritual sense. As resurrection and quickening are not one and the same, even so ascension. In Old Testament times none but the high priest could enter into the holy place and, when he did, he represented all Israel; for he had their names upon the breast and shoulders of his garments. Christ is our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17), even Jesus the Son of God who is passed into the heavens. He is both understanding and compassionate (Heb. 4:14-15) as He intercedes in our behalf.

Now the wonder and glory of it all is that, when the eternal Son left heaven’s heights and descended to man’s lowest depths (Phil. 2:5-8), He paid our debt, delivering us from death and hell, and took us back with Himself. Here is the amazing outreach of God’s grace and the height of Christian position. Not only did Christ love us and wash us from our sins, but He “hath made us kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We are as royalty in the presence of Royalty, since we are both a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:5, 9). Each member of Christ’s true Church is a holy and royal priest called to the ministry of intercession and of offering up spiritual sacrifices to God. The saints not only comprise a spiritual house but the priesthood of that house. Priests were those who carried on the worship; thus any vested priesthood ordained of men is contrary to the plain teaching of God’s Word, since the saints comprise the only true priesthood.

Are we truly serving as priests, drawing near to God to offer up sacrifices of praise and intercession? Under the old covenant no individual ever held the offices of priest and king simultaneously. Such an honor was reserved for our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Zechariah prophesied: “He shall be a Priest upon His throne” (Zech. 6:13). Now, as priests, we enter into the Holiest where our great High Priest has gone, and when He comes again to reign we, too, shall reign with Him. And while we wait for that day, let us exercise our priestly privilege. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15).

We come now to an important question, namely: “Why has God bestowed upon us the fruits of His mercy, love and grace?” Paul answers: “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (2:7). Through all the millenniums to come in eternity, God will exhibit His glory and grace in those whom He has redeemed. The great purpose of God in redemption is not merely the safety and happiness of the redeemed, but His own glory. What a monument it will be! Angels and demons will see and know that God has triumphed through His Son. We look into eternity past and see the divine plan of the Church before the foundation of the world; we look into eternity future and see the perfected Church on exhibition as a trophy of the mercy, love, and grace of God, and that to the praise of His glory. Indeed, the remembrance of such kindness must be hallowed throughout eternity.

And oh, the certainty of it here and now! Not that we hope to be saved eventually, but “by grace are ye saved” (2:8). The entire transaction has been signed, sealed, and delivered, for “by grace have ye been saved.” The only appropriating agency in salvation is “faith,” and even that is not of ourselves: “it is the gift of God.” No works of man could put him in right standing with God, for then would he have whereof to boast. But God has justified us by His grace in order that not any one should glory. From start to finish salvation is the gift of God. Faith is the instrument by which we receive the gift, but even faith is a gift which comes to man by the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). God’s plan of salvation for the soul of man is finished, and redemption is free. Therefore you have only to believe, and God will save you for eternity. Praise Him for salvation.

Good works, nevertheless, have an important place in the life of every Christian: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (2:10). The “good works” spoken of here constitute one of the purposes of God in saving us, and these can be performed only by those who have been saved by grace. The word rendered “ordained” may be translated “prepared,” suggesting that God has cut out for each of us a special work of his own preparation. There must be an exhibition of the fruits of grace in this life as well as in the ages to come.

Notice, please, that the “good works” assigned to us are not our good works but His. These gifts our ascended Lord distributes to His own, and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we are able to use them. We are His workmanship doing His works. We may gaze upon the sun, the moon, the stars, the snow-capped mountains, or the beautiful flowers of every season, but these are not the best workmanship of God. The Church is God’s masterpiece, and it is the loftiest conception of beauty, unity, and usefulness--above everything else in the earth. God takes rough, crude sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, and produces vessels meet for the Master’s use. Sin-marred, defective material is transformed by God into useful instruments of righteousness. Now that we know this, life should be sacred to each of us.

2. Separated by Distance (2:11-22)

The general theme in the verses before us differs little, if at all, from that contained in the preceding verses of this chapter. Here are listed more characteristics of the natural man, proving the need of regeneration. However, the message here seems to be directed in a peculiar way to the Gentiles alone. Before the day of Pentecost, which day was the birthday of the Church, the Gentiles included all people in the earth who were not Jews. Since Pentecost God sees a threefold division of the human race: the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God (I Cor. 10:32), the last being made up of Jew and Gentile who have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s usage of the pronouns “we” and “ye” shows that he had in mind the condition of man in general in verses 1-3, and the condition of the Gentile in particular in verses 11-13.

    (a) The Condition of the Past.

The key phrase in this portion of our study is “far off” (2:13), suggesting separation by distance. Before the Gentile was saved he was separated from God by a great gulf. We were “Gentiles in the flesh . . . called uncircumcision” (2:11). Circumcision was originally a rite enjoined by God upon Abraham as a sign of the covenant God made with him. Later it took on a definite religious and moral significance. Hence the Jews became known as “the circumcision” and looked with reproach upon the Gentiles to whom they referred as “the uncircumcised” (I Sam. 17:26, 36; II Sam. 1:20).

Actually the Gentiles were inferior to the Jews in that they were separated from the sacrifices and religious privileges that united Jewish believers to God. Of course there were those who were Jews in name only; and while they proudly called themselves “the circumcision,” they were Jews outwardly and not inwardly, for they lacked that real circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). The Gentile at that time stood condemned before God. After the flood God’s covenants were all made to Israel, giving Israel hope which the Gentiles lacked.

Then, too, the Gentiles were “without Christ” (2:12). While every unsaved man, both Jew and Gentile, is without Christ, the Gentiles were separated by a greater distance, since the Jew had the types, symbols, and prophecies that pointed to the coming Person and work of the Messiah. When Paul referred to God’s dealings with Israel, he said: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [or types]” (I Cor. 10:11). In the Old Testament every hope of the Jew centered in the Messiah, for in Him their every expectation was to be fulfilled. All of the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ were to the Jews and, as we shall see later, it was not until His death at Calvary that He became the world’s Saviour.

Now when one is “without Christ” he has “no hope.” Even as the Gentiles were without hope before Christ came, so is every man today who has not trusted in Christ. There is no hope for the world or for the individual apart from Christ, but in Him God has given “everlasting consolation and good hope” (II Thess. 2:16). The “blessed hope” of the believer is the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He is Israel’s hope and the only hope of the world.

Paul pictures the Gentiles finally as being “without God in the world” (2:12). While they had “gods many, and lords many” (I Cor. 8:5), they were in a true sense of the word atheists, since they were alienated from any contact with God. No sadder plight can befall a man than that of being in the world without God.

    (b) The Contrasts with the Present.

Again divine intervention marks a transition. When Paul pointed out the sad past of both Jew and Gentile, he contrasted the bright side of the picture by using the conjunction “but”-- “But God . . .” (2:4). Here the contrast between the unsaved Gentile and the saved Gentile is marked with the connecting words, “But now . . .” (2:13). From the distressing scene of what the Gentiles had been, Paul turns in vivid phrases to show what had been accomplished for them in Christ. They were “far off . . . but now . . . made nigh.” Once distance had separated them from Christ; now they are enjoying blessed union with Christ.

In antithesis to the Gentile being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger from the covenants of promise, he is created a new unity with the believing Jew. Christ became peace, having made both Jew and Gentile one by breaking down the middle wall of partition (2:14). The outer court in the temple for Gentiles was separated from the inner court for Jews, but when Christ came He broke down the partition. At the same time He abolished the enmity, which was the ordinances of the law, the rites, and ceremonies. These unobserved laws had caused the Jews to despise them (2:15). But now “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4), by which (faith) He has created a union of Jew and Gentile. This new creation does not make a Jew into a Gentile, nor a Gentile into a Jew. Rather did our Lord “make in Himself of twain one new man” (2:15). Here is the true Church, a new organism in which the believing Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in “one body” (2:16). Thus the whole world is blessed in Abraham according to promise, “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:14). Now the believing Gentile has received every spiritual privilege that Israel has, including spiritual circumcision (Col. 2:11).

Sin separated man not only from God but also from man. Man needed to be reconciled to God, but there had to be a conciliation between man and man also. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Conciliator to abolish enmity and make peace, and we know of no other meeting-place where man can be at peace with man. You see, both Jew and Gentile had to be at peace with God before they could be at peace with each other, and only in Christ can the Jew forget that he is a Jew and the Gentile that he is a Gentile. Thank God that neither Jew nor Gentile can boast of one having had a better patch-up job than the other. This new man is not the result of any mere outward putting on, but is a “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17) in Christ Jesus.

Now “through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (2:18). There can be no boast as to which man’s religion or church gives him access to God. There are no advantages in being a Jew or a Gentile now. Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant and only “through Him” can there be access to the Father. The Lord Jesus said: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6), and that through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one household: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19). We are both in one family, hence we are no longer strangers, no longer unknown to one another. There is now the intimate association of family life; we are brothers in Christ. We possess the same citizenship, not living as neighbors but as the saints and sons of God in the same house with God.

The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one holy temple: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (2:20-21). Paul adds that the Church is a building, a holy temple, the New Testament prophets and apostles forming the foundation and Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. It is Christ Himself who holds together the foundation and the superstructure. Think of it, dear Christian, we are the habitation of God (2:22), His dwelling place on earth. Does your heart enter into this blessed truth? God has taken up His residence in the Church, in each believer. The true Church is of perfect and harmonious design, its beauty and holiness surpassing any shrine or building made with human hands. The most sacred spot on earth is no towering cathedral with stained glass windows, but the believer’s heart where God has come to dwell. While the building is not now complete, it will be one day, and then all creation will view its splendor and give praise and glory to its Creator and Designer.

    (c) The Cross as the Power.

Before we conclude our meditation on these verses we would do well to ponder the method whereby our awful past has been blotted out and our present position made possible. In Christ alone we find the basis of reconciliation to God and man. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the Blood of Christ” (2:13). Reconciliation could be accomplished only by the finished work of God’s Son on the cross. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God . . .” (I Peter 3:18). Aaron made an atonement once a year with blood which he offered to God for the people. Even so Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:11-12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22).

“In His flesh” He made peace, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Christ Himself is our peace, and he who has the Son of God enjoys peace with God and with all them that are in Christ. Let us thank God for accomplishing redemption and making our peace through the blood of His cross, for apart from His substitutionary death we would still be at enmity with God and man. It was at the cross where Jew and Gentile were condemned as sinners and united to God through faith in the blood of His Son. At the cross every enmity was slain and every provision made for redemption and reconciliation. The shedding of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the plea of the sinner and the praise of the saint. In heaven we shall sing: “Thou west slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

If you are reading these lines and you are yet in your sins, Christ has removed the enmity between God and you by His propitiatory sacrifice at Calvary. You have only to acknowledge that your sin nailed Him there, and then receive Him as your Substitute and Saviour. You need not remain afar off, for even “now” you can be made nigh, as near to God as Christ Himself, by trusting in His blood.

Chapter 3:
The Christian’s Place in the Divine Plan

In our approach to a new chapter of any book in the Bible we need to take care lest we lose the thought in the preceding chapter. There is sometimes the danger of missing the continuity of some particular idea or even a doctrine when we break up our reading and study-periods by chapters. If we keep in mind that the first three chapters in Ephesians have to do with the creation and design of the Church, we can look for the progress of thought in that connection as we begin our study of chapter three.

1. Paul’s Part in the Mystery (3:1-13)

Chapter one describes the Church under the imagery of “His body” (1:23). In chapter two, the Church is seen as “the building” (2:21). The body is possessed of His life; the building is inhabited by His very Presence. Under the Old Covenant, God met with man in a temporary temple specially designed for such a meeting; under the New Covenant the body of the believer is that temple (I Cor. 6:19).

Chapter two depicts the mystical body of Christ, the building, as made up of both believing Jew and Gentile. The position of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ is here referred to as a “mystery.” The divine plan and purpose are revealed in the magnificent scope of uniting Jew and Gentile to Christ in the Church. Now the building is in process, and for the completed project God has a definite purpose. It is our prospective place in God’s future plan that is before us.

    (a) The Meaning of the Mystery Explained (3:1-6)

Paul, the converted Hebrew, informs his readers that for their sakes he is the Lord’s prisoner: “For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (3:1). The reference to his imprisonment leads to a subject which, to Paul, was of greatest import. He went as God’s witness to the uncircumcised knowing what would befall him (Act 9:15-16). Later he testified of this as his experience (Acts 22:21-22). Paul was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” He had been imprisoned at least three times before; therefore this was not new to him. Yet he knew the blessing and comfort of his Lord’s fellowship. If Christ wants a man in prison with Himself, that lends dignity to the occasion. A point not to be overlooked, however, is that the great apostle had been imprisoned because he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. His countrymen hated him because he affirmed that the Gentile had equal privileges in Christ with the Jew. Every Gentile believer should pause to give thanks to God for this fearless missionary to the Gentiles.

To Paul were entrusted in a special way hitherto unrevealed truths of this “mystery.” He speaks of it as “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (3:2). Here the word “dispensation” means the management, or stewardship of a household. The grace of God had now reached out beyond the limit of the Jew to the Gentile, and this trusteeship had been given to Paul in order that he might dispense it to the Gentiles. The household of God must be managed according to a particular plan; therefore it was a high honor bestowed upon Paul when God entrusted His plan to him. The apostle was a steward, holding something in trust for another. In this case he held in trust the divine bestowal of saving grace to the Gentiles. The prime requisite of a steward is “that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1-2), hence the Apostle Peter writes: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pet. 4:10). Every gift is a trust from God and must be exercised according to divine plan. Thus Paul recognized the source and character of his mission as well as the responsibility to faithfulness.

Under what circumstances did the apostle receive this truth? Paul himself says: “. . . by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (3:3). A special dispensation had been arranged by God which included Paul. It was planned in past eternity, and Paul writes: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16).

A “mystery” (hitherto unrevealed truth) cannot be found out by the searching of men. God alone must reveal it. Human wisdom never stumbled on such a plan. A veil of secrecy had covered the truth of the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles until God revealed it in Paul’s day. The apostle reminds them that he mentioned the mystery “afore in few words,” referring, I take it, to his words in 1:9. The subject received only a passing notice in the early part of the epistle but, because of its source (revelation from God) and Paul’s stewardship, he will now plead its cause the more earnestly. He felt that God had highly honored him in the divine appointment and special commission to preach His grace to the heathen.

This revelation was not vouchsafed to Paul that he might merely ponder it in His own heart but, he continues: “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (3:4). What earnest watchfulness Paul displayed over the saints of God! The body of truth in his possession must be passed on to others; the world must know. There was no time to be lost. Others must not read it merely but understand it as well. May God give unto the ministers and teachers of His Word such earnestness and fervency of spirit that none will rest until every eager listener has a clear understanding of the divine message. The message is “the mystery of Christ,” which means that it all centers in the Person and work of the risen and ascended Lord. It is Christ Himself who composes the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. To prepare Paul for this ministry God had given to him a supernatural revelation, and now he must not rest until men hear and understand its meaning. When we will not allow anything to overshadow the blessed work of God, then are we His servants indeed. The writer of these lines has been guilty of repeating truth when he himself did not understand, much less was able to make it plain to others; but when Paul preached and wrote, he did it as a divinely-inspired man who comprehended the subject under discussion and had a right to be heard.

This mystery “in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (3:5). Here the word “ages” suggests the idea of generations, so that Paul is emphasizing the fact that the mystery was given to him by revelation and was not the subject of any of God’s previous servants. One searches in vain in the early Scriptures to find this distinctive truth “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (3:6). From Moses to Malachi there is nothing to be found on the subject. It was “hid in God,” to be passed on through the New Testament apostles and prophets, Paul having himself received it “by the Spirit.”

In this mystery there are no vagaries which savor of the mysterious, but the glorious revelation that in Christ both Jew and Gentile “should be fellow heirs.” God had said to Abraham: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Before Christ came, the Gentile depended on the Jew for his spiritual blessing. Now that Christ has come, who is Abraham’s Seed (Gal. 3:16), the believing Gentile becomes a fellow-heir with the Jew.

It probably would have astounded any Old Testament prophet were he told that there would be one day a special dispensation of grace in which the Jew and Gentile would be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of the promises of God. And yet this is the mystery. Certainly Abraham, who believed God, knew that in his Seed all families of the earth would receive the blessing of the promise; but what he and the rest of the Old Testament saints did not know was that God purposed and planned to create this “new man” out of Jew and Gentile, thus constituting them one body, the Gentile being co-equal with the Jew in every respect. Certainly God must despite with holy hatred not only the anti-Semitism among Gentile-Christians but also the Hebrew-Christian cliques which shut out the Gentile believer. The distinctive feature of the gospel in this dispensation is found in the words of the angel of the Lord, who announced: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Gentiles as well as Jews are to receive this good news. Remember, the mystery is not that the Gentiles should be saved. Rather it is that a thorough and entire change wrought by the creating of a new entity would make the believing Gentiles co-heirs and co-sharers with the Jews. Such is the power of “the Gospel.”

    (b) The Minister of the Mystery as an Example (3:7-13)

Of this gospel, Paul continues: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (3:7). The greatness of his task and the sublimity of the trust must have humbled Paul. His divinely given ministry he calls “the gift of the grace of God.” He marveled that God would choose him and make him a messenger of so deep a mystery. There was no other way of explaining it; it was given to him by the unmerited kindness of God. That such a persecutor and blasphemer as Paul was entrusted with so lofty a mission is a clear demonstration of divine grace.

Some men in the ministry speak of having “earned” certain degrees and diplomas which qualify them for the ministry. God save us from such pride! As famous as Paul became as an able and honored servant of God, he never forgot for a moment that the ministry was a gracious gift from God. It is not unusual for us to comment on the sacrifice of money, energy, and time that we spend in preparation for some work for God. Yet this humble messenger of the mystery looked upon it all as a gift of grace. Paul made no claims for himself.

Add to this the fact that the discharge of his ministry was “by the effectual working of His [God’s] power.” To make a saint out of a sinner shows the effectual working of His power. To make a divine messenger out of a deliberate murderer shows the effectual working of His power. The arrogant Pharisee had become a witness of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The secret of his success lay in the effectual working of the power of God in him. He could testify: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). When will some of us learn this lesson?

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Life, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Election

The Five Warnings of Hebrews

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Preface

Today we are living in a period of time like the days of Noah when there is no fear of God before men’s eyes (Rom. 3:18). The unsaved know the judgment of God is upon those who do such things as they do today, yet they not only do them but they have pleasure in them that do them (Rom. 1:32). They are treasuring up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgments of God (Rom. 2:5).

What is even worse than this, if such could be the case, is that the saved have no fear of God before their eyes. You do not love someone you do not respect. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10; cf. 1:7). “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Prov. 8:13). The early church had a correct godly fear of God, and this is the reason they went out and turned the world ‘right-side-up.’ Notice this in Acts:

Acts 2:42-43 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

Acts 5:5, 11 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (cf. 19:17).

May God be pleased to use these pages to help stem the tide of fearlessness among believers today. “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. 3:16).

So Great Salvation— Hebrews: Synthesis

Outline:

I. Christ Alone Qualifies In His Person to Attempt Salvation, (1:1–4:13)

    The Son: (Eternal, 1:1-3) …Christ … Prophet

    A. Greater than the Prophets (1:1-3)

    B. Greater than the Angels (1:4–2:18)

    C. Greater than Moses (Ch. 3)

    D. Greater than Joshua (4:1-13)

II. Christ Alone Qualifies In His Work to Provide Salvation (4:14–10:18)

    The Savior: (Perfect, 7:24-28) … Jesus … Priest

    A. The High Priest (4:14–7:28) THE SERVICE: “After the order of Melchisedek”

    B. The Tabernacle (8:1–9:11) THE SANCTUARY: “Not made with hands”

    C. The Sacrifice (9:12–10:18) THE SACRIFICE: “Once for all”

III. Christ Alone Qualifies In His Position to Effect Salvation (10:19–13:25)

    The Shepherd (Great): (13:20) … The Lord … King

      Here is the believer’s walk, “by a new and living way” in relation to Christ’s position:

      A. Faith (10:19–11:40)

      B. Hope (Ch. 12)

      C. Love (Ch. 13)

Introduction

Washington, D. C. is one of the few cities in the world that was completely designed before any streets were made or buildings erected. What once was a marshy wilderness now stands one of the most beautiful capitols in the world. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, an engineer in the Continental Army, being recommended by President George Washington for the task, designed the entire city. Capitol Hill was selected as the focal point, and broad avenues were laid out which radiate like spokes of a wheel from centers placed within the rectangular pattern of the streets.

For anyone visiting our nation’s capitol, the first point to visit should be the Washington Monument. From this vantage point of beautiful white marble, forty stories above the city in the tallest masonry structure in the world, may be seen a panoramic view of four of the most picturesque scenes upon which the human eye may gaze.

Looking east at the end of the mall on Capitol Hill stands the Capitol building with its magnificent dome glistening in the sun. At the right and left stand the House and Senate buildings covering a square city block. Behind the Capitol to the right is the massive Library of Congress, and at the left is the white structure of the Supreme Court of the United States. In the foreground may be seen the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institute.

A diagonal street may be seen running from the Capitol building. As we move north we see that this street is the famous Pennsylvania Avenue which connects the Capitol with the White House. Here we view the President’s home and the Treasury Building to the right.

The western view gives us a picture of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Beyond the Potomac River we view Arlington National Cemetery with its Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers and the Marine Memorial.

Looking south the Tidal Basin lined with cherry trees is seen with the Jefferson Memorial on the far side. And across the Potomac, the massive Pentagon building is visible. If time permitted many other important landmarks could be pointed out by our guide.

Now we are ready to descend the Washington Monument on to busy Constitution Avenue and see each building individually. Why? Because now we know the relation of one building to another; we have viewed the design of a planned city. We have seen what no amount of hours spent on the busy and crowded streets could have given us. We have seen the city—our Nation’s Capitol—and we draw back in amazement at what we have just viewed.

God’s Word is identical with this. Each book is a magnificent city designed by the greatest Architect. Avenues of truth run throughout in beautiful symmetry. Monuments are erected by the sterling character of its men. Beautiful scenes catch our vision every direction we look. We see on every hand the grandeur and glory of the Person of our God.

We may wander for days along its streets and through its buildings, and yet never see the relationships of one aspect of truth with another. Our need is first to rise far above the whole picturesque scene, as beautiful as any one spot may be, and receive a panoramic view of the entire landscape. We need to see the design that was in the mind of the Designer, the over-all plan and purpose of this city we are about to view and whose laws are to govern all our lives.

No book in Scripture was written without design: Each was written with specific purpose and aim in mind. This is especially true of the book of Hebrews which we are about to consider. There is a plan and purpose which can never be seen by traveling on its broad avenues or passing through its magnificent structures. It was written that one fact and one fact alone would be in the mind of the Hebrews as they finished reading this letter. This one fact is: Christ alone can qualify to provide perfect salvation. This message is a timeless message. It is just as pertinent today is it was the day this letter was inscribed on parchment and sent by a messenger on to its destination.

There are three areas in which Christ alone qualifies to provide a perfect salvation:

(1) He alone qualifies in His person to attempt salvation (1:1–4:13).

(2) He alone qualifies in His work to provide salvation (4:14–10:18).

(3) He alone qualifies in His position to effect salvation (10:19–13:25).

    I. Christ Alone Qualifies in His Person to Attempt Salvation (1:1–4:13)

Fundamental in the mind of the writer of Hebrews is that the person must qualify or else nothing that person does can possibly qualify.

For example, it is the Indianapolis Speedway Classic, and we are seated there on Memorial Day, moments before the five-hundred mile race is to begin. As we anxiously wait for the final flag to be waved to begin the race we undoubtedly realize the hours upon hours of preparation which have gone into making this moment possible. Long before any cars were built regulations were issued giving the specification to which the cars would have to conform. Then came the qualifying run to eliminate those cars not able to maintain a specific speed. Many have labored to be sure that both car and driver would qualify. Yet as we watch the cars going by this day at speeds of 170 mph we fail to see many cars, upon which thousands of dollars were spent, simply because they did not meet the qualifying standard set by the officials. These can never win because they cannot participate.

God says, “I am the qualifying official and whoever runs as the Savior of men must pass the qualifying standards which I have set up.”

The writer of Hebrews spans the whole realm of creation, and the entire span of time to see if there could be found someone who might qualify as the Savior of men. His verdict is that none but Deity Himself can possibly qualify for the standard set by Deity for the salvation of lost mankind. He identifies the only One who can qualify as the Son.

      A. The Son—far greater than the Prophets (1:1-3)

The prophets represented God to man, and spoke His message as it was revealed to them. But this One who was the Son, being from a far greater realm, had by this same degree a much greater message. The prophets spoke the message of God; the Son was the message of God.

      B. The Son—far greater than the angels (1:4–2:18)

The Son is “so much better than the angels” (1:4). This is proven by quoting seven different Old Testament passages in Chapter 1, and three more in Chapter 2.

In summary, the Son is greater in two ways:

(1) He is the Creator, they are creatures (chapter 1)

(2) He identified Himself completely with humanity (chapter 2).

Angels are always angels so they cannot do what Christ did for man. Angels serve man; but the Son became man in order to serve in a far greater capacity.

      C. The Son—far greater than the great deliverer, Moses (ch. 3)

Moses delivered the entire nation from bondage. Christ is even greater. He is the Architect (3:3). Moses was a servant in the house, but Christ is the Son (3:5-6). As the Son is superior to the servant of a house, just to this very proportion was the Messiah superior to Moses.

      D. The Son—far greater than General Joshua (ch. 4)

In Hebrews 4:8 the word “Jesus” is the Greek word for “Joshua” and so should be understood. Joshua led the nation into the land, but he could not give then rest. Since a rest was promised, there remained One who is greater than Joshua to come and bring them into a place of rest because He had “ceased from His own works.”

The exhortation is given to the Hebrews to “enter into that rest” (4:11). The throne of grace is the place of rest 44:16). The rest is provided because a greater than Joshua ceased from His own work as God did from His.

The illustration is that of God’s rest of creation. When He finished creation He pronounced everything “very good” and then He experienced a Sabbath rest. Then something happened. Sin came in, and there was no more rest for God. Only after the Lord had a redeemed people, redeemed through blood, did He institute the Sabbath rest for them. Yet there still was no rest for God. This is seen by our Lord saying: “My Father worketh hitherto and I work.” There had been no rest in the Godhead and could not be until there was a completed work. Only after Christ exclaimed: “It is finished” was there rest. Today Christ sits on high because the work is over. We can enter into His rest of a completed work. Have you done this?

    II. Christ Alone Qualifies in His Work to Provide Salvation (4:14–10:18)

Previously, the writer’s entire argument had been on the person of the Son; now he turns to His work. He realizes that the worth of the work is dependent upon the worth of the person. Consequently, he now turns from the Son aspects of the person of Christ, to the Savior aspects of the work of Christ.

In the Jewish economy three basic areas of work are involved in providing salvation for sinful man: the high priest, the tabernacle and the sacrifice. If you like them to begin in the same letter, they would be the service, the sanctuary and the sacrifice. These three areas are now taken up in this order.

      A. Christ—the Great High Priest (4:14–7:28)

Here Christ is contrasted to the best in the Jewish economy. Aaron, and the Aaronic priesthood. But three times it is said of the Son: “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchezedek.”

Christ is not only a greater person than Aaron, but He had a superior priesthood. Because the Son’s priesthood was of a different order, He could be both King and Priest, which was never possible for Aaron. Moreover, He could abide a priest continually because He would not be hindered from continuing by death which affected the Aaronic priesthood. Because of this fact, the Son has an unchangeable priesthood.

The summary conclusion is given in Hebrews 7:25-28. The work of Christ as High Priest is superior to that in Judaism.

      B. Christ—the True Tabernacle (8:1–9:11)

There are four words that show the earthly tabernacle in Israel was only an object lesson of the real tabernacle:

  • Example and shadow of heavenly things,” (8:5).
  • Pattern of the true tabernacle (8:5).
  • “A figure for the time then present” (9:9).

The contrast is between the shadow and the real image that cast the shadow. The earthly tabernacle was then God’s illustration of the work of salvation which was to be accomplished through the body or tabernacle of the Lord Jesus Christ—the true tabernacle “not made with hands.”

This is the reason for God’s specific instruction to Moses in Hebrews 8:5. This true tabernacle is as superior to the earthly copy as (1) the image is to the shadow; (2) the Creator is to the creature, and (3) Infinite is to the finite. Christ, as the true tabernacle, is infinitely superior to that in Judaism.

The transition to the third aspect of the Lord’s work is given in Hebrews 9:11-12 where Christ is specifically stated as the High Priest, the tabernacle and the sacrifice.

      C. Christ—the One Sacrifice (9:12–10:18)

Here three words contrast the old sacrifices with the once-for-all sacrifice of the body of the Lord Jesus. (1) “Patterns” (9:23); (2) “Figures” (9:24); and (3) “A shadow of good things to come” (10:1). The outstanding point of contrast is given in Hebrews 10:11, 12 and 14 (Compare Heb. 10:4 with 10:10).

As the true tabernacle was infinitely better than the earthly pattern, so the sacrifice which is to be offered for its purification must be to the same proportion greater (Heb. 9:23, 24, 26b). This is why John the Baptist cried out: “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” This was new. This had never been done in the Old Testament. It was infinitely superior to that in Judaism.

Not only does Christ alone qualify in His person to attempt salvation, He alone qualifies in His work to provide salvation because:

  • He is High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” and not after the order of Aaron.
  • He is the true Tabernacle “not made with hands” instead of only a pattern made by men.
  • He is the Sacrifice “once for all offered for sin.

Have you ever accepted Him as your sin-bearer and substitute? He died that you might not have to die. He tasted death for every man, Christ died for your sin, but you must personally receive him as your God-appointed Savior before His sacrifice can be credited to your account. He “willed” to be your Sacrifice; you must “will” Him to be your Savior.

    III. Christ Alone Qualifies in His Position to Effect Salvation (10:19–13:25)

Up to this point we have been dealing with doctrinal matters in which all you and I can do is sit on the sideline and watch how God provides perfect salvation through His Beloved Son. There was nothing we could do to enter in. Anything we would attempt to do would be only to mar the perfection which characterizes all that God does.

God’s law is fixed—each shall produce after its kind. He has produced a salvation which is entirely His product, and takes after His own nature. It is infinitely perfect. The only way He will allow any of us to enter in is to believe in what He has done. His entire plan for salvation is that “no flesh should glory in his presence.” Anything that we do to help provide this perfect salvation would be only to ruin it. With a perfect salvation provided we now enter into the practical division of the book—First is His person, then His work.

First we have Who He is.
Then we see what He did.
Now the emphasis is on what He can do for you.

First it is Christ’s life.
Then it is His death.
Now it is His new life and position at the Father’s right hand.

Now we are looking at Christ’s outworking of His salvation in our lives. The writer is pressing home one truth: God is taking away the old and establishing the new.

  • There is a new object for men’s faith—Christ.
  • There is a new will or covenant of which Christ is the Mediator.
  • There is also a new walk for the believer because of the person, work and position of Christ,

Now the believer-priest is to enter into the Holy of Holies, i.e., into the very presence of God, by a new and living way through the blood of Jesus (Heb, 10:19), Our new life and walk is to be governed by three new avenues of Christian experience: faith, hope and love.

      A. Faith ( 10:19–11:40)

“Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). Here is a great list of those in God’s Hall of Fame. God’s testimony of them (Heb. 11:13, 15, 39-40).

Now this better thing is given unto us and is ours for the appropriation: An entrance by faith into the very presence of God. There is nothing greater. Only one Israelite—the high priest—once a year on the day of atonement could enter in, yet we have the privilege of coming and abiding there as often as we wish and staying as long as we desire.

The only way we can grasp the value of this provision is to measure the price that was paid to obtain it. It was the greatest redemptive price ever made: the death of the Son. The rending of the Savior’s side made possible that “whosoever will” may enter in by faith into the very presence of God. The weakest Christian stands here as boldly as the strongest saint, simply because all stand clothed in the righteousness of the Son. Here is the Shekinah Glory by which we are changed into the same image from one glory to another. It is the place of victory.

      B. Hope (ch. 12)

We are to run anticipating the approval of the Judge. We are to know that God, even through chastisement, is dealing with us as sons, and our lives are to bear fruit unto righteousness because of this experience.

      C. Love (ch. 13)

“Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). This is what is to cause all men to know that we are the Lord’s disciples. Love is to permeate and govern every area of our life and our walk with the Lord and with others.

    The Closing Benediction (Heb. 13:20-21)

No one else BUT the Son can possibly qualify to effect salvation. It takes a living Savior. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). He is all that we need.

  • He is the eternal Son.
  • He is the perfect Savior.
  • He is the great Shepherd of the sheep.

There is no need we have but what Jesus Christ is the answer.

My friend, God today has provided perfect salvation. This salvation is in His Son Who alone can qualify. He has accomplished our redemption and now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High ever living to save all who will come unto God by Him.

Yet though there be a thousand who could qualify to pay the debt for sin, and though they die a thousand deaths to provide salvation, still you would not be saved apart from accepting that salvation provided.

God didn’t need quantities of saviors, nor quantities of sacrifices. He needed One perfect Person to offer one perfect sacrifice that would make perfect forever those who “will” to accept God’s provision for sin, “This man offered one sacrifice for sins for ever … for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

Where once was a marshy wilderness stands one of the most beautiful capitols in the world. Where once there stood a creation ruined by the fall, blighted by sin and under the verdict of death, now has been raised a new creation created in the beauty of holiness and clothed with the perfect righteousness of the Son.

All who “will” may enter in, but there is only one way of approach. This is through the Son. What are you going to do with God’s perfect provision for sin? If you reject God’s way, there is no other way. If you accept God’s provision., you have perfect salvation for He is the Author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him. And this is God’s will, that we “believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Warning #1:
The Danger of Drifting
(Hebrews 1:1–2:4)

Incorporated within the very framework and message of the book of Hebrews are five danger signals. These are like stop signs on the boulevard of backsliding. They are warning posters placed on the freeway of disobedience.

    1. Chapter 2 The danger of drifting.

    2. Chapters 3-4 The danger of not entering into rest.

    3. Chapters 5-6 The danger of not going on to maturity.

    4. Chapter 10 The danger of willful sin.

    5. Chapter 12 The danger of indifference to the point of denial.

There is a progression in these warnings. It starts with being careless about salvation and indifferent to spiritual things until finally one comes to be perfectly satisfied with being indifferent.

W. H. Griffith Thomas has stated for these five warnings: “Don’t drift, disbelieve, degenerate, despise, depart.” For our study we will follow the following order.

    1. Drifting (2:1-4)

    2. Doubtings (3:7–4:13)

    3. Deformity (5:11–6:20)

    4. Despising (10:26-31)

    5. Denying (12:15-29)

Each one of these danger signs is part of the truth of this Epistle. The author stops in each case to apply the truth he has already presented to the lives of his hearers. It is not enough to know. There must be a performance of what is known. Knowledge bears responsibility.

Basic to any understanding of these warnings is to first understand that the Hebrews to whom the writer is speaking in this Epistle are saved. The recipients of this letter were Hebrew believers who had trusted Jesus Christ for their salvation, but were in danger of going back to the Temple in Jerusalem and to the Temple worship in order to escape the persecution that was being brought upon then at this time by the unsaved Hebrews.

The theme of the Epistle is that God has spoken in His Son. We need to consider who this Son is, what He has done, and what the message is to us today. Before, God spoke at sundry times and in divers manners. Some of the ways God used to reveal Himself were:

(1) By His creative acts.

Psalm 19:1-4 For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world.

Paul at Lystra said:

Acts 14:15-17 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them. 16 “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Paul at Athens said:

Acts 17:24-30 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29 “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent,

Romans 1:20-22 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

Here God tells us that heathens have a revelation of Himself. They were given up by God, not passively but actively, because they changed the truth they knew of God into a lie. They refused to acknowledge God and worship Him.

There was a limitation to the knowledge of God in creation. Man could know only God’s being and His power, but not His person. Thus God began to reveal Himself further.

(2) By the patriarchs (Noah, Job, Abraham).

(3) By the angels (to Abraham and Moses).

(4) By the prophets (who gave us Old Testament revelation).

Still the various methods of revelation were inadequate to reveal God as a person. In order to do this adequately and fully, it would take a person who was himself God as well as man. Such a person was Jesus Christ. The Father sent the Son in order to reveal the Father.

John 1:18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

John 14:8-10 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.

All that we know of the person of God is found alone in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to reveal the Father.

Consider Who the Son is (1:1-3)

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:1-3)

(1) Heir of All. “Whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” He is the focal point of all the universe. Colossians 1:16 tells us: “All things were created … f or him.”

(2) Creator of the Ages. “… by whom also he made the worlds” i.e., “the ages.” He is the beginning point of all the universe. He brought time into being and all things connected with time. Time is His creation and is subject to Him.

(3) Co-essence of Deity. “… who being the brightness of his glory.” The word “brightness” signifies to “flash forth” and thus “to radiate.” The Son is the outshining of Deity to a world in darkness. He is the true Shekinah glory of God.

(4) True Personality of Deity. “… and the express image of his person.” He is the exact reproduction of His essence. All that is in the Father is in the Son. He stands separate from the created universe, and a distinct person of the Godhead.

(5) Sustainer and Governor of the Universe. “… and upholding all things by the word of his power.” He is active today within the universe in order to have all creation accomplish His purpose and program. He is master of ceremonies for all that occurs.

(6) Redeemer of men. “… when he had by himself purged our sins.” This was not done by speaking nor by being, but by dying. He provides complete and perfect redemption for the universe. He alone provided—no one else helped or contributed to it.

(7) Sovereign of Men. “… sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” His work is finished. He is seated above the universe as its sovereign and judge. It is His right to reign and He shall some day put down all opposing rule and authority. His present position reveals His absolute authority. This is the One who is the theme of our study: “Consider Him” (Heb. 12:3).

    I. The Superiority of the Person of the Son (1:4–4:13)
      A. Superior to the Angels (1:4–2:18)

(1) In His Deity (1:4-14). As Son of God.

4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, "Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? 6 And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, " And let all the angels of God worship Him." 7 And of the angels He says, "Who makes His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire." 8 But of the Son He says, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee With the oil of gladness above Thy companions." 10 And, "Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Thy hands; 11 They will perish, but Thou remainest; And they all will become old as a garment, 12 And as a mantle Thou wilt roll them up; As a garment they will also be changed. But Thou art the same, And Thy years will not come to an end." 13 But to which of the angels has He ever said, "Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies A footstool for Thy feet "? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:4-14)

By seven quotations, the Son is shown to be superior to the angels who are referred to in the Old Testament as sons of God.

  • He is greater in name (1:4-5). Angels are called sons, but never SON.
  • He is greater in authority (1:13-14). He is the Sovereign; they are servants.

Since the Son is superior to angels, His revelation is superior to their revelation. This is important and is the basis of the first warning given in 2:1-4. It is the application of the truth of His person. Notice the connection, marking, or underlining the key words: “God … hath … spoken … by his Son … Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard … for if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation …” (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-3) from this One who is so much greater than the angels.

There is a double danger involved. The first is physical and represents judgment in time; the second is spiritual—the hearing of these great truths of the gospel and doing nothing about them. It is a danger that is for both saved and unsaved. The revelation of angels to Lot concerning the destruction of Sodom was true, but the same revelation which saved Lot destroyed Lot’s wife because of unbelief. Now look at Hebrews 2.

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard … (Hebrews 2:1-3).

“On account of this” (2:1) That is the greater person who has come to give revelation to us in these last days.

“We must.” It is a logical necessity.

“Give heed beyond measure.” This is the kind of heed needed by all—myself, you, everyone who has ears to hear. Thus this exhortation and warning is for all.

“To the things that were heard, lest we might drift away (from them).” The truth is represented as being anchored. It will never change because it was given by the changeless Person who changes not. Since the truth will not change, the whole danger is on our side that we change through a careless attitude of indifference, and we drift away from it by the force of an opposing current operative in the world.

The point is this: The greater the revealer, the greater the responsibility to that revealed, and the greater the penalty for not giving heed. Revelation through the Son carries with it, by the very intrinsic nature of the revelation, a far more solemn obligation to its recipients than Old Testament revelation.

2:2 - “For if (as was true) the word that was spoken through angels was secure” (2:2). It never was changed, or failed, or slipped from being grounded in fact. How much could be said on this one point alone from the giving of the Law down to the father of John the Baptist, Zacharias to whom Gabriel said: “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season (Luke 1:20). It was in every case exactly fulfilled as revealed of which the revelation by the angel Gabriel to Daniel in Daniel 9 is another example.

The major revelation in the writer’s mind here in Hebrews however is that of the Law—the old covenant—which was given by angels (Duet. 33:2; Acts 7:53).

“And every transgression and disobedience.” “Transgression” refers to a positive offense: someone doing what they were not supposed to do under the law. “Disobedience” refers to a negative offense: someone failing to do what they were supposed to do.

“Received a righteous recompense.” A recompense is a payment of wages. The law gave man exactly what he deserved. It was a system of justice. This revelation of angels in the Old Testament, carried with it its own intrinsic authority. It did not have authority because man sanctioned it, but by its very nature. No one could pass judgment upon it, and yet it did pass judgment upon all.

2:3 - Now the question is given: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation” (2:3)? The neglect was actually then taking place. They had the gospel and in the case of the Hebrew Christians, many of then were no longer meeting with the believers because of the persecution they were suffering, and some were even ready to go back to the Temple and its worship. It was a matter of complete indifference. It was the attitude of Lot’ s wife on a massive scale.

Remember, you cannot neglect something you do not have. The only way you can neglect your child is to have a child. To neglect salvation in the case of the believer is to have it and be completely indifferent concerning church attendance and fellowship with other believers, personal reading and study of the Word and prayer, and so forth. It is that attitude: “I’m saved, so I don’t have to worry. I’m all right.” The truth is just the opposite. You are all wrong. This so great salvation is not a mere ticket to heaven in which you can live just anyway down here on earth.

The writer of Hebrews will point out that it is a life where “the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back” from going on and living this kind of a life to which he has been called in salvation “my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:38). God’s wrath is against the unbeliever, but His displeasure is against His sinning child and He personally will discipline and discipline severely. This is why the writer says: “The Lord shall judge his people.” He is speaking about judgment of believers who are His people but who are indifferent to the revelation given. And he adds: “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31). This is addressed only to believers.

There is not one of us this day that can escape this warning. It includes me, and it includes you. It includes those who say they are believers and are not here this morning nor are they anywhere even though they are not now sick nor are they in a casket. But they are going to be sick, and if they do not give heed to this sickness, they will be dead.

The question is asked, “How shall we escape?” But the question is not answered, neither in the book of Hebrews nor in all of Scripture. Here is a question no demon in hell, nor even Satan with all of his knowledge, can answer. There is no prophet or wise man; there is no one among us today nor has ever been among us who can answer it. Even the Son Himself or the Holy Spirit or the Father cannot answer it. It is unanswerable, and it is this that gives the solemnity to the warning.

The superiority of this new revelation is threefold:

(1) In its original announcement (2:3b). “… which at the first began to be spoken by (through) the Lord.” This was from the Lord Himself, not from angels. It was from One far superior to the angels.

(2) In its convincing proclamation (2:3c). “… and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” The apostles give authentic testimony of what was truth.

(3) In its divine attestation (2:4). “… God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” Here was the divine confirmation given to the message of the apostles to confirm the truth of their proclamation.

Now let me ask you who have heard the gospel. You know exactly what it is.

  • Christ has died for your sins.
  • He was buried.
  • He rose again the third day just as He said He would.
  • And He has been seen. He is alive today effecting salvation for all who will come unto God by Him.

You know this intellectually, and even perhaps emotionally you have been stirred by it, but you have neglected to respond to it personally yourself. You are not saved because you know the gospel; you are not saved because you even have or have had at some time an emotional response to the Gospel. You are only saved when you act upon what you know because you believe it is true.

As an act of your will you “call upon the name of the Lord” because you know He can save you. As an act of your will you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus believing in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead. You are willing to come out and confess Him openly regardless of what it means, even if it means the firing squad, or death at the stake by burning.

You can put it off; you can neglect the facts and the truth, spurning the invitation, but let me ask you one question which I dare you to think about: “How shall you escape?” You can’t answer it, can you? In fact, you do not even want to think about it. You want to dismiss it as far as possible from your mind. But you can’t do it.

Oh, how wonderful it is to be able to announce that the invitation is still open. Today is still “‘the day of salvation.” It is still “the accepted time” when you can be saved. There may never be a tomorrow for you. There may never be a tomorrow for this age of grace whereby you can be saved without dying for your faith in Christ or enduring unto the end of the Tribulation period in order to be saved.

Come while it is still called “today” in Scripture. The time will come when the ark of God’s grace will be closed and judgment is for all who have spurned God’s grace,.

“How shall you—put your name there—escape if you neglect so great salvation?”

Warning #2:
The Danger of Doubting
(Hebrews 3-4)

The first danger was the danger of drifting. This is just going along with the crowd and with the currents and pressures of this world’s system which will move you away from the truth. It is possible to wake up some day and find that you are not with God’s people nor with the truth at all. You have drifted from the truth because of an indifference to it. While you came to the truth, it never became something to which you anchored yourself. The truth will never change, but we can change, and this is the danger. It is possible to come to Calvary and be redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and then drift away from this position because of indifference to the things of the Lord. It is the first danger in the Christian life.

Having stated this danger, the writer of Hebrews resumes the truth that Jesus Christ is greater than the angels. Having previously shown the Son to be superior to angels in His Deity as the Son of God (1:4-14), he now shows that He is superior to angels in His humanity as the Son of man (2:5-18). God’s purpose for man is given in 2:5-8. It is to subject the world to man, not angels. This is why the Garden of Eden was given to man to rule. This was God’s will.

Proof that this is still God’s will and program and that this will yet be accomplished, is Jesus’ place today (2:9). “Jesus” is the Lord’s human name. He is the Lord’s “man” to rule the world to come, i.e., the millennium. Provision was made by Christ in His humanity that this might be accomplished (2:10-18). He has defeated Satan already at the cross.

Note the outline:

    A. Superiority of the Son to Angels (1:4-2:18).

      1. In His Deity as the Son of God (1:4-14).

      2. In His Humanity as the Son of man (2:5-18).

    B. Superiority of the Son to Moses (3:1-6).

1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. 2 He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. 3 For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. 4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. 5 Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; 6 but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (Hebrews 3:1-6).

This is the new truth, and from it the writer will draw a new warning. Christ is shown to be superior to Moses in at least four ways.

  • Christ was the builder or creator of the House of Israel; Moses was a part of the house or a creature (3:3).
  • Christ was over it (3:6); Moses was in it (3:5).
  • Christ was as a Son (3:6); Moses was as a servant (3:6).
  • Christ was the revealer; Moses testified to a revelation (3:5b).

Not only had One spoken who was greater than angels, but One had spoken who was greater than Moses. Just as God spoke through angels and every word was true; so God spoke through Moses and every word was true. This brings us to the second danger, and the writer of Hebrews stops to give the warning to the Hebrew Christians that they do not fail as their fathers failed.

    1. Illustration (3:7-19)

7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, And saw My works for forty years. 10 "Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart; And they did not know My ways'; 11 As I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'" 12 Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; 15 while it is said, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me." 16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19).

Israel was redeemed out of Egypt from bondage and slavery. They were redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb, and by the power of God. God brought them out; they did not liberate themselves. This redemption was His work, and He received the glory. It was glorious that Israel was redeemed out of Egypt; the tragedy is that they perished in the wilderness.

      a. Explanation: How Israel failed (3:7-11).

Verses 1-6 give the faithfulness of Moses and the Messiah. Now we are shown the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel at the time of Moses, and the danger of unfaithfulness for the church at this present time.

The provocation (3:8) was the rebellion at Meribah given in Numbers 20:13. It was at the end of the wilderness experience. The temptation (3:8) was the rebellion at Massah recorded in Exodus 17:7, and was their experience at the beginning. From the beginning to the end, Israel provoked the Lord.

The result was not entering into rest (Heb. 3:10-11). They never entered into the promised land. Now we must realize that the promised land was never a picture of heaven. It was a picture of rest, and this generation that was saved out of Egypt by God’s grace and power never entered into this life of rest.

The point is this: A redeemed people may lose blessings which depend on continuing faith to enjoy. It is not enough to be saved by faith. “The just shall live by faith.” If God’s people cease to live by faith, they cease to live a life of blessing in time.

Being “saved” gives us rest of conscience, and we have peace with God. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). But then we can go on and enter into the rest of heart and have the peace from God.

“In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts, and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6).

The difference is the difference in rest between Matthew 11:28 and 29: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

The first is positional; the second is experiential.

      b. Application (3:12-15)

The experience of Israel was not written down for them, for their mistakes being written down never helped then one bit. It is written for us. We are to take heed lest this same thing be in us in departing from the living God. “Departing” signifies a standing off from a former belief. Formerly it was what God said through Moses. Now it is what God says through the Son: we come to Him and we are saved by Him, but then we can “depart” from Him in time.

Verse 13 tells us what we are to do when we discover this in the assembly. We are not to condemn nor condone. We are to exhort one another by love and good works (cf. Heb. 10:24).

The word “hardened” means callused. It comes through the result of repeated irritations. There is callus for the hands and feet, but there is also a callus for the heart. We are never the same when we fail to respond to the Spirit’s wooing. Failing to respond always produces hardening. This is a terrible thing. It is the end product of an evil heart (cf. 3:12). The end result is no longer any sensitivity to the wooing of the Spirit.

      c. Interpretation (3:16-19)

Here is the route sin takes. The very people God rescued, provoked Him. There are three questions in verses 16, 17, 18, and these give us the three stages of their sinful attitude.

Unbelief —————> Hardness ——————> Judgment

An attitude of unbelief issued into a manifestation of complaining and this issued into divine discipline upon then from God. The road is always the same. It begins with an attitude, manifests itself in action and culminates in God having to judge.

Then the danger is that we will also defect from the life of faith. Basically we are no different from Israel. The same thing that happened to her can happen to us. First, the children of Israel who were redeemed at Sinai drifted from the truth and made a golden calf and 3,000 died. Then 38 wasted years were experienced in the wilderness while one generation, who accepted His salvation, perished in the wilderness because they refused to continue a life of faith and enter into the promised land. There were 603,550 men of war. Of these 603,548 died in the wilderness.

This meant that every day spent in the wilderness saw nearly 44 military funerals besides all of the civilians who died. These graves are a warning to Christians. It can happen to us too. It can happen here.

    2. The Encouragement (4:1-10)

1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; 5 and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest." 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts." 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His (Hebrews 4:1-10).

The promise of entering into rest was “left behind to another generation” (4:1). This entering into rest was not the experience of crossing the Red Sea, which experience was salvation by blood and power. This promise was that of crossing the Jordan River. The danger was to perish in the wilderness, rather than that we would not leave Egypt. It was a danger only for those who were saved.

It was 38 years after Israel was redeemed that Moses pleads with the new generation. The record of that plea is the book of Deuteronomy.

It is now 38 years after Pentecost for the church. It is a second generation of believers. They are facing a momentous decision. The Lord Himself is pleading with them not to fail. The record of that pleading is the book of Hebrews.

There was the word of the report given to the nation in the Old Testament by twelve men. The same situation exists today. What are we going to do with the Word of the report (verse 2)?

4:3 The rest of creation is a quality of life enjoyed by God.

4:8 The rest Joshua gave them was only the type. The antitype or fulfillment still remains.

4:9 That life rest: (1) Is provided by God. (2) Is available today. (3) May be entered into by faith.

    3. The Exhortation (4:11-13)

11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:11-13).

It is not enough to merely know these things. There must be positive action. Disobedience and unbelief will rob us of rest (4:11). God gives us something to search out our hearts. (1) The Word of God (4:12-13). A living, active, sharp, critic. It can cut that callus off where nothing else will. (2) God Himself (4:13; cf. Job 34:21 “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings.”

For all of us who are saved, there is a Jordan River for us to cross. it is an issue between us and the Lord. Will we do His will completely by faith, or will we not? We do one of two things when we come to this point in our lives: we rebel or we surrender. What will it be for you?

“Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:11).

That fall was physical death.

Warning #3:
The Danger of Deformity
(Hebrews 4:14-6:20)

The writer of Hebrews is concerned about the Christians of his day. He is gravely concerned because of the actions they are committing and the consequences to them for these actions. If they continue on their present course these indifferent Christians will die.

(1) The first danger is the danger of drifting away from the truth spoken by the Son. Those in the nation of Israel that were redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb and redeemed by the power of God, when they drifted away from the law given by angels, died. Three thousand died at the golden calf incident.

How much greater is the Word spoken to us, and the responsibility to live in light of its truth. We who are believers cannot be indifferent to its message and prosper.

(2) The second danger is the danger of not entering into His rest because of unbelief. It is not enough to be saved by faith. The believer must continue to live by faith. If he lives in unbelief he will receive, not blessings, but discipline from the Lord.

A whole generation perished in the wilderness because of this failure. They were saved out of Egypt and from bondage by the power and to the glory of God, but they perished in the wilderness.

There is more to the Christian life than just being saved. There is a rest for the people of God. There is a crossing of the Jordan River as well as a crossing of the Red Sea. Many believers today die in the wilderness never having entered in by faith into the blessings God has for then. The graves in the wilderness stand as a warning to us that we do not fall after the same manner of unbelief caused by a bitterness against God for His dealings with us.

The exhortation is to every believer to let the word of God do its work in our lives and not to he hardened or callused to its operation. With this the first section of the book of Hebrews is concluded, and leaving the person of the Son, the writer speaks about the work of the Son for us, seeing He is who He is.

Outline:

II. The Superiority of the Word of the Son (4:14-10:16)

    A. As the Great High Priest (4:14-7:28)

    B. As the True Tabernacle (8:1-9:11)

    C. As the Perfect Sacrifice (9:12-10:18)

Under 4:14-7:28 we have:

      1. Introduction: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)

        a. Where He is—His Position—“passed into the heavens.”

        b. Who He is—His Person—“Jesus, the Son of God.”

        c. What He is—His Character—“without sin.”

        d. What He does—His Work—“‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities”
        He gives mercy and grace to believer-priests.

      2. The Son is a True Priest (5:1-10)

        a. The nature of a priest (5:1-4)

          (1) He must be a man (5:1-2)

          (2) He must offer sacrifices (5:3)

          (3) He must be God-called (5:4)

        b. The Son fulfills these (5:5-10)

Because the Son fulfills these, no other mediator is needed. No other priest officiates. We have one high priest and only one. It is not an earthly man serving in an earthly tabernacle; it is the eternal, perfect Son serving in heaven.

The Third Warning Involves: The Danger of Not Going on to Maturity

Much more is to be said on this subject of the Son being an high priest after the order of Melchizedek and not after the order of Aaron, but the writer stops because of their immaturity. The trouble is with his hearers, not with his subject. They are unable to take this truth in, and there was a reason for this condition.

Before we look into this warning, we need to realize that 5:11–6:20 is one unit of thought. It is one complete paragraph. The chapter break is unfortunate at this place because any interpretation of Hebrews 6 must begin at 5:11.

Let us briefly trace the argument.

    1. The Spiritual Problem (5:11-14)

11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

      a. Their Present State: Deformity Due to Immaturity (5:11-13)
      b. The Ideal State: Normality Due to Maturity (5:14)

5:11 - The problem in his hearers is that they have “become” dull of hearing. They didn’t used to be that way.

5:12 - They had been believers for a long period of time, and when for the time that they had been saved, should have been teaching at the Jerusalem Bible Institute, they still needed the teaching of the beginner course.

5:13 - This explains why they were still in babyhood. They had failed to use the knowledge they had in practical Christian living. The great principle of the Christian life is ‘use or lose.’ These people knew that Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices and that the temple sacrifices are all fulfilled in His once-for-all sacrifice; yet they cannot understand why it would be wrong for then to go back to the Temple and to the sacrifices. Their problem is not a matter of knowledge, but it is a matter of the use or exercise of that knowledge in life situations to discern right and wrong.

5:14 - The mature ones are able to do more than know facts. They can relate doctrine to experience. Thus maturity in the Christian life is not knowledge as such, but the ability to use that knowledge to solve situations and problems in relation to daily living.

    2. The Spiritual Truth (6:1-8)

1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we shall do, if God permits. 4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. 7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned (Hebrews 6:1-8).

      a. The Need to Go On (6:1-3)

Notice that this follows in light of what was said in 5:11-14. The chapter begins with “therefore.” Now whenever you see a “wherefore” or “therefore” stop and see what it is there for. It follows something else. In light of certain facts something else is true or some action is to be done. Here it is action to he done.

6:1 - You immature believers need to leave the ABCs of doctrine and go on unto maturity. There is nothing wrong with the ABCs for the early school child, but there is something very wrong if the high schooler still has to go over them because he has not yet learned how to use the dictionary. “Perfection” is the word for maturity. There is nothing wrong with babyhood for babies, but there is something wrong if you continue there year after year requiring others to feed you.

6:1-2 - There are six basic ABCs that they were to leave. There is nothing wrong with these foundational things, for these were things that figured prominently in the first teachings of the apostles after the day of Pentecost. The foundation is fine, but you don’t just continue to build the foundation—you go on.

6:3 - “And this going on to maturity we will do if God wills it.” This is very important. You cannot compel maturity. The Father wants the child to mature; and so this third class condition shows that the fault is with us, not God, if we do not go on to maturity. However, we do not know how much time we have left.

      b. The Impossibility of Going Back (6:4-6)

Now we come to the passage that is without exception the most misunderstood passage in Scripture.

The issue to settle first and foremost is the question are the people the writer is addressing saved or not saved? They are either one or the other. There is no third category. These people are believers and are saved for the following reasons:

(1) Because of the message of the whole book of Hebrews. The whole book is addressed to Hebrew Christians. Note the exhortations,

  • “Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into that rest…” (4:1)
  • “Let us labour to enter into that rest (4:11)
  • “Let us hold fast our profession (4:14)
  • “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace (4:16).

(2) Because of the immediate context in Hebrews 5:11–6:3.

  • They are babes, and therefore they had life (5:13).
  • They did not need knowledge, but needed to use the knowledge they already had (5:13).
  • Their lapse into dullness was because of disuse (5:14).
  • They were saved else they could not have been expected to be teachers (5:13).
  • They are exhorted to go on unto “perfection”(6:1). This does not mean to come to salvation, but to come to maturity in Christ. The writer includes himself along with them in needing to go on (6:1 “us” 6:3 “we”).
  • Lastly, they already knew and accepted the basic doctrines

(3) Because of the context following in Hebrews 6:9-12.

  • They are addressed as “beloved” (6:9).
  • The writer is persuaded of the things that accompany salvation (6:9). You cannot be persuaded of fruit if you do not possess the tree and the life in it.
  • They had already produced such fruit (6:10).
  • They are exhorted to be imitators (6:12) which is never for the unsaved.

(3) Because of the Hebrews 6:4-6 passage itself. There are five spiritual privileges listed here. Let us look at them carefully. Whenever Scripture uses important terms, the very same book in which they are used will define their meaning and show their significance. This is true here with these statements.

  • “Those who were once enlightened.” Notice Hebrews 10:32, “But call to remembrance the former days in which, after ye were illuminated (enlightened), ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” This word refers to the moment when the light of the gospel was apprehended by us for the first time (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Eph. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:10). Moreover, the word “once’ when used in Hebrews marks something that is never repeated (cf. 9:7,26; 10:2;12:26).
  • “… and have tasted of the heavenly gift.” Notice Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus … that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Tasting in the Greek signifies holding something in common with someone else. It does not signify, as in our culture, tasting it and then refusing to partake of it. Christ partook of death for us completely so that we might partake of the gift of eternal life. God’s gifts and calling are without repentance so that we have eternal life as our possession. We hold this in common with Jesus Christ. His life became our life because He died our death for us.
  • “… and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” The word “partakers” is used in 2:14; 3:1 and 14. It signifies in these verses not just participation but rather the personal character that has been gained because of vital relationship. The personal character of the human race was flesh and blood. To be partakers of the Holy Spirit is to have the personal character of the person governed by Him (i.e. to be regenerated).
  • “… and have tasted of the good word of God.” This again goes back to the word “taste” and in this case they have experienced a special utterance in which they realized that it was from God.
  • “… and the powers of the world to come.” This was the powers of the millennial age. They had not partaken of the age, but of the powers of the age, and they experienced this rebirth in their own lives.

Now the parallel uses and references show that these five things are stated about believers.

a. Only the believer is once enlightened.

b. Only the believer has the gift of eternal life.

c. Only the believer has the Holy Spirit.

d. Only the believer partakes of the New Testament revelation and so governs his life accordingly.

e. Only the believer has experienced the power of the now birth.

Moreover, every one of these statements is an aorist tense signifying that these things are never repeated acts of God’s working. This too shows the writer is speaking to believers in which God Himself has performed operations which will never be repeated. If they had not been saved then they could have experienced these things; but since they were saved these acts could never be repeated.

Furthermore, just what more could someone say about believers than what is stated here? There isn’t anything more that could be said.

Having established without any question that the writer is addressing believers, the question still remains what is he saying to them? Let us consider what this passage cannot teach. It cannot teach that you can be saved, lost, and saved over again. The passage says such is an impossibility. Anyone who teaches such a thing is not only out in left field, he is out of the ball park.

This passage cannot teach that you can come up to a point of enlightenment, etc., and yet not be saved, and reject this enlightenment and experience and never be able to be saved again. This makes an unpardonable sin which Scripture knows nothing about.

What this Passage does teach (and it is just so simple)—something is impossible. It is impossible for those who are saved to fall away and then be saved all over again and so remove all the wasted years of failure and babyhood since this would require Christ to die again and put him to open shame because His first death was not sufficient. Since all of this is impossible, and we cannot remove the record of wasted years as a believer, there is only one thing for us to do—let us go on to maturity.

The record of my past stands. I cannot change it. Therefore I must be concerned about today and tomorrow for I cannot do anything about yesterday.

How can we know this is what the writer is speaking about?

(1) Verse 4 begins with “for” and gives an explanation of why we must go on.

(2) This fits the context. The context before is speaking about babyhood and wasted years. The only thing they can do is go on. The context following gives an illustration of wasted years of the land bringing forth thorns and briers (6:7-8). We cannot go back and do anything about these crops. The only thing that can be done is go on and bring forth a good crop this year.

(3) The word used here for “repentance” metanoias and signifies “repentance” to salvation. This is always in the New Testament used of initial repentance to salvation. ( metamellomai is “repentance” which is restoration to fellowship in the New Testament).

(4) The use of the word “again” is significant. It is impossible to renew a saved person “again to initial repentance” unto salvation, simply because he is already saved. The “again” shows a prior experience. In this case a prior experience of salvation.

To paraphrase this we could say: “leaving babyhood, let us go on to maturity for it is impossible by means of a falling away to renew—that is make the whole record new—by means of an initial repentance to salvation seeing this would necessitate Christ dying again and make His first death of no avail, and therefore a mockery to those looking on.”

For this to happen godwardly, it would call for another crucifixion of Christ. Manwardly—to those who watch—they would say that His salvation was not worthwhile as the first crucifixion was not sufficient, and how could we know that even a second crucifixion would be sufficient also?

      c. The Illustration of the Principle (6:7-8)

The land is not burned, but the fruit of the land is if it is thorns and briers. So all will be brought out at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15). It is not the believer who is burned, but his works that are rejected.

We cannot erase the record of last years thorns. Therefore let us go on and by the grace of God this year produce a good crop that will glorify the Lord.

    3. The Spiritual Action (6:9-20)

9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you." 15 And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:9-20).

  • Your part: things that accompany salvation (6:9-12)
  • God’s part: immutable, steadfast promises (6:13-20)

The exhortation is to us: “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. 3:13-14).

The prospects are as bright as the promises of God. Not one word has ever failed. Therefore, let us go on…

Warning #4:
The Danger of Despising
(Hebrews 10:26-31)

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge His people." 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).

Each warning given in Hebrews is progressively worse. As we’ve seen there is the danger of drifting away from the truth (2:1-4); the danger of not entering into His rest (ch. 3-4); and the danger of not going on to maturity (ch. 5-6).

All of these dangers are only for the child of God, not for the child of the world. The danger of the unsaved is not to be saved and thus go to the lake of fire. The writer of Hebrews is not writing to his people, Israel, who are unbelievers. Matthew has done that. He is writing to those who are believers, who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for their sins. They made a good confession and, even in the midst of suffering, were faithful to the Lord. But persecution has continued and intensified. They had suffered the loss of all their material wealth.

What was their problem? They needed to patiently endure. They needed to hold fast and not give up thinking that it is not worthwhile. One of the key words of the book in Hebrews, therefore, is “patience” or “patient endurance.”

So the author, after reprimanding his hearers for not being teachers of the Word even though they had been saved long enough to be teaching, and still needing to be taught the milk, urges them along with himself to “go on to maturity.” The reason “for” doing this is because it is impossible for “anyone” who is saved if they should defect from the faith to renew them again to an initial repentance. No one can be saved but once. No one can have his past forgiven but once. After coming to Christ, everything we do will come before the judgment seat of Christ and it will be rewarded if it is good, or burnt if it is good-for-nothing.

This is why there is the need to go on and a warning against going back. You can never regain wasted years. Thus the illustration of Hebrews 6:7-8 fits perfectly. All we produce is either for blessing or burning. It is not the believer that will be burned, but what he has produced. Often we take the blessings of the rain and sunshine and yet only produce thorns and briers.

10:9 - The writer stands persuaded of better things from these Hebrew believers than “thorns and briers” and things to be rejected, even though he has been forced to speak in such strong language to them.

10:10 - Moreover, they have produced “good works” and are continuing to do so now. It is not that these things are not appreciated.

10:11 - But there must be the continuing and perseverance. Now he is not saying that they are saved by perseverance, but this is the only way to receive a “full reward” for each years’ harvest. It is not enough to be satisfied with one year, or even a partial crop.

10:12 - “Slothful” goes back to 5:11 and means “dull of hearing” showing this whole section is one unit of truth. Their need was for continued “faith” as believers and “patience” realizing that the promises are for another day.

10:13 - Then he begins to talk about God’s promises.

10:14 - The whole nation of Israel came from this one promise.

10:15 - Abraham had to go through patient endurance in order to obtain the promise. He is an example of the faithful. God’s promises are never immediately rewarded, but this in no way signifies that they are not sure.

10:16 - This is the kind of an affirmation men make, and God also made the same to us. Nothing is higher than God. He is the highest authority and His Word settles and confirms all. There can be no argument against it.

10:17 - God gave His immutable Word and promise, and, as if that were not enough, He gave an oath besides.

10:18 - What is true of Abraham is true for us. The things we have believed are true. Our need is for patient endurance. We have fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ.

A “hope” is set before us. Now remember that hope in Scripture never contains any element doubt as with our English word. Rather it is an anticipated expectation which requires “waiting” for its fulfillment. The waiting for the Lord’s return is waiting for the “the blessed hope” of the believer. Our waiting for the promises God has made to be reality is not faith, but hope. Faith believed them; hope clings to them; love is to characterize our life while we wait.

10:19 - Our hope goes right on into the very presence of God because Jesus Christ is there.

10:20 - And He is the guarantee that we will ultimately be there bodily ourselves. Thus He is our forerunner.

With the mention of Melchizedek, the writer resumes his teaching which he interrupted to give this warning and exhortation.

Note Outline:

II. The Superiority of the Work of the Son (4:14–10:18)

    A. As the Great High Priest (4:14–7:28)—“After the order of Melchizedek.”

    B. As the True Tabernacle (8:1–9:11)—“Not made with hands.”

    C. As the Perfect Sacrifice (9:12–10:18)—“Once for all.”

III. The Superiority of the Outworking of So Great Salvation in the Lives of Believers (10:19–13:25)

It is not enough to know. Knowledge brings responsibility. Because of the superiority of the Son and of His work, we have a superior walk and far superior privileges in this age. But never, never forget that hand in hand with superior privileges come superior responsibilities.

    A. Exhortation (10:19-39)

      1. In light of superior privileges (10:19-25)

      2. In light of greater discipline (10:26-31). THE FOURTH WARNING.

      3. In light of former endurance (10:32-39).

Listen to our superior privileges in this dispensation.

10:19 - We can enter into the Holy of Holies. No one in Israel could do could do this but the high priest alone, and tradition holds that he could only do this once in the year and then only according to specific instructions. He entered in “with fear.” Something of that fear is given in the fact that a rope was tied around his ankle. If anything went wrong, he was pulled out. No one else dared go in.

10:20 - The high priest went around the veil; we go through the veil—the sacrifice of His body and by means of his shed blood. Anyone who does not like the blood of Jesus Christ has no access to God.

10:21 - God’s house today is so superior to His house of Israel. They came in by natural birth; we by spiritual birth. They have a high priest who is subject to death; we have one who will never die. Theirs was imperfect and sinful; our High Priest is sinless. And on and on we could go.

10:22 - The exhortation is to come. When a person in Israel was consecrated into the office of the priesthood, the blood of the sacrificial offering was sprinkled upon him, and he was totally bathed in water. Both acts are spiritual works of God’s operations today in which the believer becomes a believer-priest who ministers under the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not everyone in the Old Testament could be a priest, but only those related by birth to Aaron. However, every child of God today can be a believer-priest and consecrated to offer spiritual sacrifices to God because he is related by the new birth to the Lord Jesus Christ.

10:23 - We are to stand erect and firm in our profession of the Lord Jesus Christ and not be tottering between two opinions or positions. He is faithful who promised. He has never failed to keep His word. Why do you think He will now?

10:24 - Here is the relation of one who is strong in clinging to the promises, in relation to one who is weak in faith. The fleshly reaction of the sin nature is to criticize them and push them even further down. The Spirit’s operation is just the reverse.

10:25 - Here is an explanation of good works in this crisis period. Negatively, it is not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as some are doing. Did you realize that missing church attendance is a lack of a good work? Positively it is exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching. The day was the day of judgment upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70 which was a prefigure of the final judgment upon Israel before the Second Coming of Christ.

This brings us to the fourth warning (10:26-31)

It seems to me babyish to have to stop at this point and teach you that the writer of Hebrews is talking to saved people. However, I have learned not to take anything for granted.

(1) The writer of Hebrews nowhere in any passage ever says any word about unbelievers except as an illustration. It is a book from beginning to end whose every word is written to Christian believers. Concerning these believers the author says that Jesus Christ is “the author of eternal salvation” (5:9). “He is able also to save them to the uttermost (i.e., to the very end) that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (7:25). “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (10:14). Thus he is writing to believers who are not only saved, but eternally saved.

(2) The preceding context is dealing only with believers who have access to God through the blood of Christ. Moreover, verse 26 continues with a “for,” a word that gives an explanation of why we are encouraged to exhort one another and not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. These three exhortations to steadfastness can only be for born again believers, not for unsaved or even professers (10:22-25). The need of the unsaved is to accept Christ.

(3) The context following reveals the same truth (10:32-39). Here we find encouragement to persevere in patience. Unbelievers do not need patient endurance; they need Christ.

(4) Finally, the passage itself shows the writer is addressing believers.

  • “We” (10:26). He includes himself along with them.
  • “Receive full knowledge of the truth” (10:26). Only a believer can come to full knowledge of the truth for the natural man cannot even know the spiritual things of the Word.
  • “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (10-26) shows that they were saved or else the sacrifice of Christ could avail for them.
  • The illustration of 10:28 shows they were saved, for those with Moses were blood-redeemed people and under the blood of the covenant of the law.
  • “The blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” shows they are believers (10:29). The blood is applied to believers when they are saved. This is the sprinkling mentioned previously. The application of the blood of God’s Son is that which saves us and sets us apart as believers, We are then under the blood of the covenant, and out from under wrath. No unbeliever is under the blood, nor set apart (sanctified) by the blood. The blood on the houses of Israel set them apart from unbelievers, so the same is true here.
  • “The Spirit of grace” shows they are believers (10:29). The Holy Spirit is longsuffering with unbelievers but grace is received through the Holy Spirit only with believers. We are saved by grace through faith. Grace is available to unbelievers, but we who are believers have been recipients of it. Only a believer can, then, “insult” the grace of the Spirit of grace which is the thing involved here. The word has the idea in it of arrogance and willful injury, and it would involve the refusal by the believer to heed the Spirit’s gracious wooings not to commit this specific sin. To go ahead and sin after the gracious operation of the Spirit would be a slap to Him, and He would be grieved.
  • Finally, the use of the quotation in Hebrews 10:30, “The Lord shall judge his people,” shows that this is a reference to believers. Judgment here is not on the world, or unbelievers, but on God’s own people who are His children.

The second problem is the nature of the sin. What sin is this that the cross of Christ does not cover in time.

(1) The nature of the sin (10:26). It is a voluntary sin which the believer wills to commit after he has been saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. Now every time a believer sins it is because he “willed” to sin. He did not have to sin. This is the doctrine of Romans 6, 7 and 8. This act here, however, is something different. It is present tense and may be translated “if we keep on sinning willfully after that we have received full knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” This sin is, then, a deliberate, premeditated sinning with full knowledge that it is wrong.

(2) The action involved. It is such an act that involves a repudiation of former actions that were good, spiritual, joyful, and for which they were fully aware of future rewards (10:32-35).

(3) The consequences of the act. It would involve a repudiation of their previous confession of Jesus Christ as their Savior (10:23; cf. 3:1; 4:14).

(4) The sin itself. By comparing 10:32-37 with 10:23-25 we may correctly say the sin is (a) a separation of the believer from other believers permanently, and (b) a return of the separated believer to the Temple and all it entails in order to escape the present persecution that was upon them.

(5) The sin involved a denunciation of: (a) The person of Christ (Heb. 1:1–4:13), (b) The work of Christ (Heb. 4:14-10:18), and (c) The ministry of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of the believer (Heb. 10:19–13:25). This is why verse 29 states all three categories.

The final question is what is the nature of the judgment? It just comes down to this. Desiring to escape man’s judgment, they will fall into the judgment of God.

(1) The judgment cannot be loss of eternal salvation or of eternal life (10:39). If it is possible to lose eternal salvation, then it is not eternal salvation.

(2) The judgment does involve loss of spiritual rewards (10:35-36).

(3) The judgment does involve physical death for this is certain to come if they continue and persist in sinning (10:28-29).

(4) The judgment may be that the believer who returns to the Temple and to the City of Jerusalem will be involved in the judgment our Lord prophesied would come upon the city and the Temple (10:25,27). This is why we find in Hebrews 13:13-14 the exhortation to go outside the city bearing His reproach.

Is it possible for a believer today to be guilty of this same sin? It most certainly is. We are saved by the blood of Christ and the eternal guilt of sin is removed forever, but it is possible to neglect this so great salvation and to carelessly drift from it through indifference.

It is possible to stop short of a life of rest and peace which the Lord has planned for us as His child, simply because we never go on living a life of faith and therefore never come to experience the best that God has for us.

It is possible to never mature in the Lord and never grow up, but to be infants in spiritual things all of our lives. Such a person has years of wasted service where all that is produced is “good-for-nothing” but burning.

It is also possible to sin willfully or deliberately with full understanding of the sin and the consequences of our action, and have the hand of God discipline us in time in life even to the point of physical death. We are saved by grace, but grace does not mean that we can do anything we want (Hebrews 10:22-25).

Warning #5:
The Danger of Denying (Part 1)
(Hebrews 12:12-29)

12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

18 For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned." 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I am full of fear and trembling." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying," Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven." 27 And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:15-29).

Next we are considering the fifth and final warning in the book of Hebrews. These warnings are an integral part of the message of the Epistle. They take the truth, expounded and relate it to life and action.

The book of Hebrews may be looked upon as in three parts—all concerning the Son and His superior salvation.

I. His Person (1:1–4:13)

II. His Work (4:14–10:18)

III. His Outwork (10:19–13:25)

    His life—what He was from all eternity past.

    His Death—what He did once in a point of time

    His Resurrection Life—what He will be for all eternity to come.

      Who He is.

      What He did.

      What He can do for you.

        The Son—eternal.

        The Savior—perfect.

        The Shepherd—great.

          He is Prophet—the Revealer. As such lie represents God to man.

            As Prophet, He was crowned with thorns (John 19:2).

          He is Priest—the Sacrificer. As such He represents man to God.

            As Priest., He is crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9).

          He is King—the Sovereign. As such He represents man to man.

            As King, He will be crowned with many crowns (Rev. 19:12).

Beginning at 10:19 we commence the last section of the book. This is the application of the doctrine. It is our work in light of His work.

We have superior privileges (Heb. 10:19-21), but with these come also greater responsibilities (10:22-25). We are exhorted to enter into these greater privileges (10:22) to hold fast to our profession of Christ as Savior because God’s promises will come to pass (10:23), and to encourage one another, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (10.24-25).

The reason we must do these things is because if we willfully sin having full knowledge of the sin and its consequences, God is forced to chasten us (10:26-29) because of His very nature (10:33-31). He cannot and will not let His children get by with this any more than we could let our children get by with this.

The Hebrews are thus encouraged to persevere in patience (10:32-39). They have previously endured (10:32-34) so they should continue (10:35-36) because the Word of the Lord stands sure (10:37) and all who please God must patiently endure, living by faith (10:38-39).

In fact, real faith produces patient endurance (11:1-3), and this is seen in every era of the Old Testament (11:4-40). The implication is, to go back to the Temple of Jerusalem is not to be joined to the faithful company of the Old Testament at all, but is to depart from them.

All of the Old Testament saints are a witness to us that the race can be run (12:1), and the only way to have rest is through patient endurance even as was true of the Lord Jesus Christ (12:2) . When we consider Christ and His sufferings, our sufferings and struggles are mild (12:3-4). But God has a purpose in the believer receiving discipline with patient endurance, and that is the maturity of His child (12:5-11).

So the believer has an obligation to weaker ones in the assembly (12:12-13) and to himself (12:14). He must know the three dangers that are before him (12:15-16) which may be illustrated by Esau’s decision which was irrevocable even though he regretted it later. Esau had neither faith nor patient endurance, and he was cut off by one act from the place of blessing (12:17).

By application, if the Hebrews returned to the old system of the Temple, they go to that of utter “terror” (12:18-22), and they leave in contrast the place of privilege and grace, and the heavenly city which is the reward of those who faithfully endure (12:22-24).

Therefore, there must be a final warning. Abel’s blood spoke continually on earth; Christ’s blood is greater and speaks continually from heaven that He shall come, judge, and bring in the new age with its new covenant (12:25-27). So patiently endure, offering spiritual worship as a believer-priest, knowing God purifies dross (12:28-29).

This carries us through the fifth warning. Now let us look at the context to this final warning in detail.

    Our Responsibility in light of all of the Facts Presented (12:12-29)
      1. The Exhortation (12:12-17)

12:12 - “Wherefore,” in light of all of these facts presented this conclusion goes back all the way to the willful sin in 10:26. In light of it and the truth presented from 10:26 to 12:11 the exhortation is given. “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.” Here is our relationship to others in the body.

(1) Hands—we are to lift then up in prayer even as Moses did (Ex. 17:11-12) in order to win the victory for others. We are not to be defeated and discouraged. We are not to criticize someone else; we are to pray for them.

(2) Knees—feeble knees will not hold you up in the day of battle (Ezek. 7:17). We are to be strong in battle and not terrified by the adversary.

12:13 - “And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”

(3) Feet—The Children of Israel wandered around in circles for 38 years without ever going anywhere. We are to make straight paths for our feet. We are to go on. We are to look unto Jesus, and setting our eyes on Him, not wander from the course set before us.

“Lame” here is “to be put out of joint” and it speaks of the shuffle of the paralytic, Some in the body were paralyzed, and they were traveling along with greatest of difficulty. The figure of the body is used to represent the church and its spiritual condition and it shows that the lame person is spiritually lame. This person is to be spiritually healed so that the whole body may move out and move on together, without some being left behind.

12:14 - “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Here is the injunction to each person individually rather than collectively as in the preceding verses. “Peace” indicates there is to be no quarrel, no animosity between ourselves and anyone else. “Holiness” signifies we are to be set apart for the Lord. The one is our personal relationship with others; and the other is our personal relationship with the Lord Himself.

12:15 - “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.” This word “looking diligently” signifies searching out carefully or minutely just like the Israelites searched their homes before the Passover to rid them of all leaven. It is constant spiritual oversight by each one of us of our own lives. The reason is three-fold, brought out by the three occurrences of the word “lest.” Here are three dangers that every believer may face and for which he must be constantly on guard.

(1) “… lest any man fail of the grace of God.” This is failure on the part of the child of God to appropriate grace. Whenever I fail to appropriate grace for the needs of the day, I will fail when testing and temptation come. God has provided grace to meet it, but I have failed to appropriate it. I will then react according to my sin nature.

If God brings something into our lives, He will also give us grace to overcome it and gain the victory (2 Cor. 12:9), rather than to be overcome by it. “As our days, so shall our strength be.” These Hebrew Christians were going through trials and testings, but they had failed to appropriate God’s grace so as to stand up under the testings. Thus they were living defeated lives. They had failed of the grace of God.

(2) “… lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you., and thereby many be defiled.” This is open infidelity. Bitterness in the heart leads to murmuring with the tongue. And murmuring is one of the most dangerous sins because it always affects others and leavens the whole camp. It starts with one., but it ends defiling many. This is what happened in Israel over and over again.

So it is always, when I fail to appropriate grace, there will be a root of bitterness in my heart against God who has allowed this “trouble” to come, and it will ultimately come out in my speech.

(3) “… lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” This final step and condition is open contempt of what is our responsibility or our privilege. The entire passage hinges on this one illustration. It is very significant.

There are two obstacles to holiness that are presented here: fornication and profane person. Esau represents the latter and this is also the danger of the Hebrews. “A little bit of material food” emphasizes for how little Esau sold his birthright.

Now the birthright and its significance to Esau can only be understood as one understands that this was not merely being heir of flocks and herds, and Esau rejected this. This is not the issue. God had made a covenant with Abraham, and that covenant promise was going to be fulfilled through Isaac’s heirs. Esau was the one in direct line, and being the elder son of Isaac would have received the elder son portion, i.e., two-thirds. But he surrendered for himself and his descendants the covenant promises of God for one meal. That is what he thought of God’s promises, and that is how much he wanted to wait, or patiently endure for them.

What was Esau’s problem? He failed to appropriate the grace of God (12:15a). Consequently, there was in Esau a root of bitterness against God. Esau was in trouble and hungry. He was angry with God because God could have prevented him from being hungry. This bitterness of heart expressed itself and he became materialistic. He recognized nothing but the here and now. He focused his whole attention on material things, not on invisible and eternal things. He thought more of one meal now than receiving the fulfillment of all the promises God had made at a later date. God calls this being profane. This is cursing God in the heart, and God looks upon the heart.

12:17 “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”

Esau represents here a covenant son. This is essential for one to realize or they will miss the point of the illustration. The Hebrews are also saved and in a covenant position in relation to God. Yet Esau was rejected on the basis of one decision, for this decision was irrevocable, even though he later sought to change the decision with tears.

This is the warning to the Hebrews lest they also make an irrevocable decision that would cut them off from blessing. Salvation is not in view here as it has not been in view anywhere beyond the first warning, but eligibility for blessing is in view.

In Hebrews 10:26 we found that the willful sin will bring temporal judgments upon the person who commits it. Now the added truth is here stated that this decision of sinning willfully is an irrevocable decision. If the Hebrews commit this, they will never be able to go back and change it later on regardless of tears or anything else. They will have turned from God’s blessings not found in Judaism, and will never be able to come back to the place of blessing now enjoyed. They will settle for a blasted life, and they will have disqualified themselves from any place of leadership ever again in the assembly. The sin can be forgiven, but the effects will continue on and on. Esau, for one sin, was cut off from God’s blessing. Take heed!

It all starts with a little thing of failing to appropriate the grace of God. But there are no little things in the Christian life. Let us look diligently lest any of us fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble us, and thereby many be defiled.

We are not immune to failure.

Warning #5:
The Danger of Denying (Part 2)

How long has it been since you heard a message on hell? It has been quite a while hasn’t it? Perhaps many of you have never heard a message on the lake of fire. While I have read sermons on the subject, I have never heard one myself. This is not a very popular subject, and is neglected by default of those who do believe in it.

But., beloved, if there is not a hell to be saved from, then there is absolutely no need for a Savior to rescue us from it. A Savior is meaningless without a certain death. While I am not going to speak on hell, I do want to relate its truth to unbelievers.

We who are believers have experienced the Lord’s so great salvation. We have come to know that He saved us from an eternal death. We are saved and that salvation is eternal (Heb. 5:8-9). This eternal salvation has saved us from eternal judgment (Heb. 6:2). This is why it is so great salvation because He bore our eternal judgment in a point of time.

The believer’s problem, then, can never be eternal salvation or eternal judgment. That issue stands settled. “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39).

Our problem as believers is not a matter with sin that would cause us to lose our eternal salvation, but it is with sin that would cause us to lose the Lord’s blessings in our lives, and may even cause us to lose our lives in death. Our problem is with time—not eternity. Our problem is with our physical life—not our eternal soul. Our problem is with physical death—not eternal death.

This is the issue before the Hebrew Christians, and it is the issue with us also.

Some sins are small, but others are not. Some things we do are relatively unimportant, while other things are very important. This is why I John 5 speaks about sin not unto death., and about sin unto death. We are to stop and. take heed to ourselves and our actions “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).

I want you to notice that this is never spoken in reference to unbelievers. God is not, and never will be, a consuming fire in reference to unbelievers. For unbelievers He will be an eternal fire that will consume nothing. However, in reference to the believer He is a consuming fire that will consume all that is wood, hay and stubble, and all that is thorns and briers. He will even take away our lives if we are completely displeasing to Him.

Never say, “that couldn’t happen here; it couldn’t ever happen to me.” This was the attitude at the time of Christ when they said: “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves; that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets” (Matt. 23:30-31).

There is not any sin that we as believers are not capable of committing. This is why we are to take heed to ourselves lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:11-12; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 4:11).

We saw in the last lesson that the route of any failure is a progression involving three stages.

(1) It begins with failing to appropriate grace. “… lest any man fail of the grace of God” (12:15a).

(2) The next step is having bitterness in the heart. “… lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (12:15b). Bitterness in the heart leads to murmuring with the mouth, and this leads others to sin also.

(3) The final step is open contempt of what is our responsibility or our privilege. “… lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Either one of these two sins permanently disqualifies one from service and from blessings therein.

Concerning these three things we are to search out ourselves and our hearts carefully, to give inspection, to oversee continually lest these things come into our lives unexpectedly and undetected. No one sins any other route. We fail to appropriate God’s grace for the situation or trial. This leads us to have bitterness in our hearts to God for allowing this hardship or difficulty to come upon us. What is in our hearts ultimately comes out and it defiles others. All this in turn causes a final state in which we settle for the temporal rather than the eternal; for the here-and-now rather than the hereafter; and for the material rather than the spiritual. We fail to patiently endure. This is what Esau did, and his decision was irrevocable. We are capable of doing the same thing.

Here is a young man or a young woman. The Lord has called them to the mission field. The way to Bolivia, or India, or Morocco is long and hard. They fail to appropriate the grace necessary for the way and for the testings along the journey. Then everything caves in. “God is not really concerned about me. He really does not love me. If He loved me He would have provided for me, and given me a life partner.” Then the person falls in love with someone not called to the field and they are married. They made a decision that is irrevocable. They have missed the perfect will of God and must settle the remainder of their lives for that which is His second best, His 20th best, or His 200th best.

Having given the exhortation not to fail (Heb. 12:12-17), we come to our next point …

      (2) The Believer’s Privileges and Position (12:18-24)

18 For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned." 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I am full of fear and trembling." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:18-24)

The believer must understand his privileges and his position today or he cannot understand why the Lord will judge him so severely for disobedience. The author of this book states this truth both negatively and positively.

Negatively (12:18-21)

To go back to the law and the Temple is to go back to a system of terror. The law was a system of terror. “Do you not hear the law,” the writer is saying. The contrast here is between the Old Testament revelation and its responsibilities with the New Testament and its responsibilities and privileges.

Positively (12:22-24)

The one was “terror”; the other is “grace” and far superior privileges. The emphasis is not on the city, but on the One living in the city. Look at the occupants of the city.

(1) Angels, i.e., the holy angels.

(2) Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (which began at Pentecost and will end at the rapture).

(3) God, the Judge of all.

(4) Spirits of just men made perfect (the Old Testament saints who are not a part of the church nor ever will

be).

(5) Jesus., the mediator of the New Covenant.

(6) Blood of Sprinkling, i.e., the mercy seat, or the throne of grace as it is called in Hebrews.

This is the city we are looking for, not some earthly city. Abel was the very first person to offer blood sacrifice. It was a testimony from then on, even though he was dead, that this is God’s only method of acceptance and only way of approach (Cf. 11:4).

But now there is a greater witness than that of Abel, because there is greater blood in a greater place that is continually speaking to men. The blood of Jesus Christ is God’s only means of acceptance and only way of approach.

      (3) The Final Warning (12:25-29)

In light of the better blood in a better place, and all the superior privileges we possess, there is a far greater obligation and responsibility that is ours.

12:25 - “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh.” Literally it is “He who is right now speaking” (present tense). This ties the Epistle of Hebrews and its message into one unit. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his son” (Heb. 1:1-2) “Therefore … how shall we escape …” (Heb. 2:1,3).

These Hebrew believers in grace who reject the present voice of the Lord are guilty of a far greater sin than their fathers. Their fathers did not escape; so much more will they not escape. “How much more sorer punishment” (Heb. 10:29). “The Lord will judge His people” (Heb. 10:30).

It is not salvation, but temporal punishment that is in view here (cf. 1 Cor. 11:31-32).

12:26 - The One who spoke on Sinai is now the One who speaks from heaven in grace and bids us come. He is yet to speak one more time, and the last time He comes and speaks it will be in judgment.

You had better be right with Him. It is one thing to be out of step with an earthly monarch. It is something else to be out of step with the Sovereign of the universe.

The prophecy quoted here is from Haggai 2:6 and refers to the second coming of Christ. It pictures judgment which precedes the coming of a new age. The shaking of the earth will be the purifying judgment and the removal of all things not in conformity to the holiness of the Lord and not subject to the King.

God will yet do this for Israel. You had better be found on the right side in that day. The judgment in A. D. 70 was just a preview of the final judgment that will occur.

12:27 - Those things that can be shaken show they are temporary. What is unshakable manifests it is eternal. The Temple and the old covenant as prophesied are shakable and therefore temporary. The New Jerusalem and the new covenant are unshakable and eternal. The Temple will be completely destroyed. The old covenant will pass away, but both the New Jerusalem of the new covenant with the house of Israel will last forever. The shaking is viewed as already in process.

12:28 - The final appeal is given to “believers.” Believers are looked upon as in a process of receiving a kingdom. At the present time the Mediator is still in heaven. The establishment of this kingdom on earth with the New Jerusalem over the earth is definite and sure, yet it is still unseen. We must abide faithful, and obtain grace so as to patiently endure for our reward until He comes or until He calls home. In the meantime we are to serve the Lord acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

You do not love someone you do not respect. You cannot love the Lord unless you respect Him. The Lord will judge His children. You had better take heed and reverence Him. No child will deliberately sin without paying the full price in discipline from the Lord.

Acceptable service to God is in the called out assembly, not in returning back to the Temple and offering animal sacrifices.

12:29 - The exhortation closes and the warnings are over. But the discipline awaits all who will not heed. Hebrews begins with the Son speaking, and it ends with the blood of the Son continuing to speak from heaven as an eternal witness.

We have considered the five warnings of Hebrews. Here are five flashing red lights on the road of disobedience. They are five stop signs on the freeway of backsliding. Each one of these warnings may be illustrated by the nation of Israel in covenant relationship with the Lord. Just as these things happened to the nation of Israel under the blood of the first covenant, so these things may happen of the church under the blood of the new covenant.

(1) The Danger of Drifting (Heb. 2). The children of Israel w ho were redeemed by blood and by power, drifted from the truth at Mount Sinai, and they made a golden calf. It cost the physical life of 5,000 saved Israelites. So the question is asked us: “How shall we escape if we drift from so great salvation?”

(2) The Danger of Not Entering into Rest (Heb. 3-4). After leaving Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. The nation and generation that accepted His salvation perished in the wilderness because they refused to continue a life of faith. Over a million perished. We are not only saved “by faith,” but “the just shall live by faith.” Here is the danger for us of doubting, of not walking by faith as a believer, and of missing His rest and His best.

(3) The Danger of Not Going on to Maturity (Heb. 5-6). This was the state of the nation after entering into Canaan under the judges, the kings and the prophets. They never grew up as a nation. They were never able to use the Word of God in their lives. They never applied it to life’s situations. The result was that thousands upon thousands perished in the sieges and conflicts of the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities.

(4) The Danger of the Willful Sin (Heb. 10). Here is a picture of the nation at the time of the first coming of Christ. They kept on sinning willfully. Christ even spoke a parable against those of His generation (Luke 20:9-16,19; cf. Matt. 21:43). Consequently the Lord Himself said: “The blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world (shall) be required of this generation” (Luke 11:50). Josephus tells us that millions of Jews perished in A.D. 70 under the Roman, General Titus. The nation had committed the willful sin.

(5) The Danger of Indifference.(Heb 12). This will yet be the sin of the nation of Israel during the coming tribulation. The Lord speaks in Matthew 25:1-13 of the five wise and five foolish virgins, and shows the indifference on part of even those who profess. Many will not patiently endure. The Old Testament prophets have prophesied that two-thirds of the nation of Israel will perish in the tribulation period because they are indifferent to spiritual realities.

You may have noticed that each of these warnings is greater than the previous one, and that failure to heed them brought in each case more severe discipline. This same progression of sinning that is possible in the life experience of these second generation believers, and that which may be illustrated in the history of the children of Israel, may also be illustrated in the history of the church as seen in Revelation 2 and 3.

(1) The Danger of Drifting. While this is a danger to any generation of believers, it was an actuality in the time of the church of Pergamos, which is a picture of the exalted church from the time of Constantine to Gregory the Great. They drifted from the truth, and had those in the church with different doctrine—doctrines of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.

The message was “repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” They did not repent and the Lord himself destroyed those in the church with the sword of His mouth even as the Levites had destroyed 3,000 at the time of the golden calf incident.

(2) The Danger of Not Entering into Rest. The church at Thyatira went into open rebellion against the Lord even as Israel openly rebelled against the Lord and against Moses. For Israel it was a very dark period of her history where a generation perished in the wilderness. For the church it is the dark ages where a millennium of souls perished without light.

(3) The Danger of Not Going on to Maturity. The church at Sardis had the truth, but not the life. They had a name that they lived, but they were dead. They failed to use the Word in daily practice, and so failed to go on to maturity even though they had come to salvation. Their works were not perfect before God, for they produced only things destined for the bonfire.

(4) The Danger of the Willful Sin. The church at Philadelphia faced a crisis in which they had to decide whether they would keep true to the Lord’s word and not deny His name, or whether they would give up both. This church did not fail this crisis. But the implication is that there were others who did. It was only a very small church, a remnant, that remained true to the Lord. This is a picture of the modernism fundamentalism controversy that took place in the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. At this time most of the church committed the willful sin, denying the person of Christ, the blood work of Christ and did despite unto the Spirit of grace.

(5) The Danger of Indifference. Here is the Laodicean period of the church, or the modern ecumenical church. The Lord is seen standing outside the door of His own church, and the church itself is totally indifferent to His knock and His voice. Therefore His call is to any individual who will hear and let Him come into them. This church, along with the church of Thyatira, will go into the Great Tribulation. God will give them just as they have given Him. He will spew them out of His mouth.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

As a believer I cannot live just any way and get by with it. I am not going to get by; I am going to get it. But “if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31). But when we will not judge ourselves then “God will judge His people.”

Write this on your heart, and live accordingly. You cannot love One that you do not respect. Disobedience brings discipline; obedience brings blessing: it is just as we will it.

The Church and the New Covenant

One of the great programs of God is His covenant program. No understanding of Scripture is possible without understanding God’s covenant program. What took place on Calvary was a part of that program, for it was there that the blood of the New Covenant was shed. This is why the communion cup is said to be “the new testament” (or new covenant) “in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25).

But just how does the church relate to this New Covenant. We read a caption at the beginning of the last 27 books of Scripture: “The New Testament.” The word testament and covenant are identical. Thus these are the New Covenant books. But just what is the church’s relationship to this New Covenant? Does Scripture say? Yes, it does; and the truth is very important to us.

Background

    A. Definition. What is a covenant?

A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties which prescribes a course of action that will be followed. It is a contract that is binding. I agree to pay so much money and you agree to deliver to me such and such in return. This is a covenant.

    B. Two Types of Covenants in Scripture.
      1. Conditional Covenant.

Here a certain course of action will occur after something else occurs. “If you do this, then I will do that.” This covenant is always identifiable by “if … then …” In this type of agreement, there are conditions attached. One or both parties must meet the conditions before the covenant agreement will be met.

God entered into a conditional covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, and they entered in with Him. “All that the Lord says we will do.” They bound themselves to this covenant. God promised blessing if the people obeyed His laws and He promised judgment if they disobeyed.

By the way, this is the only conditional covenant God ever entered into with man. All the rest are unconditional. Some people teach that God entered into a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden. This is totally wrong. God told Adam what would happen for disobedience. There was no agreement whatever between them. For there to be a conditional covenant, Adam would have had to agree to the conditions. You can have an unconditional covenant with one person agreeing to act and the other person saying nothing (this is what happened in the case of Abraham when God put him to sleep, and the Lord alone entered into the covenant), but you cannot have a conditional covenant without both parties covenanting together. This never happened in the Garden of Eden.

      2. Unconditional Covenant

This is a covenant agreement in which no conditions are attached on which fulfillment depends. An unconditional covenant states what one party will do regardless of human action, merit, failure, or any other conditions. When an unconditional covenant is entered into in Scripture by God, the key words are, “I will.”

God entered into an unconditional covenant with David that He would establish David’s house and throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). God would chasten his descendants if they sinned, but he would never remove the promised agreement regardless of anything (cf. Ps. 89:34-37).

There is one more thing that should be carefully noted. There may be a condition or conditions attached as to whether a covenant may be enacted with a certain party or not, while once it is enacted the covenant itself is unconditional. This was the case with the Abrahamic covenant where Abraham had to leave his father and land before the covenant applied to him; but once he had met the conditions, the covenant itself is unconditional.

    C. The Various Relationships of Covenants in Scripture

All kinds of covenant agreements are given in Scripture for the express purpose of teaching us just exactly what a covenant is, and how it operated. We will mention just a few of each type.

      1. Covenants of Men

      a. Covenants between individuals and individuals.

  • Abraham and Abimelech (Gen. 21:32).
  • Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:44).
  • Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:3).
  • The marriage bond is a form of a covenant agreement (Prov. 2:17; Mal. 2:14).

      b. Covenants between an individual and a group.

  • Isaac and Abimelech with the nation (Gen. 26:28).
  • Jabash-Gilead and Nahash, the Ammonite (1 Sam. 11:1-2).

      c. Covenants between nation and nation.

  • Israel and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:15-21).

This shows us something of the binding nature of a covenant. Once a covenant is entered into, it is irrevocable even though obtained by false pretenses. If this is true with man—and it is—how much more is this true with God.

Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”

Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”

      2. Covenants of God.

      a. Covenants between God and the world generally.

  • No flood to destroy all mankind (Gen. 9:8-17).
  • Covenant of day and night (Jer. 33:20,25; Gen. 8:22).

      b. Covenants between God and Israel.

  • Covenant of the Law (Ex. 19:5-8).
  • Covenant of Restoration (Deut. 30:1-9).

      c. Covenants between God and Individuals.

  • With Abraham (Gen. 12ff).
  • With David (2 Sam. 7:12-16).

From all of these various types, it can be seen that a covenant may be in the physical, social, political or spiritual realm.

    D. The Ratifying of Covenants

While a covenant is a promise, an agreement, or a contract -which may be only verbal (Josh. 9:15-21)., yet it may also be ratified by some means. Three such means are used in Scripture.

      1. A Shoe Covenant.

Here was something valuable to one person only, and something quite individualistic, yet it would be given as a symbol of ratifying the covenant. If both shoes had been given, then this might have been valuable to another, but this cannot be the case with the giving of but one shoe (Deut. 25:9; Ruth 4:7).

      2. The Salt Covenant.

Salt was very valuable in this country and it was used as a means of ratifying an agreement (Lev. 2:13. Num. 18:19. 2 Chron. 13:5).

      3. A Sacrifice or Blood Covenant.

This was the most binding of all means of ratifying a covenant. God ratified His covenant promise to Abraham with a blood sacrifice (Gen. 15:9-15). Abraham realized what was going on and what it meant. In a blood covenant, the two parties would join hands and walk between the divided pieces. The Hebrew expression for making a covenant is literally, “to cut a covenant,” and comes from cutting the animal into two pieces. A blood covenant was dissolved only by death. So binding was this covenant that to break it meant I will give my blood as even this innocent animal. You actually need only one animal sacrifice for a blood covenant.

    E. Symbols or Signs Employed to Show a Covenant had been Established

Many and various symbols or signs were used to show that a covenant had been established. Do not confuse the ratifying of a covenant with the sign of the covenant, for these are two entirely separate things. The sign might be anything:

  • Rainbow (Gen. 9). Sign of covenant with the whole of creation.
  • Circumcision (Gen. 17:10-12). Sign of Abrahamic covenant.
  • Animals (Gen. 21:30). Sign of covenant between Abraham and Abimeleck.
  • Sabbath (Ex. 31:16-17). The sign of the Mosaic covenant.
  • Clothes (1 Sam. 18:4). The sign of the covenant between David and Jonathan.
  • Bread and Cup (1 Cor. 11:23-25). The sign that the blood sacrifice has been made for the new covenant.
    F. The Covenant People

While God has entered into agreements with all mankind and even with the animal creation as in Genesis 9, He has only entered into covenant relationships with one people or nation. That nation is Israel. God never entered into a covenant with any other people, nor with any Gentile nation: neither Moab, nor Ishmaelites, nor Edom, nor the American Indian as Mormonism contends.

The truth stated positively: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants …” (Rom. 9:4).

The truth stated negatively. Speaking of Gentiles, “That at that time, ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise … (Eph. 2:12).

Oh, I wish people knew what Paul taught about the covenants. Men who know so well what he teaches about justification by faith, know so little what he teaches about the covenants.

This is extremely important. A covenant made by Joshua with the Gibeonites had to be kept with them and could not be transferred to the Edomites. Likewise when God entered into a covenant with Israel and gave the physical descendants an unconditional covenant promise ratified by blood, it is legally binding upon God to that nation. This covenant cannot either legally, morally or spiritually be transferred to another people. If you can do this, then who can say that God might not transfer His covenant promise of salvation made to us, and transfer it to the fallen angels. What then happens to eternal salvation and justification? If an unconditional covenant can be transferred in one case, who can say it cannot be transferred in another?

It is time we let God be true and every man a liar. God must fulfill His word made to Israel with Israel and not with the descendants of Ishmael, or with the church, or with any other people. Paul says in Romans 11 that God will do this very thing.

    G. God’s Method of Fulfilling the Covenants

God only has one method of fulfilling Scripture whether it is prophecy, type, parable or covenants. God fulfills His Word literally in exact and specific detail. No proof has ever been shown for any other method of fulfillment.

God’s Covenant Program with Israel

No understanding of Scripture is possible apart from an understanding of God’s covenant program with His covenant people. There are three main covenants:

  • The Abrahamic Covenant that commenced the nation.
  • The Mosaic Covenant that bound the nation.
  • The New Covenant that will free the nation.

Besides these three are two minor covenants.

  • The Palestinian Covenant.
  • The Davidic Covenant.

Both of these covenants, however, only enlarge upon the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Let us look at the three major covenants.

(1) The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12-22). This is an eternal, unconditional, blood covenant. The covenant promise was made in Genesis 12; the covenant was ratified by blood in Genesis 15; the sign of the covenant was given in Genesis 17. This covenant was stated over again to both Isaac and Jacob and so by-passed Ishmael and Esau. God over and over again refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He does this because He is referring to His covenant with these men.

There are three key words in the Abrahamic Covenant. These three are “land,” “seed,” and “blessing.” This covenant is the basis for all the rest of God’s dealings with Israel, and through Israel with the world.

(2)The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 20:1–31:18). This was a temporary, conditional, blood covenant. The blood made it binding, but it is nowhere spoken of as an eternal covenant. In fact., the moment God announced through His prophet that there was to be a New Covenant (Jer. 31; etc.,) which would replace this Mosaic Covenant, at that moment this covenant was shown to be temporary. This is the whole argument of the writer of Hebrews.

(3) The New Covenant. This is an eternal, unconditional, blood covenant (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 37:26; Rom. 11:25-27; Heb. 8:6-13; 10:16-17). The new covenant enlarges and fulfills all that was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, but it also supersedes the Mosaic Covenant. It does what the Mosaic Covenant never could do, not because there was anything wrong with the Mosaic Covenant as such, but because there was something wrong with the people (cf. Heb. 8:8, “for finding fault with them,” i.e., the people under the covenant, “he said …”).

This New Covenant is prophesied as being made with the nation of Israel in the last days. It will make old the first covenant (Mosaic Covenant was the first covenant made with the nation), and will thus supercede it. The Mosaic Covenant was never spoken of as an eternal covenant, yet all of the other covenants made with Israel were somewhere in Scripture called eternal covenants.

As we have said, the problem with the Old Covenant of the law was not in the law itself because it was holy, righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). The problem was with the heart of man. The New Covenant solves this problem by changing the heart (Jer. 31:33). This will involve a complete understanding of the Lord (Jer. 31:34a). Teachers of the Lord will be out of a job in that day. Man will be back in the place of fellowship with God which was lost in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, God will do a complete work in reference to sin (Jer. 31:34b). This is just a few of the things Scripture tells us concerning this glorious covenant.

The Church’s Relation to the New Covenant

What does Scripture tell us? Is the New Covenant already in existence? Has it already been made with the church? I would answer as Paul answers: Me Genoito (translated: “God forbid”).

(1) Paul says the covenants pertain to Israel, and the church is not Israel, for God will yet deal with Israel (Rom. 11:26-29) in covenant relationship. Now if the church is Israel, then who in the world is Israel?

(2) The New Covenant is specifically said to be made “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). The Lord makes no mistakes in His wording. He says what He means and means what He says. He doesn’t say “Israel” and mean “The Church.” The writer of Hebrews confirms this truth. By stating both houses, it has to refer to the nation of Israel (Heb. 8:8). Verse 9 shows them to be the same people God led out of Egypt. This also has to refer to Israel.

Now just which house is the church? It is neither “house.” God never entered into a covenant with my father, did He with yours? The church is not composed of just those of Israel, but it is composed of Jew and Gentile. The church is one new man.

(3) The Covenant will be enacted at the second coming of Christ (Rom. 11:26) with the coming of a Deliverer that will do a complete job in reference to sin in Israel. This was never done when Christ came the first time. In fact, at the first coming of Christ, the sins from Abel to Zecharias were required of that generation; they were not removed.

This period when the Covenant will be made is spoken of as “the last days.” The first coming of Christ is never called the last days. Moreover, when this New Covenant is made, Israel will be the Lord’s people and they will have the Lord as their God. They will teach no one to know the Lord for all will know Him. The Lord will forgive their sins and remember them no more. None of these things have yet been fulfilled, so therefore, the New Covenant has not been made as yet.

In summary then:

  • The Great Deliverer has not come and turned away ungodliness from Jacob.
  • The last days have not been fulfilled.
  • The teaching of the Person of the Lord today is very necessary for all men do not know Him.
  • The forgiveness of sins has not occurred in reference to Israel.
  • Consequently, the New Covenant has not been made with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, and this exactly what the writer of Hebrews states.

No Scripture anywhere says the New Covenant has been made with the Church. What Christ said at the last supper was: “This is my blood of the new covenant” (Matt. 26:28 and Mark 14:24), and “This is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor. 11:25). The blood of the New Covenant is not the New Covenant. The New Covenant in blood is still not the New Covenant itself.

What is involved? When Christ returns to the nation of Israel and appears the second time., He will appear without sin (Heb. 9:28). At His second appearing there will be no sacrifice for sin and no blood ratifying of the New Covenant that will be made. The blood sacrifice will have been made years before at the Lord’s first coming. This sacrifice of blood at the first coming will ratify the New Covenant with the nation of Israel at the second coming. The one sacrifice of Christ is the basis of everything, and of every provision.

Here then is the picture. Just as Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Old Covenant and was thus the mediator of the covenant between God and the people, so Christ has ascended to heaven itself and is the mediator of a better covenant. “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6).

Hebrews 12:24 says in reference to the city to which we are to come and to its inhabitants: “… and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” He is the mediator of the New Covenant but has never returned to enact that New Covenant with the people to whom the covenant belongs. Just as the covenant was not enacted with the nation until Moses came down from the mountain, so the New Covenant of which Christ is the Mediator today will not be enacted with the nation until Christ returns “without sin unto salvation”

8 For finding fault with them, He says, "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. 10 "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord : I will put My laws into their minds , And I will write them upon their hearts . And I will be their God , And they shall be My people. 11 "And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' For all shall know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more." 13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear (Hebrews 8:8-13).

… so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:28).

You will remember that while Moses was on the mountain mediating the Covenant that the nation was in unbelief. God desired to cast them off from His sight. Moses interceded and the covenant was made ultimately with the nation after a second attempt.

This is what is taking place today. The nation of Israel is in unbelief (Rom. 11:20; etc.). During this time when the nation is in unbelief, anyone (Jew or Gentile) may be saved by faith, by believing in the One who is greater than Moses who has ascended to the Mount of God and is today mediating the New Covenant.

“By so much was Jesus made a surety” (literally “guarantee”) “of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22). Why is Jesus the guarantee of a better testament or covenant? Simply because the better covenant has not been enacted yet. If it had been enacted you would not have needed the guarantee that it will be. Because of the shed blood, we who are believers today believe that the New Covenant will be enacted. We are saved by the blood of the New Covenant, which is called in Hebrews 13:20 “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” because this covenant once made will never give place to another throughout all eternity.

The New Testament believer today comes under the blessings of the blood of the covenant, and is “by faith” appropriating from the Mountain of God’s throne the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel, in unbelief, never approaches this Mountain; we by faith and by blood approach it as a throne of grace, not judgment.

You should never confuse the blessings which the believer enjoys today because the New Covenant promise has been ratified by the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment or enactment of the New Covenant with Israel at the second coming of Christ. These are two completely distinct and separate entities. The ratification has only made it doubly sure. It has made the oath (or promise God previously made) an absolute surety of fulfillment. It has not fulfilled the promise; it has only guaranteed its fulfillment. Jesus today in the Father’s presence is the guarantee of its future fulfillment.

Thus the believer has two immutable things upon which to stand by faith in which both are impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). The one is God’s promise or oath. The other is His ratification of the New Covenant promise with the very blood of His own Son. Just as the Abrahamic covenant had blessings that extended to the whole world so does the Hew Covenant and we by faith today through blood may experience those blessings.

The Lord has given temporary tokens to believers today as symbols that the New Covenant will be enacted. These temporary tokens which we are to do until He returns are the bread and the cup. They tell the story of the sacrifice that ratifies the covenant until the covenant itself will be enacted with Israel at the time of the Lord’s return. This is why they are only temporary: “till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). This is why the believer must wait and patiently endure. In the meantime “we have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle” (Heb. 13:10).

When we accept Christ as our personal Savior, we are exercising personal faith in what Christ did for us in dying for our sins. This is our part. God’s part is to unconditionally save us and all who believe in His Son—His person and His work.

And, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:14-16).

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Book of Revelation is perhaps the most notoriously cryptic work of literature ever composed. The history of the interpretation of this book leaves most students with more questions than answers. Commentators have come to little, if any, consensus on the interpretation of many key passages, and many of the best scholars of Christian history have simply thrown up their hands in bewilderment at the challenge of scaling its enigmatic heights.1

Thus, approaching the Apocalypse for analysis necessarily requires the possession of a couple of key items: one, an interpretive grid integrating one’s hermeneutics and general theological viewpoint, and two, a healthy dose of respectful reservation. Interpretation of Revelation and dogmatism do not go well together, despite the impression one might draw from the popular literature.

That said, it is the intent of this study to examine what is hopefully a sufficiently narrow issue in the interpretation of the Apocalypse: the identification of “Babylon," the harlot of chapters seventeen and eighteen.2 While discussion of this topic

will of necessity involve the implementation of perspectives that have been embraced on quite separate grounds, this issue has been chosen for study precisely because it is my conviction at this point that a harmonization of the evidence for Babylon’s identity can potentially go a long way in contributing to the ever tapering “spiral” of one’s hermeneutical approach. If the conclusions of this thesis are correct, proper identification of the harlot may quickly shed light on such issues as general themes of the book, its dating, and interpretations of other problem passages.

In order to fairly acknowledge personal leanings, warranted or otherwise, that influence my interpretation of the text, it will be helpful as we begin to first examine the overall grid from which I am proceeding and the most relevant presuppositions I bring to the discussion. The three most pertinent perspectives to consider for the topic at hand are my understanding of promise/fulfillment issues (i.e., the covenant-dispensational spectrum), my view on interpretation of apocalyptic material, and my take on the book of Revelation as a whole (i.e., futurist, preterist, historicist, or idealist).

Regarding the biblical covenants: to state the matter briefly, while I do not consider myself a dispensationalist by most definitions, I find traditional covenant theology unconvincing as well. I prefer a mediating position along the lines of what some are calling “new covenant theology.” This term is actually claimed primarily by authors at the pastoral level,3 but the views involved are basically similar to those of such scholars as D. A. Carson,4 Douglas Moo,5 Gordon Fee,6 and others, who see primary fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises as a whole in the present-day new covenant people of God, composed of the remnant of the nation of Israel and Gentile believers who have been grafted into the tree of God’s people. While this does not preclude a future soteriological restoration of the rest of ethnic Israel, I am not persuaded that this will involve a Jewish kingdom or a necessary restoration of the land of Israel for the Jewish people. On the whole, I take these views largely on the basis of Pauline passages such as Rom 2:26–29, Gal 3:6–29, and Eph 2:11–22, which I take to describe the full Abrahamic heirship of believers in Christ, be they Jew or Gentile.

For my handling of apocalyptic material, I derive much of my understanding from the work of N. T. Wright and G. B. Caird.7 While a thoroughgoing discussion of the complex debate over apocalyptic literature is outside the scope of this thesis,8 I would summarize the gist of this perspective as the view that in the genre of second-temple Jewish apocalyptic, exalted, cosmic, metaphorical language is used to communicate the theological significance of this-worldly events in history. Unlike the idealist view, which takes the language simply as abstract metaphor, this position regards apocalyptic symbolism as having a focus on actual historical events, but with the full investiture of their salvation-historical significance, which is portrayed by the strikingly colorful rhetoric of the Jewish imagination. In other words, I see in apocalyptic writing the application of stock images from the Jewish worldview (which includes the Creation, the sovereign, universal kingship of Yahweh, the Exodus, the enemy empires of Israel’s past, and the rest of the narrative of her entire history) to major events that manifest the salvation-historical working of God for His people.

This then leaves open the question of whether prophecies can be fulfilled in multiple ways and instances. This question arises from the surprising manner in which the New Testament often uses the Old. For instance in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) we see Christ applying Danielic language to coming eschatological events even though it would seem that some of this material from Daniel originally found its focus in the events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes’ dealings with the Jewish people in the intertestamental period.9 This seems to indicate that God’s dealings with history are such that certain events may recapitulate key happenings of the past, perhaps filling out their theological significance in a greater way and a new context. The prophetic imagery of the former events may then be properly recalled with reference to the new situation, especially if historical experience or further revelation apparently indicate that the previous scenario did not exhaust the full range of God’s eschatological intention.

Such a perspective leaves open the possibility that some of the interpretations we propose as we consider Revelation may not be the final say in the matter. It may always be that God’s historical plan will work itself out in such a way that certain prophecies will again find significant realization in a future scenario. However, for the purposes of this study, my intention is to focus on whether or not the human author of the Apocalypse had in mind a specific referent for the Babylon/harlot imagery within the context of his own day of writing, and if so, to whom was this devastating polemic directed?

Related to this hermeneutical approach to apocalyptic literature is my take on the Book of Revelation as a whole, which is largely preteristic. There are basically four major angles on the interpretation of the book, namely, historicism, futurism, idealism, and preterism.10 Historicism looks to the events of the entire Christian era for fulfillment, futurism looks primarily to the future (from our perspective), and idealism regards the images of Revelation as symbolic portrayals of the eternal cosmic conflict between good and evil.

As one who prefers a preteristic emphasis, I understand much of the book to be primarily dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as a judgment from God for covenant apostasy. This dovetails with the topic in question, the identity of the harlot, in

that ultimately it will be the aim of this thesis to present the evidence (which I find to be persuasive) that this image is intended by the author of Revelation as a veiled reference to Jerusalem itself. All of this is very much in keeping with my own “spiral” pilgrimage of interpretation, since my primary reason for taking seriously a preteristic interpretation of Revelation is what I consider to be the weight of the internal literary evidence for recognizing Jerusalem in the passage presently under discussion.

Thus, we will proceed to consider the issues surrounding the interpretation of this text. While this solitary issue might seem peripheral, the implications of the view for which we opt on this matter may be of more significance than one might suppose. If the conclusions of this thesis stand up to scrutiny, and Jerusalem is being warned of the coming of judgment through Rome, then the major themes and dating of the book warrant thoughtful reconsideration among scholars.


1 E.g., Luther and Calvin, neither of whom, despite their otherwise voluminous literary legacies, produced a commentary on the Apocalypse.

2 That is, sufficiently narrow in the sense that we will hopefully not be biting off a larger portion than can adequately be addressed in a work of this size. The scope of this study will also be limited in that the research will be restricted to English sources only.

3 E. g., John Reisinger, Abraham’s Four Seeds (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 1998); Fred Zaspel and Tom Wells, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2001).

4 Cf. D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 510 (Grand Rapids: Global Christian, 1999), 296–99.

5 Cf. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 175, 697–710.

6 Cf. Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 870–76.

7 See especially N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), chap. 10; G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980).

8 For more comprehensive study, see D. E. Aune, T. J. Geddert, and C. A. Evans, “Apocalypticism,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000); John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2d ed., The Biblical Resource Series, ed. Astrid B. Beck and David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); Leon Morris, Apocalyptic (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972); D. S. Russell, Divine Disclosure: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).

9 Cf. Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14.

10 For a helpful, concise discussion of these positions, see Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1997), 2–3.

Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come), Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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