Deeper Life in the Spirit
Purpose in the Deeper Life
The ultimate purpose of God in bringing a body of saints
into a deeper place of consecration unto Him is five-fold. It is for the
purpose of perfection, preparation, restoration, manifestation, and glorification. Everything else has to fit into this eternal purpose or it will
fail and come to naught. Now at the close of the age, He is pouring forth His
Spirit throughout the world in preparation for the "restitution of all
things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world
began" (Acts 3:21). The ax is now at the root of the trees and all that
God has not established is to be cut down. He is beginning to shake everything
in heaven and earth in preparation for a great breakthrough, and intends to
remove all those things in the religious order which He Himself did not ordain,
so that only His work will remain. "Yet once more I shake not the earth
only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of
those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things
which cannot be shaken may remain" (Hebrews 12:26-27).
The old institutional, religious order of man, which has kept the saints in bondage for centuries, is about to be replaced with divine order, for God says, "I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them" (Ezekiel 34:10). God is raising up prophets and teachers in this hour to whom He is revealing His end-time purpose by the Spirit, anointing them with the message of the restoration of all things, and sending them forth to prepare His flock, who will soon constitute a great army of "deliverers" (Obadiah 21) which will liberate this groaning creation from its bondage (Romans 8:19-21). He is, in fact, already preparing them for the restoration of apostolic power and authority to them in order to fulfill a great apostolic ministry of deliverance through them. As John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ at the First Advent, sent to prepare the way of the Lord, so God is raising up others (Spirit-filled apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) to carry on a similar ministry in the preparation of His people in anticipation of His Second Advent (Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus came the first time to a "prepared" people. They would never have understood His message and ministry had not John come and prepared them, preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand," baptizing them as He taught them of Jesus. Christ is coming back a second time to a spiritually baptized and "prepared" people, and in anticipation of this He is raising up once again voices crying in the wilderness—not just one, but a chorus of many voices, "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).
This is the generation that has been chosen to conclude history, for we are the people on whom the end of the ages Has come. The prophecy of Joel 2 is now in the process of fulfillment, in addition to other significant end-time prophecies in connection with Israel and world events. God is now unveiling truth so profound that many who have experienced the latter-day blessing of Joel need to be watchful lest they miss its significance, due to either a lack of faith or an absence of consecration on their part. This is a privileged generation, for God is preparing to bring a company of Spirit-filled believers into a higher realm in the Spirit than they have ever known before: "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." To do what He intends to do now at the consummation of the age, it will be necessary for this body of saints to reach an unheard-of consecration and faith. This is why the message of the deeper life, or the crucified life, is being sent forth in this hour by the Spirit-to prepare a people meet for the Lord's use.
The Five-fold Purpose
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:48
The goal of the deeper life is
the perfection of the believer. There is so much confusion on this subject that
the average Christian does not know what to believe; and no wonder, for the
theologians and churches are hopelessly at variance with each other as to the
meaning of Jesus' words quoted above. The various interpretations can, for
simplicity, be reduced to two basic views: the belief that the Christian can
never reach a state of perfection in this life, and, conversely, the belief
that he can. Christians who hold to the former view are by far in the majority,
while those believing in perfection are in no precise agreement as to what
scriptural "perfection" is, nor how it is accomplished. Moreover, the
doctrine of sanctification is usually confused with the Biblical idea of
perfection by most interpreters, which only adds to the perplexity on the subject.
Some Protestant religious bodies teach that the believer can attain a state of
"entire sanctification" in the present life, while others speak of
"progressive sanctification," insisting that total experiential
perfection is impossible in this world and must await the resurrection. In
Catholic thought, sanctification is experienced through the sacrament of
baptism, which they believe, if rightly administered, washes away human
depravity. Other groups use such terms as "holiness," "sinless
perfection," "positional sanctification," and so on, in setting
forth their views concerning perfection.
Is it God's will that believers be wholly sanctified in this life? Are sanctification and perfection the same things? Is the perfection that Jesus demands of the believer in Matthew 5:48 possible to attain? If so, what exactly is it and how is it accomplished in us? To these questions we now turn our attention.
First, are sanctification and perfection the same experience or state? If not, what is the distinction between them? What exactly is sanctification in the Scriptures and when does the believer attain it? In I Thessalonians 4:3, the Apostle Paul writes: "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification...." It is clear from this statement that sanctification is not only the privilege of every believer, but is God's will for the Christian; the only question being, of course, when does he attain it? One of the basic hindrances to the actual realization of perfection in the believer (the goal of the deeper life) results from erroneous ideas and unscriptural teaching concerning the doctrine of sanctification itself. Moreover, sanctification and perfection are generally equated by most religious bodies, which has resulted from confusion concerning the meaning, nature, and purpose of these two totally different states or experiences.
What does the term "sanctification" mean? Few Christians really know its basic meaning, although most will immediately form in their minds the concept of holiness. Most Christians believe that being "sanctified" means being "made holy." Certainly this is its derived sense in Christian thought; however, the verb "to sanctify" in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures means literally to be set apart, or to be consecrated. In the Scriptures the term sanctification refers to persons, places, objects, certain days and seasons, and so on. The Levites are said to have been "sanctified," that is, set apart and consecrated unto God for His service. The Sabbath and certain days of the Hebrew year were set apart as "holy" days for special religious observances. The first-born males in Israel were to be "sanctified" or set apart for God. The Temple and its altar are spoken of as "sanctified" or consecrated unto God, as were the feasts, shewbread, sacrifices, and offerings.
Evidence that is the basic meaning of "to sanctify" is to be seen from Christ's usage of the term in John 17:19 with reference to Himself. Obviously, since Christ was already holy and sinless, He does not speak of making Himself "holy" when He says, "And for their sakes I sanctify myself...." Literally, it should be translated, as it has been in some versions, "And for their sakes I am consecrating myself." He refers here, of course, to His death at Calvary to which He now consecrates Himself and sets Himself apart unto God for its accomplishment (cf. I Peter 3:15). Moreover, in the Old Testament the terms for a Sodomite and a temple-prostitute (often found in heathen religious worship) are derived from the same verb root as "to sanctify"! The literal meaning of the term is clearly indicated here, the prostitute being one who was "consecrated" or "set apart" unto her gods for such usage.
Why then do the terms "sanctify" and "sanctification" always carry with them the idea of holiness or purity when used with reference to believers, angels, sacrifices, the Temple, and so on? Why are believers called "saints" and the elect angels "holy"? It is because anything consecrated unto God, who is pure and holy, is set apart unto holiness, purity, moral or ceremonial cleanness, and perfection. That which is set apart partakes of the nature and character of the one it is consecrated unto. Thus, the temple-prostitute, who was dedicated to immoral purposes, was set apart unto impurity and unholiness. The believer, on the other hand, being consecrated to holy service to a holy God, is set apart unto holiness. Therefore, the moral and ethical sense of "to sanctify" means in Scripture to be (1) set apart from sin, and (2) consecrated unto God, to be conformed to His holiness, purity and perfection of character. Because of this, it comes to mean in New Testament usage, in reference to the believer, holiness and purity.
The next question to be considered is "When does the believer obtain sanctification?" The popularly accepted view has been that sanctification is a process which begins at regeneration, continues throughout the believer's life to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the extent of his consecration and obedience, and is completed at the resurrection. Sanctification, in this view, is imperfect in this life; the old corrupt nature remains even in those who have been born again, so that no Christian is able to live perfectly without sin, nor is his conscience totally free from condemnation. Advocates of this viewpoint state that there are three aspects to sanctification: past, present, and future. Past or positional sanctification is the possession of every believer in Christ, and is complete. Our position is "in Christ," and we are saved and sanctified by His blood (Hebrews 10:10-14). Present or experiential sanctification (holiness of life) is a gradual process and is realized in the life of the believer to the extent he yields himself to the Spirit and is obedient to the Word. But actual perfection is impossible to attain in this life due to the old nature still present in him. Future sanctification is the glorification of the believer which will bring him into perfection and conformity to Christ at His return (I John 3:1-3). We shall show in the discussion which follows that this view is not in harmony with the teaching of Scripture.
In the first place, this interpretation of sanctification confuses perfection with glorification. These two states are not the same thing. To be sure, when the believer is glorified at the resurrection, he will indeed be eternally perfected. But there is a perfection which is taught and expected of the believer now, in which he is to walk in this life. When Jesus gave the imperative command, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," He obviously intended for His hearers to heed this command here and now, in this life. Even to suggest anything to the contrary, regardless of the difficulty encountered in its fulfillment in one's life, is to make Jesus' teachings little more than moral maxims to be reinterpreted according to the desires of each individual. This command is repeated in I Peter 1:15, "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [life]." In addition, many statements in Scripture concerning the believer's life and walk indicate that perfection and holiness are expected and taken for granted for one who has been born again. The Scriptures speak of the Christian as "crucified with Christ," "freed from sin," a "new creation," "dead unto sin," a "servant of righteousness," a "saint," "sanctified," "holy," "perfected forever," and as one who "doth not commit sin," "cannot sin," and has "ceased from sin," Certainly, these statements, together with the commands to "be perfect" and "be holy," clearly indicate that God expects holiness and perfection in His children in the present world.
Perfection is impossible unless the Christian has already been sanctified; therefore, so-called "progressive sanctification" is out of harmony with Scripture, in the second place, because the Bible represents sanctification, not as a process, but as a state which the believer has already entered into once for all. On this point the Scriptures are plain, for they do not once speak of the believer's sanctification as future, but as already completed. In every case it is said of believers that they are sanctified. See Acts 20:32; 26:18; Romans 15:16; I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; II Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 10:10-14; 13:12; I Peter 1:2; Jude 1. The Scriptures say that the believer has been sanctified by (1) Christ's blood (Hebrews 10:10-14); (2) the Word (Ephesians 5:25-26; John 15:3); (3) the Spirit (II Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2); and (4) faith (Acts 26:18). Thus, the Scriptures teach that "sanctified" is what the believer is, and "perfect" is what he is expected to be. Since sanctification means basically "to be set apart" or "consecrated," how then could it be a process or growth? Perfection, on the other hand, is as we shall show, a spiritual growth for those who have been sanctified and consecrated unto God. The Corinthians, for example, were said to be "sanctified" (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11), but at the same time were rebuked by the Apostle Paul for their imperfections (3:1-4; 6:1-11). Although they had been set apart unto God, they were not walking in that consecration and growing unto perfection as they should.
Therefore, the terms "past," "present," and "future" sanctification do not occur in Scripture, but were invented by the theologians in an attempt to explain the disparity between what the Bible teaches concerning believers (that we have been sanctified and are called to be perfect) and the apparent absence of such an experience in the life of most Christians. Of course, they have not known why there is such a lack of Christian perfection, for without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, perfection is impossible. Thus, the church changed its theology to fit its experience!
Basically, there are three reasons why the contemporary church does not heed the command of Jesus in Matthew 5:48 and teach perfection for the believer. It is because of unscriptural doctrinal beliefs concerning the believer's nature after conversion, an unscriptural confession resulting from this erroneous theology, and an unscriptural or incomplete spiritual experience. The error in theology is based upon the doctrine of "two natures," whereby the Christian is said to retain the old sinful nature even after regeneration, and is as a result, unable to live perfectly without sin. Because of this erroneous teaching, the Christian, convinced that he cannot fully obey Jesus' command, "Be ye perfect," acknowledges his inability, and never rises above the spiritual level of such a negative confession. Third, his theology and defeatist confession are but a reflection of his incomplete spiritual experience with God, since perfection and true holiness are impossible without the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Attempts at achieving perfection without the Holy Spirit generally result in frustration and failure, inasmuch as "flesh" cannot crucify flesh. Until the Holy Spirit comes and puts the "self-life" to death, perfection and holiness remain mere theological concepts to be discussed but never realized in the present experience of the believer. How can the believer overcome his dilemma? He will have to ask for an enduement of power from on high: the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which will enable him to correct his theology and confession concerning perfection, bringing them into harmony with the Scriptures.
Answering the error of "two
Does the believer actually have two natures? The greatest hindrance to perfection is the erroneous concept of two natures popularly taught by most churches. The majority of Christians feel that to be thoroughly orthodox one must believe that, even after his conversion, he still has an old sinful nature from which he cannot find release until death. The Scriptures nowhere teach such a doctrine; nevertheless, most religious bodies generally follow the teachings of their predecessors without seriously challenging their doctrinal views, no matter how much they may appear to be out of harmony with the Word of God. When the church began to lose the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (about the fourth century, as a result of the intrusion of sin, unbelief, and doctrinal error), its theology also began to change to conform to its experience. Because perfection is impossible without the Holy Spirit, the church had to adapt its theology to conform to its lack of attainment in this regard, even though the view that the believer still has a sinful nature is not in agreement with the clear teachings of the Scriptures. In exactly the same manner, and for the same reason, the contemporary church has dispensationalized miracles, gifts of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, divine healing, and the supernatural out of the twentieth century, limiting these things to the apostolic age, in spite of the fact that history shows that they continued in their fullness without interruption for 300 years!
The two natures theory encourages defeat and indifference, and too often is an excuse for justifying sin in the life of the believer. Without the baptism in the Holy Spirit he cannot realize the perfection demanded by Jesus, and he is encouraged by the "two natures" doctrine to resign himself to half-hearted consecration without the satisfaction of any real fruitfulness or victory. Moreover, using the "two natures" doctrine, he is able to reconcile the paradox which his own experience presents in light of I John 3:9 which states, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his [God's] seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Thus, the "carnal Christians," "born-again sinners," and "unholy saints" can now be more easily explained. It is not, he reasons, the Christian in his new nature that sins ("He cannot sin, because he is born of God"); but it is the old evil nature still clinging to him which drags him down, and which he retains until released from its bondage at death. Thus, he can excuse himself, saying, "It is not really I who sinned when I became impatient and lost my temper, but the old nature of Adam dwelling in me." Thus one may, without having to use too much imagination or ingenuity, justify the lustful glance, cheating, disobedience to the law, lying, and so on, thereby making void the commandments of God by the teachings of men.
The Scriptures show that man in his unregenerate condition does not merely possess a sinful nature, but that he himself is sinful. Man's nature is not some intangible thing which cannot be defined, but his nature is in essence the man himself—his personality or ego. He has one nature, human, which is fallen, sinful, corrupt, and alienated from God, and which at conversion is cleansed and renewed. The illogical and unscriptural doctrine of two natures can easily be disproven merely by asking the question, "If the Christian has two natures, one sinful and one righteous, what happens to the sinful nature at death?" It most certainly cannot go to Heaven. Does it go to Hell? If so, then we have the paradox of part of the Christian being in Heaven (the new nature) and part of him in Hell! The utter absurdity of such a conclusion should in itself constrain one to reexamine the "two natures" fallacy in the light of Scripture. Although up to this point they would not admit it, the advocates of the "two natures" doctrine have, nevertheless, subconsciously identified the sinful nature with the physical body or the flesh. But the physical body is not man's nature." For example, the physical body of flesh cannot hate, lust, or become angry. These things are emotions and appetites expressed by man's heart or spirit. The physical body simply acts as an instrument through which sinful lusts, desires, emotions, and appetites of the heart may be expressed. As Jesus shows in Matthew 5:27-28, adultery may be committed in the heart (or man's spirit) without ever finding expression through his physical body of flesh. The same principle applies to anger, hate, and resentment (cf. Matthew 15:1-20). The Scriptures state that, after conversion, even the flesh or physical body of the Christian can be brought into subjection to Christ and glorify God (I Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 6; 12:1-2; Colossians 3; etc.). Man's nature or being is not his physical body, but the man himself—his personality. It is his human nature which is changed and made new in Christ upon conversion: "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). Man always has one nature: sinful and alienated from God before conversion; then cleansed and renewed by regeneration, for "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation." Thus, the sinful nature is not to be identified with the body nor thought of as something separate from the person himself.
"What then," one may ask, "of Paul's teaching concerning the old and new man? Does this not imply two natures in the believer?" What is the meaning of the Apostle's teaching when he admonishes the believer, "Put off concerning the former conversation [life] the old man...and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24)? To be sure, the Apostle Paul teaches a duality in the believer; however, it is not a duality of two natures, but of flesh and spirit. The terms "old man" and "new man" are figures of these, as well as figures of what we were in Adam and now are in Christ. In Galatians 5:16-17 he writes, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other." In Romans 8:1, we read, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Central in the theology of Paul is the ethical contrast he makes between the flesh and the Spirit. He speaks of the warfare between the flesh and the Spirit in Galatians and the determination of the flesh to dominate the spiritual nature of man in Romans 7-8. The "mind of the flesh" signifies the unregenerate mind; the "works of the flesh" are contrasted with the "fruit of the Spirit." The unregenerate are "in the flesh" and "cannot please God," while the Christian is "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit," and if he "walks in the Spirit" he will not "fulfill the lusts of the flesh."
What then does Paul mean by the flesh? In what sense are the unregenerate said to be "in the flesh," whereas Christians, we are told, are not "in the flesh," but "in the Spirit"? Certainly, he cannot mean that the believer does not dwell in a body of flesh. What, also, is the meaning of his statement in Romans 7:18 when he says, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing"? How do we "walk in the Spirit" while the unregenerate walk "in the flesh"? It is quite evident that Paul uses the concepts of "flesh" and "spirit," not in a literal, but in a moral and ethical sense. The "flesh" signifies for the Apostle the unregenerate state of sin, corruption, and death, whereas the "spirit" speaks of the regenerate state of incorruption, holiness, purity, perfection, and life. The basic meaning of flesh in Scripture is, of course, the material or physical body. Man was created "flesh" into which God breathed spirit (Genesis 2:7). But flesh is also used ethically as a synonym. In the Old Testament "flesh" is at times a synonym for "man" in contrast to God who is Spirit (Psalm 56:4; Jeremiah 17:5). The term also describes man as weak, mortal, creaturely (Isaiah 40:6-8; Psalm 78:38-39), and as corrupt and sinful (Genesis 6:3, 11-13). On the basis of the moral and ethical significance of "flesh" and "spirit" in the Old Testament, Paul uses the terms with respect to regeneration, sin, sanctification, and the Christian life and walk.
With this understanding, it is evident that the Apostle does not teach the doctrine of two natures in which the old sinful nature is equated with the flesh and is the seat and source of sin. He does not hold with the Greek philosophers that matter is inherently evil and that the soul is imprisoned, as it were, in the body of flesh. Paul follows Christ in carefully distinguishing "sin" from the "flesh," although he uses the latter term figuratively as a synonym for the unregenerate state and the sins of the unregenerate nature. As already shown, the Apostle insists that, after conversion, the Christian can glorify God with his body of flesh (I Corinthians 6:19-20), presenting it as a holy offering unto Him (Romans 12:1-2). Thus, sin does not reside inherently in the flesh and appetites themselves, for they are given to us by God; but sin results from the misuse of the bodily appetites, impulses, and desires, The body needs to have its appetite for food satisfied in order to maintain strength and life, but this appetite may be perverted through gluttony and drunkenness. The sexual attraction between man and woman is a normal God-given endowment: the Scriptures command them to unite in marriage, be fruitful, and multiply. But this urge may be perverted through fornication or adultery, so that the flesh or physical body, therefore, becomes the instrument through which the sin of the heart can manifest itself; but the seat and source of such sin was in the heart itself, not the flesh.
Inasmuch as sin in the heart is generally expressed through the instrumentality of the flesh, the flesh becomes for Paul an accurate figure for symbolizing the unregenerate state. In the unregenerate man the "flesh principle" rules his life, motivating, directing, dominating, and controlling his every thought and action. Unregenerate man is ruled by his appetites and is a slave to his passions and lusts. His flesh becomes the instrument to express the desires of his heart, whereas in the Christian the "spirit principle" is in control and brings the appetites and desires of the flesh under the domination and rule of the spirit. Thus, the Apostle admonishes, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (Romans 6:12). That is, do not allow sin to rule the body and use it for gross, sinful indulgences, the spirit being a slave to the flesh; but let the renewed nature or spirit rule over the flesh, and let the members of the body yield to the spirit as "instruments of righteousness unto God." The Christian still possesses a body of flesh with its appetites and desires, and lives in a sinful world with its temptations and allurements. He is, as a consequence, still subject to temptation and misuse of his natural fleshly appetites. His mind is also open to the allurements and suggestions of Satan, who attempts to seduce him through pride, religious error, and materialism.
Thus, the duality in Pauline theology is not of two natures, but of the flesh and spirit. The Christian, he shows, has but one nature, which has been cleansed and renewed. His conflict is not between two natures, but between flesh and spirit. The fact that the believer has only one nature, which has been renewed, is nowhere more clearly indicated than in the Apostle's statement of this fact in Ephesians 2:1-3.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; 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.
It is significant that he states in
verse 1 that it is you (not just some part of your nature) whom God hath made
alive. In verses 2-3 he describes the
old nature or life of the sinner, concluding with the remarkable statement that
we "were by nature the children of wrath." By the expression we were
by nature sinful, it is signified that we are now by nature righteous.
The Bible teaches the new birth
of the sinner; it is the man himself—his total being—which is renewed. He is not
given a new nature in addition to the old nature which he retains, but his
human nature has now been changed and renewed. Moreover, God no longer speaks
of him as a "sinner," but he is called a "saint" and a
"son of God." The Scriptures say that he has been "washed,"
"cleansed, " "sanctified," "born again," and
"freed from sin." He is said to be a "new creation." He has
"put off the old man with his deeds" and has "put on the new
man, which is renewed...after the image of him that created him." Contrary
to the theological opinions of men, the Christian does not have two natures,
for neither of the two major passages which deal with the believer's spiritual
warfare mention the term nature (Romans 6-8 and Galatians 5), but speak of
the ethical conflict between the flesh and spirit. Therefore, the
does not have a sinful nature. He is by nature cleansed, pure, holy,
sanctified, washed, and renewed in the image of God. Man in his unregenerate
state is a sinner by nature; but upon regeneration he is by nature righteous,
according to the testimony of Scripture itself. As long as a Christian holds to
the unscriptural doctrine that the believer possesses two natures, one sinful
and one righteous, he will never be able to rise above the level of the
mediocre Christian life which is so characteristic of contemporary
The goal of the deeper life, as previously stated, is the perfection of the believer. Inasmuch as the Scriptures show that the Christian is already sanctified and now possesses a renewed nature, what then is the "perfection" demanded of the Christian by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 when He tells us, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect?" Due to the many misconceptions as to the nature of perfection, it would be well to indicate first of all just what the term does not mean.
Perfection is not a state of liberation from all temptation to sin. If the believer is already sanctified and possesses a renewed nature, in what sense would he be subject to temptation to sin? What would there be in his nature to tempt? Perfection, however, does not insulate one against temptation any more than Adam or Christ were free from temptation. As long as we are living in a world filled with wickedness and sinful allurements and are still in a physical body with its appetites and desires which may be perverted, we will be subject to temptation. Christ was holy, sinless, and perfect; nevertheless, we read that He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Matthew 4:1-11 indicates that Jesus, though sinless, was tempted through the normal appetites of His flesh (1-4); was challenged in His spirit to yield to the temptation of pride and self-recognition (5-7); and was tempted to give the allegiance of His soul to Satan in exchange for glory and earthly dominion (8-11; cf. Genesis 3).
Perfection does not mean, therefore, that we arrive at a state where we cannot be tempted. Perfection is not freedom from temptation; it is being tested in all points and resisting and overcoming the temptation. To argue, as the contemporary church does, that one cannot consistently overcome all temptation to sin (being encumbered still with an old sinful nature)is in direct contradiction to many statements of Scripture to the contrary, as the following examples plainly declare:
For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth.
– I Peter 2:21-22
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.
– I Peter 1:15
He that committeth sin is of the devil.... Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
– I John 3:8-9
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
– I Corinthians 10:13
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:48
No amount of theological "explanations"
can alter in the least the plain meaning of such passages, which unhesitatingly
declare that God expects the Christian to walk in perfection and overcome all
temptation to sin. Therefore, any confession to the contrary by a Christian is
in contradiction to I John 4:4, which states, "Greater is he that is in
you, than he that is in the world."
The perfection demanded by Jesus is not sinless perfection. This term, although often used by those who speak or write on perfection, does not occur in Scripture, for it implies that the Christian could arrive at a state where he could not sin. In the new heavens and new earth, when all sin and temptation have been done away, and the believer has put on incorruption, it will be true that he will then live in an immortal state of perfection and sinlessness. However, his present state of perfection, which he is to attain by the inward operation of the Holy Spirit, involves a daily overcoming of the temptation to sin, and is an inward growth unto the full stature of Christ. Although the Christian has put away sin and does not walk in sin, it is not impossible for him ever to sin again, which sinless perfection might imply; but it is a spiritual warfare in which he overcomes the temptation to sin and walks in holiness and righteousness in the sight of God.
The perfection which the believer is to attain is not the perfection of the angels, who do not have a body of flesh subject to fleshly temptation, nor do they live in a sinful world as does the Christian. It is not perfection of doctrine, as no Christian has all the truth, nor does he perfectly obey the truth that he has. It is not the perfection or innocence of Adam before his sin, for he lived in a world free of sin and wicked allurements, and he himself had no wrong habits or besetting sins to overcome, as does every believer, no matter how consecrated and holy.
What then is the nature of the perfection which Jesus requires of us? It is Christian perfection—a perfection of the believer's character and conduct, which is within the reach of every Spirit-filed Christian. It is a growth unto the full measure of the stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Briefly stated, the three-fold perfection which the Christian is to attain is a perfection in consecration, in holiness, and in the fruit of the Spirit.
The perfection of consecration is the subject of Chapter 2 of this book and needs, therefore, only to be mentioned here. Perfect consecration involves, as we have shown, the total yielding of one's life to the Holy Spirit; the willing acceptance of a kenosis or self-emptying experience; living the crucified life; being an overcomer; and accepting the conditions of total discipleship.
Christian perfection, in the second place, is holiness, and is the purpose for which the believer has been chosen and called, for "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy" (Ephesians 1:4). It is not to be thought of as a relative holiness, but the perfection of holiness in the likeness of God Himself. "As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of life. Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (I Peter 1:15-16). We are perfected as we conform our lives to God's likeness and moral character. God had no intention of saving men just to have them go on living in sin, as Titus 2:11-12 clearly states: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul sets forth the fact of our justification by faith, and then, in chapters 6-8, he gives the consequence or spiritual result of this, showing that justification by faith is incompatible with living in sin. The justified believer is brought into such a relationship to Christ that he dies with Him (dies to sin), and rises to a new life with Him that is to be without sin. It is water baptism, Paul tells us, that depicts this fact (Romans 6:1-7). Holiness, as we have shown previously in the discussion of the nature of perfection, is not a state in which there is no further spiritual development. As the believer, whose heart has been purified by faith, daily consecrates himself and walks in obedience, he overcomes all temptation to sin and experiences a gradual spiritual growth and development. To the extent that he is led by the Spirit, Christ will reveal Himself to his heart, and he will more and more grow into His likeness. It is divine holiness, not human self-improvement, which is the result. As we give ourselves in deeper consecration, the Holy Spirit will lead us in a deeper separation, not only from overt sin, but from earthly affections, merging our hearts and wills into oneness with Him.
The fruit of the Spirit
Finally, Christian perfection is a maturing in our lives of the fruit of the Spirit, which is, according to Galatians 5:22-23, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. How are we to bear this fruit? The first requirement is to experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit, for the fruit is in Him. It is called "the fruit of the Spirit." Then, having His Presence within us, to the extent that we yield our lives to Him, we are enabled to bear this fruit. His ministry in us is only by our consent.
What is the secret of the Spirit-filled life? It is found in Galatians 5:24-25, "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." When, for example, one is tempted to doubt or be impatient, or when the flesh seeks to assert itself in some manner, or the mind seems almost overwhelmed by a feeling of depression instead of joy and peace; then, instead of surrendering the will to these things, allow the Holy Spirit to manifest an opposite fruit of the Spirit in their place.
Although few Spirit-filed believers seem to be aware of the fact, nevertheless, for every temptation to sin, there is an opposite fruit of the Spirit which may be manifested instead. The Holy Spirit will produce this fruit in our lives if we so desire. It is, in the final analysis, our choice. It is a question of which one we really wish to have borne in us—the fruit of sin, or the fruit of the Spirit? Are we tempted to be impatient about some matter that is not working out as we would like? What is the fruit which the Spirit will manifest at such a time if we submit to His ministry in us? It is the fruit of longsuffering. This fruit is in Him and He is in us; therefore, it is always there, already present, available for our asking. Has someone offended you, ridiculed you, lied about you, or mistreated you in some way? You have a choice: you can respond in kind, returning evil for evil; or you can bear an opposite fruit of the Spirit—love. Has some situation developed whereby you are tempted to be discouraged, or has someone whom you trusted disappointed you about some matter? You have the choice of reacting to these circumstances in either a positive or negative manner. You can allow yourself to become dejected and discouraged, or you can bear the opposite fruit of the Spirit which is joy. Since "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10), Satan will seek to rob you of your spiritual strength and powers of resistance through adverse circumstances if you allow him. When one is beset with doubts because of pain or lingering symptoms, or begins to wonder as to the successful outcome concerning some matter about which he has prayed, then faith in God's Word is the fruit of the Spirit that will dispel all fear and anxiety. The temptation to gluttony, fleshly excesses, or materialism can be overcome by manifesting the fruit of temperance or self-control. When the believer is falsely accused or misrepresented, he may, as is too often the case, attempt to justify himself by argument, or he can choose to follow in the steps of Jesus by expressing meekness of spirit (I Peter 2:21-23). Gentleness will be the manner in which the Spirit-filled believer will deal with those who strive or quarrel concerning the truth, rather than by contention or argument (II Timothy 2:23-26). In a world filled with war, strife, chaos, and rebellion, those who go on to perfection will be characterized as men of peace, practicing non-violence and non-resistance as Jesus taught (Matthew 5:9, 38-48). And finally, goodness will adorn them as a garment, for there will be no expression of selfishness, nor indifference to the needs of others; but, as lights set on a hill, men shall see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).
Thus, for any temptation to sin, there is a contrasting fruit of the Spirit which can be manifested instead. When the flesh tries to take control of any situation, such as lust, pride, intemperance, envy, worry, doubt, impatience, hatred, resentment, jealousy, ingratitude, and so on, then, by a positive act of the will, put to death that impulse, desire, or emotion, and allow the Holy Spirit to bring forth a fruit of the Spirit in its place. Sin originates in the heart or will, not the flesh, and must, therefore, be subdued at this point. The flesh is not evil in itself, nor the source of sin, as we have already shown; but unless the flesh is ruled over by the spirit, it will be the instrument which Satan can tempt and use. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7:25, the "flesh seeks to serve sin"; that is, the appetites of the flesh always seek satisfaction and will never cherish spiritual things. The key to the dilemma, therefore, is not to attempt to change the appetites of the flesh, but to control them by the spirit. This "control" of the flesh, as described for us by the Apostle in Galatians 5:24, means the "crucifixion" of the flesh and its lusts.
Christians are wasting a lot of valuable time attempting to bring about some change or spiritual improvement in their fleshly appetites and desires. Their efforts generally end in frustration and failure. The flesh will never cooperate with such efforts, but, on the contrary, will resist any such attempts with arguments, pleadings, and protests, amid cries of self-pity. If, for instance, you wish to rise early to draw closer to the Lord in prayer, the flesh will protest, pleading that it is tired, or will appeal to your reason with the argument that you must get your rest or you will be unable to fulfill your obligations as you should the next day at your place of employment. Then, at another time, the enemy will use the opposite tactic, suggesting that one must put in long hours in an effort to assure himself of material security for his family in his old age, thus consuming whatever time could have been spent in developing his spiritual life.
Many times those who sincerely desire to go on to perfection find themselves desiring to overcome their impatience, and will pray for patience, hoping that God will give it to them like a pill they can swallow. Then when someone does not agree with their interpretation of the Word, or differs with them on some point of doctrine, they immediately give vent to their feelings and "set him straight," justifying the tongue lashing and their contentious spirit as the obligation to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Patience develops as we control our feelings and emotions during the time of trial. Do not expect the feelings and emotions themselves to mature spiritually and become trustworthy. They can fluctuate according to the nature of the circumstances, but they are to be controlled and brought into subjection to the Spirit. Even a Spirit-filled man, if the integrity of his word is challenged, or he is held up to public scorn and ridicule, may respond in anger, and harbor ill will or resentment, unless he brings his emotions under the control of the Spirit.
Moreover, do not expect the flesh to agree to a "cleaning up" of old habits and weaknesses which seem to persist in spite of much sincere effort to get "rid" of them. These desires and affections must be crucified and put to death, not sanctified (Galatians 5:24). Do not expect the flesh to submit humbly to anything as painful and drastic as its own death. The flesh will beg, plead, protest, argue, and reason with such logic that it will seem as if heaven and earth would have to be moved before its surrender. The Scriptures plainly declare that the flesh and the spirit are in an irreconcilable warfare and will never be joined in any form of compatible harmony. The flesh is to be ruled over by the spirit: "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.... For the flesh warreth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other." The flesh will always seek to be ministered to, its appetites satisfied, and its needs given attention, It will side in with the Devil against every effort to overcome some besetting sin, weakness, or temptation. With kindly advice, it will counsel, "Don't expect perfection too soon, for after all Rome wasn't built in a day." The flesh will rationalize any attempt at spiritual development with the argument, "Don't you think you are over-doing it, with all this running to religious meetings, zealous prayer, and intensive Bible study? People will begin to think that you are a religious fanatic." Or the flesh, which loves to procrastinate, will plead that it needs some rest, and that you can read your Bible and pray after you relax for a few minutes in front of the TV, or tomorrow morning when you feel fresh and the children are off to school. Victory will never be achieved in one's life until he awakens to the fact that he cannot argue or reason with the flesh and the Devil. The flesh must be crucified if the fruit of the Spirit is to be manifested in his life.
Perfection is, therefore, a maturing of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Of the nine fruits of the Spirit, love is placed first because it belongs first. If this fruit is not evident in one's life, there is no need to look for the others, for they will not be found. All the other fruits stem from love; love is the vine, the rest are the branches. Without love it would be impossible to manifest joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Sin, in reality, is the manifestation of love for "self" where we should have shown love for God or our brother, When, for example, we are not longsuffering, meek, or gentle toward others, it means that we are showing love of self at this point instead of love for others.
The expression of sincere love in every circumstance of one's life, even toward those who may hate and despise us, is evidence of perfection, for "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10), which demanded absolute perfection. When Jesus commands the believer in Matthew 5:48 to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect, He speaks primarily of the perfection of love, as the context indicates (5:43-48). He exhorts believers to love their enemies as well as their friends, for the Father in heaven loves all and manifests His love in making provision for all alike (verse 45). If we are to be perfect in love like the Father in heaven, then we will love our enemies, bless them that curse U S, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us (verse 44).
Love comes to perfection when practiced in the everyday circumstances of life, whether in the home among the members of the family, in one's relations with his employer and fellow-workers, at the market, or in the church. The Apostle John reminds us that one cannot really love God apart from ministering to one's neighbor at the point of his need (I John 3:17-18; 4:20-21; cf. James 2:14-16; Luke 10:25-37). Christ sums up the one great positive principle of love by showing just what our attitude and practice should be in every situation which confronts us when He says, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Although love is the basic principle of life and conduct for the believer and cannot be reduced to mere rules and precepts, nevertheless, the Scriptures do give many ways in which the practical application of love may be expressed. Love is not argumentative nor contentious, and does not take part in divisions or party strife. It is never partial, bitter, or resentful. Love will not complain, criticize and find fault; neither will it speak unkindly concerning others, nor carry an evil report. It is never secretly pleased over the misfortune of another, nor envious over the accomplishments of others, or the blessings which come to them rather than ourselves. Love never addresses another with a term of reproach, and is never harsh and unkind. Love does not lie, cheat, defraud, steal, overcharge, underpay, or waste another's time or goods. It is not impatient, irresponsible, or indifferent to the needs of others, never slights, and is never stubborn, unteachable, and proud. The Apostle Paul sums all this up in his treatise on love in I Corinthians 13:4-7, saying:
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
– I Corinthians 13:4-7
Love, the Scriptures show, is not
mere words, but is to be translated into deeds (James 2:14-17) and is, by this
means, brought to perfection. Thus, we are admonished: "In love serve one another.
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself" (Galatians 5:14). Since fulfillment of the Law
constitutes perfection, then love, which fulfills the Law, is the key to
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-16 that the saints are expected to come to perfection here on earth, even "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." This will not be the result of our efforts at self-improvement, but will be wrought in us by the Holy Spirit as we yield ourselves to Him without reservation. Perfection for the fully consecrated believer is attained through growth, for God has set the live-fold ministry in the church "for the perfecting of the saints," until we come "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," and "grow up into him in all things." Such growth to perfection means that we are daily to walk in the full light that He has given us, in full consecration and obedience. The will to sin is dead, and we are to walk in the Spirit, seeking first the Kingdom of God by living the crucified life. As we walk in the light that He has given us, dealing with our brother out of a pure heart of love, the Holy Spirit will perfect in us the fruits which will grow and come to maturity.
The significance of the present-day outpouring of the Spirit is, in the second place, for the purpose of preparing an army of saints in anticipation of a great breakthrough in the earth, as well as the heavenlies, which will result in a great end-time harvest of souls, the overthrow of Satan's strongholds and the kingdom of darkness, and the ultimate restoration of all things predicted by the prophets. God is at present calling out from among those who are receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit those who are willing to move by faith on "beyond Pentecost," and give total submission to the Spirit in all things. These will accept the challenge of total discipleship and the crucified life, and will allow the Spirit to bring them into a perfection of life and faith unknown heretofore. There are three basic means by which God is preparing those He intends to use in the fulfillment of His end-time purpose.
Preparation: baptism in the Holy Spirit.
First of all, He gives them the "seal" of the Spirit by baptizing them in the Holy Spirit, which is the "earnest" or pledge of the fullness to come (Ephesians 1:13-14; 3:19). This first step is essential, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of truth" (John 16:13), and one must first have received the infilling of the Spirit in order to understand fully and correctly the present written revelation, the Holy Scriptures. The ministry of deliverance for which we are being prepared is a supernatural, sign-gift ministry, as seen in John 14:12; Mark 16:17-20; I Corinthians 12; Obadiah 21; Joel 2:28-32; Malachi 4:2-3; and Romans 8:18-21. Without the baptism in the Spirit, a Christian would lack the ability to understand and comprehend the Word concerning this ministry, as well as the power to fulfill it, even if he did understand it.
A Book of Acts experience must precede a Book of Acts ministry! Without the infilling of the Spirit of truth, the deeper truths of the Scripture will always remain veiled (I Corinthians 2:9-13). Evidence of this fact is not difficult to demonstrate. One only needs to examine the teaching and belief of the institutional churches today to see this, for they have, without exception, dispensationalized the Pentecostal experience, together with signs, miracles, speaking in tongues, divine healing, and the supernatural in general, out of the twentieth century. They have done this in spite of the fact that multitudes of Christians from all denominations are actually experiencing these things today, just as the Scriptures promise! The commission Christ gave to His church in Mark 16:15-20, to preach the Word with signs following, has been dissected because of unbelief, and the Word has forever been severed from the supernatural signs which are supposed to accompany it to confirm it.
In view of all this, it is not difficult to see that without the first stage of preparation which the baptism in the Spirit gives us, wherein the Holy Spirit illuminates our minds to the "spirit" of the Word, one would be unable to advance to the second stage of preparation: direct revelation. If one does not understand the present written revelation concerning the supernatural, as well as the move of the Spirit of God today throughout the earth, then he could never comprehend direct revelation concerning these things, inasmuch as he has already ruled out any possibility of the Spirit speaking and acting supernaturally in this dispensation.
Preparation: direct revelation.
In the second place, then, a large part of the preparation for the end-time ministry is to be by direct revelation. God promised this would occur when He began to fulfill the prophecy of Joel and pour His Spirit out upon all flesh, for at the time He said, "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions," Furthermore, He clearly promises in John 16:13 to continue to give revelation to His church through the agency of the Holy Spirit, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." Surely, no one can gainsay the fact that He plainly promises here to continue to provide revelation for the purpose of guiding His followers in truth, as well as to show them things to come. God states that He will do this by two basic methods: "speaking" and "showing." He "speaks" audibly on occasion, and also through the revelatory gifts of the Spirit, such as the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (I Corinthians 12). He also speaks through prophecy, tongues and interpretation, and through inspiration and illumination of the mind. God's manner of "showing" is by dream or vision, Moreover, the Scriptures state that God has "set" the gifts and offices of revelation "in the church" (I Corinthians 12:28-31), which can only mean that as long as the church exists, then these gifts and offices are intended to continue (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). In addition, Christians are admonished over and over in I Corinthians 14 to "covet to prophesy" in order that the church may be edified through this revelation from God.
The charismatic gifts and offices, as well as the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, continued uninterrupted in the church for the first three centuries, until worldliness and unbelief entering in caused them greatly to diminish. [See, for example, Adolph Harnack: The Mission and Expansion of Christianity; Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History.] However, when the church lost the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, she not only forfeited the charismatic gifts of revelation (which are in the Holy Spirit), but closed the direct channel of revelation through the Holy Spirit. As a result, she gradually changed her theology to fit her experience, and there arose the unscriptural doctrine taught by the contemporary church that all revelation ceased with the twelve apostles in the first century. There is not a shred of evidence which the theologians can produce from Scripture to support this position, but on the contrary, the Scriptures themselves clearly state that revelation is to continue as has just been shown. Since all revelation is in and by the Holy Spirit, then to the degree that the church is in error concerning the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it will also be in error concerning the doctrine of revelation. Without the Spirit of revelation in her midst, the church has (1) closed the door so that the Holy Spirit cannot speak directly to her, and (2) adopted the world's philosophy concerning the manner in which truth and knowledge are acquired. According to this view, direct revelation from heaven ceased with the first century church, so any new truth, insight, knowledge, and understanding must come as a result of our quest through the mediums of theological and secular education, or through scientific research and philosophical speculation. The church, having closed the door to revelation by the Spirit because of unbelief, is, like King Saul, attempting to find truth through other "mediums." Her theology at this point has been reduced to the level of the viewpoint of secular science, that truth and understanding come through discovery, thereby forgetting that the Judaeo-Christian faith is, as it always has been, a religion of revelation.
This illustrates, quite conclusively, why the first step in preparation, the infilling of the Spirit, is necessary before the second, direct revelation, can be accepted and received, for the Spirit cannot "pour new wine into old wineskins"! To cite just one example among many which demonstrates this truth, I recall a vision the Lord gave me, sometime after receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit, concerning His future dealings with the nation of Israel, in which He said that He was going to bring her through deep waters into salvation. Certainly, this would fall into the category of revelation of things to come (John 16:13), and it is in harmony with the Scriptures (Isaiah 43:2; Romans 11:25-29). But it is not in line with the current teaching of the church in general concerning Israel. This teaching contends that Israel has forever forfeited her place as God's chosen people and has been replaced by the church, which is, we are told, "spiritual Israel." Thus, direct revelation will always confirm the written Word, but may at times run contrary to the popular interpretation of men. Therefore, until one receives the infilling of the Spirit of truth, the door to direct revelation remains closed to him, and he will accept, as often as not, the fallible opinions of men, even when they flatly contradict the plain teachings of Scripture. Revelation is needed by the church in every age in order to understand and obey the Word, "for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
Preparation: the school of experience.
Third, God is preparing His end-time body of disciples in the school of experience. He has them on the potter's wheel where He is shaping and molding them after the pattern of His Son. He will also put them in the furnace of trial where He will purge them of all their spiritual dross: religious errors, dead works, petty sectarianism, and the traditions of men. He will require them to pick up the cross and follow Jesus, crucifying the self-life and all affection for the things of the world. Only then will they be ready to undergo even deeper discipline and training, as they learn to become sensitive and alert to the inner voice of the Spirit as He prepares them for great warfare against the forces of darkness.
Gideon's army (Judges 7) is a type of the great end-time army God is preparing, through which He is to fulfill His purposes now at the consummation of the age. In fulfillment of Joel 2, He is pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh, and out of these He is selecting a special group who will be completely emptied of self, sensitive to the voice of His Spirit, and obedient to His commands. Not all who receive the Spirit will qualify, because not all will be willing to pay the cost. As in the case of Gideon's army, many were called, but few were chosen. It was, in fact, less than one percent! The army that is being prepared in this hour is an army which is willing to submit itself to the discipline of preparation, as well as purging through trial, in anticipation for the great conflicts which lie ahead. They are learning by experience that they are not wrestling "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
God is compelled to reject many of those who are called because they lack the heart to submit to the rigorous training and discipline necessary to prepare themselves for these great conflicts. They would be of little use in a serious conflict and would just be an extra burden to others, or would themselves suffer defeat at the hands of the enemy. When a general leads his forces into battle, he first makes extensive preparation, if he expects to win. He secures the necessary equipment and supplies and trains his forces in the principles of warfare. No leader who expects to win a conflict rushes into battle without adequate preparation. The battle is generally won or lost in the planning stages. What is accomplished on the field of conflict is in large measure the result of careful planning of the strategy before the battle. Battles hastily prepared are usually lost, for the enemy is not so careless. The Normandy invasion of German-occupied France in World War II was planned and rehearsed for months. Likewise, it is the all important preparation beforehand that will determine the outcome of our spiritual warfare and end-time ministry. As in the case of Gideon, when the forces are adequately prepared, God does not need a large army, for then they are not tempted to take the glory for their victories to themselves (Judges 7:2).
The account in Judges 7:4-7 indicates that God selected only those 300 men who demonstrated by their actions that they were alert and prepared for warfare against the enemy forces. The end-time Gideon's army, which God is now preparing, will be made up of men and women who are alert and sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, who will respond instantly to His leading and obey without question. They will not come into this place in the Spirit merely because they have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, attend church, and read their Bibles occasionally. They will rise to this place because they have accepted the terms of discipleship and are walking in the crucified way. They will be a part of Gideon's army, not because of their intellect and ability, but because they have been prepared for warfare in the spirit by submitting themselves to the refining fire of the furnace of trial, which has purified them of the dross of "self" and matured them in the faith. They have been given a place in this end-time company because they have given themselves to the rigorous discipline and training necessary: to prayer, fasting, and travail in the spirit. They will be where they are because they are determined to hold on to God and His promises like Jacob of old, until they press through in the spirit and know they have not only been called, but also chosen.
Why such extensive preparation? It is for the same reason that soldiers even today march and drill during their period of training, although many of the maneuvers and exercises of the drill field are never employed in actual battle. This practice makes them sensitive to the commands of their leaders, so they can give immediate response, as well as be dependable and obedient. For the same reason, God is now preparing a people who can both hear and obey without hesitation. The army which God is preparing will be an army of specialists, thoroughly trained in spiritual warfare, and fully equipped with the divine armor of Ephesians 6. They will be completely emptied of self, joyfully submitted to the yoke of Jesus, walking in the fullness of the Spirit, and speaking with such authority that the very foundations of Hell will tremble at the sound of their voice. In the fullness of the Spirit, and anointed with the charismatic gifts, they will go forth and demonstrate by great signs and exploits that God is still God. They will dispel the forces of darkness which have held God's people in bondage for centuries. They will liberate God's people from the seducing and deceiving spirits of false doctrine, traditions, and all forms of religious error, as well as from hate, resentment, fear, spiritual pride, and delusion, which have kept the body of Christ divided. They will be commissioned and empowered to deliver the oppressed, break every yoke, and set the captives free.
The most important means by which God prepares His great end-time army of saints is by sending them through the furnace of trial in order to mature their faith, for before there can be a full restoration of apostolic power, gifts, and ministry, there must first be a restoration of apostolic faith in their hearts. Without faith one would be unable to conduct a ministry even if it were given unto him. The end-time message of faith is the very heart of discipleship, for this is where Jesus placed the emphasis. Again and again He stressed the necessity of His disciples maturing in faith and having absolute dependence upon God in every circumstance in order to fulfill their calling as disciples. Until one comes to the place of total faith in God for all things, then he must spend a good deal of his time praying for and being concerned about his personal needs, such as the healing of his body, food, clothing, shelter, and material security, as well as trying to get the victory over problems and circumstances. However, when one has total dependence upon God for all things, he then wastes no time taking thought for these things, but is free to spend his energies laboring in the Lord's vineyard, in the quiet confidence that the Lord will supply all his needs (Matthew 6:19-34).
Until one comes through trial to a place of mature faith and total dependence upon God, he will not have time to fulfill his calling as a disciple, for the simple reason that his life is largely occupied with ministering to "self." Every hour spent outside total faith in God for all things is an hour spent ministering to the needs of self, and an hour lost to the work of the kingdom. Satan keeps multitudes of Christians in a state of fear, anxiety, and confusion because of their lack of a mature faith in God in all things, causing them to spend a good deal of their time keeping "self" alive. The Scriptures encourage us to take the "limits" off God (Psalms 78:41), and resign ourselves in total dependence upon Him for all things, great or small.
When we begin to walk in this realm of faith, we can expect to have it tested, for this is how God allows it to mature. Faith, like a child, must be fed on the Word, as well as nurtured and perfected through the discipline of testing and trial. Faith does not come to us full grown and mature, but is a "fruit" of the Spirit, and as fruit it must grow to maturity. Faith is like an apple: it isn't much good when it is green. The crosses Jesus allows us to bear are to strengthen our faith and bring it to maturity. This is why He tells us in James 1:2-4, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh endurance. But let your endurance come to perfection in order that ye may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." [This is a literal translation of the Greek.] Our faith will be tried and tested to see if it is genuine, for genuine faith will endure the trial and come to maturity. The character never tested may be innocent, but it is not necessarily trustworthy. Adam's failure is an excellent example of the fact. A man is not necessarily honest merely because he has never stolen anything. Perhaps he has never really been tempted to steal, as, for example, a clerk in a bank who is confronted with such temptation, As someone has said, when one stands on the deck of a sinking ship and there are not enough lifeboats to go around, only then will he really know if he is a hero or a coward!
God has a purpose for each of those who accept the call to discipleship and the deeper life. He has been preparing them all their lives for this great purpose which is ready to be unfolded. Nothing that has happened, nor that will happen in the future, is by chance or accident in the lives of these individuals. This means that Romans 8:28 is true for them in its full sense, for "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." It means that not one thing can touch them unless God either sends it or allows it for their ultimate good. It means that all their trials, problems, tribulations, and circumstances of life, whether good or adverse, are not mere coincidences, but are related to His purpose for their lives, just as they were in the life of Joseph, whose adversities were ultimately seen as divine providence designed to bring blessings to him and many others (Genesis 50:15-20). God knows the specific training, experience, and trials needed for each of those whom He is preparing, in order for them to be properly trained and equipped for the ministry He has for them. Therefore, we are not to complain, nor despise the trials and heat of the furnace. We are not to allow circumstances to irritate or discourage us, for through these things He is preparing us in the school of trial for a greater work ahead.
Our trials are to develop endurance and maturity of faith. Testing forms the habit of resistance to temptation, and faithful perseverance through trial. Endurance in time of testing is what separates the disciples who are being prepared for God's army from the nominal Christians. We are called to walk in the steps of Jesus, who "though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." There is a deeper purpose in God allowing the trial of our faith than just getting us to the place where we can trust Him for healing when we are sick, or having our daily needs met. He is bringing us to the place of total trust in Him in every circumstance of life in order that we will have both the time and the faith to fulfill our ministry and accomplish His end-time purpose through us. Many Christians miss the greater purpose in faith and see it only as a "means of exchange," as it were, to get their personal needs met, and as a consequence, their faith remains immature.
God is sending His people, who have answered His call in this hour, to the "school of trial." The inner meaning of the trials of faith is often misunderstood, and those who have not been enlightened as to their deeper significance are tempted to avoid them and seek their removal at all costs. But immediate removal of the trial, whether it may be some personal problem, an occasional physical affliction, a temporary upset in our plans, or an attack from the enemy, would often be against our best spiritual interests. He is, through these things, attempting to develop our endurance in faith, to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and to remove those things in us that are so unlike Christ.
Have you wondered why God seems to have allowed you to be in a place of employment where there is such a clash of personalities between you and the person you must work with so closely? God is sending you through the school of trial to perfect your love and longsuffering toward others. Why is it that so many events seem to tax your patience and irritate you, when you have prayed so earnestly and worked so diligently to develop patience in your life? God is answering your prayer and sending you to school. And now that you have begun to give more time to prayer and the Word, why is it that there are so many more opportunities to work those extra hours at increased pay? Since you generally become anxious over the children when they have a high temperature, or manifest symptoms of some kind, why is it that you no sooner get through one such trial of faith, than they are down again with something? Being a bit hypersensitive and easily provoked, is there some reasonable explanation why so often others will say or do things that seem designed to irritate you and give cause for an argument? Yes. You are in school being trained in such graces as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. When you pass this test and master the course, then you can advance to a higher grade. Often the reason you seem tried over and over again in the same subject is that you have failed your test and have not passed the course, and as a result God is requiring you to take it over again. The reason some must keep repeating the same courses over and over, suffering the same trials as before, is simply that they refuse to die at that particular point. Some part of "self" is struggling for existence, and will not surrender to the cross. The reason the Holy Spirit will not allow us to advance to a higher realm until we have passed all the subjects in the lower grades is that, until we learn the lessons in the primary grades, we would neither be able to understand nor be equipped to handle greater tests.
We must remember that when we are fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit, all things, including all our trials, are being worked together for our good (Romans 8:28). If we really believe this, then we will stop asking "Why?" and submit, in complete trust, to the Lord. We will not ask, "Why did this or that have to happen?" Or, "Why did the Lord send me half way across the country and only fifteen people came out to hear me speak?" Or, "Why do my family and friends think I have suddenly lost my reason, now that I have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit?" The Scriptures teach that the believers should rejoice when being persecuted for their faith (Matthew 5:10-12). James declares: "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh endurance." God is preparing an army which He intends to use to move many mountains, pull down the strongholds of Satan, deliver the oppressed, and set the captives free. This is to be an army of disciples who have made total consecration to the Lord and have submitted to His yoke as He teaches them, prepares them, and trains them through the school of trial. They do not "think it strange" concerning the fiery trial which is to try them, but they rejoice, knowing that they are partakers of Christ's sufferings, and that the spirit of glory and of God which rests upon them will soon be revealed (I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-14; Romans 8:18-23).
God's third purpose in bringing an end-time body of saints into perfection is to prepare for the restoration of all things. The Scriptures clearly show that there will be a time of the restoration of all things, with the result that the effects of the curse will be removed. This period of restoration was predicted by the prophets, reaffirmed by Christ, and proclaimed by the apostles. Joel, for instance, speaks of the coming restoration in close connection with the latter-day outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, which is even now occurring throughout the world, saying:
Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.... And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
– Joel 2:23, 25
Evidence that this promise is not to be limited to Israel alone, but also includes the church, and that the former and latter "rain" have primary reference to the Spirit which is to be poured out, is clearly seen from what is said in verses 28-29 of this prophecy:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
– Joel 2:28-29
Jesus clearly affirms the fact of
future restoration in Acts 1:6-7. When the disciples asked Him, "Lord,
wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" He did not
say, "The kingdom will not be restored." He said, "It is not for
you to know the times or the seasons," Furthermore, He did not intend for
His prediction in Matthew 17:11, that "Elijah truly shall first come, and
restore all things," to be disregarded by the reference to John the
Baptist in verses 12-13. Jesus did not teach "reincarnation," but
He was referring only to the fact that John came to prepare the way for Jesus
and would "go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke
1:17). Moreover, Jesus does not imply in the prophecy (Matthew 17:11) that
Elijah has come, but states that he "shall come." Clear proof of this
is to be seen in the fact that John the Baptist himself emphatically denied
that he was "Elijah" in John 1:19-23. In reply to the question, "Who
art thou?" he confessed, "I am not the Christ." When they asked
him next, "Art thou Elijah?" he replied, "I am not."
Certainly, John should have known who he was! He said that he was that prophet
spoken of by Isaiah—not Malachi, who predicts the coming of Elijah. He told them,
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of
the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah."
This period of restoration was also proclaimed by the apostles. Peter states in Acts 3:20-21 that God one day "shall send Jesus Christ...: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." The Apostle Paul speaks of this time of restoration in Romans 8, stating that all creation awaits with great expectation "the manifestation of the sons of God," because it will be at this time that "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8:19-22).
These passages show clearly that a time of restoration of all things is coming. It will occur in close connection with the return of Christ and the coming judgment, but it will actually begin just prior to this. Joel 2 places the restoration in the same "time" context as the present-day outpouring of the Spirit upon the church. The divine portents in nature are likewise said to occur "before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come" (Joel 2:30-31). When the one event occurs, that is, the present outpouring of the Spirit, it sets in motion the beginning of the fulfillment of the other end-time events predicted in this prophecy. Jesus likewise confirms the fact that the restoration would begin prior to His return, asserting, "Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things." Peter attested to this when he declared that Jesus will surely come, but that first "the heaven must receive [Him] until the times of the restitution of all things."
The present creation will experience its deliverance at the time of our unveiling as the sons of God (Romans 8:21). Obviously, this does not refer to the "new heavens and new earth" of Revelation 21-22, which are spiritual, and would need no "deliverance" because they are created new. Also, the Scriptures plainly declare that Christ is coming back for a church which will be holy, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Ephesians 5:27). She will grow into this perfection by means of the "Word" (5:26) ministered to her by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, who were permanently "set" in the church by God for this purpose (Ephesians 4:11-16; I Corinthians 12:28-31). The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11) is itself a part of the end-time work of restoration, and these five offices, although greatly diminished, have never ceased to be in existence and to function down through the history of the church. However, in this hour Christ is beginning to restore these ministries fully to His body to prepare it for His return.
The organized church has reduced the scriptural truth of the restoration of all things to two aspects, neither of which have reference to the restoration spoken of in the foregoing passages just discussed. When the church today speaks of "restoration," it has reference to: (1) the restoration of man to fellowship with God by means of salvation through Jesus Christ, and (2) the restoration of the created order through destruction of the old by fire, and creation of a new heavens and earth. They completely bypass, thereby, what the Scriptures have to say about a "millennial" age of restoration, which is said to occur prior to this and eternal state. Restoration in the Biblical meaning, which in part has already begun and will be brought to completion at the appearance of Christ, is three-fold: restoration of divine order in the church; restoration of the original order in creation; and restoration of the theocratic order in the world.
Restoration of divine order in the church.
The restoration of divine order in the body of Christ means basically the restoration of the headship of Christ over his body, the restoration of the five ministry offices of Ephesians 4:11 to His body, and the restoration of a ministry by His body. This is the divine order found in the Book of Acts and throughout the New Testament. Over the centuries, divine order has been replaced by man's order, with the result that the church has become an ineffective, institutionalized religious organization, with a professional "clergy," ruling over a so-called "laity" who have become, for all practical purposes, mere spectators in the contemporary church. When the church began to decline spiritually in the early centuries and lost her Pentecostal experience, the charismatic offices and gifts ceased to function. As a result, we find today that religious and theological training to develop one's natural endowments and abilities have become a substitute for the supernatural gifts. In addition, an ecclesiastical hierarchy has replaced the five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11). The latter, according to Scripture, is received by direct or apostolic appointment, and functions charismatically.
Restoration of the Headship Of Christ to His body.
This is the prerequisite to restoration of the body ministry and its five-fold leadership. In spite of objections to the contrary, Christ is not the directing, controlling head of the organized church today. The Catholics have their pope, the Protestant churches have their bishops or denominational leaders, and the independent and fundamental churches have their "doctrine." Christ intended to govern and direct His body through the Holy Spirit, whom He sent to be His Agent or Executor on earth (John 16:7-15). The Holy Spirit was intended to bear the same relation to the church as an executor does to an estate. In order to receive one's inheritance, he must go through the proper channels; namely, the appointed executor. The contemporary church is futilely trying to receive power from heaven to fulfill its commission, but is ignoring the One already sent to act on behalf of Christ and empower its witness (Acts 1:4-8). In the place of the leadership and directing influence of the Holy Spirit, who has largely been reduced to a "doctrine," the church has developed an ecclesiastical organization, run on the order of a corporation with its boards, directors, and members, who believe they can decide everything by vote, and can promote the Kingdom of God by the intellect and ability of highly trained professionals. Neither in the Old or New Testament do we ever read of God doing anything in the world apart from the Holy Spirit. This fact is seen in the original creation of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1-2); in the anointed leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges; in the ministry of the prophets and apostles (Acts 13:1-2; 21:10-11); as well as in that of Jesus Himself (Acts 10:38). There is not a word in the Scriptures to suggest that God ever intended to change His method in dealing with His church. One needs only to read the New Testament to see that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be His sovereign Agent in directing the church and fulfilling its commission (John 16; Acts 1:4-8; 13:1-2; 16:6-10).
Restoration of the five-fold ministry.
The restoration of the five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is the necessary second step before there can be a restoration of the body ministry, for, as Ephesians 4:11-16 clearly indicates, God set the five offices in the church for the purpose of bringing His body to perfection. This cannot take place until these ministries are restored to the body. This is clearly stated by the Apostle Paul, who tells us that when Christ ascended He gave gifts unto men so that His body could be perfected: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). The purpose for which these charismatic ministries were set in the church is four-fold, They are for (1) developing a body ministry; that is, "for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry." There should not be a comma after the term "saints" in Ephesians 4:12, for the Apostle actually said that the five-fold ministry has been set in the church to equip the body for its ministry. These five ministries are also for the purpose of (2) "edifying...the body of Christ," that is, to strengthen and build it up spiritually (verse 12); (3) bringing the whole body of Christ into "the unity of the faith" (verse 13); and (4) causing it to grow "unto a perfect man [literally "full-grown" man] unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (verse 13). Since it is all too obvious that the church has never in her history realized these promises concerning her, they are yet to be accomplished. The church today is divided into a clergy and laity, and knows nothing of a charismatic ministry by the whole body. She is, furthermore, weak and ineffective without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and divided into numerous factions hopelessly at variance with one another, presenting to the world anything but a "unity of the faith." Clearly, the church has never attained anything close to the maturity of the fullness of Christ. As Paul states, it is the five-fold ministry which God has placed in the body that will bring this about, and will, therefore, have to be restored before it can be realized.
The five ministry
The divine order of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers has been replaced with man's order. The offices of apostle and prophet are now said to have ceased with the first century, although the facts of history do not support this contention, and Scripture clearly indicates they are essential and must continue. The evangelist, which in the New Testament was always anointed with the charismatic gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, is now practically anyone who holds "revivals" or conducts a radio ministry. Unlike the evangelist Philip who went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them, confirming the Word by healing the sick, casting out demons, and working great miracles (Acts 8), few today can demonstrate the New Testament credentials of an evangelist.
The teacher of Ephesians 4:11 is one who has been given a special anointing and ministry gift to teach prophetically by inspiration and revelation, He does not teach the mere "letter" of the Word or doctrine, nor merely enlarge on the pastor's ministry whose function includes giving an exposition of the Scriptures, but he teaches the deeper things from the Word by the Spirit (I Corinthians 2:9-10). Although he may at times remain for a few years in one particular geographical area before moving on (Acts 18:11; 19:9-10), the New Testament teacher is generally not bound to one local assembly, but ministers to various assemblies as the Spirit directs him. The ministries of both Jesus and Paul were characterized by their anointed teaching. The significance of this lies in the fact that the church grows on anointed teaching, hence the reason for God placing this important function in the body. The contemporary church, however, has reduced this divinely appointed ministry to either that of a teacher of a Sunday School class, minister of religious education in the church, or a teacher in a religious school.
The ministry of the church today is primarily limited to that of the pastor, who largely functions in the role of a religious administrator with an office and staff, having the oversight of a complex institution and organization, instead of that of a shepherd who is called to give himself to the Word and prayer. However, the present man-made system, consisting largely of a clergy and laity, is not the divine order; for the pastor, even when Spirit-filled, does not have the diversity of ministry gifts to perform all of the necessary ministries of Ephesians 4:11 for the body of Christ. The arm cannot perform all the necessary functions of the body, or Christ would never have set these other members in the church. Christ will not return for His body until it is perfected (Ephesians 5:26-27; Revelation 19:7). Thus, the five-fold ministry, which was set in the church to accomplish this perfection (Ephesians 4:11-15), is being restored now at the close of the age.
No amount of theological explanation can change the fact that the other two offices of apostle and prophet have also been "set" in the church by God and are to be there as long as it exists in the world. Moreover, the Scriptures declare that the household of God, or church, is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2:19-20). New churches are established and their elders are appointed by apostles, not denominational boards, according to the New Testament. Prophets and seers make known by direct revelation the divine will, and may at times teach and admonish (Acts 15:32-34). It is still thus today in those places where God is restoring divine order. Bishops and religious boards cannot take the place of apostles, who function charismatically under direct authority and commission from heaven. For the body to be without prophets and seers is to leave it blind and without a direct Word from the Spirit to guide, protect, admonish, and direct it. Whatever men may say, God's Word is clear with regard to the ministries He has ordained to be present in His body, the church, in order to bring it to perfection.
The church today appoints men to office by election or vote; but according to Acts 13:1-3, Ephesians 4:7-11, and I Corinthians 12:28-31, they are appointed by God. This includes the office of pastor, according to the plain teaching of Acts 20:28. Israel never chose her prophets, and the early church never elected her pastors or teachers. Evangelists and apostles were never voted into office nor selected by a board. Why? Ministers who are appointed by men or chosen by the people would serve those who selected them, as they do today. The only prophets and priests that Israel ever chose were false prophets and unfaithful priests. The only ministers, evangelists, and teachers the people ever elected served them, not God, telling them what they wanted to hear (II Timothy 4:1-5). When these offices and gifts are restored to the church today, as they are beginning to be, God Himself will do it, either directly, or through the ministry of the apostle and prophet. It is better to have these offices unfilled than for men to try to fill them with their own choices, who are then expected to serve them. Mere religious or theological education does not equip one for these ministries, which are charismatic; but one must have a divine appointment and the anointing, as well as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is the instrument through which the Holy Spirit works; but the bare "letter," which one learns, for example, in a seminary, will not convict men. John 16:8 tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who will do this. We can persuade men to accept our doctrine and unite with our church, but only the Holy Spirit can change men's hearts and unite them to Christ. The Holy Spirit needs the Word to convict sinners, but the Word needs the Holy Spirit!
Restoration of the charismatic body ministry.
It is perhaps the fact of the restoration of the body ministry that occasions the most bewilderment among contemporary Christians, who have seen and heard of nothing other than a professional, trained clergy as the "ministry," whom they support financially to function on their behalf, We should remind our readers here of Ephesians 4:11-16 concerning the divine purpose in setting the five-fold ministry in the church, which is to prepare the entire body of Christ for the ministry. Confusion in this area is the result of an unbiblical concept of Christian vocation and calling which has developed over the centuries. Christians must correct their ideas about this, or they will never understand the nature of ministry by the body and how it is to function.
service" vs. "a secular job"
First of all, it is a grave mistake to think that one's work or profession is not Christian unless it is within a church or religious organization. There is no scriptural basis whatsoever for the contemporary ecclesiastical distinction between "religious" work and so-called "secular" work. Nowhere do the Scriptures ever speak of "secular" employment to define work that is outside the context of a religious denomination or organization. This concept robs the Christian of the basic purpose of his divine calling, which is to live the Christian life and be a disciple within the sphere of life and employment where God has placed him when He saved him. The Christian is called to serve God faithfully wherever He has placed him in the world.
With the spiritual decline of the church and the consequent loss of the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts, the concept of body ministry disappeared, and there arose a double concept of Christian vocation and calling. Since the body, including its pastoral ministry, could no longer function charismatically, there developed the concept of a laity and a clergy. On the one hand was the ordinary layman, of whom little was expected spiritually, and whose work was "secular." On the other hand were the clergy, the full-time religious functionaries, whose work was "religious" or "Christian." The result of this is that today, when one's work is outside a religious or church context, "calling" means little more than how one makes his money to pay the bills. Regardless of how high and noble the work or profession is in rendering a real service to one's neighbor, it is, nevertheless, to be considered as "secular." On the other hand, "Christian" vocation and calling has taken on an ecclesiastical connotation meaning the dedication of one's life to full-time Christian service, or employment by some church or religious organization or institution. Such work is designated "religious," even though it may constitute nothing more religious than functioning as a pastor's secretary typing letters in an office! One wonders what the Apostle Paul would make of such unscriptural distinctions within the body of Christ, since he made tents and preached the Word at the same time, never once calling his tent making "secular" work or his preaching "religious" service.
Second, the Scriptures show that God calls every believer to full-time Christian service from the moment he is saved. This is the calling to which every Christian is called when he is converted to Christ. This fact is clear from Ephesians 4:1, where Paul addresses all the disciples in the church in Ephesus, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." From this we see that every Christian receives a calling, as verse 4 tells us there is but one hope of our calling (that is, one calling). Whatever one's role in life or the nature of one's employment when he is converted, Paul states in I Corinthians 7:17-24 that this is God's "calling." Therefore, he admonishes, "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God" (7:24). The modern, popular idea that some Christians are called to full-time Christian work, while the majority are called only to salvation, has resulted in full-time service for a few and part-time Christianity for most. This unscriptural concept has destroyed the Biblical meaning of discipleship and of body ministry.
If all Christians are called to full-time service or discipleship, what then is the distinction between this calling and the ministry offices of Ephesians 4:11 and I Corinthians 12:28-31? Within the one calling which God gives to every believer (Ephesians 4:1), He gives to each one certain gifts (I Corinthians 12:7). Upon some He bestows special ministry office gifts with which to serve the body of Christ. These ministry gifts are not to be equated with man-made ecclesiastical offices, but are supernatural endowments of gifts to bring the body to perfection. Every believer is called. Those who have one of the five-fold ministry gifts will function in a ministry office, whereas every believer, being called with one calling, is given certain charismatic gifts, outlined in I Corinthians 12, and is called to function in that capacity as a part of the body of Christ. In the former case, these are ministry office gifts or a leadership ministry, whereas in the latter these are charismatic gifts or body ministry.
How one earns his living has nothing to do with the nature of his calling. Every Christian is called with one calling; but some are given ministry gifts which will occupy their full time and will, therefore, constitute their source of livelihood. "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). Others, with charismatic gifts given to serve the body, generally will earn their livelihood "making tents." But God calls every Christian to full-time discipleship within the sphere he finds himself when he is saved, or where God may later place him. He is also given a charismatic gift or gifts to serve the body of Christ: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal" (I Corinthians 12:7; cf. Romans 12:3-8). Furthermore, he is just as much "set" in the body of Christ and expected to function charismatically as the ministry of leadership: "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (12:18, cf. verse 28).
The New Testament teaches, in no uncertain terms, as the following passages indicate, that all work is Christian if there is a Christian in it, and that the term "secular employment" has, therefore, no Biblical support whatsoever. In Ephesians 6:5-8 Paul writes,
Servants [literally "slaves"] be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ. Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
– Ephesians 6:5-8
Paul is clearly saying here that even in slavery, one is to consider his service to men as doing service to the Lord when done in the right spirit. This is emphasized in Colossians 3:22-24, where he writes,
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
– Colossians 3:22-24
Thus, we see in the Scriptures that even slavery is
called "Christian service" if the Christian slave serves his earthly
master faithfully, for he is then, in reality, serving Jesus Christ!
Christians today have lost the Biblical concept of discipleship. They feel they are not in Christian service unless they go to China as a missionary, or are employed in some form of full-time church or religious work. What is the significance of all this? It is simply that, from the Biblical point of view, all work is Christian if there is a Christian in it and if it glorifies God and serves one's neighbor in love. All work has dignity in God's sight, whether one is employed in an office or factory, or whether one is a businessman, farmer, housewife, or servant. Not included, of course, are such worthless "occupations" as that of a professional gambler, prostitute, jockey, and so on. The Scriptures designate even slavery as full-time Christian service, indicating thereby that no work is too menial, lowly, or unimportant to glorify God in it. There is no such thing in the Bible as part-time discipleship for the majority of Christians, and full-time Christian service for a few professional, paid religious workers. We are all called to full-time Christian service wherever we live or in whatever work we are doing. Your present work is dignified because there is a Christian in it, if it meets the definition of acceptable employment: glorifying God and rendering a real service to your neighbor. Although God does not condone the institution of slavery, the Christian slave is called, nevertheless, to glorify Christ and serve Him in humble obedience to his master. Ministry by the body is fulfilling the role of a faithful disciple, not just on Sunday morning in a church, but in one's daily walk, whether at home, at work, or in fellowship with the saints.
"Clergy" vs. "laity":
an unbiblical distinction
In order to recover the Biblical concept of Christian calling and body ministry, we must eliminate from our vocabulary and thinking the man-made ecclesiastical distinction between a professional "clergy" and a "laity." This is necessary for two reasons. First, the term "clergy" is never used with reference to one who holds any of the five ministry offices of Ephesians 4:11. The Greek term from which our word "clergy" comes is used only once in the New Testament, in I Peter 5:3, and there it designates, not the pastor or elder, but the congregation of people, or the so-called "laity." Peter instructs the elders not to act as "lords over God's heritage." The term "heritage" is the Greek term kleros, from which the word "clergy" is derived. This term later came to be applied to the ministry offices when the elders, disregarding Peter's admonition, began calling themselves God's special heritage, like the Levites and priests of the Old Testament. In the second place, the term "laity" comes from the Greek term laos, "people," which occurs in 1 Peter 2:9. There the "laity" are called "a royal priesthood"; but today the term is used to designate those who do not hold a ministry office. It may be humbling for many "clergymen" to accept, but there are no ecclesiastical distinctions in the New Testament between "clergy" and "laity." Both terms are used to designate believers in general, All Christians are God's "clergy" and His "priesthood."
In the New Testament the "laity" are not merely a group of spectators to whom the "clergy" preach. They are the body which is being prepared for its ministry by those with the ministry office gifts. The so-called "laity" did not employ professional ministers to evangelize for them, to pray for the sick for them, to have faith for them, and to witness for them. The ministry offices of leadership are to perfect the whole body for ministry. In the New Testament it was the disciples, the "laity," who spread the Word and ministered to the needs of others. They knew this to be their "calling"—the purpose for which they had also been "set" in the body (1 Corinthians 12:18), regardless of what their daily employment may have been. In Acts 8:1-4, we are told that the ordinary disciples or "laity" were scattered abroad and "went every where preaching the word," while the apostles remained in Jerusalem. Moreover, God did not send an apostle or prophet to Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus. It was "a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias," who was sent to the one who was to become the greatest of all the apostles, to minister healing to his eyes, to lay hands on him to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and to baptize him in water (Acts 9).
The church today does not need more people seeking to serve in some official capacity within a religious organization, but each Christian must become a full-time disciple, witnessing and ministering wherever he finds himself. This is precisely where God has placed you and wants to use you as a member of the body of Christ, at least for the present (I Corinthians 7:17-24). All you could ever do in any other place or circumstance you can do right now where you are. You ask, "What is this?" It is to witness... pray... minister to the sick and those in need... fast... intercede... serve your neighbor in love... live, talk, act in faith... crucify the self-life... press on into the deeper life in the Spirit... find your place and calling in the body and begin to function by faith in it. Wherever you go, or wherever Jesus sends you, this is precisely what you will be called to do.
Therefore, as a member of the body of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, you are called to a full-time ministry now, right where you are. Some are given the office and authority of leadership in the body to bring it to perfection; the others are set in the body and given certain charismatic gifts to fulfill their ministry in and to the body. We are told in I Corinthians 12 that it is impossible to be a Christian and not be "set" by God in the body of Christ (12:18), to minister with certain charismatic gifts (12:7).
God did not set the members into your physical body in a haphazard or arbitrary way, but each in a necessary place to fulfill a function and purpose that only that particular member could perform. It is the same in the many-membered body of Christ, the church. Each member has a preordained place, purpose, and function that no other can fulfill for him. No member of the body is insignificant or unnecessary: "Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary" (12:22). It is the combined ministry of all the saints which results in the building up of the whole body (Ephesians 4:16). In the present order of man, which has divided the body into two classes, clergy and laity, the body is inactive. Like an arm which is not used will atrophy, wither, and die, so the body of Christ today is weak and impotent, resembling a human vegetable.
Why did God ordain a body ministry which He is restoring today? There are two basic methods by which God could have accomplished His purposes. One would be through anointed individuals working independently, as in the case of the Old Testament prophets, priests, judges, and kings. The other, which He has chosen to use in the church age, is an anointed ministry by the whole body of believers. This is the significance of Joel's prophecy and the baptism of the Spirit: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants and on my hand-maidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." Thus, it is no longer just the anointed prophet who will speak, but the whole body of Christ, filled with the Spirit, will prophesy (I Corinthians 14:1). Individual ministries at best are extremely limited, for no one person is sufficiently endowed with all the charismatic gifts and power to accomplish God's purposes, nor does he have the world-wide outreach necessary. However, the many-membered body of Christ reaches over the world, and with its diversity of gifts and abilities is not handicapped by the limitations of individuals working separately.
In restoring the concept of body ministry, God is not only re-establishing the function of the body, but also its oneness (I Corinthians 12:13). The present outpouring of the Spirit is God's answer to Jesus' prayer in John 17 that we might all be one. He does not refer here to an organizational oneness, but to a oneness of spirit, love, and purpose. Christians lost their way when they began to divide over doctrine and practice, which was the inevitable consequence of the church having lost the experience of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. We will be able to experience the oneness of the body only to the extent that we understand two other concepts closely related to this; namely, our dependence upon each of the other members of the body, and our identification with the body. Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 12:13-27 is clear enough when we read it, showing that each member is dependent upon the other and that all have a place and function which is necessary to sustaining, not only one's own life in the body, but that of the other members as well. All excuses such as inability, or unimportance to the body, which are so often offered by Christians, are contradicted by verses 21-25. Just as all the members of our physical body are essential, each member depending upon the other in order for the body to function properly, so it is with the spiritual body. Some members are hands, eyes, or ears. Others, Paul tells us, are the feet or the tongue. If the "feet" refuse to function, then the body remains bound to one place. The body needs the "hands" to minister to it and care for its needs. If one with the gift of prophecy is not present when the body meets, or fails to stir up the gift, then the body suffers for lack of a "voice," just as it is "blind" without the Spirit of revelation, and so on.
However, it is our identification with the body which is the least understood and the most difficult for some to accept. We have found in our experience in the ministry that it is this concept, almost more than anything else, which will separate those who are making total consecration and have accepted the crucified way from those who are Christians in name only. What exactly is meant by "identification" with the body of Christ? When the Spirit baptizes the believer into the body in the experience of regeneration (I Corinthians 12:13), whatever identity he had before he was saved is now to be surrendered to the "oneness" of the body of Christ. This is not, of course, the annihilation of one's personality, but it means that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). It means that there ceases to be any further expression of selfish individualism or promotion of one's personal interests, for the ground is level at the foot of the cross, and the body of Christ, though many-membered, is one. But this truth, though it is now being restored, was lost long ago.
The body: "organization" or
Today when one is saved (baptized into the one body), he joins some institutional church of his choice. He attends when he can, listens to a sermon, and deposits his offering; but he continues to live his own life, plan his own future, and conduct his own affairs without any concern for how these things affect the rest of the body of which he is a vital part. He does not even know that he is supposed to be concerned. He sincerely believes that, within certain limits, how he conducts himself and what he does with his personal life are of no concern to anyone but himself or his immediate family. With such an erroneous conception of his relationship to the body, he soon conforms to the general practice of today, which means that he attends church when he wants, and if he does not want to, he does not attend. If he wishes to serve the body, he serves; he withholds or contributes to its financial needs as the notion strikes him; he feels it is his democratic right to agree or disagree with its teachings as he sees fit; and he would consider it an effrontery to suggest he surrender his individualistic spirit for oneness in the body. Moreover, since he has never been taught that his relationship to the body is spiritual and permanent (having been baptized into it by the Spirit), but believes that his relation to the body is sustained by a "church letter," then if he becomes dissatisfied or is offended by one group, he feels that he is free to transfer this relationship to some other "church," or refrain from fellowship with any group, as he chooses.
Such faulty reasoning, which is characteristic today, results from an erroneous concept of the nature of the church; namely, that it is an organization, instead of an organism. If the body of Christ is an organism and one separates himself from this, he will atrophy and die and the body will suffer. The branch cannot live if it separates itself from the vine. However, if the church is only an organization, as it is conceived to be today, which one joins like he does a lodge or club, then his relationship is more or less impersonal and detached, and his private life and interests are no one's affair except his own.
In fact, the church today has become an organization which one joins and feels no real responsibility to; it is an institution run for us by others. The church in the New Testament, however, is an organism—not something one joins, but something he is baptized into by the Spirit. If one is a Christian, then he already belongs to it and is a vital part of it. He is identified with it, sustaining such an inseparable relation to it and the other members that whatever he says, does, thinks, and believes has its effect upon it, whether he knows it or not (I Corinthians 12:26). The arm is identified with a particular body, and is a vital part of it. An arm has no meaning or usefulness apart from serving that body. When surgeons remove an arm from the body, it dies and must be disposed of. So it is with one's relationship to and identification with the body of Christ. Therefore, your concept of the nature of the church, the body of Christ, whether as an organism, consisting of various members in vital union with each other and depending upon one another for life and strength, or as an organization to which men may or may not belong as they choose, will largely determine your attitude toward discipleship and the ministry of the body.
Restoration of the original order in creation.
The Scriptures contain many references to a future millennial age, a time of restoration of the created order. "The creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). [Note: the Greek word is "creation," not "creature," as translated in the King James Version.] The "times of restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21) include restoration not only of paradise conditions as before the Fall, but also of man's original dominion and authority over creation (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8), which he forfeited through sin, and which Satan then usurped, thereby becoming "the god of this world."
When the church lost its personal encounter with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth who was sent to reveal truth and the deeper meaning of the Scriptures (John 16:13; I Corinthians 2:9-14), the result was catastrophic. Being unable to comprehend the spiritual essence of the Scriptures, the "dead letter" of the Word was taught instead, with the result that many significant doctrines were perverted. Their true intention was changed to conform to men's traditions, and many Biblical truths were entirely set aside or "spiritualized" in an effort to avoid their true and literal application. The scriptural teaching concerning the future millennial age of peace and prosperity, when Christ will reign and rule on the earth with His saints, is one of the truths that the early church continued to believe and teach. But this truth has now largely been spiritualized by the institutional church, which contends that the Biblical references to the Millennium are merely symbolic of the present gospel age.
The term "millennium" comes from the Latin words mille (thousand) and annus (year). These are translations of the Greek words chilia (thousand) and ete (year) used in Revelation 20:2-7. Historical records show that the early church was "chiliastic" or "millennarian" in its eschatology (teachings concerning end-time events), basing its millennial theology on the clear teachings of both the Old and New Testaments. In spite of this fact, it was inevitable that Christians without the baptism in the Holy Spirit would eventually lose sight of this significant Biblical truth. As a consequence, the church has largely become "amillennial," denying that the many references to a future age of the restoration of all things (including Israel) are to be taken literally, but saying instead that they have spiritual application to the church. According to amillennial teaching, we are now in the Millennium, which is simply the present church age when the gospel will triumph. The binding of Satan for a thousand years, spoken of in Revelation 20, is not a literal future period of time, we are told, but Satan was bound at Calvary, and Christ with His saints is now reigning through the church. Moreover, in this view, the Old Testament prophecies concerning the future of Israel were, in the main, intended by God to be spiritually fulfilled by the church, and have largely been realized already.
Among the truths being restored to the church by the Spirit now at the close of the age is the fact of the restitution of the created order in preparation for the establishment of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth (Revelation 20). This is to precede and prepare for the eternal phase of the Kingdom of God, which will follow at its close (Revelation 21-22). [For a more detailed study of this truth than space will permit here, see Dr. Freeman's book, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, especially the chapters on Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. Clicking the link will take you to information about the book on the Faith Ministries website.] The references to a future millennial age and the events in connection with it are so abundant in Scripture that in order to deal with the subject adequately one would need to write an entire volume on this theme alone, which many, in fact, have done.
The Scriptures clearly teach a literal future period when (1) Satan will be bound for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3); (2) Christ will reign on earth with His saints (Revelation 2:26-27; 5:10; 20:4); (3) Israel will be restored to her land (Amos 9:11-15), her temple rebuilt and her worship reinstituted (Isaiah 2:1-4; Ezekiel 40-48; Zechariah 14:16-21), and the kingdom reestablished with Christ reigning over it on the throne of David (Acts 1:6; Luke 1:32-33); (4) the original paradise conditions before the Fall will be restored, such as peace on earth (Isaiah 2:1-4), tranquility between man and the animal kingdom (Isaiah 11:6-9; 35:9; 65:25), abundant productivity of the earth (Isaiah 35:1-2, 7; 65:21-23), divine health (Isaiah 35:3-6), and longevity (Isaiah 65:20); (5) all creation itself will be delivered from its corruption and restored (Romans 8:18-23); and (6) there will be a time of the "restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). No amount of spiritualizing or allegorizing can alter the obvious meaning of these passages. There is an abundance of Scripture devoted to the blessings and glory of the millennial kingdom of Christ, describing it as a time when the curse has been removed (Isaiah 35), war has ceased (Micah 4), and all the world will unite in worship of the one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Zechariah 14:9, 16). The restoration of the original order in creation, as a time of peace and prosperity, is contingent upon the restoration of the Theocratic order which will be made clear in the discussion which follows.
Restoration of the theocratic order in the world.
The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is God's ultimate purpose which will yet find fulfillment in history. God's purpose has been temporarily set aside due to Israel's failure and the church's unbelief. Nevertheless, it will soon be realized in close connection with the restoration of the created order. The institutional church still adheres to the "letter" of the Word and continues to pray, as Jesus taught His disciples, "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." But she is merely praying words, for she no longer has any expectation of God's kingdom being established on earth. In her attempt to justify her amillennial interpretation of the Old and New Testament prophecies concerning the establishment of a literal kingdom on earth, the contemporary church ignores scores of kingdom passages and naïvely believes she has forever settled the question by citing two or three alleged proof texts, chief of which are Luke 17:20-21, John 18:36, and Romans 14:17. Their interpretation of these three passages would, in effect, make God contradict Himself in all the others.
In Luke 17:20-21, Christ rebuked the Pharisees, who were interested only in the establishment of a purely political Jewish kingdom, advising them that God's kingdom is, in its essential nature, His reign and rule in men's hearts. But in telling them this, He did not imply that God's kingdom would have no future, visible, earthly aspect, because a short time later, Christ Himself clearly taught that it did. In Luke 19:11-28, contrary to the disciples' belief, Christ states that the visible aspect of the Kingdom of God was not immediately to appear, but that He was to depart and receive the kingdom, later returning with it. It is a clear reference, of course, to His ascension, and then His return at the Second Advent for the purpose of establishing His kingdom on earth. In verse 27 He clearly speaks of His reign after His return with His kingdom.
Jesus' declaration in John 18:36 that "My kingdom is not of this world" cannot correctly be interpreted to mean that His kingdom would have no future, visible existence, as the amillennialists have contended. The Greek preposition ek, translated "of" in this verse, is literally "out of" or "from," meaning "My kingdom is not out of or from this world." In other words, it is from above; it is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, when the Apostle states in Romans 14:17 that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," the context obviously means, "Do not cause another to stumble by your appetites or lack of scruples." To use this verse, because of its reference to eating and drinking, in an effort to prove that the kingdom has no future visible manifestation, is evidence that one has not studied the context in which these words are spoken. Moreover, the erroneous idea that there will be no eating or drinking in God's kingdom is plainly contradicted by such passages as Luke 22:29-30; 24:36-43; Matthew 26:29; and Revelation 19:7-9.
Biblical prophecy speaks of a future kingdom which God will establish on earth to be ruled over by the Messiah, whom He will anoint. (1) A King and His kingdom are predicted in such passages as: Genesis 49:10; II Samuel 7; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 2; 7; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6; Luke 1:31-33; 19:11-27; John 18:36-37. (2) His kingdom is described as having a definite earthly aspect in Psalm 2; Isaiah 2:1-4; 11; Jeremiah 3:17; 23:5-6; Ezekiel 40-48; Micah 4:1-7; Zechariah 2; 8; 14; Matthew 6:10; 19:28 (cf. 5:5); Luke 19:11-27; 22:29-30; Revelation 2:26-27; 5:10; 20:1-7. In the short space of seven verses in Revelation 20:1-7, the literal reign of Christ on the earth is mentioned no less than six times; the binding of Satan during this period of earthly blessing and peace is mentioned three times; and the reign of the saints on earth with Christ twice. Moreover, a definite period of time (a millennium) is seen to elapse between the first and second resurrections. All attempts to spiritualize these passages in an effort to deny their literal fulfillment cannot change the fact that the point of view of the Scriptures is that God's kingdom shall yet come and His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
three-fold nature of the Kingdom of God.
Much of the error concerning the nature of the kingdom stems from the fact that most Christians conceive of the kingdom as having just one aspect: spiritual. But the Kingdom of God is actually three-fold in nature.
(a) The kingdom is a present possession,
and in this aspect it is spiritual and invisible.
This is the significance of Jesus' reply to the Pharisees in Luke 17:20-21: "And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." There are two streams of prophecy in the Scriptures regarding Christ and His kingdom; one concerning the First Advent, the other His Second. At the First Advent He came in humiliation to suffer and die. He did not sit upon a throne, and did not institute an earthly kingdom. At His first coming, His purpose was to declare that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1), and that man should repent and embrace it by faith in its present spiritual aspect (cf. Luke 16:16). The new birth experience was the doorway into this kingdom (John 3). Thus, the Apostle Paul writes that through faith in Christ, God "hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Colossians 1:13).
(b) The kingdom is a future realization and in this aspect it is visible, earthly, and millennial (Revelation 20).
The Scripture passages which give the evidence for this were set forth in the previous discussion of Biblical prophecy concerning the future earthly nature of the kingdom. This aspect of the kingdom has never been fulfilled; Jesus Himself states that its realization awaits His return, At this time the saints will reign with Him, "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:31, 34). It should be obvious from this statement that, although there is a present spiritual aspect of the kingdom which one enters by faith, there is, however, a real sense in which the believer does not yet possess his inheritance in this kingdom which will come when Christ returns to earth and sets up His throne. In that day, "the Lord shall be king over all the earth" (Zechariah 14:9). In Luke 19:11-27 Christ clearly states that the visible aspect of His kingdom was to appear only after His ascension and subsequent return at the Second Advent.
(c) The kingdom is an eternal inheritance and in this aspect it is visible, spiritual, and everlasting (Revelation 21:1-22:21).
The inception of this aspect of the
kingdom will be at the close of the Millennium, with the creation of a new
heavens and new earth. Compare also Isaiah 65:17; 66:22-24; II Peter 3:10-13; I Corinthians
In summary, we see that we cannot reduce the kingdom to just one aspect in its essential nature without either ignoring large segments of the Scripture, or, as the contemporary church does, resorting to the dubious method of spiritualizing whatever does not conform to one's religious creed or theology. Moreover, that aspect of the Kingdom of God which is to come on earth, although visible with a world dominion, is also spiritual, We must, therefore, distinguish between the "spiritualized" view of the kingdom proposed by the amillennialists and the "spiritual" nature of the millennial kingdom, for it is described as a kingdom of righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 62:1-2; Matthew 25:34, 37), holiness (Isaiah 4:3-4; 35:8; Joel 3:17), and truth (Isaiah 16:5; Zechariah 8:3). It is this kingdom that Jesus urges His disciples to pray for, in order that it might be manifested and established on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
is our commission: the Kingdom of
Christ's mission in the world is our commission. Our mission is to be a continuation of His. What He came to do and teach He commissioned us to continue, saying, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21). What was Christ's mission? What was His basic purpose for coming into the world? Is your conception large enough to embrace God's eternal plan? Evidence of the confusion and lack of agreement concerning Christ's mission and purpose is seen in the variety of answers given in reply, such as, "Christ's mission on earth was to establish the church," or "He came to save us from our sins." Another contends that "He came to fulfill the law and the prophets." Still others suggest: "Christ's purpose was to reveal God," or "He came to teach man how to live righteously," or "His mission was to reveal truth," or "He came to seek and save the lost." Not that any of these concepts are incorrect, but are they large enough to embrace Christ's central mission and purpose? If we hold to an inadequate conception of Christ's mission, then we cannot carry out ours, for our mission is to be a continuation of His (John 20:21). Therefore, is there a larger, all-embracing purpose that will include all of these? The reason the contemporary church holds to so many unscriptural notions concerning the great move of the Spirit of God today is that it has generally limited Christ's basic mission to saving the lost and establishing His church.
When Christ came He declared that His mission was to fulfill the law and the prophets. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). However, this declaration does not in itself reveal to us the nature of His mission which fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning God's purpose in the world. Jesus reveals what this eternal purpose was in Luke 16:16, saying, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven is the only concept large enough to embrace God's purpose in the Old Testament and Christ's mission in the New, as well as its present fulfillment now at the consummation of the age. The reign and rule of God on earth as in heaven was God's purpose in the call of Abraham, in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, in the Advent of Christ, in the founding of the church, and in the present outpouring of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. Simply to say that Christ came to save sinners or to establish His church does not tell us the ultimate purpose for redeeming sinners and forming an assembly of believers, But when we learn that He came to establish a kingdom of righteousness on the earth, and to populate it with those citizens who have been redeemed by His blood, then we know the purpose for their salvation and the establishment of the church.
It is not to minimize the importance of the church to state, as the Scriptures clearly indicate, that God's ultimate purpose in history is not simply to establish the church, but rather His kingdom. The church is within the kingdom; it is not the other way around. The church is not an institution or religious organization which is to be an end in itself, but the church is the people who are called to go forth and proclaim the kingdom of which they are citizens. The proclamation of the Kingdom of God was the commission God gave to John the Baptist and to Jesus Christ, who in turn commissioned the Apostles as well as His church with the same mission (John 20:21). The proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the central emphasis in the New Testament. Jesus refers to the kingdom over 100 times in the Gospels, whereas He mentions the church but twice. It was the message of the kingdom that John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), as well as Jesus (Mark 1:14-15), came preaching. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go and proclaim the kingdom (Luke 9:60). It constituted the theme of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and was the basis of all His parables (Matthew 13). He did not change this emphasis after the resurrection, for we read that He continued with His disciples for forty days before His ascension, "...speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). It continued to be the message of the newly established church (Acts 8:12; 20:25), and is the theme upon which the Book of Acts closes, constituting the basis of all Paul's teaching (Acts 28:23, 30-31). Throughout the New Testament the message of the kingdom continues to form the basis for the preaching and teaching of the church (see, for example, I Corinthians 4:20; 6:9; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:13; II Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 1:8; 12:22, 28; James 2:5; II Peter 1:11; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 11:15, 17; 19:6).
The establishment of the Kingdom of God is, therefore, the only concept large enough to embrace Christ's primary mission and purpose on earth. The churches have been guilty of limiting Christ's mission, and as a consequence have limited theirs. God can only use us in this hour to the extent that we are willing to make our mission as large as Christ's. As long as we continue to think in terms of Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and so on, our conception of our commission will be too small to embrace Christ's mission. Instead of leading men into the kingdom through the door of the church, we have been leading them into our particular denominational and institutional systems, because we have been taught that our mission was the proclamation of our church and its doctrine and creed, instead of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. There is not a single instance in the New Testament of a believer ever proclaiming anything less than the kingdom message. Until this becomes the sole basis of our message, then it is futile to pray as Jesus taught us, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
The restoration of Israel.
An important aspect of the restoration of the theocratic order which holds a central place in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is the restoration of the nation of Israel. Contrary to modern amillennial teaching, Israel in prophecy is not merely a type of the church, but a people eternally bound to God by the covenant made to Abraham (Romans 11:27). Their national restoration is the most repeated promise in the Scriptures, being mentioned over 140 times! Some of the most significant promises given to Israel are:
(a) An eternal promise that the land of Palestine
is her possession forever.
Genesis 12:1-7; 13:14-16; 15:1-21; 17:1-8; Psalm 105:8-11; Ezekiel 36; Amos 9:14-15.
(b) The promise of her ultimate restoration to God.
We note here only a few of the scores of such promises: Deuteronomy 4:27-31; II Samuel 7:10; Joel 3; Amos 9:11-15; Hosea 1:10-11; 2:14-23; 3:4-5; Isaiah 2:1-4; 10:20-23; 11:10-16; 14:1-3; 27:12-13; 43:1-7; 49:13-26; Jeremiah 3:14-19; 16:14-15; 23:3-8; Ezekiel 6:8-9; 20:33-44; 34:11-31; 36; 40-48; Micah 4:1-7; 7:9-20; Zechariah 2:4-13; 3:1-10; 8:1-23; 10:5-12; 12-14.
(c) The promise of the ultimate salvation of Israel
as a people.
The Apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 11 that "blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written.... For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (11:25-29). Until the time for the restoration of Israel, the nation as a people is set aside "until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," for "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24), then "all Israel shall be saved." The Apostle also confirms the fact of Israel's eventual salvation in II Corinthians 3:14-16, when God one day will remove the veil from her eyes. God Himself promises this, saying, "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son.... In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem.... And the land shall mourn, every family apart..." (Zechariah 12:10-12). See also the prophecies under (b) above, many of which clearly speak of Israel's future salvation as a people at the time of her restoration.
(d) The promise of the restoration of Jerusalem,
the Holy City of Zion, to Israel.
Many Old Testament promises concerning Israel's restoration also speak of the return of the city to her as her possession, which is to be the dwelling place of the glorified Messiah and the seat of His theocratic government. See, for example, Isaiah 2:1-14; Zechariah 2:4-5, 10-12; 8; 14. In the New Testament Jesus confirms this, saying, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). This prophecy has literally been fulfilled before our eyes! In 1967, after Israel had been dispossessed from her sacred city for nineteen centuries, the Holy City once more came back into her possession, just as the Scriptures had promised!
(e) The promise of the
political restoration of the kingdom of Israel.
Again, this fact becomes evident from reading the many passages which deal with the restoration of Israel. See "restoration to God," under (b), above. However, the following promises should be particularly noted. In the vision given to Daniel of the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, He promises that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High" (Daniel 7:27). The term "saints" in Daniel at no time refers to the church, but always to the people of Israel as distinguished from the Gentile nations (cf. Isaiah 62:12). In 8:24 the Jewish people are called "the holy people" (literally saints"), in contrast with the Greek kingdom. In Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 they are also called "the saints," or "the holy people."
Moreover, contrary to the popular contention, the Jewish expectation of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was not permanently set aside by Jesus' declaration in Matthew 21:43, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you," for two reasons. First of all, to have done so would contradict the Old Testament prophecies promising the kingdom to Israel after her restoration. Second, Jesus Himself in reply to the disciples' question in Acts 1:6, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" plainly states that the Father has placed the "time" of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel in His own power and that it was not given to them to know just when this event would come to pass (Acts 1:7). If Matthew 21:43 had meant that the Old Testament promises concerning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel had now been done away with, this certainly would have been the time for Jesus to have corrected their thinking on the subject. On the contrary, He reaffirms their hopes, but declines to unveil the "time" when it would occur.
Israel is, in a real sense, God's calendar. If we fail to understand what the Scriptures teach concerning His end-time plan and purpose for the Jewish nation, we will fail to comprehend the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit of God today. A few examples will illustrate this clearly. (1) Coinciding with the early outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the turn of this century, we saw the rise of Zionism, a movement to encourage the return of the Jews back to the land of Israel. (2) At the time of God's bringing forth the great healing, salvation, and deliverance revivals reaching all over the world in the 1940's, we witnessed a modern-day miracle in the restoration of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948. (3) Now as the Spirit is being poured out upon all flesh, just as Joel predicted would occur in the latter days, whereby tens of thousands of believers in all the denominations are receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, Israel has recovered her Holy City for the first time in nineteen centuries (1967), thus signaling that "the times of the Gentiles" are coming to a close, and that the "restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21) is at hand.
that "the church is spiritual
Those interpreters who spiritualize the abundance of Old Testament prophecies concerning national Israel's future restoration and blessing and seek to place their fulfillment in the church (as so-called "spiritual Israel") can do so only by forcing this unwarranted interpretation upon these passages, which include much of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, as well as other Old Testament prophecies. The result is endless confusion, no two commentaries being in precise agreement. The basic criticism of the spiritualization method of interpretation concerning the prophecies of Israel's future is that in the effort to explain away even the clearest predictions about Israel, it applies every promise of blessing to the church, while it carefully leaves the curses to the Jews! Moreover, such a method of interpretation is neither scholarly nor accurate, for it fails to take into account the indisputable fact that many of the most significant of these prophecies are at this very moment being fulfilled before our eyes!
The church is not national Israel, nor does the church supplant Israel in God's covenant made to Abraham, as Romans 11 plainly states. Moreover, to argue, as the contemporary church does, that the promises made to national Israel are to be fulfilled in Gentile believers, is to ignore the fact that Israel is clearly addressed as a nation after the establishment of the church (Acts 28:20; Romans 10:1; 11). In Romans 11:25-29 God states that national Israel is only temporarily set aside until the full number of Gentiles are saved, after which He will restore Israel to her place (Acts 1:6-7). The resurrection of national Israel is clearly promised in Ezekiel 37, when David (Christ) will be king over them, and the two nations, Judah and Israel, will once again be united as one.
The central passage setting forth that aspect of God's eternal plan which concerns our manifestation is Romans 8:18-23:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
– Romans 8:18-23
The great expectation of the whole created order is
for the manifestation of the sons of God, the Apostle tells us, for at that
time "creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of
corruption." The revelation of the sons of God to all creation is the goal
toward which God is leading those who, in this hour, have committed themselves
to Him without reservation, who have accepted the call to total discipleship,
and who are pressing by faith into the deeper life in the Spirit. That there is
to be a final revelation of the matured sons of God for the purpose of
delivering this groaning creation from its bondage is the wonderful truth which
is set forth in this passage, and which is being quickened by the Spirit to the
hearts of many of the saints today.
Why do the Scriptures speak of this event as a "revelation" or "manifestation" of the sons of God? It is because they, like Israel in Egypt, are now hidden from the eyes of the world. Israel's sonship was veiled, hidden from the world, until the appointed time of his revelation as the elect, chosen son of God (Exodus 3:1-12:51; Hosea 11:1). So too, the sons of God today, who are now being prepared for their manifestation, are hidden from the world and from the unbelieving institutional church until the time of their unveiling to all creation. Israel was a despised, unknown slave people until their manifestation to the world, at which time they were sent forth under the protection and anointing of God, astounding the world with their mighty deeds, miracles, and supernatural triumphs over their enemies. The sons of God today are hidden away, as it were, in "Egypt"; despised and ridiculed by institutional Christianity as the new "tongues movement"; at times called heretical because they do not follow the traditions and creeds of men; and reviled as those who are deluded by the devil, because of the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit through them.
Because their sonship is still hidden, they suffer at present, occasionally even at the hands of some who have the pentecostal experience, but who lack its full message. The latter do not desire to go on beyond Pentecost unto the fullness of God and mature sonship, either because of unbelief, disinterest, or fear of that which is not already specifically outlined in their creeds. However, this suffering is in God's purpose and is an important aspect in the maturing of the true sons, as the Apostle shows in Romans 8:18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Before the Israelites' full revelation to the world as the sons of God it was first necessary to bring them into the wilderness for proving. The wheat had to be separated from the tares, and the true sons manifested by their endurance through trial and suffering, for this was God's word to Israel, saying, "The Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart" (Deuteronomy 8:2). We are reminded in I Corinthians 10 that not all who were baptized unto Moses came into maturity as God's sons through their wilderness experience, nor are all those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit going to come into maturity and be manifested to the world as the sons of God.
We wish, however, to make it clear at the outset that we believe that all born-again Christians are legally sons of God (Galatians 3:26, Greek "sons"); but, by analogy, just as some children in the earthly realm never really mature mentally or emotionally as adults, likewise many of God's children will not mature as sons and thus cannot be manifested as matured sons of God to all creation (Romans 8:18-23). The sons of God who are to be manifested in these last days in a great supernatural ministry of the Spirit will be those who (1) enter into the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit by accepting the message of Joel 2, which is being fulfilled in this hour, and (2) press on by faith into the fullness of God by accepting the message of the deeper life in the Spirit. The former experience, the baptism in the Spirit, will not bring us into maturity as sons, It is but the "earnest," or down-payment, and it is the doorway into the deeper experience, which is a growth unto a perfect and full-grown son (Ephesians 4:13, 15).
Children by regeneration; sons by adoption.
Man, through sin, lost his position of sonship, which is restored to us legally by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26), and is confirmed to our hearts when we receive the baptism in the Spirit (Romans 8:15, literally "Ye have received the Spirit of sonship"), but is not yet manifested in our experience (Romans 8:18). The King James Version renders the terms "son" and "children" incorrectly in several passages, two of which are significant for this study. In John 1:12 the term "sons" should be changed to read "children," and in Galatians 3:26 the term "children" should be rendered "sons," just as they appear in the Greek New Testament. Regeneration makes us "children" of God (John 1:12), whereas adoption places us as "sons" (Galatians 4:5). Adoption means literally in the Greek "to place as a son," or "sonship." Thus, the term "child" in John 1:12 describes the Christian's "family" relationship (he is in God's family), whereas the term "son" in Galatians 4:5 designates his "legal" standing in relation to the Father. Sonship speaks of his legal rights, privileges, and authority which he receives upon maturity.
The significance of this with respect to our manifestation as sons is to be found in Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
– Galatians 4:1-6
The background for Paul's discussion of sonship is
Roman law. According to Roman and Greek custom of that time, when the male
child reached a certain age, he was formally and legally "adopted,"
or placed in position as a son, and upon being manifested as a son, he was then
given all the rights, privileges, and authority of his sonship. Adoption did
not make him a "child"; he was born into the family as a child.
Adoption placed him in the legal position as a "son." In Galatians
3:26 and 4:1-6 Paul states that we have been adopted as sons, that is, legally
placed in the position of sons, due to our faith in Jesus Christ. The Jews
under the law were as "children" who had not yet reached the age of
maturity for the manifestation of their sonship. They were actually sons and
heirs because of their relationship to God; nevertheless, they could not yet
exercise their rights and authority as sons until Christ came and they were
legally adopted, or placed in the position of sonship, through faith in Him. The Apostle gives two reasons why a child and heir
cannot exercise his rights and authority until a given time, which are also the
requirements for the manifestation of our sonship now at the consummation of
There is, first of all, a necessary growth to maturity. In Galatians 4:1, Paul states that the heir, as long as he is an immature child and not of legal age, cannot exercise his sonship rights, though he be lord of all. This is the hour when God is calling those who have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit to go on to maturity by yielding themselves completely to the Spirit's work in them, and to settle for nothing less than total commitment unto Him. When one yields himself fully to the Spirit he will grow into sonship (Ephesians 4:15), as the Spirit matures him "unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). In Galatians 4, Ephesians 4, and Romans 8 we see that only those who come to maturity as sons will be manifested to this groaning creation.
Second, in Galatians 4:2, we find that our manifestation cannot occur "until the time appointed of the father." There is a "fullness of time" for God to send forth His sons, just as there was for the Advent and ministry of Christ (4:4). Just as the heir, under ancient law, had to come to maturity and prove himself capable of handling the position and authority of sonship, so God's sons are now being prepared by the Word and through trial, testing, and crucifixion for their position and ministry. Joseph received the divine promise of a position of dominion and authority long before its manifestation (Genesis 37). The true nature of Joseph's position was hidden until God's Word had tried him, for he came to maturity by proving himself through much trial and tribulation (Psalm 105:16-22, note verse 19).
Israel was God's son when the nation in faith responded to God's call and left Egypt. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt," declared the Lord through the prophet Hosea (11:1). Nevertheless, we find that it was the trials and tests in the wilderness by which God separated the true sons from the faithless whose consecration was shallow. Out of all those who were called out of Egypt only two men above the age of twenty, Caleb and Joshua, were faithful and chosen to enter the Promised Land and claim their inheritance (Numbers 14:26-39)! Many are called, but few are chosen. Israel rejected its sonship due to the trials of the wilderness, which were designed to bring the nation to maturity and prepare it for the great warfare and victories over the enemy that lay ahead, through which Israel's sonship was to have been manifested to the world. Jacob had twelve sons, but only Joseph was chosen, proving himself faithful to the Word which tried him. Less than one percent of those who were called were ultimately chosen for the warfare and great victory achieved by Gideon's army.
The church in the early period of its history manifested its sonship to a degree, typifying thereby the unveiling of its sonship which is soon to be revealed (Romans 8). Down through the centuries, however, it has lost its anointing and power, and has rejected, among other truths, the fact of its sonship, having reduced it to a mere doctrine in its creeds. In the case of Israel, when the nation rejected its sonship, God raised up new sons from among the children of the faithless Israelites themselves (Numbers 14:31). So today, out of the children which the church itself has produced, a church which has also rejected its sonship, God is even now raising up new sons, baptizing them in His Spirit and preparing them for the manifestation of their sonship.
"Manchild Company" of overcomers.
In Revelation 12 in the vision of the woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, there is prophetically depicted the birth of a Manchild or Son, which many believe speaks typically of the birth of Christ, due to the fact that the woman in 12:1 is described with imagery which is used in Genesis 37:9-11 of Israel, who produced the Manchild Christ. However, as we will show in the following paragraphs, the woman signifies the church which is now producing the end-time Manchild or Company of Overcomers (Revelation 2:26-27 and 3:10 with 12:5; 3:21; cf. Ephesians 4:13; Matthew 25:1-10; Malachi 3:16-17; 4:2-3).
That the prophecy of Revelation 12 cannot signify the events surrounding the birth of Christ, but points to the future, is evident from several considerations.
(1) In Revelation 4:1 it is clearly stated that the visions and revelations which are to follow (chapters 4-22) concern, not the past, but those "things which must be hereafter." Hence, Revelation 12 is a prophecy of future events which was given long after the birth of Christ.
(2) The Book of Revelation is not addressed to Israel but to the seven Gentile churches of Asia (Revelation 1:4), although Israel is infrequently mentioned (chapter 7) as is the temple (chapter 11).
(3) The Manchild in Revelation, whom Satan seeks to destroy at its birth, is delivered by being "caught up" to God's throne (12:5), whereas Christ was delivered from King Herod's decree of death when Joseph fled with Him into Egypt. In the case of Jesus, the mother and child flee to Egypt, but the Manchild is caught up to God, while the mother who birthed him flees to the desert.
(4) The Manchild in Revelation 12 is caught up immediately upon its birth (12:4-5), whereas Christ was not caught up until years later, after His death and resurrection.
(5) The "war in heaven" (12:7-12), which has not yet taken place, when Satan shall be cast down into the earth in great wrath, occurs after the catching up of the Manchild, or overcomers, and the flight of the woman into the wilderness (12:5-6). Satan is now in the "heavenlies" reigning as "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) over the "principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spirits of wickedness in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 6:12). It is the catching up of this Manchild which sets in motion the events surrounding the casting out of Satan from his kingdom in the heavenlies and the beginning of the great Tribulation on the earth.
(6) When the overcomers have been caught away from the great Tribulation (Revelation 3:10; 12:5; cf. Matthew 24:21-22), the woman (the institutional church which did not overcome) is then persecuted by Satan (Revelation 12:13-17, cf. 2:22). As a result of this persecution, she will be purged of her worldliness and unbelief, and will repent of her present-day rejection of the outpouring of the Spirit and the miraculous events surrounding it. Although many will be martyred (Revelation 12:11; cf. 6:9-11; 13:15), God will protect the woman and will also deliver her in the middle of the Tribulation (Revelation 12:6, 14).
(7) The "woman" is not a single, literal individual (e.g., the Virgin Mary), but is the organized church left on earth after the Manchild has been caught up, This is evident from the use of plurals in 12:11: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (12:11; cf. verses 12:6-11).
(8) Nor does the Manchild represent all of the woman's seed, for there is left a faithful "remnant of her seed" whom Satan persecutes after the woman is delivered from her Tribulation (Revelation 12:7; cf. 7:9-14).
(9) In Revelation 12:5 we are told that the Manchild is "to rule all nations with a rod of iron," precisely what is said of overcomers in 2:26-27: "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father."
When will the Manchild, which is now being prepared, be brought to birth? Revelation 12:2, 4 indicate that the woman is in travail already; however, it normally takes nine months to produce a child. Likewise, the birth of the Manchild cannot be rushed, or God would have a helpless, premature baby on His hands. It is His purpose to bring forth a child, fully and perfectly formed, which must come to maturity through the process of divine preparation. If we impatiently attempt to rush its birth by setting up our own end-time program, by failing to wait until God unfolds the full end-time message, by trying to minister beyond the present level of anointing which we have received, by running around appointing our own five-fold ministry (except, of course, as the Spirit directs by revelation), or by being unwilling to submit to the trials and preparation necessary to mature in the faith, then we shall only produce another Ishmael, a Manchild after the flesh, as did Sarah and Abraham in their impatience for the birth of their promised son. Hagar's son was not the true heir; he was a son produced after the flesh. Isaac's birth was supernatural (Galatians 4:22-31), just as will be the Manchild now being formed in the womb of the church. This child is not going to be produced by any "fleshly" prophecies, nor delivered by any over-zealous "midwives," who sometimes labor with much zeal, and not infrequently with some fanciful interpretations which spiritualize literal truths of the Word of God in an attempt to force the woman to give premature birth to her child.
extreme "manifested sons" error
In fact, some are teaching that there will be no literal bodily resurrection; that the sons of God are now being resurrected by the Spirit; that Christ will not literally, visibly return in the clouds of heaven; and that we are the "clouds" in whom Christ is now appearing inwardly. But they do not have the true end-time message concerning manifested sons. The conception and birth of this child will be the Spirit's work, just as it was with the first Manchild, Christ.
For many centuries the unbelieving church has been living as a widow. The Manchild, or body of Overcomers, could not be conceived and born, for the church had rejected the Holy Spirit, who alone could implant him in her womb. However, at the turn of this century (around 1900), the Spirit of God was able to implant the seed in consequence of the travail of hungry hearts crying out for an outpouring of rain from heaven just like the early disciples had received. From that time the Manchild has been developing in the womb in preparation for its birth, until today the child is almost fully formed, the labor pains having already begun, But the birth must await the fullness of God's time, the full nine months, for God will risk no premature birth at this stage. Such a premature child would be helpless against Satan who awaits its birth, ready to devour the Manchild when it is born (Revelation 12:4). But when this child is brought forth it will be caught up unto God (Revelation 12:5), as the mother, the church, which has rejected the present-day move of the Spirit, goes into the great Tribulation to be purged of her unbelief (Revelation 12:6-7). Israel rejected her Manchild, Christ, when He was born; likewise, the church is rejecting the Manchild which is now being formed in her womb, However, like Israel, who will be purged of her unbelief through the Tribulation (Daniel 12:1; Zechariah 14 with 12:10), so too, the contemporary church will be purged of her unbelief through the Tribulation (Revelation 12:13). The Manchild is caught up out of the great Tribulation which begins at that time (Revelation 12:7f.), and continues until Christ returns to earth to establish His millennial kingdom (Matthew 24:21, 29-30; Revelation 19-20), bringing the saints with Him (I Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 14; Zechariah 14:1-5).
The ultimate purpose of God is to make us glorified sons of God in the image of his perfect Son Jesus Christ, for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2). We are now being called to walk in the full commitment of discipleship in order that we may mature as sons, to the end that we may be manifested to all creation when we have developed "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." But glorification must come in its own order. The divine order to be fulfilled in us is discipleship, sonship, and then manifestation and glorification, We are now called to be disciples, to take up the cross and follow Jesus, and to mature unto full sonship for manifestation to this groaning creation as the glorified sons of God.
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