OUT OF THE WORLD OR OUT OF THE EVIL?
OUT OF THE WORLD OR OUT OF THE EVIL? From: John, Chapter Seventeen Copyright Š 2006 by Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The common understanding of the work of salvation is that we shall be removed from this world of pain and fear and brought to a different world (Heaven) where there is no pain or fear. The scriptural description of the work of salvation is that we are being removed from the person and power of Satan and brought into the Person and power of God in Christ.
There is an important difference between these two concepts. Our understanding of what we are being saved from as well as the destination we are moving toward directly affects the manner in which we apply ourselves to our discipleship.
OUT OF THE WORLD OR OUT OF THE EVIL?
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (John 7:15)
The above sentence may be translated as follows: "I do not ask that You should take them out of the world but that You should keep them from the evil one."
The term keep contains the idea of guarding in protective custody. The word from, as employed in the King James, no doubt conveys the thought accurately: "keep them from [out of] the evil [one]."
The same grammatical construction is used by the same writer, in Revelation 3:10:
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
The above verse, Revelation 3:10, is one of the foundation verses of the erroneous "rapture" teaching. Notice that this verse does not in any manner speak of a withdrawal of people from the surface of the earth but of a guarding of them during a period of temptation. To see in this passage a withdrawal of the Church from the earth in order to escape Antichrist or the great tribulation is an example of the tendency of people with a preconceived notion to add to the Word of God that which it does not state or imply.
Christ is not praying that the Father would remove us from the world but that He would protect the elect from all the influences of Satan.
Previously in this booklet (John, Chapter Seventeen) we emphasized the idea that Christ was preparing to go to the Father rather than to Heaven as a place, and that we also are being prepared to go to the Father as to a Person rather than just to a delightful place. In fact, we are being prepared to be brought into eternal union with the Father through Christ.
There is a practical difference between viewing Heaven as the destination of our spiritual pilgrimage and viewing eternal union with the Father as the destination of our spiritual pilgrimage and discipleship. Our choice of goals has an effect on how we live as Christian people.
In the passage we are examining now we intend to view the negative dimension of our redemption—what we are being saved from.
We have suggested that we are pressing toward rest in the Father.
But what are we moving from ?
If it is true, as we maintain, that we are moving toward a Person rather than merely toward a place, is it true also that we are moving from a person rather than from a place?
Are we being redeemed from the earth or are we being redeemed from the image and power of Satan? Is God redeeming us from the land or from the enemy? Is our journey from earth to Heaven or is it from Satan to God?
Our understanding of what we are being saved from, as well as the destination we are moving toward, directly affects the manner in which we apply ourselves to our discipleship.
The common understanding of the work of salvation is that we will be removed from the world of pain and fear and brought to a different world (Heaven) where there is no pain or fear.
The scriptural description of the work of salvation is that we are being removed from the person and power of Satan and brought into the Person and power of God in Christ. Whether we are in the world or in Heaven has little to do with the plan of salvation, with the work of redemption.
The common understanding of the Christian redemption is that our salvation primarily is a journey from this dark planet to the light and glory of Paradise. The scriptural description of redemption is that our salvation primarily is a transformation of our personality such that we become the Temple of God instead of the slave of Satan (John 8:34-36).
The first doctrine stresses movement from one place to another. The second doctrine emphasizes the transformation of all that we are and do and our absorption into the Divine Godhead.
According to your understanding, do the Scriptures teach that the work of redemption is a journey from earth to Heaven, or a changing of what you are as a person—a journey from Satan to God?
The writer believes the Christian redemption to be one of moving away from spiritual bondage and toward the place of the permanent blessing of God.
What we are, we are, whether we are in Heaven or on the earth; although it may be easier to serve God in Paradise than it is on the earth. Perhaps God forms His kings and priests on the earth because it is more difficult to serve Him here. Here is the place where Christian character is formed. The members of the Bride are not to be merely innocent, as was true of Adam and Eve, but radiant with militant righteousness. They are to love righteousness passionately and to hate sin and rebellion passionately.
Of late we seem to be becoming aware of the continuity of life after we die—when we pass into the spiritual realm. We shall continue to be what we are now, although apparently there will be some change because of the loss of our sin-prone flesh and because of the righteous and holy spiritual environment of Paradise.
If we are lukewarm and self-centered here it is likely we will be lukewarm and self-centered there. If we are fervent lovers of Jesus here it is likely we will be fervent lovers of Jesus there.
Pride and self-centeredness originated in the spiritual realm, in Heaven, among Satan and his angels. Why should our physical death, our removal into the spiritual realm, change our personality? If it is true, as it seems to be, that we will pass unchanged in personality into the spiritual realm, then it becomes very important that we enter the Christian redemption to the extent that our personality is transformed (II Corinthians 3:18; 5:17,18).
We have but one sure Word from God—the holy Scriptures. Is there any passage of Scripture that reveals to us that dying and passing into the spiritual realm will transform our nature, our personality?
The Kingdom of God is internal with respect to Christ being formed in us, and external with respect to the appearing of Christ and of those in whom Christ has been formed.
To our knowledge, no passage of the Scriptures implies that our arrival in Heaven will result in a change in what we are or that Heaven will be our permanent home. In fact, the Scriptures suggest that the earth is the eternal home of mankind (Revelation 21:3). We always must abide by the written Word of God.
There is a passage of Scripture which, at first glance, appears to teach that the goal of salvation is to pass from the earth into Heaven. Let us examine it carefully, for doctrine that comes from the Lord Jesus never contradicts the Scriptures.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
If the above passage were stating that salvation is the shifting of the permanent home of the saved of mankind from earth to Heaven it would be in opposition to the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation reveals that the overcomers will be on earth with Christ during the thousand-year period, ruling the nations with a rod of iron. We shall "ever be with the Lord," and the Lord Jesus will rule from the Throne of David in Jerusalem, according to our understanding (Luke 1:32).
In addition, the Old Testament in many places teaches that the saints will be prominent on the earth during the thousand-year period (Isaiah 61:9, for example).
Then, during the new heaven and earth reign of Christ that follows the thousand-year period, the Church, the Bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, will not be established forever in Heaven but on the new earth (Revelation 21:24).
Neither during the thousand-year period nor during the new heaven and earth reign of Christ will the saints be abiding permanently in the place called Heaven (although the life and ways of Heaven will be in us and we will be able to go to Heaven whenever we desire). The new covenant does not bring men from earth to Heaven, it brings the Life of God to men and women while they are in the earth, and returns them to the earth in the day of resurrection. The Kingdom will come to the earth. God’s will shall be done in the earth.
Hebrews 11:13-16 (above) is not in opposition to the remainder of the Scriptures. The doctrine of the heroes of faith looking for a heavenly country does not mean they were attempting to move from the earth to Heaven.
Rather, the concept is that the patriarchs were attempting to move from the sin, death, and instability of the present world system to a place in God that has foundations. The place, the city that has foundations, is the Lord Jesus Christ and God in Him. It is the "Jerusalem which is above" which is the "mother of us all," the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26).
The new Jerusalem is in the heavenlies now. After the thousand-year period has been concluded the new Jerusalem will descend to its eternal resting place on a "great and high mountain" of the new earth. This is the true character of the Kingdom of God—that which the patriarchs were seeking.
The saints of old were looking for a city that is to come to the earth.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Let us examine three facts indicating that the pilgrimage of the heroes of faith is not from earth to Heaven but from the person and rule of Satan to the Person and rule of Christ:
The context of the Book of Hebrews.
The "promises" the patriarchs have not as yet received.
When interpreting any passage of Scripture it is helpful to view the overall concept, the general idea of what is being taught. What is the Book of Hebrews all about? The Book of Hebrews is a warning to Christian people, saved people, believers who had suffered persecution for the Gospel’s sake, not to neglect their salvation but to press into the rest of God.
Is the "rest" of God Heaven? Are we who have been saved for many years, as were the saints to whom Hebrews was addressed, still attempting to press into Heaven?
When Hebrews, Chapter Four speaks of our coming short of the "rest" of God, is the author suggesting that those Christians may not be candidates for Heaven even though their property had been confiscated for the Gospel’s sake (Hebrews 10:34)?
Or is he not rather referring to growth in Christ, speaking of those who are spiritual babies and still need milk (Hebrews 5:12-6:9)?
The Book of Hebrews is an exhortation to Christian people to mature spiritually and to enter the rest where every enemy in our personality has been overcome and we are abiding in Christ in God.
The goal of redemption addressed in the Book of Hebrews is as follows:
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)
The "rest" of God refers to the inheritance, the land of promise, Canaan.
God’s elect are moving from Egypt (the world system, not the earth) to Canaan. What does Canaan typify? Does Canaan symbolize Heaven?
The tribes of Israel were organized into an army so they could invade the land of Canaan and drive out the inhabitants. God told them to totally destroy the Canaanites. In some instances the Israelites destroyed the inhabitants. In other instances the Canaanites proved too strong for Israel and either kept their territory or else became slaves of the Hebrews.
Every time the Israelites sinned against God, God strengthened the Canaanites and they rose up and made the Israelites their slaves. Much of the history of Old Testament Israel is a record of the battles between the Israelites and the Canaanites. This is true of the Book of Judges, for example.
The Israelites adopted the demon worship of the Canaanites.
Can any devout believer seriously consider Canaan to be a type of Heaven? Will we have as difficult a time in Heaven as the Israelites had—and still are having—in Canaan?
What does Canaan typify? Canaan symbolizes the earth, the material creation, especially in the present hour our own personalities and bodies. It is the material creation that is our land of promise. Here is where the enemy is entrenched. Here is where we fight and sometimes conquer, and sometimes lose.
The passage from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we quoted above (verses 13-16), which appears at first glance to teach that the goal of salvation is to pass from the earth into Heaven, must be interpreted in the context of growing up spiritually and entering the rest of abiding in Christ in God. The rest of abiding in Christ will bring us to the full apprehension of the inheritance, which includes dominion over all the works of God’s hands.
For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. (Hebrews 2:5)
It is not that we are going to another place. It is that another world, a new world in which dwells righteousness, a world governed by the Lord Jesus and His saints, is coming to the earth.
In addition to the context of the Book of Hebrews, we may wish to consider the kind of "promises" that the saints of old were pursuing ("These all died in faith, not having received the promises"—Hebrews 11:13).
The Book of Hebrews, addressed to Jewish Christians, exhorted the believers to gain the promises of God by faith—that is, the promises given through the Prophets. None of these promises have to do with Heaven, the spiritual realm. Every one of them has to do with the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth.
As we study the Old Testament we do not find, to the writer’s knowledge, any emphasis on the value of dying and going to Heaven. In fact, physical death often is treated in the Old Testament as one of the worst tragedies that could happen to an individual. When the Israelites were slain in battle, no mention was made that they were passing on to their reward. Their death appeared to be a disaster.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? (Psalms 6:5)
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalms 30:3)
I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain which lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. (Psalms 88:4,5)
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. (Psalms 88:10)
But we do find in the Old Testament some passages that speak of the resurrection from the dead and of fruitfulness and dominion to come at the end of the age. It is not life in the spirit realm that is the hope, but life once more on the earth.
The main emphasis of the Prophets, as later was true of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early apostles, is on the Day of the Lord and the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth; never on dying and going to Heaven.
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: (Job 19:25,26)
The above passage is not the hope of life in Heaven.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days. (Daniel 12:13)
Daniel was invited to rest until his life is renewed at the end of the age. This is pointing toward the resurrection from the dead, not toward Heaven, as being Daniel’s goal.
That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (Genesis 22:17)
The above is one of the main promises of the Old Testament. Yet, it hardly could be construed as having anything to do with making Heaven our home.
The pilgrimage of the patriarchs, as they sought the fulfillment of the promises of God, was not to make their home in Heaven, it was to escape the evil of the present world system and to find rest in Divine glory, that is, in Christ. The goal was to "possess the gates of the enemy."
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. (Isaiah 26:19)
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 37:12)
These passages are typical of the "promises" the patriarchs were pursuing. Never is there so much as a suggestion that Heaven is the long-awaited home of the righteous.
The following quotation sums up the burden of the Hebrew Prophets:
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)
Christ Himself, as revealed in the fullness of the new Jerusalem, is "the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
We do not find in the Old Testament an emphasis on dying in order that we may leave the earth and go to Heaven as to a place. We do notice the promise of the coming of the Messianic Kingdom to the earth.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. (Psalms 96:12,13)
The words of Jesus are in keeping with the promise of the Kingdom: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one]."
The third fact emphasizing that the pilgrimage of the heroes of faith is not from earth to Heaven, with Heaven being the permanent goal, is Hebrews 11:40:
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
The verse preceding the above verse (11:39) states that while they did receive a good report through faith, the patriarchs did not receive the promise.
Now, beyond question, the patriarchs are in Heaven around the Throne of God. Yet the Scripture states that they did not receive the "promise." What promise? And what does the expression mean, "that they without us should not be made perfect"?
If eternal residence in Heaven is the goal of the saint, and the patriarchs now are in Heaven around the Throne of God, Hebrews 11:39,40 does not make sense. They already are perfect, if going to Heaven is the "rest," the perfection of God. Why should they be waiting for us in order to be "made perfect"?
But if the goal of the Christian faith is our being made perfect, our personal transformation into the image of Christ in spirit, in soul, and—at His coming—in body, the bringing forth of an entirely new creation, then Hebrews 11:39,40 does make sense. It is in accord with the remainder of God’s Word.
The patriarchs in Heaven cannot be made perfect apart from us because the Bride of the Lamb, of which the patriarchs are members, will be raised from the dead and ascend to meet the Lord when He appears. The saints of every age will be raised together and perfected in the resurrection.
The city that the patriarchs sought is coming to the earth.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
There is another line of thought that may prove to be edifying to us. The writings of the Apostles speak of our growth into the image of Christ and the growth of the Christian Church into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:12,13)
The question is, Why must the focus of the Christian ministry be on the perfecting of the saints, on their coming to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?
Is such perfecting important in the plan of redemption, or do we believe it is commendable but not necessary that we make progress in faith, knowledge, and spiritual maturity?
If our goal is to leave the earth and attain eternal residence in Heaven, then spiritual maturity may be desirable but the main objective is to get to Heaven.
If our goal is to work alongside Jesus in the Kingdom of God, then conformity to His death and resurrection, and the untroubled abiding of Christ in us, are necessary for the attainment of the goal.
Can you see the practical aspects of what we are teaching? People under pressure do what is necessary, not what merely is commendable.
We believe spiritual maturity will be an asset to us while we are in Paradise awaiting the day of resurrection, the Day of the Lord. It is possible that we shall be assigned to a place of service in Paradise and to a fellowship of kindred spirits, according to our spiritual maturity. If so, we will be very glad indeed, when we go to be with the Lord, for every bit of the growth of Christ that has occurred in our personality.
It is true that when we die and go to Paradise we shall be free from the main source of our problems—our physical body. Also, there will be no devil, no demons to plague us continually. There will be no pressure from our environment to cause us to rebel against God.
In addition to this freedom from negative influences there will be all kinds of positive forces acting on us to press our deeds, our words, our thoughts, our imaginations, our motives, into what is pure and holy.
In Heaven we shall be free from the negative and blessed by the positive. Wicked people will have been led away into the abodes of darkness. We will be surrounded by the saints, the holy angels, and—best of all—by the love of God in Christ who then will be visible to us.
The most immature believer will be able to live without sin and rebellion as soon as he or she gets to Paradise. He may have failed every test on the earth, but if Christ grants him entrance into Paradise he will be able to walk faultlessly on the street of gold.
If such be the case, what, then, is the purpose for the endless dealings of the Holy Spirit with the saints? Why are we tested, prodded, pushed, pulled, pressed, in every conceivable manner? Why is spiritual maturity emphasized to such a great extent in the New Testament writings if we will have no need of it in Paradise?
The reason is, Heaven is not the end of our journey. The end of our journey is the resurrection from the dead and life once again on the earth.
Let us consider three aspects of the fruit of the Spirit: self-control, patience, and faithfulness.
Of what use are self-control, patience, and faithfulness in Paradise? Will we have need of these virtues in Heaven? Will there be pressures on us in Paradise to cause us to lose our self-control or our patience, or to provoke us to unfaithfulness?
It is not likely, although we must remember that sin and rebellion began in the spiritual realm.
Perhaps the primary lesson we learn in the world is faith in God. He who would come to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of everyone who seeks Him.
But of what use will faith in God be when we can behold Christ and hear His Words from His mouth (although it may be true that if we do not believe Him now we will not believe Him then, even though we are looking directly at Him)?
Are all these virtues, which have been developed in us so slowly and painfully, of use only while we are on the earth? Will they be discarded as unnecessary when we enter Paradise?
However, if Heaven is not our eternal home, if we are being prepared to be kings and priests of God and of Christ and to serve Them on the earth, then all the virtues of the fruit of the Spirit are necessary and must be developed in us. We will not be able to participate in the work of the Kingdom if we do not possess them.
In addition, passing into the spiritual realm may be quite different from what we are expecting. The Scriptures have practically nothing to say about what happens to us (sinner or saint) when we die physically. It appears that most of our Christian assumptions in this regard are based on our traditions.
It may be true that the moment we die we will find we are intensely conscious and in much the same spiritual condition that was the case before we died. If we were holy we will be holy. If we were filthy we will be filthy. If we were free from sin we will be free from sin. If we were bound by sin we will be bound by sin. We may discover that we already are living and walking among those whom we will see when our eyes are opened after physical death.
It is a fact that our body will have been separated from us. But it is not likely that what we are as a person will have been separated from us. There are some sins that are bondages that dwell in our body. These bondages may leave us with the death of the physical body; or perhaps they may not!—for all sin is spiritual in nature and ultimately is of the devil (I John 3:8).
There are other sins that proceed from our personality, such as lukewarmness toward Christ. These are not bondages dwelling in the flesh, like adultery, but are conscious choices we make. It may be true that these personality traits will pass with us into the realm of spirits.
One thing seems to be certain: there is no unconsciousness in the spiritual realm. It is only the living who can become unconscious. All the dead are very much alive and intensely conscious.
Think about the future! The Lord Jesus will descend from Heaven with His army of saints in order to establish His Kingdom on this earth. According to the Scriptures, Christ and His army will be resisted with violence. But the army of Heaven, led by Jesus Himself, will attack the wicked and destroy them. The saints will crush all wickedness out of the earth.
What about the believers who never have grown in the Lord? Will they be able to participate in an engagement such as the Battle of Armageddon? Will they rule as kings during the age to come?
Indeed they will not! Self-control, patience, faithfulness, and all the other attributes of the image of Christ are required in the setting up and operating of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 1:9).
Since the setting up of the Kingdom of God is the purpose for the first resurrection from the dead (Revelation 20:4-6), it is likely that only the overcomers will participate in this supremely glorious event. Truly, there is a reward for serving the Lord.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
The writer is a firm believer in the idea that the righteous dead go to Paradise. There are several books on the market today that describe the experiences of those who have died and have seen the beauty of the spiritual realm, and then have returned to tell of its wonder and glory.
We are persuaded that many of these are valid experiences, even though the Scriptures do not speak of the parks and flowers that some of the saints have seen in Paradise.
May we state again, however, that the purpose of the Christian redemption is not to move us from earth to Paradise. The purpose of the Christian redemption is to remove the "hell" from our personality and to fill us with "heaven." The Kingdom of God is the doing of God’s will in earth as it is in Heaven.
God has no problem bringing people to Heaven. In fact, if God wanted man in Heaven He would have created him in Heaven. The desire of the Lord God is to get "Heaven" into people, especially people on the earth. Christians are being made the light of the world, not the light of Heaven.
God is creating people who can bring "Heaven," which is Christ, into every situation in which they find themselves.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them [festive processions to Zion]. Who passing through the valley of Baca [of weeping] make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. (Psalms 84:5-7)
God is creating saints so strong in Christ that the rule and worship of Heaven is present wherever they are. This is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are believers in Christ who bring peace, healing, strength, and blessing wherever they go—even under the most unlikely and depressing circumstances. Such are peacemakers, and the sons of God.
There are other "believers in Christ," who may or may not be saved in the Day of the Lord, who bring gossip, bitterness, confusion, wherever they go—even where there readily could have been righteousness, peace, and joy.
Although they profess faith in Christ they actually are servants of Satan. They promote division, confusion, hatred, strife, lies, arrogance, rebellion—every evil, satanic work. Disaster follows in their wake. Their actions, words, and motives are of Hell not of Heaven.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine who truly is of Christ. Only God knows for certain, and we are commanded not to judge (I Corinthians 4:5). At the present time there are many "believers" who still are strongly influenced by Satan. They are among us but are not of us. They have not been redeemed from the hand of the enemy.
There are righteous Christians and unrighteous "Christians" (although an "unrighteous Christian" is a contradiction in terms). How can we account for the obvious difference in personality and behavior between these two sets of people? The Scriptures do not teach that all who profess Christ will be received of God and enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21).
Have both the righteous and the unrighteous believers attained to the first resurrection from among the dead, the resurrection of God’s kings and priests? Are both groups "going up in the rapture"? Is spiritual growth in Christ actually essential to entering the Kingdom of God?
As we have said, a correct concept of where we have come from and where we are going makes a difference in the manner in which we behave as Christian people. If we are being converted from the power of Satan to the power of Christ, we are looking to God each day for the wisdom and strength to cooperate with the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
But if our objective is to move from the earth to Heaven, we are waiting to die so our goal may be achieved. Also, we hope God’s preachers do not take too many of our pleasures from us because we would like to enjoy ourselves as much as possible while we are waiting.
It is this incorrect goal and the consequences that flow from holding this goal that are producing the love of the world we behold in the churches of Christ. We think we have our ticket to Heaven so why not enjoy ourselves while we are waiting?
If, however, our objective is freedom from the authority and power of Satan and complete union with the Lord Jesus Christ, then the preachers who are "taking away our pleasures from us" actually are assisting in the work of redemption in us. They are unwinding the graveclothes from us. They are moving us from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
Can you see the practical difference between these two concepts of salvation?
The hope of the Christian Church is the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection from the dead will be the glorious fruit of the work of redemption taking place in us today. The resurrection of the elect from among the dead is the objective toward which the efforts of the Kingdom of God are directed. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Corinthians 15:26).
Over the period of time from the first century to the present, the goal of the Christian Church has changed from the coming, the return of Christ to the earth (and the accompanying resurrection of the dead bodies of the saints), to the going of the saints to Heaven. The doctrine of Christ returning to set up His Kingdom on the earth, which is the major burden of the Prophets, has been altered by our traditions to a brief, invisible return of Christ to carry away His people to Heaven.
There is no basis in the Scriptures for this alteration of the message of the Kingdom of God.
The first-century apostles did not emphasize going to Heaven. The apostles always emphasized the Day of Christ, the return of Christ to the earth, the coming of the Kingdom of God (the same message preached by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus).
Based on this change of goal the emphasis was removed, in the nineteenth century, from the resurrection of the dead bodies of the saints and placed upon the ascension of the saints to Heaven. This is error heaped upon error; for Paul does not teach that we shall be caught up to Heaven but rather that we shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
The ascension that will follow the resurrection of the overcomers has been stressed in Christian preaching until the doctrine of the resurrection has become obscure and confused in the minds of the elect. The concept of the first resurrection as a special resurrection of the royal priesthood, a reward that must be attained (Philippians 3:11), is not heard in today’s preaching. Yet, Paul set forth attaining to the resurrection to eternal life as the goal of the Christian discipleship.
Never once, of which we are aware, did Paul groan that he might be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Paul groaned for transformation, for the resurrection, for the redemption of "the body of this death." Paul did not groan for transformation so he would escape tribulation or the Antichrist (which is being taught today). Rather, Paul groaned for personal transformation so he would enter Christ more completely, so he would be more righteous.
The proponents of the rapture do not appear to be seeking righteousness but safety and comfort in the Day of Christ.
Notice the attitude of the Apostle Paul:
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23)
Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:21)
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:52)
We see nothing in the above three verses that suggests the elect will ascend to Paradise. Rather, they state that the saints will be raised from the dead and their bodies will be transformed.
There is nothing in the term resurrection that implies ascension. To be resurrected is to be animated and raised to a standing position. The emphasis is on the change, the transformation. Christ was raised from the dead (He stood on His feet) and we shall be raised from the dead at His return (I Corinthians 15:23).
A month and ten days elapsed between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His ascension to His present position at the right hand of the Father.
Why have the churches added to the New Testament passages that speak of the resurrection of the elect and the coming of the Lord, the concept that these events have to do with our going to Paradise? It is because of the prevailing confusion surrounding the objective of the Christian salvation.
Because the objective of redemption is understood commonly to be our journey from earth to Heaven we have inserted into the New Testament writings doctrines not present in them and not present in the Old Testament writings.
Adding confusion to confusion, the "rapture" of the saints, a term applied currently to the ascension that will follow the first resurrection from the dead, is viewed as the means by which the Lord Jesus will "take His Church to Heaven."
There is no need for a resurrection or an ascension to bring us to Heaven. We go to Heaven when we die, not when we are resurrected from the dead.
The Church, with the exception of those members who will be alive on the earth at the time of Jesus’ return, already is in Heaven in Christ at the right hand of God.
Paul’s teaching concerning the first resurrection and the ascension of the saints has nothing to do with the escape of the living saints to Heaven but is to assure the living saints that the deceased believers will share in the Kingdom when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (I Thessalonians 4:13,14)
"That ye sorrow not" concerning "them which are asleep."
If Paul was accustomed to teaching that the goal of salvation is to go to Heaven, the "brethren" would not be sorrowing. Why should they sorrow if the deceased saints already have attained bliss in Paradise?
If Paul’s teaching here is for the purpose of relieving the anxiety of the living saints of Thessalonica concerning the deceased saints who already are in Paradise, why doesn’t Paul comfort them by stating that when they die they will go to be with their loved ones in Paradise?
If the emphasis is on attaining residence in Paradise, why does the Apostle Paul stress that the deceased saints will return from Paradise with Christ at the time of His appearing? It is obvious that I Thessalonians 4:13,14 is stressing the return of Christ with His saints, not the removal of the Church to Heaven.
The Thessalonians were concerned that the deceased would not participate in the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. This concern reveals that the Apostles did not preach our going to Heaven. They preached the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth, which is a different message.
Current Christian doctrine is resting on an unscriptural assumption concerning the goal of the Christian redemption; consequently, its portrayal of the requirements of the Christian life is not accurate or effective.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, Peter speak of the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. The purpose of the return of Christ in His Kingdom is to establish justice among the nations of the earth. The Kingdom will be installed with violence because the unrighteous governments of the earth will strive to maintain their positions of rulership.
Christ is laboring unceasingly to bring His Body to perfection so we may be able to work with Him in the establishing of justice on the earth, to participate in the setting up and administration of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
We need a physical body in order to live once again on the earth, and this is the purpose for the resurrection. This is why the saints now in Paradise will return with Christ at the blowing of the last trumpet.
The purpose of the ascension to meet the Lord in the air, which follows the first resurrection from the dead, is that the Body of Christ may be joined to the Head, the army of the Lord may be gathered to the Commander In Chief. In Jesus’ case the ascension followed forty days after the resurrection and there may be a similar interval of time in our experience.
The joining of the Body to the Head is the beginning of the revealing of the sons of God. It is the manifesting of the marriage of the Lamb, of the Kingdom of God, to the nations of the earth. This is the coming of the Kingdom of God spoken of by the Old Testament Prophets, and by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and all the apostles, prophets, and teachers of the new covenant.
The saints will not be lifted up from the earth, after their resurrection from among the dead, for the purpose of being protected from God’s judgment or from Antichrist.
That is not the purpose for the ascension. In fact, it is the saints who will administer the Divine judgment (Psalms 149:9; I Corinthians 6:2,3).
Not one time in the entire Scriptures, Old Testament or New Testament, to our knowledge, does the Holy Spirit suggest that the purpose for the resurrection and ascension of the saints is that they may be evacuated from the great tribulation that is to take place in the last days, the tribulation that will result from the enthroning of a man in the Temple of God.
Neither does the Scripture once mention that the saints will disappear, which is part of the "rapture" teaching.
Because the teaching of the pre-tribulation "rapture" of believers is preventing Christian people from preparing for the judgment that is coming, it is absolutely incumbent upon every person who regards himself or herself as a minister of God to go afresh to the Scriptures concerning the "rapture."
If the minister cannot find a clear scriptural basis for the belief that the post-resurrection ascension is for the purpose of removing the believers from trouble, and in view of the fact that those who are attempting to warn the saints to prepare for the suffering to come are finding that their warning is being ignored because of the "evacuation" error, then he or she should in all conscience join with us in preparing the saints to stand in the age of moral horrors that is at hand.
Let us repeat: the passage of I Thessalonians intended to comfort the relatives of deceased believers does not refer to an avoiding of the tribulation or a disappearing of the saints. It does not imply that the world will continue on its course for an additional seven years without the presence of the Church or the Holy Spirit.
The saints in Thessalonica were looking for the imminent coming of Christ in the glory of His Kingdom. As time went by, some of the older Christians died. Those who remained became concerned that their deceased loved ones would not be on hand to witness the glory of the coming of the Lord in His Kingdom and that, having died, they would not participate in the Kingdom. This fact alone proves that the saints in those days did not view Paradise as the goal of salvation.
Paul was comforting them by saying that their departed loved ones would return with the Lord Jesus, and that the deceased, having received from the ground their sleeping bodies, would rise to meet Jesus in His Kingdom together with the living believers.
The resurrection and ascension of I Thessalonians, Chapter Four is the second coming of the Lord. It is not a special secret coming that will occur seven years before Christ destroys Antichrist. This can be seen clearly in the parable of the wheat and tares. Both the wheat and the tares grow side by side to the time of harvest. Then the tares are burned in the fire.
The same pattern can be seen in verses two and three of Chapter Five of First Thessalonians.
Still speaking of the coming of Christ and our ascension to meet Him in the air, Paul states:
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (I Thessalonians 5:2,3)
The reign of Antichrist will achieve a seeming peace and safety throughout the world. Then the Lord Jesus will appear. The trumpet of God will sound. The dead in Christ will be resurrected. The saints of all ages will ascend together from the surface of the earth to meet the Lord in the air. Immediately the wrath of God will fall on Antichrist and his followers.
The day that Lot goes out of Sodom, on that day the wrath will fall!
This order of events can be further established by referring to Paul’s follow-up letter to the Thessalonians (II Thessalonians).
There is no need for resurrected saints in glorified bodies to be protected from Antichrist or from any other spiritual or physical harm or danger.
As soon as the trumpet blows and the saints are raised from the dead, and then ascend to meet the Lord in the air, the wrath of God will fall on the earth. The judgment will be executed under the administration of the saints and will come to a climax in the Battle of Armageddon.
The Battle of Armageddon is not a third or fourth world war. The Battle of Armageddon is the coming of Christ and His saints to execute judgment on the ungodly.
Paul links the "sudden destruction" that will come on the world with the resurrection and ascension of the saints (I Thessalonians 5:2,3; compare Revelation 11:12,13). It is not that the saints are raised and caught up so they may escape trouble. Rather, it is the saints who will bring the trouble: first, in the form of the two witnesses, and later as Joel’s army, the army of Christ.
And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? (Joel 2:11)
After we have been raised from the dead we shall have no more fear of Antichrist or of wicked people. Rather, Antichrist and wicked people will have good reason to fear us. We then shall be alive eternally in Christ and will bring the Divine wrath upon the ungodly.
We go to Heaven when we die physically, if we belong to Christ. But physical death is a defeat, not a victory of redemption. We go to Heaven, to Paradise, when God allows our body to be overcome by the enemy.
The last enemy that will be destroyed is (physical) death (I Corinthians 15:26).
We die physically because of the rebellion of Adam and Eve. By means of physical death, Satan, our enemy, is able to drive us out of our inheritance (the earth) into the spiritual realm from which he originated. This is not a victory for God or for us.
In the sense in which we are speaking here, death is a defeat, an overcoming of us by the forces of Hell. Yet, physical death is anticipated joyfully by the saint because it means he will go home to be with the Lord ("home" in the sense that he will be with the Lord Jesus, not that he will remain in the spiritual realm after the Lord returns to earth to establish His Kingdom).
The grand victory of the Lord Jesus Christ was not His ascension to Heaven, although in that ascension He led captivity captive and gave gifts of grace to men. The supreme victory of the Lord Jesus was His resurrection from the dead. Death and Hell were not able to hold the Spirit, Soul, or body of Christ.
Christ was dead but now is alive forever. Christ is alive. Christ is alive from the dead. This is victory. Where He is at any given moment is not the victory. The victory is that He is eternally alive in the Presence of God. Because He lives we also live in the Presence of the Father.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, not that whoever believes in Him should go to Heaven but that whoever believes in Him should not perish. The issue is not our passing from earth to Heaven, the issue is our passing from death to life.
The issue of Christianity is not Heaven. The issue of Christianity is life. Eternal life. Immortality. An incorruptible, sin-free body.
After Christ’s resurrection He possessed a body of flesh and bone. It is the same body that walked the shores of Galilee, although clothed with eternal, incorruptible resurrection life.
The saint who lives an overcoming, victorious Christian life will be given back his body at the coming of the Lord. Whatever we give to God He brings down to death. Then, if it is worthy, He raises it and returns it to us as our eternal possession. Let us, therefore, present our body to God a living sacrifice.
The mortal body of the conquering saint, the faithful disciple, will be clothed with eternal life. This is the first resurrection from the dead, the resurrection the Apostle Paul was striving to attain (Philippians 3:11). Each believer who attains to the first resurrection will be able to rule with Christ over the earth throughout the thousand-year period (Revelation 20:4-6).
There is no truth of the Scriptures more neglected than that concerning the bodily resurrection from the dead. All persons who have ever lived on the earth will be raised from the dead. The resurrection is inevitable. What is significant is what takes place after we are raised.
If we have followed the Lord Jesus diligently, laying down our life for His sake and the Gospel’s, then we will attain to the first resurrection. Our resurrected body will be clothed with a body of life that will reflect in itself the victories we have gained through Christ.
If we have not followed the Lord Jesus diligently, have not laid down our life for His sake and the Gospel’s, but instead have lived in the passions and appetites of the soul and flesh, then we will not attain to the first resurrection. Our resurrected body will be clothed with a body that contains in itself the corruption in which we lived. We may be spared from destruction in the day of Divine wrath, but our condition in the Kingdom will not reflect the life of victory in the Lord Jesus. Also, it may be true that a great part of our personality will be burned away by the fire of Divine judgment and we will enter the Kingdom of God without any inheritance carried over from our life lived on the earth.
The thoughtful reader will understand why Paul had laid all else aside that he might attain to the out-resurrection from the dead.
The challenge placed before each Christian believer is to attain to eternal resurrection life. Christ did not pray we would be taken out of the world but that we would be kept out of the evil, out of the power of sin, out of the spiritual death that results from sinful behavior.
Two powers are competing each day in each Christian. Eternal life and eternal death are struggling for mastery of his or her personality. Each day the saint yields to one or the other of these two spiritual forces.
When we believe in Christ we pass from death to life. We awaken to spiritual life as our spirit is brought into union with the Spirit of God. The Father receives us because of the blood of Jesus that has been sprinkled upon and before the Mercy Seat in Heaven.
Now the warfare, the race, the wrestling match, commences in earnest. The warfare, the struggle, is waged in our personality. Will we allow the sin and death that dwell in our body to conquer our new spiritual life? Or will we, through the Presence of Christ, conquer the deeds and lusts of our flesh and soul?
If our adamic personality wins we die spiritually. We lose the first resurrection from the dead. If we, on the other hand, overcome the deeds of our mortal body we attain to eternal resurrection life (Romans 8:13).
Eternal life is the Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God in Him, dwelling eternally in our spirit, our soul, and our body.
Our physical death and passing into the spirit Paradise is not the victory salvation brings. The Divine salvation is revealed in the Day of the Lord, in the time of the resurrection from the dead. Once we die physically our struggle to attain to the first resurrection may have been terminated.
If we, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, have overcome the world, Satan, and our lusts and self-will, we will be given the crown of eternal life in the Day of Christ. Through God’s grace we have overcome, we have won the race.
If we have sown to the flesh we will reap corruption, not eternal life, in the Day of Christ.
For if ye [Christian believers] live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:13)
For he [the Christian] that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Galatians 6:8)
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
When Adam and Eve sinned they were denied access to the tree of life. God kept them away from that tree so they could not partake of immortality.
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: (Genesis 3:22)
It seems likely, since a spirit once created cannot die but endures forever, that God is referring to the danger of Adam and Eve living forever in their flesh on the earth in the bondage of sin and rebellion against God.
Christ is our Tree of Life. When we receive Him we gain access to the Mercy Seat in Heaven so we may be able to obtain Divine help in our times of need.
Even though we through Christ’s blood have gained access to the Mercy Seat, our goal has not been attained as yet. Our goal is the restoration of all that was lost in Eden. We want to gain access to the tree of life so we may live on the earth (and everywhere else) without perishing from the effects of sin.
As we eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood we receive eternal life in our spirit and soul (John 6:54). When the Lord returns that eternal life will extend into our mortal body, if we have not destroyed it by living in the passions and appetites of the soul and body. Then our redemption will be complete.
The process of redemption does not remove us from the world, it removes us from Satan’s influence. The workings of redemption are delivering us from every particle of Satan’s personality and ways. All the power and effects of sin and rebellion are being washed from us: from our mind, from our spirit, from our nerves, from our emotions, from our will.
Our redemption is complete when Satan comes and can find no part in us.
Christ is the Way to eternal life. The Way leads to the Truth, which Christ is. The knowledge of the Truth and the possession of the Truth release us from sin. The result of being set free from sin is eternal Life—that which Christ is.
Death results from sin. Eternal life results from holiness to the Lord.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end [of righteousness and holiness is] everlasting life. (Romans 6:22)
"But now being made free from sin."
Christ’s prayer for His elect, His chosen, is not that we be removed from the world, for it is in this wicked world that we are being taught meekness and obedience so we may inherit the earth. The earth and its peoples are our inheritance in the Lord. This is where God formed Adam and Eve, our ancestors, and this is where God intends for man to dwell.
Our removal from the earth to Paradise by physical death is a temporary measure while the Body of Christ is being formed. When the Body has been brought to the "measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," the Lord Jesus will return. The Head will be joined to the Body. The Head and Body will be dwelling in glorified bodies, filled with the Fullness of the Father and anointed with the Fullness of the Holy Spirit.
This Entity is the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God will invade the earth, destroying all who resist the Lord Jesus Christ. Each saint will be assigned his part in the program of creating obedience and worship in the lives of the peoples who have been preserved alive (saved) on the earth.
A marvelous work of restoration is just ahead of us (Isaiah 61:4).
The Christian people of today who are living in sin and disobedience will have no part in the glorious victory because they still are resisting God, they still are choosing death instead of life. In fact, they are enemies of the Kingdom of God, of the rule of God. They will be required to learn obedience to God before they will be allowed to participate in the joys of the Kingdom.
The first resurrection from the dead is for Christ’s overcomers.
We are in the race for eternal life, for the fullness of eternal life. The objective is to overcome all death in our spirit, our soul, and—at the coming of Jesus—our body.
This is Christ’s prayer for each of His elect. Christ is concerned, not that we be removed from the world but that we be kept from Satan.
If we will guard the word of Christ’s patience during the present distress, Christ will guard us so that we do not fall during the season of temptation that is near at hand—and even now upon us.