Resurrection and Glorification

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:1-11 ESV

The Bible makes it clear that those who are in Christ have been sanctified by God. It is a positional reality. Through their union with Christ, Christ-followers enjoy a new status as God’s chosen people. They become His adopted children and joint-heirs with Christ, with all the rights and privileges that come with sonship, including our eventual glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:17 NLT

To be heirs of God’s glory means that we will one day inherit the same glory that Jesus did, experiencing the same resurrection and glorification of our bodies. That is Paul’s point in Romans 6.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

It is this promise of future resurrection that allows us to suffer through the difficulties of this life. In fact, Paul indicates that suffering should be expected in this life, because Jesus Himself suffered during His earthly ministry. And Paul would have us remember that “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:17-18 NLT).

As Christians, we have been sanctified or set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him and He views us as His children, and one day we will receive our full inheritance, including an eternity of unbroken fellowship with Him. God has set us apart for more. He has our future glorification in store for us. And while we must suffer in this life, it is only a temporary experience, and it will be followed by our promised glorification.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

Paul reminded Titus, “we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). But why do we look forward with hope for that day? Because “when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Colossians 3:4 NLT). And what does it mean to share in the glory of Christ? Paul puts it this way:

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is to be our objective and the prize on which we set our sights as we live in this world. Jesus did not offer us our best life now, but a better life to come. Because of the fall, this world is under a curse. Our physical bodies are moaning and groaning from the reality of death’s influence over them. We age. We get sick. We suffer pain and the constant threat of disease. Because these bodies are temporary and, despite our best efforts, were not intended to last forever.  The apostle Paul, who was no stranger to suffering and pain, described our physical bodies as tents, temporary dwelling places that are destined to wear out. But he lived with the confident hope of his future glorification, when he would receive a brand new “house” prepared for him by God.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Yet, while we have the promise of our future glorification awaiting us, we still have to live in these impermanent and imperfect tents in the meantime. And not only are they prone to pain, decay, and suffering; they’re highly susceptible to sin. Even the apostle Paul lamented the reality of sin’s constant influence in his life.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And this constant battle with sin’s unceasing attacks on his body caused him to cry out “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). But Paul knew the answer to his own question. It was Jesus. And the freedom for which Paul longed had already been made available to him.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. – Romans 7:25 NLT

Our earthly bodies make it virtually impossible for us to live as we desire to live. But Paul is not throwing up his hands in frustration and giving up hope in ever being able to live righteously this side of heaven. He is attempting to get his readers to understand the reality of our hope in Christ. This life is not all there is. Our sanctification by God was not intended for our present comfort and immediate glorification. We don’t receive all the blessings of God in this life. There is more to come. And Paul would have us focus our attention on two aspects of Jesus’ life that we share with him.

The first is His death.

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

We share in Christ’s death. Our old sinful self was crucificed with Him. And Paul reminds us of the second half of that remarkable reality. “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NLT). We are united with Him in His death and in His resurrection. The first part sets us free from sin’s dominion and domination over us. Sin no longer enslaves and controls us. The threat of death no longer looms over us. But if there is no resurrection, this promise fades like the morning mist in the presence of the sun.

That’s why Paul so strongly defended the reality of the resurrection, telling the believers in Corinth that, to doubt the resurrection was to deny any hope we have future glorification.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

Any hope we have of living for Christ in this life is based on the promise of the resurrection. That is why Paul told the Romans:

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. – Romans 6:9-10 NLT

Jesus suffered and died. But He rose again and lives in His glorified state. His death broke sin’s stranglehold over us. But His resurrection provides proof that His sacrificial death was acceptable to God and that our future glorification is certain. Because He rose, so will we. And Paul would have us focus on the unwavering nature of this promise – even now. Confidence in our future glorification should influence the way we live our lives on this earth.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:11 NLT

We have been sanctified. We belong to God because we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection. We died with Him, so we will one day be glorified like Him. And sin can do nothing to change that glorious reality.

So, Paul provides us with some encouraging words, based on the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. We can say no to sin. We can refuse to let our earthly bodies determine our identity. We belong to God because we have been sanctified by God. And even this earthly, fallen bodies can be used for His glory because we have His Spirit within us.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Misdirected Effort

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:12-21 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s post, our faith in Christ is meant to be practical and visible. It should show up in the way we live our lives and give proof of the Spirit’s presence within us. Our faith can manifest itself in the fruit of the Spirit flowing out from us and through the supernatural abilities with which He has gifted us. Leading and loving are both evidence of the Spirit’s presence. His power can show up in the capacity to provide spiritual nourishment to God’s people or by meeting their physical needs with food, clothing, and shelter. But regardless of what we do, we are to recognize that we do it in the strength of the Spirit of God and for the glory of God. As Peter puts it…

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 4:11 BSB

But there is another important factor that should influence what we do, and Paul addresses it in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

There is little debate over the fact that Paul was a man on a mission. He was driven. He was almost obsessive-compulsive in his desire to obey the command of Christ to carry the gospel message to the Gentiles. He had done so in the face of all kinds of obstacles, including shipwreck, beatings, a stoning, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, and constant opposition to his message and ministry. But, like the Energizer Bunny, he just kept going and going. But why? What was his motivation? How did he manage to maintain his enthusiasm and not lose hope when faced with constant threats to his life and unceasing attacks on the churches he had worked so hard to plant?

He provides us with the answer in the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians. And it is in the form of a personal glimpse into his own approach to his spiritual life and ministry.

First of all, Paul admits that he’s a work in process. He’s not some kind of religious rock star or spiritual superhero. In fact, he confesses to the Philippians, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). When it came to spiritual maturity, Paul flatly denied that he had “arrived.” Instead, he tells the Philippians, “I press on.” Then he claims to be “straining forward to what lies ahead.” Paul had an objective in mind. But what was it? Was he attempting to achieve a state of fully realized spiritual maturity in this life? Did he believe that he could somehow work his way toward sinless perfection this side of heaven?

The answer to those questions is “No.” Look closely at his choice of words. He said that he was “straining forward to what lies ahead.” He claimed to be pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul had an objective in mind. He lived with a sense of purpose that was based on a well-defined outcome or destiny. Some might say that Paul lived with his eyes set on heaven, but I think there was more to it than that. Look at how he describes his goal for living.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NET

Paul had been around long enough to know that the Christian life, this side of heaven, was going to be marked by suffering. But he also knew that the end result of any suffering we experience in this life was nothing when compared to our future glorification or resurrection. Which is exactly what he told the believers in Rome:

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

For Paul, this life was temporary. It was a path that led to a preferred future in a much better environment. And he lived with the reality of that future constantly on his mind and permanently in his line of sight.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

Paul lived with the end in mind. He viewed the Christian life like a race or a journey. In a race, each runner has his eye focused on the finish line. They share a common objective. Every one of them is running with the finish line as their final goal. Everyone can’t  win, but they all need to run in order to complete the course. And Paul used this racing analogy to encourage the Corinthian believers.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Paul was a man who ran to win. He understood the reason behind Jesus’ calling of him. Yes, he had been called to be an apostle, a messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. But more importantly, he had been called so that one day he might experience the sinless perfection promised to him by Jesus Christ and made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross. This is why Paul said, “I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). Glorification is God’s goal for every believer, so it should be our goal as well. We should settle for nothing less than that for which Jesus Christ died, our ultimate transformation into His likeness, complete with a glorified body and a sinless, perfectly holy character.

This entire passage is like a donut. Verses 12-17 and 20-21 surround verses 18-19. Those two verses in the middle form a kind of hole in the passage in which Paul places a negative example for the Philippians to avoid. In verse 17, Paul invites the Philippians to imitate him and to learn from anyone else in the church who follows his example. But then he warns of another group within the church whose behavior was not to be emulated. He describes these people in harsh terms, calling them “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 ESV). That’s not exactly politically correct terminology. But Paul sees these individuals as dangerous because their behavior was actually anti-gospel. Their lives were focused on the wrong thing. Rather than fixing their eyes on the prize to come, they were looking to enjoy all their blessings in this life. That is what Paul means when he states that “their god is their belly” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). They were all about satisfying their physical desires and appetites. They wanted “the good life” in this life, not the one to come. They wanted heaven on earth.

Rather than recognizing that Jesus had died so that they might live with the end in mind, with their hopes focused on their future glorification, they preferred to live in the moment. They lived with their minds set on earthly things, rather than as citizens of heaven. And Paul states that “their end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19 ESV). In other words, what they had chosen to pursue was not going to produce what they were expecting.

But Paul reminds the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven. That is their destiny and their final destination. But Paul is emphasizing much more than a change of address. He is stressing a change that will take place in our nature.

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is the objective. That is what God has in store for each and every believer and Paul would have us live our lives with that end in mind. We will not achieve that glorious state in this life, but if that is what God has in store for us, shouldn’t we make that our life’s focus? Wouldn’t it make sense to run the race with the actual finish line in mind? If not, we will run aimlessly, focusing our energies on the wrong goals and wondering why the promised prize remains beyond our grasp.

Yes, we have been saved, but as Paul reminds us, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is coming back one day and He will finish what He started. He will complete what He began. And we are to live with that end in mind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Think First

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 ESV

Let’s face it. We tend to act first and think later. Far too often we allow ourselves to be driven by our emotions and controlled by our sin nature. Even when we try to do the right thing, we tend to focus on the behavior, while giving little or no thought to the motivation driving that behavior. For instance, we know that the Bible tells us to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV). So, we feel the need to display an outward facade of joy, when on the inside we are full of anger and resentment over our circumstances. We act first and think later. And sometimes, we fail to think at all.

When James wrote that famous and somewhat infamous verse he was attempting to get his readers to see and understand their suffering from a different perspective. James went on to qualify his statement by adding, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3 ESV). The Greek word translated by the three English words, “for you know” is ginōskō and it describes an understanding of a matter derived from personal experience. It was commonly used as a Hebrew idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. So, it conveys the idea of knowledge based on intimacy.

James is saying that we all know, from intimate experience, that trials produce  endurance. They make us stronger. They test us and force us to develop spiritual muscles we didn’t even know we had. But James is stressing the knowledge of that reality. He is suggesting that we think about the benefits of the trial rather than focusing on the trial itself. In the midst of the trial, we are to stop long enough to consider past trials we have experienced and how we came out the other end of the despair and darkness with a greater reliance upon God and a stronger faith in His love for us.

In the Philippians passage above, Paul has just finished challenging the believers in Philippi to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 ESV). He has encouraged them to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV). And in the face of the opposition they faced, he told them to remain unafraid. Paul then drops the bombshell that their suffering for the sake of Christ was to be seen as a natural outcome of their faith in Christ. And Paul’s own life was a glaring example. He had written this letter to them while under house arrest in Rome where he was awaiting trial before the emperor, Nero. He had spent the last four-plus years in some form of confinement, starting in Philippi, then in Caesarea Philippi, and eventually in Rome. And he told his brothers and sisters in Philippi that they could expect more of the same.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30 ESV

But after mentioning suffering and conflict, Paul opens up chapter two with a surprisingly upbeat collection of words: Encouragement, comfort, affection, sympathy, and joy. They seem out of place. But are they?

Paul tells the Philippians that his joy will be made complete if he hears that they are “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). Notice how many times Paul uses the word, “mind.” You have to go back to verse 27 of chapter one, where he uses it for the first time. But then, in the first 11 verses of chapter two he uses it three more times. And it all comes to a head with his statement: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4 ESV).

It is vitally important that we understand the full implication of Paul’s words. As essential as it is to grasp what Paul is saying, it is equally important to hear what he is not saying. He doesn’t say, “have this behavior among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Now, he could have said that. After all, Jesus Himself told His disciples, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15 NLT). And the apostle Peter wrote, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT).

So clearly, Paul is not suggesting that we think like Christ, but not emulate the example of Christ. In this verses, Paul is providing us with an essential ingredient to our faith walk that often gets overlooked and left out. To attempt to follow the example of Christ without understanding the mind of Christ will inevitably result in failure and frustration. And that seems to be Paul’s point. But what does he mean when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”? What kind of mind did Jesus have? And is this something we have to manufacture on our own?

The Greek word for “mind” is phroneō and it means “to think” or “to have understanding.” It can also mean “to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self.” Essentially, Paul is telling the Philippian believers to consider or think about themselves the same way Jesus understood Himself. Jesus was the Son of God and yet He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6 ESV). He was fully aware of His deity and never doubted His role as a member of the Trinity. Yet, he was willing to take “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7 ESV). 

This is all about identity. Jesus knew who He was and He knew the role He had come to fulfill. Jesus had no problem assuming the lowly status of an infant, born into a poor Jewish family and in relative obscurity. His incarnation did nothing to alter His divine identity. And at no time in His earthly ministry did Jesus forget who He was. That’s why the temptations He endured in the wilderness had no impact on Him. Satan had nothing he could offer Jesus that was not already His by right. As the Son of God, Jesus could not be tempted by earthly rewards. The accolades of men meant nothing to Him. The promise of power was not an allure for Him.

The mind that Jesus had was one of complete awareness of who He was and what He had come to do. He was on a mission. He was not out to earn favor with God. He already had it. He wasn’t attempting to prove His righteousness to God. He was God. From Jesus’ way of thinking, the things He had to suffer were part of His job description and an extension of His identity. As John the Baptist stated when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Paul emphasizes that Jesus, because of who He was and what He had come to do, was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). And when Jesus had fulfilled His role, having given His life as a ransom for many, He was resurrected and restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side. Jesus knew His death would be temporary. He knew His identity as God’s Son was not in jeopardy. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was able to endure the cross because He knew what God had in store for Him.

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

But what does this have to do with us? Everything. Paul’s whole point is that we need to have the same attitude that Christ had. Which means we need to recognize our true identity in Christ. It is because we don’t realize who we are and what we have become in Christ that we end up wrestling with disunity, selfish ambition, conceit, and pride. Yet, Paul would have us understand that, because of our union with Christ, we are seated with God in the heavenly places.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… – Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV

We are as good as there. Our place is reserved. We are sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Christ, and guaranteed the reality of our future glorification. But we need to believe it. We need to constantly think about it. So that when the enemy tells us we are not enough or that we don’t measure up, we can reject the lie and live in the truth of who we are. Like Christ, we don’t need the accolades of men. There are no earthly rewards that can compare with what God has in store for us. So, like Christ, we find ourselves willing to serve and love others selflessly and sacrificially. We knew who we are and we know why we’re here. And best of all, we know what God has in store for us.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

God’s Satisfaction With Your Sanctification

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-21 ESV

One of the questions we are attempting to answer is whether the believer’s sanctification brings God satisfaction. Or, to put it another way, is there more he or she needs to do become fully acceptable to God? There is no doubt that the average Christian is far from perfect and fully capable of committing sins that offend a holy God. And the Scriptures are replete with admonitions that Christ-followers put every effort into the pursuit of a lifestyle that emulates Christ and honors God.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.– Hebrews 12:14 NASB

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 ESV

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called… – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

But the real issue is whether these admonitions and the efforts they encourage are intended to produce additional godliness in the life of the believer. The term progressive sanctification is often used to describe the believer’s growth in godliness. It is the part of the believer’s life that connects his justification, which took place at salvation, with his future glorification, which will occur at Christ’s return. During the intervening years between initial salvation and future glorification, the believer is expected to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14 ESV), and to pursue a life of righteousness.

Sanctification begins with regeneration, the implanting of spiritual life in a believer. From that starting point sanctification is God’s progressively separating a believer from sin to Himself and transforming his total life experience toward holiness and purity. The process of sanctifiction for a believer never ends while he is on erth in his mortal body. It is consummated in glorification when that believer through death and resurrection or through the Rapture stands in the presence of God “ conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). – J. F. Walvoord, R. B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary (1985), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scripture

But one of the dangers inherent in seeing the believer’s sanctification as progressive in nature is that it can leave the impression that he or she falls short of God’s glorious standard for acceptable righteousness. That is certainly not what the quote above implies, but it what far too many Christians have assumed about their relationship with God because of faulty conclusions regarding progressive sanctification.

The question is not whether we are to pursue righteousness or to make every effort to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. It is whether, in doing so, we are making ourselves any more acceptable to God than we already are. If we are not careful, we can turn sanctification into a work where we are attempting to please God by making ourselves more holy through self-effort. But Zuck and Walvoord are very specific when they write, “sanctification is God’s progressively separating a believer from sin to Himself and transforming his total life experience toward holiness and purity.” Sanctification is the work of God, not man. And in the process of sanctifying the believer, God is trying to make the believer more acceptable. The believer’s sanctification is not about satisfaction, but about the actualization of the righteousness imputed to the believer through his union with Christ.

The passage from Hebrews that opened this post provides us with a much-needed reminder that “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19 ESV). In this chapter, the author of Hebrews is comparing the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross with the Old Testament sacrificial system prescribed by God for the atonement of the sins of the people of Israel. Because of sin, the nation of Israel found itself constantly separated from God and unable to enter into His presence. So, God implemented the priestly office and the sacrificial system so that sinful men could receive cleansing from their sins and restored access to God.

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

But as the author of Hebrews puts it:

But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:3-4 ESV

Once the sacrifice was made, the very next sin the average Israelite committed resulted in his separation from God yet again. So, another sacrifice was necessary. More blood had to be spilled. His righteous standing with God had to be restored.

But there is good news. The author goes on to quote Jesus, describing His role as the final and fully sufficient sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV

Jesus came to provide a fully sufficient sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His death and the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins was fully satisfying to God. He propitiated or satisfied God’s demand that blood be shed in order for the sins of men to be atoned for. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus paid the debt that was owed.

“Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:9-10 ESV

Don’s miss the significance of the author’s words. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” There is no more sacrifice needed. No more blood is required.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:14 ESV

Here we have the stated the vital balance that must be maintained if we are to understand the role of sanctification in the life of the believer. With His death, Jesus has perfected or made complete each and every believer – for all time. And the author describes believers as “those who are being sanctified.” We are constantly being transformed into the likeness of Christ, but not so that we might become more perfect or acceptable. The blood of Jesus Christ has already accomplished that.

But here is the danger we face. Without a clear understanding of our right standing before God because of Christ’s death on the cross, we read a verse like Romans 12:1, and assume that our righteousness is up to us.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

We hear Paul telling us that we have to somehow make ourselves holy and acceptable to God through self-effort. And depending upon the church we attend or the faith community to which we belong, we interpret Paul’s call to be a living sacrifice as entailing Bible study, prayer, tithing, service, meditation, obedience, submission, or some other form of sacrificial effort on our part. We assume that Paul is telling us we don’t measure up, so we have to get busy if we want to have a right standing with God.

But the author of Hebrews has told us, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” The sacrifice has already been made – once for all. So, Paul’s call that we be living sacrifices is not a demand that we make ourselves acceptable to God, but that we recognize that we have been made acceptable by the blood of Jesus. We are an acceptable sacrifice because Jesus Christ has made us so. We have been imputed His righteousness and stand before God has holy and acceptable. Nothing we do will make us more so. Sanctification is not about achieving acceptability but about accepting our acceptability. We are right with God. And our pursuit of godliness is not meant to make us more right but to bring glory to God as He sovereignly and progressively transforms us into the likeness of His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Kept By God

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. – Jude 1:24-25 ESV

Technically, these two verses form the closing to Jude’s letter. But there is far more here than initially meets the eye. As Jude wraps up his heart-felt message to the church, he ends with a stirring tribute to God. In spite of the presence of false teachers and the ongoing need to stand firm in their faith, Jude wanted the believers to whom he wrote  to understand the glory and greatness of God.

The Christian life is anything but easy. Nowhere in the New Testament is it presented as a walk in the park or a trouble-free existence devoid of pain or suffering. Jesus Himself told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows,” but He went on to say, “take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 6:33 NLT). Paul and Barnabas preached a consistend message in all the churches to which they minisered:

They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22 NLT

And Paul warned his young protegé, Timothy:

…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. – 2 Timothy 3:12 NLT

And Peter offered up a similar warning about the reality of suffering as a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life.

…if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 NLT

But suffering, while inevitable for the Christian, does not have to result in stumbling. The Greek word Jude used is aptaistos and it is made up of the negative participle “a,” which means “no” or “not,” and word that can mean ”falling” or “sinning.” So, Jude is reminding his readers that, while they will experience suffering as a part of their spiritual journey, it doesn’t have to result in them falling into sin. In fact, they can stand firm and remain blameless even in the face of outside pressures and intense forms of suffering. But the best news is that this thriving in the face of suffering is not up to them. It is the work of God.

Jude is simply reinforcing a statement he made earlier in his letter.

I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Jude 1:6 NLT

God is going to keep and complete. He is going to finish what He started in their lives. Their faith journey was going to include their salvation, ongoing sanctification, and future glorification. There are no halfway Christians. There are no partial saints. Everyone who is called by God is guaranteed the right to experience the consummation of their spiritual transformation. Paul made this point explicitly clear to the believers in Rome.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:30 ESV

Paul spoke of all these things using the past tense. While their glorification had not yet happened, Paul wanted them to see it as guaranteed and as good as done. It was inevitable and unavoidable. Which is why he went on to encourage them to remember that they had been “prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:23 BSB). Their future glorification would be the inescapable outcome of their salvation.

And Jude echoes this remarkable truth by stating that God is determined “to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24 ESV). But Jude seems to have more in mind here than the believer’s future glorification. He is reminding them that God has made it possible for them to stand before Him as blameless, right here, right now. He is not describing a state of sinless perfection, but of acceptance before God. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and our acceptance of His payment for our sins, we stand before God covered by the righteousness of Christ. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (8:1 NLT).

Our sins have been paid for. Which means our sin debt has been wiped clean. And while we will suffer in this life, we can rest assured that we will survive all this life will throw at us. We can be exactly what Paul said we should be: “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37 ESV).

And the best news is that, one day, all those who have been called by God and have placed their faith in His Son, will stand before the two of them in all of their glory with great joy. And the book of Revelation records John’s vision of that coming day.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:6-8 ESV

And Jude seems to alluding to this very scene in the very last line of his letter. In fact, his words echo those of the saints who will be standing before God and the Lamb in the eternal state.

…to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. – Jude 1:25 ESV

But these words of praise and adoration are not reserved for some future point in time, but are to be a part of each and every believer’s life as they live on this earth. Notice that Jude include the past (before all time), the present (now), and the future (forever). God deserves our praise at all times. He is and always has been worthy of glory, majesty, dominion, and authority. Our circumstances don’t change that reality. Our suffering does not diminish His glory, limit His dominion, or call into question His power or authority. Present affliction shouldn’t cause us to doubt our future glorification. God has it all under control. He who called us will keep us. He who saved us will sanctify us. And He who redeemed us through His Son’s death will one day grant us eternal life. It is a promise of God that was reiterated by the Son of God.

“I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” – Luke 18:29 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Cross Before the Crown.

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” –  Matthew 20:17-28 ESV

For the third time, Jesus brings up the unexpected and unwelcome news of His impending arrest and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Matthew’s placement of this latest announcement is intentional, following closely on the heels of Jesus’ lengthy address to His disciples after their debate about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He has touched on the topics of pride and humility. He has addressed the need for childlike faith. He exposed the dangers associated with the love of the things of this world. He appealed to them about the need for faithfulness in marriage and forgiveness toward those who sin against them. And the last words He spoke to them before bringing up his imminent death were, “So the last will be first, and the first last.

Everything Jesus had told them was tied to life in the kingdom of heaven. And He had been trying to get His disciples to understand that things were not going to be as they expected. While they believed Him to be the Messiah, they were defining the term according to their own standards. In their minds, the Messiah was to have been a conquering king. He would come with power and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, from which He would rule and reign, placing Israel back in a position of political prominence. But here was Jesus, once again, announcing that He was going to Jerusalem – to die. And His death would be the direct result of His betrayal into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, who would condemn Him to death. Rather than welcome Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, they would hand Him over to the Roman government to be mocked, flogged and crucified.

While we know how this story turned out, the disciples did not. They were oblivious to the “good news” associated with Jesus’ death. In fact, it seems evident that they never grasped what Jesus meant when He said, “he will be raised on the third day.” The reality of the resurrection escaped them. All they heard was the shockingly bad news regarding Jesus’ death. And, as before, it most likely left some of them dazed and confused. But we know from Matthew’s account, that at least a few of them simply ignored what Jesus had to say, choosing instead to focus on their own self-centered expectations.

Both Matthew and Mark record an encounter between Jesus and the two brothers, James and John. At some point, not long after Jesus’ announcement about His coming death in Jerusalem, they approached Jesus in order to make a request. Matthew adds the important detail that they brought their mother along with them. These two grown men made a shockingly selfish and insensitive request of Jesus, asking, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37 ESV). And their mother put in her two-cents worth, asking, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). Perhaps James and John thought that if Jesus refused their request, He would be more prone to listen to their mother. Whatever the case, Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 ESV).

He didn’t reprimand them. He didn’t express shock or disappointment at their insensitivity and selfishness. He simply let them know that their request was based on ignorance of the facts. They were thinking in terms of power, position and prominence. They were hoping for glory. Their sights were set on an earthly kingdom in which they would rule and reign alongside Jesus. And, in their defense, they probably had the words Jesus had spoken to them earlier, still ringing in their ears:

Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Matthew 19:28 ESV

If anything, their request reveals a desire for even greater prominence. By asking Jesus for the right to sit on His right and left, they were jockeying for position over their fellow disciples. It wasn’t enough to sit on thrones alongside their peers. They wanted positions of preeminence. In spite of what Jesus had said, they wanted to be first, not last.

When Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?,” they quickly responded, “We are able.” Most likely, they were thinking in terms of victory drink, a toast to Jesus’ new kingship. But what He had in mind was His suffering. It would not be long before Jesus would find Himself in the garden, praying to His heavenly father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 28:39 ESV). On that same night, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter would attempt to protect him with a sword, but Jesus would tell him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).

Jesus was going to have to endure the judgment of God in order to pay for the sins of mankind. The cross would have to proceed the crown. His humiliation would come before His glorification. The agony of the crucifixion would have to take place before the glory of the resurrection. And Jesus informed James and John that they too would eventually drink of the same cup. According to Acts 12:2, James would become the first of the disciples to suffer martyrdom. John would later be exiled on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9 ESV).

Jesus informed James and John that it was not up to Him to assign places of prominence in His coming kingdom. That was up to God. And God, in His predetermined will, had already made that decision.

Of course, this little exchange didn’t remain a secret. Before long, the other disciples caught wind of what had James and John had done, and they were not happy about it. In fact, Matthew records that they were “indignant.” And Jesus, knowing what they were all thinking, responded:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave…” – Matthew 20:25-27 ESV

Once again, Jesus tried to help the disciples understand that the kingdom He had come to establish was going to be radically different in nature. It would not mirror the worldly systems of power and authority. It would not be based on the commonly held views of greatness that seemed to motivate everyone, including the Pharisees. In His coming kingdom, servanthood would take precedence over any thoughts of superiority. Greatness would be associated with humility, not pride. And Jesus let them know that He would be the greatest living example of what it meant to be great in the kingdom of God.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:28 ESV

As the Messiah, Jesus had come to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. His reign would follow His sacrificial death. His death on behalf of sinful mankind was a selfless act motivated by love. Our good took precedence over His own glory. And Peter would later encourage every follower of Jesus Christ to emulate His example.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

and English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behold, He Is Coming.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:4-8 ESV

The book of Revelation is filled with mysteries and wonders. It contains fantastic images of never-before-seen creatures and indescribable scenes. John is going to share his personal visions of heaven and reveal the sometimes disturbing nature of events far into the future. There will be times when his words confuse and confound us. And there will be other times when what he has to say comforts and encourages us. We will find ourselves tempted to decipher his somewhat cryptic messages and place meanings on every word he says. Reading Revelation can be like working a puzzle, where you feel the constant need to be in puzzle-solving mode. But it is a book that must be read with patience and discernment. It is not a riddle to be solved or a complicated equation which requires us to find the one and only answer. As its name implies, Revelation is a revealing of something. And John gives us a clue as to what the core message of that revelation is all about: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds” (Revelation 1:7 ESV).

John told us right from the start that this was “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1 ESV). God gave this message to Jesus, who then made it know to John by passing it to him through an angel. And because John wrote down all that he saw, it has now been passed on to us. John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Revelation 1:2 ESV). The book we are reading contains the revelation of Jesus – not His incarnation, like the gospels contain – but concerning His second coming. Throughout the Old Testament, there were prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus to earth. They spoke of him being born to a woman (Genesis 3:15), who would be a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and His birth would take place in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They predicted His rejection by His own people (Isaiah 53:3), His betrayal (Psalm 41:9), His trials (Isaiah 50:6, 53:5), His sacrificial death (Isaiah 53:10-12), and His resurrection (Psalm 16:10-11; 49:15).

But Revelation is about something altogether different. It deals with a different coming of the Lord – His second coming. This book contains a message to the church of Jesus Christ regarding His future return. And while Revelation is filled with disturbing images and predictions of judgment and coming tribulation, it is meant to be an encouragement. We are told, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3 ESV). The majority of what is contained in this book is future-oriented. It tells us of things yet to come. But it should impact how we live in the present. It is a reminder that our God is in control and that His plan is not yet complete. His Son came and, by His death, made salvation possible. But His Son is coming again, and when He does, He will make the restoration of all things possible, including that of the people of God, the nation of Israel.

But to whom was this message of revelation intended? What audience did God have in mind when He provided the content in this book to John? Verse 4 tells us. John addressed his letter to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4 ESV), and in the following chapters, he will disclose exactly which churches he had in mind: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. But why these churches? And why only these seven? Was his message only applicable to them and no one else? The consensus of opinion is that these churches were chosen because they provide a comprehensive representation of the church over the ages. These seven churches varied in size and spirituality. They existed in different cultural contexts and, as we will see, their spiritual health and vitality was all over the map. It is believed that these seven churches are intended to represent the church of Jesus Christ over all the ages, since the church’s birth on the day of Pentecost, recorded in the Book of Acts. In Scripture, the number seven is always used to convey the idea of completeness. These particular churches were chosen because their stories provide us with a comprehensive outline of how the church has handled its role in the world over the centuries. To a certain degree, we will find that each of these churches, as they are described, have existed in every age, including our own. There is the faithful church, the lukewarm church, the compromising church, the suffering church and the dead church. But these seven churches may also provide us with a historical representation of the church over the ages, with each representing a different phase or dispensation in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. We will explore that idea in greater detail later.

John addresses these seven church with the following salutation:

4 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. – Revelation 1:4-5 ESV

In these two short verses, we have the inclusion of all three members of the Trinity. John refers to “him was is and who was and who is to come.” This is most likely a reference to the eternal nature of God the Father. The seven spirits are believed to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. Once again, the number seven is most often used in Scripture to refer to completeness or perfection. By saying “the seven spirits”, John is speaking of the Spirit’s diverse, and all-encompassing ministry. Just as the seven churches represent all churches over all time, the “seven spirits” represent the Holy Spirit in all His glory and majesty – in other words, His completeness and perfection. Finally, John mentions Jesus Christ the faithful witness. He was faithful in the sense that He did what God had commissioned Him to do. He came and witnessed to His own role as Savior and Messiah. He preached of the Kingdom of Heaven and the availability of a restored relationship with God through faith in Him. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). And John refers to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead. He was the first to be resurrected, but He will not be the last. The apostle Paul wrote about this very thing.

18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything. – Colossians 1:18 ESV

And when Paul had stood before King Agrippa, facing false accusations and the possibility of death, he told the king that Old Testament prophets had clearly predicted that “the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23 ESV). It is because of Jesus’ resurrection that we have hope. His resurrection is what guarantees our future resurrection. Paul reminds us:

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT

Which brings us back to John’s primary message in this book. “Behold, He is coming!” John reminds us that Jesus loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father. But that’s not all. He’s coming again and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Revelation 1:7 ESV). This is the point of the book. This is why it is written to the church, the body of Christ. It is a reminder to us that God is not done. His plan is not yet complete. There is still more to come. And John wraps up his salutation with following words from God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8 ESV). God is the everlasting one, who has always been. But so is His Son. Listen to the following words, spoken by Jesus, and recorded later in the book of Revelation.

12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13 NLT

It is Jesus who is going to bring about the culmination, the end, of God’s grand redemptive plan. His first coming made the redemption of mankind possible. His second coming will make the restoration of all creation and the final glorification of His people possible. The words, “Behold, he is coming” should bring us great joy and provide us with confidence because our God is not yet done. The best is yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Benefits of God’s Approval.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

What most people tend to notice when they read The Beatitudes are the nine descriptors of those who are blessed or approved by God: The poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted and reviled. But we spend little time looking at the benefits that come with God’s approval.
…the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven right here, right now
…those who mourn will receive comfort
…the meek will inherit the earth
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will get what they desire, in full
…the merciful will receive mercy from God
…the pure in heart will get to see God
…the peacemakers will be recognized as the children of God
…those persecuted for their righteousness are part of the kingdom of God right here, right now
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Jesus will be able to rejoice in this life because of their reward in the next life is great

Whether we fully understand them or not, those are some pretty amazing benefits that come as a result of God’s approval. One of the first things Jesus mentions in the way of benefits is the kingdom of heaven. The first and last beatitudes both mention it. This is what is often referred to as an inclusio. It is a literary device designed to act as a set of brackets that bookend what is found in-between. As has been the case throughout the book of Matthew up to this point, the emphasis has been on the kingdom of heaven, or what is sometimes referred to as the kingdom of God. By beginning and ending His list of beatitudes with the mention of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is saying that every one of the beatitudes is about the very same thing. And He makes it clear that there is a now-not-yet aspect to the God’s kingdom. Those are who are approved by God are part of that kingdom right here, right now. They become citizens of God’s kingdom the minute they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus:

He [God] brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. – Ephesians 2:17-19 NLT

He told the same thing to the believers in Philippi:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

We have a new home. We don’t belong here anymore. Our citizenship has been transferred to our future home: Heaven. And Peter reminds us:

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

And Paul tells us that we are to live in this life as if we are already there with Him in the next one:

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6 NLT

But in the meantime, we have to live on this earth and experience the pain and suffering that comes with a fallen, sinful world. We still have to do battle with our own sin nature. We will face attack, rejection, ridicule and resistance for our faith. Yet, because we are citizens of another kingdom, we are to react in a completely different manner than those around us. We are to marked by poverty of spirit, not pridefulness. We are to recognize our sin and our constant need of the Savior’s assistance in putting to death those things associated with our old way of life. And we are to mourn over those things that used to bring us joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. Like Paul, we are to see the former pleasures and achievements associated with our old way of life as “worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And our attitude, like his, should be: “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). And when we mourn over the way we used to seek and find joy in the things of this earth, we will be comforted by God. There is a sense in which we receive comfort now, but its complete fulfillment will come with Christ’s return.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. While in this earth we are called by God to give up our rights and place the needs of others ahead of our own, there is a day coming when His children will inherit the earth. This is a blatantly Messianic statement speaking of Jesus’ future reign on earth during the Millennial Kingdom. And this particular message was directed at the Jews in Jesus’ audience that day. While they were currently living under Roman rule and subject to oppression, those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah and gained God’s approval, would someday inherit His earthly kingdom alongside Him. The meek focus on God’s future rewards, instead of demanding them here and now.

What about those who hunger and thirst after righteousness in this life? Jesus promises that they will receive exactly what they crave, in full. They will be completely satisfied and satiated. There is a now-not-yet aspect to this promise as well. When we hunger for the righteousness of Christ in this life, we receive satisfaction. When we deeply desire to be conformed to God’s will and experience the spiritual growth He has planned for us, we receive the satisfaction of experiencing it in this life. But, of course, this will not be fully accomplished until we see Jesus face to face in eternity. There is a day coming when the sin-free life we long for will be ours, completely and fully. And we will be satisfied.

When we live with a spirit of mercy, extending to others what we have received from God, we will continue to enjoy His undeserved mercy in our own lives. Jesus was not teaching that we must extend mercy to others before we can receive it from God. He was saying that showing mercy is the natural response of one who has received it. We were undeserving. So are those around us. And like so many of these beatitudes, this one has a future fulfillment associated with it. There is a day coming when God’s mercy will be fully realized when we stand before Him in His kingdom, having fully received what we never could have earned on our own.

There is a degree to which we can enjoy purity of heart in this life. We have been made new. We have a new nature. But we also have our old sin natures living within us and doing battle with the indwelling Spirit of God. But when we listen to the Spirit and walk according to His will, we can know what it means to live with a pure heart, a heart conformed to the will of God, and characterized by the very nature of God. Paul tells us that when we are led by the Spirit of God, our lives will produce the fruit of the Spirit of God: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). But the day is coming when our sinful natures will be done away with once and for all and we will experience what it means to be completely, wholly dedicated to God. To a certain degree, we get to see God in this life, but we will see Him face to face in the next. Right now, He is invisible to our eyes, but that will not always be the case. Peter reminds us, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). And the apostle John adds, “we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

Peacemakers will be recognized as God’s children. Those who live their lives on this earth focused on reconciling lost men to God, will be see for who they are: God’s representatives. And they will experience both rejection and acceptance for their efforts. Living in a sin-torn world, point people to Christ, will make it obvious that we are sons and daughters of God. But we will not always be accepted and our efforts will not always be appreciated. But when we act as His representatives, we bring glory to His name and make it clear that we belong to Him. And, once again, the day is coming when our status as His children will be confirmed in full when His Son returns.

Finally, those are experience persecution in this life because of their status as the children of God, have the joy of knowing that they are already part of His kingdom. There place is reserved. They cannot lose their inheritance. And Paul would have us remember:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Approval by God comes with some significant benefits. And it produces some remarkable character changes in the life of each and every Christ-follower. As Jesus spoke these words to the crowd that day on the hillside, He was attempting to get them to understand that He had come to bring radical change and all that He was going to offer them was freely available to them, but it was going to require repentance, a complete change of mind regarding what they thought about God, His kingdom, salvation, sin, and the Messiah, their long-awaited Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Reality of the Resurrection.

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. – 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 ESV

In verse 29, Paul takes what appears to be a rather interesting and confusing diversion from his primary topic. Actually, he is simply trying to drive home his point regarding the reality of the resurrection. To do so, he brings in another practice that was evidently common in Corinth, perhaps not in the church, but in the pagan community. It involved proxy baptism or baptism for the dead. Now it has been estimated that this one verse has been given as many as 40 different interpretations over the years in an effort to explain what Paul is talking about.

They included that Christians in Corinth were being “baptized into the ranks of the dead” by martyrdom (thinking of “baptism” in the light of Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50), that this was ordinary Christian baptism that took place “over” the grave of the dead, or that new Christians were baptized to “replace” Christians who had died. Though interesting, these proposals lack credibility. The most plausible interpretation is that some in Corinth were getting baptized vicariously for the dead. Several factors, however, put this into perspective. Although Paul does not explicitly condemn the practice, neither does he endorse it. – Christianity Today, August 10 1998, Vol. 42, No. 9

The most likely explanation is that Paul is referring to a practice that was common among the mystery religions found in and around Corinth. These pagan religions encouraged their followers to be baptized on behalf of and in place of their deceased relatives in order to assure their “salvation.” It is the same belief held today by the Church of Latter-Day Saints or the Mormons. But Paul is not endorsing this practice. Notice that he says, “what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?” He is pointing out what others, outside the church, were doing. This was a practice the Corinthians believers would have been familiar with, and Paul is simply using it as an example of how even the pagan mystery religions believed in a resurrection of the dead. Otherwise, their practice of proxy baptism would have been pointless.

Paul’s whole point is that there is a resurrection of the dead. To reject it or refuse to believe in it would be to reject the gospel. And Paul had been putting his life on the line to preach the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He had suffered greatly as a result of his belief in the resurrection. It was the resurrection of Jesus that caused much of the persecution against the disciples in the early days of the church. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Why are we in danger every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:30 ESV). It was because of the message of the resurrection. In Acts chapter 4, Luke records that Peter and John, after sharing the gospel in Solomon’s Portico in Jerusalem, were arrested.

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. – Acts 4:1-4

They were arrested for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. It was this message that riled the Jewish religious leaders. The next day, standing in front of the high priest and his religious cohorts, Peter and John were asked to explain by what power or authority they had healed a crippled man the day before. And Peter responded, “ let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10 ESV).

It is the resurrection of Jesus that gave the gospel its power and made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. To reject the resurrection simply because you can’t explain it is absurd. And Paul asks the Corinthians, “And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus was not raised from the dead and we have no hope of future resurrection. This life is all there is. So if that’s the case, let’s enjoy our life while we can and stop worrying about eternity. But Paul rejects that logic. In fact, he tells the Corinthians, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34 EV). It was as if their senses were numbed by too much alcohol, affecting their ability to think clearly. Paul demanded that they “sober up” and start listening to God rather than their pagan friends and neighbors. The resurrection of Jesus was just as much a part of the plan of God as His death. When the women had come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus they were met by two angels, who said to them:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. – Luke 24:5-9 ESV

We need to wake up to the reality of the resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope. It is what assures us of our own future resurrection. It is because He rose again that we can believe that He will one day come again. And in the meantime, as we wait for that day, Paul would have us remember, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT).

So Now…

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 ESV

We live in an interim stage. The “perfect”, as Paul refers to it, has not yet come. The Greek word he uses is teleios and it refers to “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It can also mean “full grown, adult, of full age, mature.” He uses childhood and adulthood to compare our present situation with what is to come as a child. At the present time, under our current conditions, we don’t know everything. We have limitations because of our flesh. So God has given temporary helps in the form of spiritual gifts to compensate for our lack of knowledge and understanding. Tongues, knowledge and prophecy are present-age necessities designed to help man grasp the reality of God’s truth. But the day is coming when they will no longer be necessary. The apostle John described our present limitations, but assured us of our future completeness when Christ returns.  “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

Paul explains that the gifts, while given by God, are like childhood qualities that will done day be outgrown. We will give up “childish ways” because we will be fully mature in Christ. In the meantime, we are hampered by a limited perspective, an earth-bound, flesh-restricted outlook that prevents us from seeing all the truth of who God is and what we will be. We have partial knowledge. We suffer from incomplete understanding. So God provided the gifts to help us speak truth and edify one another. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes our current predicament, describing our earthly bodies as tents. They are like temporary dwellings in which we are forced to live, much like the Israelites lived in tents during the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. –2 Corinthians 5:1-7 NLT

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that their true hope lies in the future, not the present. But in the meantime, we are to live according to faith, hope and love. Our faith is to be focused on what is to come, the final fulfillment of our salvation, when we will be glorified and united with Christ in sinless perfection. We are to place our hope on that future reality. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). We hope in what we cannot see – our future glorification. As Paul says, “we live by believing.” And our faith and hope are to be accompanied by love. In fact, he says that of the three, love is the greatest. When Christ returns and our glorification takes place, faith and hope will no longer be necessary. The unseen will have become visible. We will see Him as He is and we will be like Him. But love never ends. It will continue on throughout eternity, because it is the very nature and essence of God Himself. We will love and be loved. We will live in an environment of perfect love, unhindered by sin and no longer impacted by hate.

The Corinthians were obsessed with the gifts, but for the wrong reasons. They didn’t understand their purpose. They saw them as spiritual badges of honor that gave them precedence and importance over one another. They failed to recognize their God-given purpose of enlightening and edifying one another. And their use of them was not accompanied by love. But Paul reminds them that love trumps all – even now. We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience the unhindered love of God. When we use the gifts He has given to us, we are expressing His love to one another. We are sharing and caring for one another. The gifts were intended not only to reveal the truth of God, but His love. Paul will close out this letter with some powerful words of encouragement: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). We live in the now. And it is going to take faith, hope, strength, endurance, and patience. But none of these will be successful if we fail to love. Love brings heaven to earth. Love makes the future present, the unseen visible, and our hope tangible.