By E.W. Bullinger
The Three Spheres of Future Glory.
THERE is still something more to learn concerning the dispensations before we can rightly understand the unique position and wonderful teaching of the later Pauline Epistles written from the prison in Rome.
These dispensations are commonly spoken of as: two, the old and the new, but we must bring them, as all else, to the bar of the written Word to see whether we have learned from man. or from God, from tradition or from revelation.
To some extent we shall all agree.
1. We shall all be agreed that the great subject of the Old Testament prophecies is a restored Israel and a regenerated earth (Matt. 19. 281. It is surely unnecessary to quote the many prophecies which tell of the time when the earth shall be full of the knowledge and glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Num. 14:21,. Ps. 72:9, Isa. 6: 3 ; 11:9,. Hab. 2.:14).
We are at one with all our readers in taking these prophecies in their literal meaning ; and in not attempting to explain or rather fritter them away by any spiritualizing interpretation which deprives them of all their truth and power.
We all look forward also to the time when "He that scattered Israel will gather him" (Jer. 31:10).; when they "shall all be taught of God" (John 6:45, Isa 51:13); when "the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our LORD, and of His Christ" (Rev. 11: 15) ; and when the earthly Jerusalem shall be restored in more than all its ancient glory.
That kingdom and sphere of blessing and glory will be on the EARTH ; and the new Israel with a heart of stone changed to a heart of flesh and with a new spirit, will bring forth "the fruits of righteousness" (Ezek. 36.2.1-36, Matt. 21. 23). This will be the regeneration (or Palingenesia) when the apostles will be seated "on twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19. 28).
This will be the first and lowest sphere of blessing. I twill be on EARTH, and under the whole heaven. These are the people of the saints of the Most High" Dan. 7:27)
All the nations of the earth will share in this blessing according to God's original promise to Abraham.
2. But Abraham and his spiritual seed are "the saints of the Most High" as distinct from "the people" (of these saints)on the earth (Dan. 7: 18, 22, 25), and occupying a distinct place in the HEAVENLY SPHERE of this same kingdom. These, according to the Lord's words in Luke, are "equal to the angels," "sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:34 -36) raised in the "first resurrection" before the thousand years of earthly blessing for Israel and for the nations "under the whole heaven" (Deut. 4:19, Rev. 20:4-6). These belong to "that great city the holy Jerusalem," which John saw "descending down from heaven, having the glory of God ; and her light like unto a stone most precious." This "holy Jerusalem" is fully described in Rev. 21: 9-27. It is the" city which hath THE foundations" for which Abraham had been taught to look (Heb. 11:10) when he "saw Christ's day and was glad" (John 8: 56) : for, as "faith cometh by hearing," Abraham must have heard : and this "hearing" must have come "from the spoken word of God" (Rom. 10. 17).
This is the "inheritance" of those who, as Peter declares to the believers of the Dispersion, "have obtained like precious faith with us." That inheritance" is "incorruptible, and undefiled, and fadeth not away, reserved in HEAVEN for you." The Greek, by the figure Homoioteleutos, emphasizes this "inheritance" as being not earthly, but aphtharton, amianton, amaranton (1 Pet. 1:4).
The inhabitants of that heavenly city are declared to be "the bride, the. Lamb's wife" (Rev. 21:9).
From the call of Abraham there have ever been these two seeds, the earthly and the heavenly.
The one was likened by Jehovah to "the dust of the earth" or "the sand of the sea" (Gen. 13. 16 ; 22. 17); and the other was likened to "the stars of heaven" (Heb. 11:12 ; Gen., 15: 5).
Both expressions suggest multitude, but the former is specially associated with earthly blessing, while the latter points to "the partakers of a heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1).
These latter, like their father Abraham, looked for a heavenly portion and a heavenly blessing, for the city "which hath the foundations."
"These all died in. faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they came out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is a HEAVENLY; wherefore God is not ashamed of them to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:13-16, R.V.) Where, and what could that city lave been if it was not the city which John was shown "descending out of heaven from God," the foundations of which are specially described in Rev. 21:19 20.
All through the ages, from Abraham's day to the present, these "partakers of a heavenly calling" may be traced.
They formed ''the congregation of the Lord," and are continually spoken of as such.
Not all Israel, were Tabernacle and Temple frequenters and worshippers. Not all carried out the laws given by Moses, or offered the prescribed sacrifices, attended "the feasts of Jehovah," or carried out the ordered ritual.
Those (probably the few, as we see it to-day) who gathered to the stated worship of Jehovah are called the "assembly" or the "congregation."
The Hebrew word for" congregation" is from kahal (from which doubtless we have our English word "call "). The verb means to call, assemble, gather together : and the noun is used of any assembly thus called. Seventy times in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament it is rendered ekklesia (the word for "church" in the view Testament).
It is actually used in the expression "the ekklesia (or church) of the LORD" in Deut. 23: 1, 2, 3, 8, 1 Chron. 28: 8 Micah 2:5. In Neh. 13. 1 it is "the ekklesia (or church) of God."
It is this ekklesia (or church) that is referred to as "the congregation" in Ps. 22: 22: 26:12: 35:18 ; 40: 9 ,10 ; 68.26.** In Ps. 22: 25 it is spoken of as "the great ekklesia or congregation," and in Ps. 149:1 as "the ekk lesia of the saints."
This is what David means in Psalm 22: 22, when he says:
"In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" (v. 22), and -
"My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation" (v. 25.)
This is the usage of the same word in the Gospels when the Lord said
"Upon this rock will -I build My ekklesia" (Matt.16:1 8).
He did not, when addressing Israelites, use the word in the new, exclusive and special sense in which it was afterward to be used in the revelation of "the secret" in the Prison Epistles; but in the larger and wider Old Testament sense which His hearers would understand as embracing the whole assembly of Jehovah's believing and worshipping people who were "partakers of a heavenly calling" (Heb. 3: ).
When the Spirit by Stephen speaks of "the ekklesia in the wilderness" (Acts 7. 38) He means this congregation of pious worshippers.
Those who were kept secure under the shadow of the Almighty" during the 38 years of penal wanderings in the Wilderness, see Ps. 90 and 91.
When the Lord added to the ekklesia such as were being saved (Acts 2.:47) after Pentecost, He added them to the 120 who before Pentecost assemble ( together in the upper room, and who "continued daily in the Temple (no longer offering sacrifices and partaking of the food furnishes thereby), but , breaking bread (or eating; as in Luke 24: 30, 35 and Acts 27: 35) at home, with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people.
"And the Lord added to the church (ekklesia) daily such as were being saved" (Acts 2. 46, 47).
It is true that the words "the church" (Gr. ekklesia) in vs. 47, are omitted by all the Textual Critics (even the most conservative and least "modern") Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Westcott and Hort, and the Revised version; but we lay no stress on the omission here, because even as it stands, it is used in the Old Testament sense of the congregation of the LORD," and not in the later sense as found in the Epistle to the Ephesians : for, they would not have understood it (neither should we to-day, if we had never seen that later Epistle).
When Paul says he "persecuted the ekklesia of God" (1 Cor. 15: 9: Gal. 1:13), he does not use the word in a sense which he had at that time never heard of, or had even the remotest idea of. His words must be understood in the same sense in which he then used them; and we must not read into any passage of Scripture that which was the subject of a subsequent revelation; especially, when the sense is perfectly plain and clear as it stands.
The word ekklesia in the Gospels, Acts and the earlier Pauline Epistles must be taken by us in the sense of its Old Testament (Septuagint) usage as meaning simply the congregation or assembly, or company of Jehovah's worshipping people, "partakers of a heavenly calling," having a heavenly hope, a heavenly sphere of blessing, and looking for their part in the ''resurrection unto life."
It had been revealed of old that there would be a resurrection, (see job. 19. 25-27; Hosea 13: 14; John 11. 24) ; but it was subsequently revealed also that there would be two resurrections, one to life, and one to judgement. Paul testified of the former as being the hope of those who were worshippers of God (Acts 24. 14, 15; David hoped for it (Psalm 16:9-11;*** 49: 14, 15). So did Daniel (Dan. 12. 1-3).
The Lord plainly spoke of the former as the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14: 14) ; and, as "the resurrection of life" (John 5: 29). "By the word of the Lord" was revealed a further hope, or rather, an expression of the hope in John 11: 25, 26.
There was not only the hope for those who should have part in the "first resurrection," but for those who should be "alive and remain" when that event should take place.
The" word of the Lord" first mentioned it, and the Holy Spirit by Paul expands it in 1 Thess. 4: 16, 17
It concerns the Lord, not only as to His being "the Resurrection," but as to His being "the Life" also. He says:
a. I am the Resurrection
b. and the life.
c. He that believeth in Me, though he die, he shall live (again). [To him] I will be "the resurrection"
d. and everyone who is alive, and believing in Me shall to no wise die, for ever. "To him I will be the "Life."
This was (and still is) the hope for all who are "partakers of a heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1).
Many of these were to be found when Messiah came. They were those who waited for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25)
who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38),
who "trusted that the Lord was He who should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21),
who "waited for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43,; Luke 23: 51),
who were "as many as received Him" (John 1:12),
who gladly received Peter's or Paul's word" on the day of Pentecost and after (Acts 2:41, 8:14, 11:1, 17:11,
who received the word in much affliction "(1 Thess. 1: 6) : and who "when they received the word, accepted it not as man's word, but even as it is truly God's word which worketh effectually in you that believe" (1 Thess. 2:13). who "received not what was promised," (Heb. 11:39) but who believed and embraced it by faith.
Which of us has not been in difficulties as to those we speak of as "the Old Testament saints"?
Well, here they are seen all through the Old Testament as being "the church or assembly of God," "partakers of a heavenly calling," possessing a heavenly hope, and looking for a heavenly sphere of blessing.
3. This brings us to the third sphere, which is the greatest blessing of all, and the highest in glory.
It had been kept secret "from ages and from generations." It is the eternal "purpose" of God, made "before the foundation of the world," and was not "made manifest" by being committed to prophetic writings.
It was a secret not relating to Israel on the earth ; nor to the "partakers of a heavenly calling"; but to Christ and the elect members of His body.
Even in the ministry of Christ it was among the things He could not then reveal even to the twelve apostles in the privacy of the upper room after the last supper. Not only could He not say these things then, but the apostles themselves would not have been able to bare them if He had.
And, if the Lord did not mention these things in the Gospels then, certainly the apostles could not have "confirmed" them in the Acts of the Apostles, afterward.
They were" the things of Christ," i.e., those things which stand in a special relation to Him, the things that relate to the whole of the truth. "the truth" which would not be complete without them.
They were, of necessity, reserved for "the Spirit of truth" to reveal. "HE will guide you into the whole of the truth." These precious "riches of grace," and of glory these were the doctrines which had for their foundation the facts of Christ's mission, which had not at that time taken place: though they were all then near at hand.
Those events in Christ's life on earth were the foundation of the doctrines built upon them; and without them the doctrines could not have been known.
Until He had suffered, died. risen. and ascended, how could the doctrines of Eph. 2: 5, 6 based on them be revealed and taught.
But this special coming, ministry and guidance of "the Spirit of truth" must be held over for our next Editorial: for we must of necessity include that last phase of what "Jehovah hath spoken" before we commence our consideration of the Prison Epistles : for therein and only therein, do we find the "riches" of grace and glory into which the Holy Spirit was to guide: them, the good news of which was destined to fill the long era of Israel's blindness and the nation's dark (spiritual,) night (Isa. 60:1-3).
The Prison Epistles, following immediately after the proclamation of Israel's judicial blindness and hardening (recorded in Acts 28: 25, 26), have for their one great subject the revelation of the third of the three spheres of blessing and glory which stands in special relation to Christ and His church.
This sphere is not on the earth.
It is not over the earth.
It is in the highest heavens.
Hence, it has nothing to do with earthly "signs and wonders" that would follow those who in happy obedience believe what is there written.
Such surpassingly exalted language has never before, or since been spoken of human believers.
The very glory of that sphere is inconsistent with any earthly signs or manifestations however wonderful. or, ordinances however once significant.
Those Epistles view the believer of them, not with "signs following," but they view him as "dead" to this world and all earthly associations and connections, and as having jointly suffered, jointly died, jointly risen, and being jointly seated with Christ in the highest heavens.
Even the "affections" and "thoughts" are not to be concerned with the things on earth ; they are to be centred on "the things above" where Christ is already seated at the right hand of God. Hence, we do not read in those Epistles about the coming of Christ to the earth, but rather about our being removed to be with Him where pie is, not about His parousia, or presence on earth, or "in the air" but about our presence and manifestation with Him in His own glory; not about anastasis or resurrection (which is the subject of the earlier Pauline Epistles), but about an "ex-anastasis," (Phil. 3: 11) and "the calling on high" (Phil. 3: 14) which is the subject of the later Epistles; not about any personal happiness which we may have, but about Christ's personal glory, in which we have the wondrous privilege of sharing.
In this connection we would call attention to one word, which, in our judgment, is the real key-word of the Prison Epistles, and of this third and highest sphere. It is a remarkable word, found. in this form, only here, in the New Testament. It occurs once before in Rom. 13:9, but there it is in the present passive voice (anakephalaioutai), and means "is summed up." But in Eph. 1:10 it is the Aorist Infinitive of the middle voice, (anakephalaiosasthai). This difference is ignored both by the Authorised and the Revised Versions, which read the middle voice of Eph. 1. to as though it were the Active. This is an almost unpardonable oversight, in the interest of the ordinary Bible reader, who has an undoubted right to a correct grammatical rendering from such a quarter.
Translated correctly, the word and the entire passage emphasize the underlying fact that in all things there revealed, our Heavenly Father has, FOR HIMSELF, purposed what is here stated, viz., that
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, in order to a dispensation of the fulness of the seasons, TO-SUM-UP-FOR-HIMSELF, every thing in Christ: things in heaven and things on earth, even in Him, in whom we were taken as an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will, that we should be to the praise of His glory who have before hoped in Christ.
This will be enough to show us that the Cosmos, as shown in Col. 1: 15, 16, is a larger, higher, and greater sphere than (1) that of earthly glory, or (a) that of the glory reserved for those who are "partakers of a heavenly calling."
The Old Testament, the Acts and the earlier Pauline Epistles deal with these two lower spheres of glory, but the later Epistles reveal a third sphere of Headship and Heirship above the earth or the heavens.
1 Cor. 15:40 tells of "terrestrial" glory and of "celestial's glory, which differ the one from the other.
But there is a third sphere; a sphere of cosimical glory (if we may use the word in this connection) high above all created beings, whether principalities, or powers, or, might, or thrones, or dominions, which are mentioned (though not defined or explained) in Eph. 1:21, Col. 1: 16 in relation to Christ, who shall be "Head over all."
This includes the putting down of all enemies, and the final crushing of the head of "the old serpent" the devil.
This is why the enemy's great endeavour, now, is to blind the minds of men so that the light of this "good news (or gospel) of the glory of Christ" should be hidden from them (2 Cor. 4: 3, 1).
And this is why we, who obey God by believing Him as to this, His greatest and most glorious revelation, should cherish it as our earnest hope and constant theme; and, not being ignorant of Satan's devices," since we are thus told against what his assault is being made, therefore know where our defence is to be directed.
In other words, we are to labour to make known "the riches of glory" which are connected with this third and Highest sphere of blessing and glory and honour for "Christ and His Church."