When Paul says he "persecuted the ekklēsia 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 ekklēsia in the Gospels and Acts 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 that there would be two resurrections, one to life, and one to judgment. Paul testified of the former as being the hope of those who were worshippers of God (Acts 24:14, 15); David hoped for it (Ps. 16:9-11, though the Psalm refers to Messiah (Acts 2:27-31, 13:35), we may not exclude David himself, though his expectation is "not yet” (see also Ps. 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…
It concerns the Lord, not only as to His being "the Resurrection,” but as to His being "the Life” also. He says:
c/ I am the Resurrection
d/ 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 in nowise 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)… who "received not what was promised,” (Heb. 11:39) but who believed and embraced it by faith (believing).
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 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 (Rom. 16:26).
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 bear 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?.
This special coming, ministry and guidance of "the Spirit of truth” is reported in the Church Epistles, for therein and only therein, and specially in the Prison Epistles (Eph., Phil., Col., 2 Tim.) do we find the "riches” of grace and glory into which 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 (only) earthly "signs and wonders”
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,” (emphasized in 1 Corinthians) 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 centered 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 He is, not about His parousia, or presence on earth… 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) [it is quite incorrect to render the Greek anō, high, as though it were an adjective qualifying the character of that "calling,” because it is an adverb, denoting its direction] 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, (anakephalaiōsasthai). This difference is ignored both by the Authorized and the Revised Versions, which read the middle voice of Eph. 1:10 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 fullness 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) The earthly blessings to Israel, that of earthly glory, or (2) The heavenly blessings to Israel, that of the glory reserved for those who are "partakers of a heavenly calling.”
The Old Testament, and the Acts… deal with these two lower spheres of glory, but the Epistles of Paul, specially his Prison 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” glory, which differ the one from the other.
But there is a third sphere; a sphere of cosmical glory (it is "above all heavens,” 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 and 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. 4:3,4).
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 defense 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.”
From "Question and Answer”, Things to Come, 19(10):117-118, 1913.
(1)(1)The earthly people, Israel as head of the nations and Gentiles blessed through them;
(2)(2)The heavenly people whose home will be in the New Jerusalem, including all the spiritual seed of Abraham, who are his, because they are of faith as the Apostle says in Gal. 3:6, and will be blessed with him (v. 9). He adds in v. 26, "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” This is something higher than being Abraham’s seed. The way to become Abraham’s seed is by becoming Christ’s, for we read, "If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (v. 29).
Since then to become a partaker of the second, the heavenly sphere of blessing, it is necessary to become Christ’s by faith, i.e., by believing God’s testimony regarding Him, this would apply, not only to those who believe after Abraham set the example, but to those who believed before him. Thus all the Old Testament saints from Abel will be included. The revelation that was given to our first parents when the Lord clothed them with the coats of skins, was believed by Abel, when he brought his "offering” of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.” Why this last statement, unless he had been taught something of the meaning of the sacrifice which was afterwards set before Israel with such elaborate detail?
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, the secret connected with the third sphere had not been revealed, or, if revealed, he had no authority to proclaim it. Israel was still upon the scene, and it was still possible that the nation might repent. But when the persistent rejection of the offer of the Kingdom culminated at Rome, the third sphere of blessing connected with the Church which is His Body was made known. But this did not close the offer of blessing to individuals, whether of Israel or of the Gentiles, on the same grounds as before.
While the kingdom of God was in existence on the earth (see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 13:8), blessing came to Israel and through them to Gentiles, not because of the kingdom so much as because to Israel were committed the oracles of God.
This kingdom was in abeyance ever since Zedekiah was taken ad Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. When the Lord was on earth, its restoration was offered with Himself as King. Its rejection by the infatuated rulers of the people did not stop the flow of blessing to individuals. The oracles of God ceased to be the exclusive possession of Israel, but were dispersed throughout the world.
So, God’s offer of salvation remains, and it is still open to any one, convicted of sin, to accept the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, quite apart form any knowledge of the deeper truth of the Mystery. All who thus become children of Abraham belong, as it seems, to the second sphere…
The Twelve Apostles are the Apostles of the Lamb and are to sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and have their names inscribed on the foundation of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:4), and this pertains to the second sphere of blessings.
Paul himself surely belongs to the third sphere. He was the chosen vessel to reveal its glories and though he seemed to be still striving for the goal when he wrote Phil. 3, he speaks with a different tone in his last words in 2 Tim. 4:6-8.
As to his converts, which of them accepted his deeper teaching, believed God and went on to maturity… "The foundation of God standeth sure.” "The Lord knoweth them that are His.” Let it be for us to believe God, even all that He says, and seek to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called,” "in love,” "circumspectly,” "putting off the old man and putting on the new…”
From Conference Addresses "The Purpose of the Ages”, Things to Come, 1(2):22-24, 1894.
…"The Church of God.” It does not say the church, but "the Church of God.” That means God’s Church, not man’s – the Church of the Living God, which is composed of both Jew and Gentile. The Jew is baptized by holy spirit into the Body of Christ, and thus becomes a member of the Church of God. He ceases to be a Jew as to his standing, his hopes, and his destiny. The Gentile is baptized by holy spirit into the Body of Christ. He becomes a member of the Church of God. He ceases to be a Gentile as to his standing, his hopes, and his destiny. So< it does not matter whether we were born Jews or Gentiles. The great question for each of us is, Am I a member of the "Church of God”?
This Church of God is the subject of special revelation in the New Testament… it was never revealed in the Old Testament…
Romans 16:25,26: "Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the Mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.” The word "Mystery” is a Greek word which simply means secret. We have adopted the word, and used it as meaning something which cannot be understood. But "the Mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9) means "the secret purpose of His will.” So that the Church of God is a secret "which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” In Col. 1:26,27 we read, "Even the Mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.” What is it that God would make known? "The riches of the glory of this secret among the Gentiles, which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
In Eph. 3 the Apostle says, "By revelation He made known unto me the Mystery;” that is, the secret. The fifth verse goes on to say, " Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy Apostles and Prophets by the spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same Body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel.” This secret was not merely that Gentiles were to be blessed. That was never any secret, because it was revealed unto Abraham that all the nations (Gentiles) should be blessed through him; but it was this special blessing which is mentioned in Eph. 2:15, "Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain” (both of the Jew and of the Gentile) "one new man.” That is the secret which was never made known in the Old Testament scriptures; viz., that God was going to save both Jews and Gentiles, and make of the two One NEW Body, which he was going to call the Church of God.
We have to divide the truth as to times and seasons, for in this third chapter of Eph. He goes on to speak (in the 10th verse), "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church” (i.e., by means of the Church) "the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose (i.e., "the purpose of the ages,” R.V. margin) which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord….”
The church of men is looking for the improvement of the world, expecting it to get better and better; but, understanding God’s purposes, we know it will get worse and worse. The worldly church promises the world that by social improvement and education and progress it is going to get better, and it proposes to bring in the millennium by these means, but it is to be a millennium without Christ. They are so accustomed to boast of their arts and science, and the spread of what they speak of as "religion,” that the very proposition that the modern church is to grow morally worse, and that all the claims of the world are going to end in disaster, provokes determined opposition both from the religious world and from the worldly church…
And yet we read that this present age is an "evil” one. It is from this very evil age that the Son of God has redeemed us. "He gave Himself for us, that He might deliver us from the present evil world, according to the will of God our Father.” In Rom. 12 we are exhorted not to be conformed to this world (that is the sort of nonconformity that we want!); but "be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The princes of this world, and wisdom of this world, and the god of this world, are all evil, and therefore we look for a different age.
In Eph. 2:7 we read, "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ.” In Eph.3:10 we read, "To the intent that now [in the present age] unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by means of the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” That is to say, He is using the Church of God now, i.e., the Body of Christ, to make known to these principalities and powers in heavenly places – whoever and whatever they may be – in order to unfold to them His own "manifold wisdom.”
In His dealings all through these ages He has not been trying experiments with man, but he has been unfolding His manifold wisdom, demonstrating to these principalities and powers certain great, wonderful, and important truths, and the great truth is this, that apart from Christ there is nothing; without His almighty, sustaining power, no created being can stand, whether angels or men. What God has been demonstrating from the beginning and through these ages is that the will of man has always been contrary to the will of God…
It was the religious people that put the Lord Jesus Christ to death. That tells you how much religion is worth without Christ! Hence you find (the real) Israel to-day without a king, without a prince, without a sacrifice, without a temple, without a land, without a home.
And now God has chosen another man, the "Second Man,” "the Lord from heaven.” In Christ He is making another nation; He is taking out, not a nation as He did with Abraham, but a people from amongst Jews and Gentiles, and giving them what none else ever had. In Christ these shall stand, in Christ these are safe; they can never perish, and they can never be lost. Only in Christ can they stand, and, quickened in Christ, they will presently be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, so to be for ever with the Lord.
The Israel will follow in virtue of the unconditional covenant which Jehovah made with them. The new covenant will then be made, and then it will be seen how Israel will stand only by the almighty power. Not only will a new heart be given them, but their old heart will be taken away (Eze. 36:26), and then Israel too will stand…
Without the life of Jesus Christ none can live, without His power none can stand.
"Who shall be with Christ where He is? Who shall enter into His glory?” The answer is demonstrated, "Those whom thou hast given Me”, "I have prayed for them.” "I have kept them.” The gift of the Father, the work of the spirit, and the intercession of Christ is the three-fold cord which can never be broken. These are "in Christ” now, and this alone will ensure their being with Christ when He fulfills His promise, and descends into the air to receive them to Himself. Yes, His free grace has given them a new will, a will to love Him and honour Him and obey him. Hence they find that to be their greatest pleasure which once was their greatest abhorrence. What wondrous grace! So precious are they to the Son that He died for them, and is coming again to receive them unto Himself. The world thinks nothing of them, but He accumulates words to show how precious they are in His sight: - they are His jewels, His flock, His Body, His temple, His ALL.
Think of this coming One now seated at God’s right hand, and henceforth expecting, and learn how we are like our blessed Master, seated, resting in His own precious, finished, perfect work. And we are expecting too. He is "expecting” the time when He will come forth, and we shall be caught up to be forever with the Lord. We have learned from the frailty of our nature that we cannot stand upright apart from Him, and we are testifying against the evil world which is waxing worse and worse, and for which there is no hope until Christ comes. Oh that we may go from here with our souls stirred up to greater love, to greater zeal and faithfulness in these last evil days, these perilous times, and wait more entirely and unreservedly for God’s Son from heaven.