Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ

The Vine

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

The Apostle Paul felt compelled on many occasions to set forth various doctrinal truths about God in Christ to his fellow Christians to warn against false teaching. The time had come to provide a full, coherent picture of his understanding into the mystery of the Gospel; we find such a portrayal in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

While Paul’s letter to the Ephesians features the same doctrinal positions seen in other letters, it seems very impersonal. Ephesians does not contain the same kind of personal details about Paul or the Christians to whom he wrote as can be found in all of his other correspondence; “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 is not found in all copies of the manuscripts. For these reasons Ephesians is often considered an “encyclical” letter, intended to be distributed among many local churches. Regardless, it is hard to assume much about the condition of the church in Ephesus on the basis of what is written in Ephesians.

After his standard greeting (Ephesians 1:1-2), Paul began his letter with a broad, sweeping, and majestic sentence glorifying God for all the spiritual blessings with which He blessed us in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14). Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the New Testament: while English translations generally wisely break it down into many sentences for clarity, we must remember they all represent the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed the Ephesian Christians, and by extension all Christians, in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

God has chosen Christians in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy before Him; God predestined Christians to adoption to the praise of His grace freely bestowed on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6). Paul had no desire to deny human freedom or volition; Augustinian Calvinist notions of God predetermining who would be saved and condemned arbitrarily must be imposed on the text. Paul instead sought to encourage Christians: their standing in Christ is no accident. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and inauguration of His Kingdom were not a hastily concocted “plan B” when everything else failed. Instead, from before the beginning, God had determined to create the universe, redeem mankind through His Son, and provide a way of holiness in Him. Paul would also speak of adoption as sons of God in Romans 8:11-15; a man or woman submits to adoption in order to gain the inheritance of the father, and in this way Christians gain standing in order to inherit the eternal promises God has made in Jesus.

God secured redemption for Christians in Jesus according to the riches of His grace; God’s grace abounds for Christians, who have learned of the mystery of God’s will now manifest in Jesus and His Kingdom (Ephesians 1:7-10). Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins represents the ultimate gift God has given mankind (cf. 1 John 4:7-11); God continues to bestow gifts of grace upon His people in Jesus and yearns for Christians to consider His presence and life as the greatest gift of all (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). We think of “mystery” as something unknown, a problem to be solved; in the New Testament it is an “unveiling,” something manifest only through the revelation of God. Later in Ephesians Paul would elaborate more upon the mystery (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11); here he centered the story on God’s good purpose in Jesus whom He made the sum of all things.

Whereas Christians inherit the blessings of life and salvation in Christ, God obtains Christians as His heritage, having predetermined them as His praise in His glory, and who has given them the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance until the final day of redemption (Ephesians 1:11-14). Paul began to make a contrast between “we who had hoped in Christ” and “you” his Ephesian audience, perhaps as between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We would again be remiss to impose Augustinian Calvinist views on the text; in Ephesians 3:1-11 Paul will explain how God manifested His wisdom and eternal purpose by bringing Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ in the church. Paul instead stepped back to appreciate the beauty of what God has accomplished in Jesus. God is praised in the redemption of Jewish Christians in Christ who had hoped in the coming Messiah and proved willing to recognize him in Jesus; God is praised in the redemption of Gentile Christians who are welcomed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was given to Christians both as a seal of their redemption and as a down payment on their salvation; throughout Ephesians Paul will speak of how God worked through His Spirit to build up and strengthen Christians.

Having set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Jesus, Paul gave thanks and prayed for the Ephesian Christians in another lengthy sentence (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul gave thanks for the Ephesian Christians, having heard of their faith in Jesus and love for their fellow Christians whom he calls “saints” (Ephesians 1:15-16). Christians do well to be encouraged by Paul’s example: we should never take the faith of others for granted, but ought to thank God for them.

Paul prayed for God to give the Ephesian Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation of knowledge to enlighten their hearts to know the hope of God’s calling in Jesus, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the great power of God working on behalf of Christians (Ephesians 1:17-19). Paul did not pray for God to give the Ephesian Christians head knowledge; he already recognized their faith in Christ, and expected them to have intellectual recognition of the truth of these things. Instead Paul prayed for God to give them heart knowledge, confidence in the hope of salvation in the resurrection, the majesty of the glorification of the Kingdom by God on the final day, and the great power which God presently would work for, in, and through them. It has been said that the greatest distance in the universe is between the head and the heart; we Christians intellectually recognize the truths of God in Christ, but have they been imprinted on our hearts so that we trust deeply and are strengthened to overcome any trial by keeping our faith fixed on the glory awaiting us?

God’s power is manifest in Jesus, raised from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, ruling over everything, made head over all things to the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). God has great power and He has given it over to Jesus. Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth is the foundation of the Gospel call to obedience to His purposes and empowers the Christian’s resistance against the idolatrous claims of the forces of darkness and the nation-states empowered by them (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-15:4). Yet all of this power has been given to Jesus for the sake of His body, the church, the people who assemble to praise and glorify His name and encourage each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). How many great and powerful things could God do through us if we would only trust extravagantly in Him and pray for Him to accomplish His glorious and majestic purposes in us?

Adoption, redemption, an inheritance, the Holy Spirit, access to God, participation in God’s work in Christ: all these blessings, and many more, Christians receive through Jesus Christ. May God give all of us in Jesus Christ a spirit of knowledge and wisdom to enlighten our hearts so we may know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hell

The Vine

“Hell” is now more of a curse word to most people than a fearful potential future reality. A robust number of people still believe that there is a hell; they seem equally confident that they will not go there. We generally do not like to think or talk about hell; we are quite concerned about and skeptical of those people who do. Hell has become more of a stumbling block to Christians than any point of concern: so many wonder how a loving God could send anyone to hell, and what the Bible says about hell is generally an embarrassment to many. And yet, of all people, Jesus of Nazareth spoke more about hell than anyone else in the pages of Scripture. If Jesus discussed hell, then those of us who would seek to follow after Him do well to explore what He had to say about it.

Most instances of “hell” in the New Testament translate the Greek term Gehenna (so Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, Luke 12:5, James 3:5-6). “Gehenna” itself translates Hebrew for the “Valley of the Sons of Hinnom,” a valley outside of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8). Unfaithful kings of Judah built altars to Molech and offered their children as sacrifices to that god there (2 Chronicles 28:3, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:6; 32:35). Later Jewish people considered the place cursed; they deposited and burned their trash there. The sight and stench must have been particularly awful; the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom therefore provided an extremely powerful and visceral image to describe a place of suffering and torment. Just as one would go to great lengths to avoid falling into the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, so Jesus encouraged those who heard Him to do whatever it took to avoid being cast into Gehenna, or hell.

At other times Jesus spoke of “the outer darkness,” often noting how it is a place of “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12, 22:1-13, 25:14-30). In each of these passages Jesus indicated that disobedient members among the people of God would be cast there. The imagery fits the audience: “outer darkness” would be a place well beyond any light; God is the light, and in Him is no darkness (John 1:4, 1 John 1:5); therefore, the “outer darkness” involves complete and thorough separation from God. How awful it would be for those who presumed to be near to God to learn they are to be cast as far from Him as possible! This darkness is not a “neutral” place; it is a place of trauma, vividly illustrated by “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth.”

In a similar vein Jesus envisioned a day when those who performed iniquity would be cast into a furnace of fire, in which would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:36-43). Jesus showed John a vision of the day of judgment in this way: all those whose names were not found in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire along with Satan and his minions (Revelation 20:10-15). The lake of fire also features brimstone, as a place of constant torment; the second death, final separation from God and all that is light and life.

All of these images point to a similar place; it is a place where fire is not quenched, where people suffer and gnash their teeth, a place of darkness, separated from God. Each of these images tells us something about the nature of hell; above all things, it should dissuade us from taking any chances lest we get sent there!

The Scriptures also testify regarding who will be cast into hell: those who do not know God and who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). They are those who have committed sin and iniquity and did not repent (Matthew 13:36-43, Romans 2:8-9, Revelation 21:8). Believers cannot become complacent, confident their belief alone will rescue them; not a few warnings about hell are directed specifically to believers who do not actually do what the Father says (Matthew 7:21-23), and who prove to be unproductive servants (Matthew 25:14-30). God will judge impartially (Romans 2:5-11).

While Jesus spoke many times regarding hell, and has provided richly evocative imagery, much has been left unrevealed. Much of what people today imagine regarding hell derives more from later flights of imagination and Dante’s Inferno than anything recorded in Scripture. Hell is not controlled by Satan and a host of demons; as seen in Revelation 20:10, Satan and his demons themselves are cast into hell in God’s judgment. We are not told exactly how those who are in hell experience their suffering and torment. Dante vividly described how he imagined the tortures of hell were meted out; a contrasting view would be C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of people ever resisting the good inherent in God as seen in The Great Divorce. Therefore, what most people reject about hell are matters of belief not found in Scripture. We do well to remember how we imagine hell is just that, our imagination, and the reality might be quite different from what we might expect. Yet, above all things, we hope and pray that none of us find out what hell is like!

While the concept of hell may seem unpleasant to Westerners, a spiritual world without at least the potential for the existence of hell would be much worse. People might declare how they cannot believe a loving God could send anyone to hell. Would they really want to serve a God who had no hell to which to send people like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, or other heinous sinners? How could God be serious about justice if there is no actual penalty to be paid for transgression? The existence of hell is a reminder of God’s justice, a witness to the importance of doing the right and forsaking the wrong, and confidence for all who suffer oppression and degradation that God will call their oppressors into account and justice will be satisfied. In truth the argument is a matter of degree: most people can not only imagine but even expect God to cast the “truly wicked” into hell; they just imagine that God will not send people like them to hell. Such people too quickly absolve themselves of their evil and iniquity, having been deceived into doing so (Hebrews 3:13); we all deserve condemnation, for we have all transgressed the will of God, but thanks be to God that a way of rescue from condemnation has been offered through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20-28, 6:15-23).

Furthermore, how can God be “loving” while forcing those who wanted little to nothing to do with Him as manifest in their thoughts, words, and deeds to spend eternity with Him (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Revelation 21:1-22:6)? C.S. Lewis rightly noted that there will be two types of people on the day of Judgment: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.” God will not compel or coerce; if people wish to live in ways contrary to God’s purposes, then they will spend eternity with the consequences.

Hell is a most unpleasant place; we should not wish it upon our worst enemy. God does not want anyone to go to hell but for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9); those who would follow God do well to maintain the same posture toward their fellow man. Jesus’ warnings about hell were not designed to extend further condemnation for those already aware of their sinfulness; instead, Jesus condemned the very religious people who were the quickest to condemn others (e.g. Matthew 23:33)! Nevertheless, we ought not trifle with the concept of hell. We should want to avoid hell and exhort all with whom we come into contact to avoid it as well. Those who suffer torment would want those whom they love to avoid that torment above all things (cf. Luke 16:27-28)! May we seek to serve God in Christ, see to ourselves, and encourage all to live so as to avoid the hell of fire!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Resurrection

The Vine

It seemed that everything had gone wrong. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed forever. Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed was the Christ of God, was crucified. Then, when the disciples were in despair, attempting to figure out what went wrong, they hear that Jesus of Nazareth was alive again, resurrected from the dead (cf. Luke 24:19-24). The tomb was empty. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. While Jesus’ birth, life, and death are significant in and of themselves, without Jesus’ resurrection, they are all ultimately meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19). The Christ crucified and resurrected was the theme of the message of the Apostles, and the resurrection was the basis of the future hope of transformation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. After Jesus died, His soul went to Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), and His body was sealed in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-cut tomb after it was wrapped in linen and covered with seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes. On the third day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the women came to finish the anointing of the body of Jesus, and found the large rock in front of the tomb rolled away. Two angels were there, informed the women of what has taken place, and told them to go and make it known to the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw it empty with the linen cloths carefully folded to the side. They believed; they just did not know what happened! Mary, meanwhile, spoke to someone whom she believes is the gardener, wanting to know where the body of Jesus was taken. He responded to her; He was no gardener, but Jesus Himself, resurrected from the dead!

The idea of resurrection in the New Testament is not merely life after death; instead, it involves “life after life after death.” Mary and the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus in a bodily form (cf. Luke 24:39). Nevertheless, Jesus’ body is not the same as it was before since He can now transcend space and time restraints; it has been transformed somehow. The resurrection therefore involves the re-animation or re-creation of the physical body, the return of the soul to it, and the transformation of that body into something “trans-physical” or something of the sort.

Jesus will later appear to Simon Peter, two disciples walking to Emmaus, ten of the disciples, all eleven disciples, James His brother, and 500 brethren at one time over the period of forty days after His death. He instructed them regarding Himself and the mission for the Kingdom that they would soon begin. After that forty day period, Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). At that point Jesus, as the “one like a Son of Man,” received an everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14); Stephen, in a vision, saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God when he saw Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:55-56); Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and based on it considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 9:3-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:4-9). In the 60s CE, long after Jesus’ ascension, Paul spoke of Jesus as still presently human (Greek anthropos, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus therefore remains fully God and fully man, having died never to die again (Romans 6:8-11): He remains in the resurrection body, and thus remains the Son of Man and Son of God, and will return thus one day (Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:11).

The Bible’s claims regarding the resurrection of Jesus are startling, and yet they represent the foundation of the belief that Jesus really is Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Since Christianity stands or falls on the legitimacy of the resurrection, many throughout time have attempted to discredit it by positing alternative explanations. Those explanations, however, never account for all of the evidence. Both the “swoon theory” and the “wrong tomb theory” require more faith to believe than the Bible’s claims. The “hallucination theory” cannot explain why people would claim to see Jesus only during a forty day period. The “stolen body theory” is inconsistent with the transformation of the disciples and the testimony of their lives. The “spiritual theory” cannot make sense of the claim of the empty tomb. In the end, the only story that makes sense of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the transformation of the disciples is that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by the power of God!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles proclaim that God made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus conquers death through the resurrection, giving us hope that we also can conquer death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). With sin and death defeated through Jesus, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything! Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond doubt that there will be a day of reckoning for all mankind (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection shows that Jesus is the first fruit: as He was raised from the dead, so we now can look forward to the day when we also will rise from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). In the resurrection, a new creation is able to burst forth into the old: even though we may still suffer on account of sin and death, we can spiritually die and be raised again through baptism and be new creatures in Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately we cherish the hope of our own resurrection based on Jesus’ resurrection: on that day we will be like Him, and will abide with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 John 3:2).

Jesus, in His resurrection, demonstrates that death is not the end. Hope is able to spring anew. Jesus is Risen! Let us praise God, and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Life in the Resurrection

The Vine

Throughout time humans have wanted to understand more about their meaning and purpose in life. Such questions are extremely important and cannot be separated from questions regarding identity, origin, and destination. We must understand something about who we are before we can understand why we are here; it is very difficult to have any grounding in who we are if we do not understand from where we have come and to where we expect to go. Christians understand, based on God’s revelation in Scripture, that all people are made in God’s image to share in relationship with God and each other to God’s glory (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23, Romans 1:19-20). What do the Apostles envision as our ultimate destination? What do they have to say about life after the judgment day?

The New Testament does not reveal as much as might be expected about life after the judgment: most discussions of the afterlife focus on the Judgment and the day of resurrection. Nevertheless we are given a few glimpses into what that future life may involve.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus spoke of a day in which all will come out of the tombs: those who have done good will experience the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil will experience the resurrection of judgment (or condemnation). While Jesus focused on the day of judgment and resurrection we do well to note how He envisions life afterward in terms of resurrection: the redeemed experience a resurrection of life, while the condemned experience a resurrection of judgment. Thus we may know that eternal life is life in the resurrection, life after life after death. Paul explains the nature of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-48 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10: the return of the soul to the body and the transformation of the “psychical” body into the incorruptible, immortal “pneumatical” body. In this way we gain the victory over death.

In both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul looked forward to the glorification of Christians by God. God’s glory was manifest in His presence; in a former covenant Moses’ face shone because he was in the presence of the glory of God, and so how much more amazing and awesome will it be for us to receive the fullness of God’s glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11)?

Paul continued to look forward to unfulfilled expectations in Romans 8:18-25. He spoke of the creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to corruption, just as the sons of God yearn for the adoption as sons, the “redemption of the body.” While Christians remain part of the creation, Paul makes a distinction between “the creation” and “we ourselves” in Romans 8:23; in Romans 8:24-25, Paul made evident that the hope of which he speaks is not yet present reality, and yet Paul assured Christians that they presently had eternal life spiritually and presently were adopted as sons of God in Christ in Romans 6:3-11, 8:9-17. This hope of redemption cannot be spiritual life eternally; the “redemption of the body” is therefore best understood as a reference to the resurrection to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Paul therefore extended hope that the creation itself in some way would obtain redemption when Christians receive the glory of God.

Peter’s future expectation in 2 Peter 3:7-13 is often held in tension with Paul’s in Romans 8:18-25. Peter envisioned a judgment of the present creation in fire leading to the dissolution of matter (2 Peter 3:7-10, 12). And yet Peter declared that Christians await a “new heavens” and a “new earth” in which righteousness dwells based on the promises of God (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:15-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). The sum of God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160); while it may be that we do well to understand Romans 8:18-25 in terms of 2 Peter 3:7-13, we must at least remain open to the possibility that we are to understand 2 Peter 3:7-13, to some degree or another, in terms of Romans 8:18-25. Peter never suggested that the purification by fire means the end of the created order for eternity; on what basis should we believe that God will ultimately fully give up on and abandon His creation?

The most complete picture of life in the resurrection, even if given in a figure, can be found in Revelation 21:1-22:6. After Satan is cast into the lake of fire and the day of judgment has transpired (cf. Revelation 20:7-15), John saw a new heavens and a new earth, for the former had passed away (Revelation 21:1). In this picture of the new heavens and the new earth he saw the heavenly city, new Jerusalem prepared as a bride, coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). John heard a voice declaring that the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man; they will be His people, and He will be their God; there would be no more crying, pain, or distress (Revelation 21:3-4). John was then granted a more detailed vision of the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:9-10). John saw it given the glory of God, described in terms of bejeweled walls and foundations and golden streets (Revelation 21:11-21). He saw no temple in it, nor source of light, for God and the Lamb are in its midst, and His glory gives it light (Revelation 21:22-23). John was then shown the river of the water of life with the tree of life on either side of it (Revelation 22:1-2). In that place the servants of God worship Him and dwell with Him face to face (Revelation 22:3-6).

The visions granted to John are symbolic and metaphorical and yet cohere well with the picture seen in the rest of the New Testament. We are given no indication God is giving up on His creation: according to Paul, sin and death have led to the corruption and decay of the creation, and once those are fully defeated, the creation can be redeemed from its curse (Romans 5:12-21, 8:17-25). Even if the present creation is purified as through fire, refined and then made anew, the goal is never elimination and separation from the creation. The people of God, seen in glory in terms of a bejeweled city, come down from heaven; God dwells with man, not the other way around (Revelation 21:1-10, 22-23). The end is as the beginning: humans dwell in face-to-face communion with God, in the presence of the tree of life and the river of the water of life (Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 22:1-5). Those who have done good and have obtained the resurrection of life will experience eternity in the resurrection body, transformed for imperishability, incorruption, and immortality, and will receive the full glory of God, to worship Him and bask in His presence forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Humans are made in God’s image; God desires to maintain relationship with mankind. We see this manifest in the picture of the end: the redeemed are made perfect, given immortality and imperishability in the resurrection body, and are portrayed as remaining in the presence of God for eternity. We are looking for that new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. We look forward to maintaining face-to-face communion with God, to know as we are known. In the end we return to the beginning. We do well to live accordingly, seeking to glorify God in our lives, ever more conforming to the image of the Son, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Dreams and Visions

The Vine

Humans have been enchanted by dreams and visions for millennia. We want to believe that our dreams may unlock hidden meanings and mysteries in life; cultures throughout time have featured many attempts to interpret what dreams might mean. Science has proven rather dismissive of dreams and visions, attempting to understand them in terms of our brains processing data while we are unconscious. How should Christians understand dreams and visions?

As in all matters of spirituality we do well to first explore the purpose of dreams and visions as seen in the pages of Scripture. In both Old and New Testaments God has communicated to certain people in dreams and visions.

The Scriptures record many instances in which God communicated to people in dreams. In some circumstances God directly spoke to people in dreams, most often about a specific situation the person was facing at the time. God warned Abimelech about taking Sarah as a wife in a dream (Genesis 20:3-7), and likewise warned Laban against harming Jacob in any way (Genesis 31:24). When Solomon was in Gibeon God appeared to him in a dream and asked what he wanted; the wisdom for which Solomon asked in a dream was given to him in reality (1 Kings 3:5-28). The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream three times: the first to give him confidence so as to marry Mary, the second to warn him to get away to Egypt to avoid Herod, and the third to warn him away from living under Archelaus (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19-22).

God also sent dreams to his servants and to rulers which required interpretation but spoke of things that would come to pass. Joseph and Daniel were both justly famous for having been given dreams and the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph’s dreams about his family were able to be understood without difficulty in interpretation (Genesis 37:5-11). He was able to interpret the dreams of others, and they all involved what would take place in the immediate future: the cupbearer’s restoration, the baker’s execution, impending abundance and then famine in Egypt (Genesis 40:1-41:37). Daniel was able to see and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream through the revelation of the God of heaven, and it spoke of the kingdoms to come (Daniel 2:1-46); God would give Daniel dreams and visions of beasts with a similar interpretation (Daniel 7:1-8:27).

William Blake Ezekiel's Vision ca 1803-5 Boston Museum

Visions are often closely related to dreams; God would send both, and while many visions were in dreams, other visions took place while a person was conscious or semi-conscious (Numbers 12:6, Daniel 1:17, 2:28). God granted visions to many people for different reasons; nevertheless, they all were corroborated by events which would take place or by other forms of revelation. God provided assurance of His covenant with Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1ff). In the days of Eli and Samuel there was no frequent vision; nevertheless, God gave a vision to Samuel in which He summoned him thrice and prophesied doom for the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-15). Isaiah and Ezekiel saw visions of God in heaven (Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-13, Ezekiel 1:1-28); most of Ezekiel’s prophecies featured some sort of vision. In the New Testament the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John is called a vision (Matthew 17:1-9). Peter is given a vision of unclean animals; the Lord Jesus told him to kill and eat; after Peter protested, Jesus told him that what God has cleansed he is not to call common (Acts 10:9-17). Peter was initially perplexed about the vision’s meaning, but through revelation from an angel and the Holy Spirit he discerned that God was calling him to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and other Gentiles; the vision was the first in a series of revelations which made it clear that God had cleansed the Gentiles and granted them the repentance that leads to life (Acts 10:17-11:18, 15:7-11). The Bible ends with a grand vision, the Revelation of God given to John, setting forth the impending struggles of believers and the victory of God in Christ through images simultaneously fantastic and yet consistent with what the people of God beforehand had experienced (Revelation 1:1-22:21).

Just because something was a vision did not necessarily make it unreal. There is great continuity between the heavenly scenes seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John; Paul speaks of having been taken up into Paradise, the third heaven, in which he saw things unable to be described in human language (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened and he saw horses chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:15-17); the servant may be seeing a vision, but the vision proves more real than what we imagine reality to be.

Therefore it is evident that God did communicate with people through dreams and visions in Biblical times. That communication, however, was not always for the best, nor was every claimed dream and vision really from God. In 1 Kings 22:19-23 Micaiah son of Imlah described a heavenly vision he saw in which God revealed how He would entice Ahab to meet his doom: a lying spirit from God would enter the prophets to deceive him. The prophets warn the people about those who have claimed to receive dreams and visions from God but do so falsely (Jeremiah 23:32, 27:9, 29:8, Lamentations 2:14, Ezekiel 13:9, Zechariah 10:2). Paul warns Christians about giving heed to those who trust in visions and give devotion to angels but do not hold fast to the Head who sustains His Body, the Lord Jesus (Colossians 2:18-19).

As Christians we do well to be careful about claims regarding dreams and visions. We have every confidence from Scripture that whatever messages God would communicate in dreams and visions would be consistent with what He has revealed through other means and would work to encourage and sustain Christians in Christ; yet on what basis should we expect Him to continue to communicate in such ways? He has made known His will for mankind in Christ and has communicated through the witness of the Apostles all things we need in order to accomplish His purposes (Acts 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We do well to heed the wisdom of the Preacher:

For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

May we all honor and revere God and seek to accomplish His purposes in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Resurrection

The Vine

From death comes life.

This statement is paradoxical yet proves true in our lives. As one day, month, or year ends, another begins. A fire consumes a forest, and new growth is given an opportunity to rise. One creature is killed and eaten so that another creature might live. And so it is with Christianity and its teachings regarding the resurrection.

“Resurrection” involves the idea of coming back to life after death. In the Old Testament, the prophets Elijah and Elisha bring dead people back to life through the power of God (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, Hebrews 11:35). In the New Testament, Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus from the dead as well (Luke 7:10-17, 8:40-42, 49-56, John 11:1-45). In all of these circumstances, a person was physically dead and then brought back to physical life.

Yet every “new” day, month, or year will also pass away. “New” plant growth goes old and dies as well. Creatures who eat other creatures might be eaten in turn but will certainly meet their end in some way or another. All of the people above who were resurrected died again as well.

Yet God, in the New Testament, makes a promise regarding a better resurrection, one that does not end in yet another death. This resurrection is considered most properly as “life after life after death,” and Jesus is considered its “firstfruits,” the first of an intended many (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). We can gain understanding about this resurrection by considering the descriptions of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-17, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53, and John 20:1-21:25.

Jesus died physically on the cross but remained alive spiritually in Paradise until the third day (Luke 23:43-46). As the Gospel accounts demonstrate, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day: the tomb was empty, for Jesus’ soul/spirit were united again with His physical body. Over a forty day period Jesus frequently appeared to His followers, establishing that He was no phantasm but flesh and blood, although changed, since He apparently transcended the space-time continuum. He then ascended to heaven with the promise of returning as He departed (Acts 1:11).

Paul established Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as the fundamental core of the Gospel in which we stand (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Those who deny the resurrection from the dead ultimately deny Jesus and Christianity, for if the dead are not raised, Jesus was not raised, and if Jesus was not raised, then our faith is futile, we are lost in our sins, and of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

And yet Paul assures Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 that Jesus is risen from the dead, and we can have confidence that in Jesus those who belong to Christ will rise when He comes. According to the New Testament, Jesus will return one day (e.g. Matthew 25:1-46). When He returns, all of the dead in the grave will hear His voice and come out (John 5:28-29). This resurrection, by necessity, involves the re-animation and/or re-constitution of the physical body: that which was from dust and had returned to dust will begin to come to life again from the dust (cf. Genesis 3:19). Since the “psychical,” or natural body, the one empowered by the breath (Gk. psuche) of life, is perishable, corruptible, and mortal, it will then be transformed to be the “pneumatical” or spiritual body, the one empowered by the soul (Gk. pneuma), and thus imperishable, incorruptible, and immortal (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-54). In this way the dead will rise first and those who remained alive will then be transformed (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and such is the redemption of the body earnestly desired in Romans 8:18-25. From this point on the righteous will be forever in the presence of the Lord, having gained the final victory over sin and death through Him (1 Corinthians 15:55-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

From Jesus’ death comes life: spiritual life through faith in Him and the salvation which comes through His blood, and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection with Him (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 6:3-7). The resurrection changes everything: there is more to life than this existence, death and evil can be overcome, and we can maintain hope in the ultimate realization of God’s intentions for His creation. Through the resurrection life gains its meaning as preparation for eternity. Let us praise God for the hope of resurrection in Christ Jesus and place our trust in Him forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Work

The Vine

“We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).

It is perhaps one of the greatest of the divine mysteries: God has summoned us sinful, weak humans to participate in His work and to advance His purposes.

The Bible makes known the great things which God has done in order to save us and to advance His purposes in His creation. He created the universe and all that is in it (Genesis 1:1-2:4); He sent His Son to live, die, and be raised again in power so that we could be delivered from our sins and overcome death (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 John 4:7-11). The pages of Scripture abundantly attest to God’s love and covenant loyalty powerfully demonstrated by His power.

Meanwhile God has expected people to labor for His purposes. God had a particular type of tent, the Tabernacle, where He intended to manifest His presence to Israel; He even had plans for it, and yet He expected the Israelites to build that Tabernacle themselves, and that according to the pattern He would show them (Exodus 25:9). In Christ God has maintained His power for salvation in the message of the Gospel (Romans 1:16); in Acts there are examples of the great efforts made by the Holy Spirit and angels so that people could hear, believe, and obey the Gospel, and yet it was to be preached by God’s people, not by the Holy Spirit or the angels directly (e.g. Acts 10:1-47).

Teachings of Jesus 30 of 40. parable of the talents. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible

Jesus explains the importance of work in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. He envisions the time between His ascension and before His return in terms of servants given differing amounts of talents, a very large sum of money; they are expected to go and make more money by trading them (Matthew 25:14-18). Jesus’ returned is envisioned in terms of settling accounts with these servants (Matthew 25:19). In this story the one given five talents makes five more talents, and the one who was given two made two more, and they both were welcomed into the joy of their master (Matthew 25:16-17, 20-23). A third servant was given one talent, but he buried it in fear; the master was angry with this servant for his lack of effort, and he is cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:18, 24-30).

The message of the parable might be jarring but it is evident: the followers of Jesus are expected to work to advance Jesus’ purposes until He returns. While everyone has equal value in God’s sight, not everyone is equally talented; how many abilities one has is not a basis of boasting but a stewardship of responsibility. Each is to use the abilities (or talents; the word derives from the form of money in the parable and on the basis of the parable) God has given him or her to serve (1 Peter 4:10-11). One with few talents need not despair when seeing another with more talents; one with many talents has no right to slack off because others have fewer talents. Our reward comes from how effectively we have used those talents for God’s purposes. If we bring others to Jesus, well and good; if we “obtain interest” by growing and exercising in our own faith, that is also sufficient (2 Peter 3:18). But any servant of Jesus who does nothing with his talents out of fear or insolence will be cast into the outer darkness, another way of speaking about hell!

Serving the Lord Jesus, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. What Jesus has said in Matthew 25:14-30 may not sit well with some of the doctrinal positions of man but makes complete sense when we understand the true nature of faith. Those who believe in Jesus are not merely to accept the reality of His existence, but to believe that He is Lord and Christ (John 3:16, Acts 2:36). If He is Lord, we are not; we cannot continue to walk in our ways and really believe that Jesus is Lord. To believe that Jesus is Lord demands that we put our trust in Him, and the only way our trust can be manifest is in what we do. So it is that Jesus considers believing in Him the work of God which He would have us to do (John 6:29): faith without works is dead, for faith must be manifest in how we think, feel, and act (James 2:14-26). One who claims to believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Lord, but does not get busy in His Kingdom is not really trusting Jesus, not really seeking His purposes, and without repentance will be cast into the outer darkness as an unprofitable servant!

God does not want us to be cast out; He wants us to serve Him as His children and servants of the Lord, and if we do so, we will obtain the same rest as He enjoyed once He created the world (Hebrews 4:1-11). God is Sovereign, omnipotent, sufficient to do all things, and yet in His purposes He has given it to us to work in His Kingdom, entrusted us with the Gospel of His Son, the message of salvation, and expects us to grow in His grace and knowledge through actively serving and obeying Him. May we participate in God’s work so as to participate in His rest to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reciprocity

The Vine

“Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36-38).

“You get what you give.”
“You reap what you sow.”

Many such nuggets of commonly received wisdom testify to the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity refers to providing benefits to others with the expectation of receiving benefits in return.

Jesus speaks to the premise of reciprocity in Luke 6:36-38. You get what you give: if you judge and condemn, you can expect judgment and condemnation in return. If you refrain from such judgment and condemnation, you will be spared judgment and condemnation. As you measure out to others, you will receive in turn; thus, if you are merciful, you will receive mercy, but if you prove merciless, others will act mercilessly toward you.

Jesus is primarily speaking about how we relate toward one another. There are times when judgment is appropriate (1 Corinthians 15:1-13), and yet it must be done with humility, love, care, and not without introspection (Galatians 6:1-3). Have you noticed that the way you treat others rebounds to yourself? It can be positive or negative, and it is far from coincidental.

We do well to have the perspective David maintained about his existence:

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).

David did not presume that anything he had was really “his”; he knew that all he was and had were gifts from God, and so giving to God was not nearly as magnanimous as would be imagined, since he was simply giving back to God what was His own.

This perspective helps us to understand what God’s purpose is, at least in part, as He blesses us. He does not provide us blessings merely for our own use and enjoyment; our abundance is not designed to merely satisfy the desires of the flesh, to spend on our passions (1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19, James 4:1-3). Instead God blesses us so that we have an opportunity to give (Ephesians 4:28). Our lives, our resources, and all that we are represent a stewardship from God; we must exercise them for the benefit of others, and not merely ourselves (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Helping the homeless

We are better able to understand God’s promises to us when we understand everything through this perspective. God wants to give us everything and to bless us abundantly (John 15:7, Romans 8:32). He does not want to give us such things so that we can hoard up wealth, luxury, and excess; such is entirely inconsistent with the life and pattern of Jesus and the Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23-30, 1 Peter 2:21-25). Instead He wants us to be vessels through which He can accomplish His purposes, and thus we are to give as we have prospered, bless as we have been blessed, and know that as we give and bless, we will receive greater gifts and blessings from God, and thus able to continually serve as a benefit and refreshment to others (1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:14).

We are sorely tempted to live for self and trust no one, and yet God calls us to trust Him and His purposes in faith. We are to seek His Kingdom and righteousness first and trust that He will provide life’s necessities (Matthew 6:33). We are to trust our fellow members of the body of Christ, the church, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, building up and strengthening others, and trusting that others will rejoice and weep with us, build us up and strengthen us as we are in need (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28).

We do well to remember Paul’s premise:

But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Paul has great confidence in the principle of reciprocity. Whatever you sow in abundance you will reap in abundance; whatever you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly. Judge much, and you will be judged much. Show much mercy, and you will receive great mercy. Give bountifully and you will never lack; give sparingly and you will never have enough. Paul says such things because he has come to know the great love and grace of God, for God is able to make us abound in His grace, provide for our sufficiency, and ultimately save us and give us His glory in the resurrection, well beyond anything we deserve (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

We must decide how we will live. Will we live full of judgmentalism, hostility, miserly, and selfishly? We will reap condemnation, suffering, alienation, and poverty. Will we live full of mercy, grace, blessing, and giving freely? We would then reap mercy, grace, and untold blessings from God in Christ. May we be a blessing to others, manifesting God’s grace and mercy, and trust in the great provisions of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation

The Vine

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Salvation, or being saved, represents a major aspect of the identity and message of Christianity. “Salvation” and its associated terms are used so freely and frequently as to become automatic and even trite. Many speak about how they “got saved,” and “Jesus saves” is one of the most common ways people attempt to communicate the Gospel.

“Salvation” is widely known and recognized, but how well and deeply is it properly understood and internalized? Many people think of salvation entirely in past terms, involving initial conversion and little else, and guaranteed without any caveat or possibility of loss; such a view is spoken of as eternal security or “once saved, always saved.” Others think of salvation primarily in future terms, involving the return of Jesus and the day of Judgment, and maintain great trepidation about their prospects of salvation; perhaps we can describe such a view as “if saved, barely saved.” Some presume God is the only Actor in salvation; others seem to presume that God’s salvation is mostly dependent on humans. Therefore, even though most people recognize that “salvation” and “being saved” are important aspects to Christianity, there is a lot of dispute and little agreement on what it means to be saved in Christ.

What is salvation? The basic concept, as expressed by Thayer in his definition of the Greek sozo, is “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” You do not participate in this kind of saving at a store; the core idea of salvation is “rescue.” When the New Testament speaks about salvation we do well to think in terms of rescue.

Coast Guard rescues 4 from Lake Michigan 140620-G-ZZ999-001

The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands the recognition by all people that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and on their own are not capable of regaining their standing before God (Romans 3:1-23, Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). While in the world we are all sinful, weak, ungodly, and hostile toward God; in His love, grace, and mercy, God provided the means of reconciliation back to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:4-18, Titus 3:4-8). Thus our salvation is really our rescue: we could not save ourselves, so God proved willing to rescue us through Jesus. This good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship was proclaimed throughout the known world in the first century.

Many who heard this good news recognized its truth and sought to respond accordingly (Acts 2:37, 16:30). The Apostles expected them to believe that Jesus is the Christ, to confess that belief, to change their hearts and minds so as to follow Jesus in repentance, to be immersed in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins, and to follow Jesus as disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Such people responded in faith to God on account of what He did for them (Ephesians 2:8-9); they recognized that they could not save themselves but knew that they needed to entrust themselves to God if they wanted to be saved, and trust demands response and effort (Romans 1:5, 6:14-23, James 2:14-26). We understand this in terms of rescue: if a person is drowning and is tossed a lifesaver, he or she must grab ahold of the lifesaver if s/he will be rescued. No one thinks they have rescued themselves simply by grabbing ahold of that lifesaver; they know their rescue was dependent on the efforts expended to get that lifesaver to them and to bring them to safety. But if they had not grabbed the lifesaver, they would have drowned!

The moment of conversion leads to “initial” salvation; at that point the Christian has been restored in relationship and reconciled back to God through Jesus, and is part of the “saved” (Acts 2:47). Even so there remains a real sense in which salvation is not yet complete. Peter captured this sentiment well in 1 Peter 1:3-9: the Christians of Asia Minor were “born again to a living hope” through Jesus’ resurrection and were being “guarded through faith,” yet “for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time,” standing firm and going through trials of faith so as to obtain the “outcome” of their faith, “the salvation of your souls.” Peter does not deny the reality of what we call “initial” salvation yet clearly is looking forward to the full consummation of salvation when the Lord Jesus returns: our “final” salvation.

We can again make sense of this picture by means of “rescue.” A drowning person who has taken ahold of the lifesaver has, in a sense, been rescued, but remains in great danger while still in the water. Their rescue is not complete until they are taken out of the water and given medical attention. If at any point the person let go of the lifesaver they would be back in the same danger they had been in before and could still perish!

Thus it is in Christianity as well. Despite the smooth words of many preachers the New Testament provides many and clear warnings about the dangers of falling away after receiving “initial” salvation: Matthew 7:21-23, 25:14-30, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among others. This does not mean God does not want to or is not able to save Christians; God wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Instead, as can be seen throughout the history of God’s involvement with mankind, the people of God have frequently rebelled against Him despite His faithfulness and covenant loyalty, and have received the consequences of their disobedience (Romans 11:17-22). Our rescue is not permanent or final until we have reached the end of our race and have obtained the crown of glory from God in Christ; we must persevere to the end (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

God does want us to be saved, and despite our propensity toward rebellion He has gone to great lengths to accomplish salvation for us (Romans 8:31-39). If we seek to follow Him according to His purposes we ought not live in perpetual fear of imminent condemnation; He loves us and is more powerful than the forces working against us (1 John 4:3-4). God is presently accomplishing our rescue in Christ, delivering us from the dangers of the world so that we may conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). We can know in Christ that we are saved now when we obey Him according to His purposes revealed in the New Testament; but we also must know that our salvation is not yet complete, for we have yet to obtain the glorious inheritance which comes as the outcome of our faith (Romans 6:15-23, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Let us entrust ourselves to God in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Kingdom of God

The Vine

And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said,
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, ‘Lo, here!’ or, ‘There!’
For lo, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

From the beginning the Kingdom of God represented an important aspect of Jesus’ preaching and teaching: Jesus exhorted the Israelites to repent and change their ways because the Kingdom was at hand, and Matthew describes Jesus’ proclamation as the good news of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23). In His parables Jesus described the way the Kingdom worked: its message preached as a sower sows a field, its judgment awaiting as the separation of wheat and tares, its growth as the mustard seed, its preciousness as a box of treasure or an incomparable pearl (Matthew 13:1-46). Yet ever since many have found Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom confusing or challenging. Of what sort of Kingdom does Jesus proclaim? When was it to arrive? Who is in it? What comes of it?

First and foremost, what is a kingdom? A kingdom is that over which a king rules. On earth we generally understand kingdoms in terms of territories: for example, the United Kingdom is the land over which the Queen of England nominally rules, primarily over the island of Britain, Northern Ireland, and a few other dependent territories. Those who inhabit the lands of a kingdom find themselves under the rule of its king.

Thus in a similar way is the Kingdom of God: it represents all that over which God rules. Jesus proclaims the rule of God in His good news, or Gospel. Nevertheless Jesus features prominently in the Kingdom of God, for according to the Psalms God would appoint His Son to reign over His people (Psalm 2:1-12). The Hebrew word which is transliterated into English as Messiah (and from Greek into English as Christ) means the Anointed One and was understood to refer to the King (1 Samuel 16:11-13; so Psalm 2:1-12, Acts 2:36). Thus, to declare Jesus to be the Messiah or the Christ meant to declare Him to be the King. When the high priest asked Jesus whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus affirmed as much, and declared that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the power of Heaven (Matthew 26:63-64); before being stoned the Christian Stephen received a heavenly vision and cried out that he did indeed see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). In these statements both Jesus and Stephen make allusion to Psalm 110:1-7 and Daniel 7:13-14; in these texts God is seen as giving power, authority, and a kingdom to “one like a son of man.” This is why Jesus can say that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth after He ascended in Matthew 28:18; this is why Peter confidently declares that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ in Acts 2:38; and this is why Paul makes it known that God declared Jesus to be the Son of God in power through His resurrection in Romans 1:4. On account of His death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus was exalted by God the Father, fully declared the Son of God, His Anointed One who would rule over the nations, the one like a Son of Man to whom God the Ancient of Days would give an everlasting kingdom of which there would be no end, standing at the right hand of the throne of God until all enemies are made His footstool.

00058 christ pantocrator mosaic hagia sophia 656x800

The Kingdom of God in Christ is the reign of Jesus. Since Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, in the widest sense possible, everything is under the reign of Jesus and is subject to Him (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42, 47-50, 28:18, Philippians 2:9-11). Nevertheless, since the Devil still prowls around as a roaring lion, and makes war on the saints (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:1-17), the Kingdom of God in Christ is most often associated with those who submit themselves to Jesus’ rule and follow after Him (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31, Romans 14:17), as it is written:

[God the Father] who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Colossians 1:13).

Paul speaks of the Christians in Colossae as having been translated, or transferred, into Jesus’ Kingdom in the past tense, as something which had already happened. For that to be the case the Kingdom had to already exist! Thus the Scriptures teach that the Kingdom of God in Christ is here and now (cf. ibid. Revelation 1:6, 9).

Jesus’ Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world; His reign transcends all other rule. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16); He rules from Heaven over everything. The Kingdom has no earthly territory or headquarters, for it is not of this world (John 18:36). The Kingdom is not discernible with eyes of flesh; it is within our midst, represented by all those from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people who confess Jesus as Lord, described collectively as the Church of Christ, Jesus’ Body (Ephesians 1:20-23, Colossians 1:18).

Thus the church is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in Christ on earth today; those who comprise it demonstrate their true citizenship by seeking to serve Jesus as Lord every day in their lives (Philippians 1:27, 3:20-21). They serve as they await the day when the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of God in Christ, when death the last enemy will be put under Jesus’ feet, when Jesus returns all power and authority to God the Father, and when the people of God assemble around His throne in the resurrection of life, when God’s will is fully done on the “new earth” as it is in Heaven, and God is “all in all” (Matthew 6:10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Thus the Kingdom of God is here, and Christians look forward to inheriting the Kingdom in its fullness (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 14:22, 2 Peter 1:11). Jesus, the Lord, reigns. Maranatha; our Lord, come!

Ethan R. Longhenry