Here's The Difference

Heb. 1:2 (ERV margin). These ages may be long or short. What distinguishes them is not their length but the way in which God deals with mankind.
While God Himself never changes, His methods do. He works in different ways at different times. We sometimes speak of the way God administers His affairs with man during a particular era as a dispensation. Technically, a dispensation does not mean an age but rather an administration, a stewardship, an order, or an economy. But it is difficult for us to think of a dispensation without thinking of time. For example, the history of the United States government has been divided into various administrations. We speak of the Roosevelt administration, the Eisenhower administration, or the Kennedy administration. We mean, of course, the manner in which the government was operated while those presidents were in office. The important point is the policies that were followed, but we necessarily link those policies with a particular period of time.
Therefore, in this lesson we will think of a dispensation as the way in which God deals with men during any particular period of history. God's dispensational dealings may be compared to the way in which a home is run, When there are only a husband and wife in the home, a certain program is followed. But when there are several young children, an entirely new set of policies is introduced. As the children mature, the affairs of the home are handled differently again. We see this same pattern in God's dealings with the human race (Gal. 4:1-5).
For example, when Cain killed his brother Abel, God set a mark on him, so that anyone finding him would not put him to death (Gen. 4:15), Yet after the Flood God instituted capital punishment, decreeing that "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9:6). Why the difference? Because there had been a change in dispensations.
Another example. In Psalm 137:8, 9 the writer calls down severe judgment on Babylon:

    O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Yet later the Lord taught His people:

Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you( Matt. 5:44).

It seems obvious that language suitable for the psalmist living under Law would no longer be suitable for a Christian living under grace.
Not all Christians are agreed on the number of dispensations or the names that should be given to them. In fact, not all Christians accept dispensations at all.
But we may demonstrate the existence of dispensations as follows. First of all, there are at least two dispensations-law and grace: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The fact that our Bibles are divided into Old and New Testaments indicates that a change of administration occurred. Further proof is given by the fact that believers in this age are not required to offer animal sacrifices; this too shows that God has introduced a new order.
But if we agree that there are two dispensations, we are forced to believe that there are three, because the Dispensation of Law was not introduced until Exodus 19, hundreds of years after Creation. So there must have been at least one dispensation before the Law (see Rom. 5:14). That makes three.
And then we should be able to agree on a fourth dispensation, because the Scriptures speak of "the age to come" (Heb. 6:5 RSV). This, of course, is the time when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to reign over the earth, otherwise known as the Millennium.
The Apostle Paul also distinguishes between the present age and an age to come. First he speaks of a dispensation that was committed to him in connection with the truth of the gospel and the Church (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3 :2; Col. 1:25). That is the present age. But then he also points forward to a future age when, in Ephesians 1: 10, he refers to "the dispensation of the fulness of times." It is apparent from his description of it that it has not yet arrived.
So we know that we are not living in the final age of the world's history.
Dr, C. I. Scofield, editor of the Scofield Reference Bible, lists seven dispensations, as follows:

  1. Innocence (Gen. 1:28). From Adam's creation up to his fall.
  2. Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Gen. 3:7). From the fall to the end of the Flood.
  3. Human Government (Gen. 8:15). From the end of the Flood to the call of Abraham.
  4. Promise (Gen. 12:1). From the call of Abraham to the giving of the Law.
  5. Law (Exod. 19:1). From the giving of the Law to the Day of Pentecost.
  6. Church (Acts 2:1). From the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture.
  7. Kingdom (Rev. 20:4). The thousand-year reign of Christ.

In his chart, "The Course of Time from Eternity to Eternity," A. E. Booth sees seven dispensations of human history foreshadowed in the seven days of Genesis:

    First day—Man tested with the light of creation—light and promise.
    Second day—Government (from the Flood to the dividing of the nations).
    Third day—Israel (from Abraham to the end of the Gospels).
    Fourth day—Grace (a parenthetic period).
    Fifth day—The Tribulation.
    Sixth day—The Millennium.
    Seventh day—Eternity.

While it is not important to agree on the exact details, it is quite important to see that there are different dispensations. The distinction between law and grace is especially important. Otherwise we will take portions of Scripture that apply to other ages and refer them to ourselves. While all Scriptures are profitable for us (2 Tim. . 3:16), not all were written directly to us. Passages dealing with other ages have applications for us, but their primary interpretation is for the age for which they were written. For example, Jews living under the Law were forbidden to eat the meat of any unclean animal, that is, one that did not have a cloven hoof and did not chew the cud (Lev. 11:3). This prohibition is not binding on Christians today (Mark 7:18, 19), but the underlying principle remains -that we should avoid moral and spiritual uncleanness.
God promised the people of Israel that if they obeyed Him, He would make them materially prosperous (Deut. 28:1-6). The emphasis then was on material blessings in earthly places. But this is not true today. God does not promise that He will reward our obedience with financial prosperity. instead, the blessings of this dispensation are spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).
While there are differences among the various ages, there is one thing that never changes, and that is the gospel. Salvation always has been, is now, and always will be by faith in the Lord. And the basis of salvation for every age is the finished work of Christ on Calvary's Cross. People in the Old Testament were saved by believing whatever revelation the Lord gave them. Abraham, for example, was saved by believing God when He said that the patriarch's seed would be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5, 6). Abraham did not know much, if anything, about what would take place at Calvary centuries later. But God knew. And when Abraham believed the Lord, He put to Abraham's account all the value of the future work of Christ at Calvary.
Someone has said that the Old Testament saints were saved "on credit." That is to say, they were saved on the basis of the price that the Lord Jesus would pay many years later (that is the meaning of Romans 3:25). We are saved on the basis of the work which Christ accomplished over 1900 years ago. But in both cases salvation is by faith in the Lord.
We must guard against any idea that people in the Dispensation of Law were saved by keeping the Law or even by offering animal sacrifices. The Law can only condemn; it cannot save (Rom. 3:20). And the blood of bulls and goats cannot put away a single sin (Heb. 10:4). No! God's way of salvation is by faith and faith alone! (See Romans 5:1.)
Another good point to remember is this: when we speak of the present age as being the Age of Grace, we do not imply that God was not gracious in past dispensations. We simply mean that God is now testing man under grace rather than under law. This distinction will be explained more fully in a future lesson.
It is also important to realize that the ages do not close with split-second precision. Often there is an overlapping or a transition period. We see this in the Book of Acts, for instance; it took awhile for the new Church to throw off some of the trappings of the previous dispensation. And it is possible that there will be a period of time between the Rapture and the Tribulation during which the Man of Sin will be manifested and the Temple will be erected in Jerusalem.
One final word. Like all good things, the study of dispensations can be abused. There are some Christians who carry dispensationalism to such an extreme that they accept only Paul's Prison Epistles as applicable for the Church today! As a result they do not accept baptism or the Lord's supper, since these are not found in the Prison Epistles. They also teach that Peter's gospel message was not the same as Paul's. (See Galatians 1:8, 9 for a refutation of this.) These people ate sometimes called ultra-dispensationalists or Bullingerites (after a teacher named E. W. Bullinger). Their extreme view of dispensations should be rejected.



1 Peter 1:11

In this chapter we will present Christ's Second Coming in a general way, presenting only the simple fact that the Savior is coming again. In the next chapter we will see that there are several phases to His Second Coming.
The Old Testament prophets foresaw the coming of the Messiah, but they were confused by what they saw. The Spirit of God revealed to them that the Christ would come in both humiliation and glory. He would suffer, bleed, and die, but He would also triumph over all His foes. They could not reconcile this. What they didn't realize was that they were dealing with two distinct advents of the Messiah, with more than 1900 years between them.
Oftentimes the two comings are merged together in the Bible with no indication of an intervening time period. If we can learn to detect these quick transitions, it will add greatly to our pleasure and profit. Here are some examples.
The first twenty-one verses of Psalm 22 clearly refer to the First Advent; they depict the sufferings of the Savior on the Cross. But there is a distinct break between verses 21 and 22. The last ten verses of the psalm point forward to the victory and glory of the Second Advent.
We also find the two comings in Isaiah 9:6, 7:

    For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The coming to Bethlehem is described by the words "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given..." All the rest of the verses point forward to the time when He will return to reign in power and great glory.
The two advents are also found in Isaiah 49:7:

    Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and His Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.

The first advent is apparent in the words "to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers," but the rest of the verse points unmistakably to His second coming.
Now notice Isaiah 52:14, 15:

    Even as many were astonished at thee (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men), so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him, for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider.

Verse 14 obviously describes the Savior on the Cross; those who watched the Crucifixion were astonished at the depths of His suffering. He was so disfigured that He was no longer recognizable as a man. But there is a tremendous contrast in verse 15. When the Savior comes back, men will be astonished at the brilliance of His glory. The nations will be startled to see the lowly Stranger of Galilee returning as King of kings and Lord of lords.
One of the best-known examples of a passage where the two advents are blended is Isaiah 61:1, 2:

    The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn.

When Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth He quoted from these verses (Luke 4:18, 19). But notice that He stopped with the words "to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." He did not continue to the expression, "and the day of vengeance of our God." Why? Because His First Advent ushered in the acceptable year of the Lord. His Second Advent will begin "the day of vengeance of our God."
We have a similar illustration of the two advents in Psalm 34:15, 16:

    The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears an open unto their cry. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

When Peter quotes these verses in 1 Peter 3:12 he stops short of the words "to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." All the rest of the quotation applies to the age in which we are now living, but this final expression looks forward to the Second Advent of Christ.
The prophet Micah foretold that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah (Mic. 5:2):

    But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

But then Micah quickly skipped over to Christ's Second Coming, when He will be great unto the ends of the earth (Mic. 5:4):

    And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.

In Zechariah 9:9 we have an obvious prediction of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

    Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion; shout, o daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

But the next verse carries us forward to the Second Coming, when Christ will reign from sea to sea:

    And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off-, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen, and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

We find the two comings merged in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Take Luke 1:31-33, for example:

    And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

The first verse was obviously fulfilled when Jesus was born (see Matt. 1:25). But verses 32 and 33 pass over this present Church Age to the time when Christ will return to sit upon the throne of David and to rule over the earth.
There is a veiled reference to the two advents in Luke 20:18:

    Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

In the first part of the verse, the stone (Christ) is on the earth. During His Incarnation men fell on Him and were broken. In the second half of the verse, the stone is coming down from above. When Christ comes back He will scatter the disobedient as dust.
A final and more obvious instance of the combination of the two comings is found in Hebrews 9:26, 28:

    For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.... So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

He appeared once to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; that was His First Advent. He will appear the second time without sin unto salvation; that is when He comes again.



1 Corinthians 15:22, 23 ERV

    But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18 ERV).

    Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him (2 Thess. 2:1 ERV).

    Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7, 8 ERV).

    And now, my little children, abide in him, that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming (1 John 2:28 ERV).

Other passages which refer to the Rapture are John 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 9:28; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:7, 20.

2. The Course of Christ's Coming

The second stage, the course of Christ's coming, includes the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards will be given to believers for faithful service.

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye before our Lord Jesus at his coming? (1 Thess. 2:19 ERV).

    And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23 ERV).

See also Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7, 8.
Another event which should probably be included in the course of Christ's Coming is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. From its location in the Book of Revelation we know it will take place prior to Christ's glorious reign. We include it here even if the word "coming" is not used in connection with it.

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God (Rev. 19:6-9 ERV).

While these events are taking place in heaven the earth will be experiencing a time of tribulation. This will be a period of approximately seven years during which God will pour out judgments of ever-increasing intensity upon the earth (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:4-28; Rev. 6-19). The last half of the period is known as the Great Tribulation; it will witness distress and disasters of unprecedented severity (Matt. 24:15-31).

3. The Manifestation of Christ's Coming

The third phase is the manifestation of Christ's coming, that is, His return to earth in power and great glory to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Rapture will not be seen by the world; it will take place in a split second. But every eye will see Christ when He comes to reign. Therefore it is called the manifestation of His coming. This is the third phase of His coming.

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And waht shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matt. 24:3 ERV).

    For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west, so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:27 ERV).

    And as were the days of Noah, so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:37 ERV).

    And they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man (Matt. 24:39 ERV).

    To the end he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thess. 3:13 ERV).

    And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming (2 Thess. 2:8 ERV).

    For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Pet. 1:16 ERV). (Here Peter is speaking about the manifestation of Christ's coming as it was pre-pictured on the Mount of Transfiguration.)

Other references to this third stage of Christ's coming are Zechariah 14:4; Malachi 4:1-3; Acts 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Jude 14; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16.


4. The Climax of Christ's Coming

The final stage is the climax of Christ's coming, the destruction of the heavens and earth by fire. It follows the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. It is referred to in 2 Peter 3:4, 7-13:

    And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For from the day that the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.... But the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat! Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

In this chapter we read of scoffers who will arise in the last days, denying the probability of Christ's Return. What aspect of His coming do they mean?
Are they referring to the Rapture? No. They probably know nothing about the Rapture. Are they referring to Christ's Coming to Reign? No. It is apparent that they are not. The entire context indicates that what they are ridiculing is the final punishment of all evil doers by the Lord. They mean a last climactic judgment of God on the earth, or what they call "the end of the world." Their argument is that they have nothing to worry about. God hasn't intervened in history and He won't intervene in the future. So they feel free to continue in their evil words and deeds.
Peter answers their scoffing by pointing forward to the time, after the thousand-year reign of Christ, when the heavens and the earth as we now know them will be utterly destroyed. This climax of Christ's coming will occur after the Millennium and at the inauguration of the Eternal State.
"But," someone may ask, "How do you know that the first and third stages, the Rapture and Revelation, are separate events?" The answer is that they are differentiated in the Scriptures in the following ways:

The Rapture The Revelation
1. Christ comes to the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). 1. He comes to the earth (Zech. 14:4).
2. He comes for His saints (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). 2. He comes with His saints (1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 14).
3. The Rapture is a mystery, i.e., a truth unknown in Old Testament times (1 Cor. 15:51). 3. The Revelation is not a mystery; it is the subject of many Old Testament prophecies (Psa. 72; Isa. 11; Zech. 14).
4. Christ's Coming for His saints is never said to be preceded by signs in the heavens 4. Christ's Coming with His saints will be heralded by signs in the heavens. (Matt. 24:29, 30).
5. The Rapture is identified with the Day of Christ (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10). 5. The Revelation is identified with the Day of the Lord (2 Thess. 2:1-12, ASV).
6. The Rapture is presented as a time of blessing (1 Thess. 4:18). 6. The main emphasis of the Revelation is on judgment (2 Thess. 2:8-12).
7. The Rapture takes place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52). This strongly implies that it will not be witnessed by the world. 7. The Revelation will be visible worldwide (Matt. 24:27; Rev. 1:7).
8. The Rapture seems to involve the Church primarily (John 14:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:51- 58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). 8. The Revelation involves Israel primarily, then also the Gentile nations (Matt. 24:1-25:46).
9. Christ comes as the Bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). 9. Christ comes as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2).


John 1:17

Under the principle of law, man receives what he earns or deserves. Under grace he is spared from what he deserves and is enriched beyond description-all as a free gift. The two principles are described in Romans 4:4, 5:

    Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Grace and law are mutually exclusive; that is, they cannot be mixed......... If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace" (Rom. 11:6).
Law is a conditional covenant: God says, "If you obey, I will reward you, but if you disobey, I must punish you." Grace is an unconditional covenant: God says, "I will bless you freely."
The law says Do, whereas grace says Believe. But believing is not a condition; it is the only reasonable response of a creature to his Creator. And it is not meritorious; no one can be proud that he has believed on the Lord. He would be foolish not to believe on the only dependable Person in the universe.

Under law holiness is required but no power is given to live a holy life. Under grace holiness is taught (Tit. 2:11, 12) and the necessary power is given. Someone has put it this way: "The Law demands strength from one who has none and curses him if he can't display it. Grace gives strength to one who has none and blesses him in the exhibition of it."

The Law brings a curse: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10). Grace brings a blessing: " Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).

Under law boasting is encouraged, but under grace it is ruled out. "Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith" (Rom. 3:27 RSV).

There cannot be any assurance of salvation under law: a man could never know whether he had performed enough good works or the right kind of good works. Under grace there is full assurance because salvation is a gift; you know when you have received a gift!

A person under law could not have true security because he could not be sure he would continue to meet the requirements. Under grace the believer enjoys eternal security (John 10:27-29) because his salvation depends on the work of Christ.

There is no salvation by the law. God never intended that anyone would ever be saved on that principle. The purpose of the Law is to show man that he is a sinner. "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20) —not the knowledge of salvation.

Salvation is by grace (Eph. 2:8,9). It is the free, undeserved gift of God to those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope for heaven.

Under law sin is aroused (Rom. 7:8-13); under grace it is despised. When sinful man is put under law he immediately wants to do what is forbidden. It is not the law's fault, but the response of sin in man's nature. Under grace, sin is despised. The memory of what our sins cost the Savior makes us turn away from them.

Under law the work is never finished. That is why the Sabbath, the seventh day, came at the end of a week of toil. Grace tells us of a finished work, so we begin our week with the Lord's Day, our day of rest.
The Law tells what man must do. Grace reveals what God has done in Christ.
The Law is a system of bondage (Gal. 4:1-3); grace is a system of liberty (Gal. 5:1). Men under law are servants; men under grace are sons.
The Law says, "Thou shalt love." Grace says, "God so loved..."
The Law says, "Do and thou shalt live." Grace says, "Live and thou shalt do."
The Law says, "Try and obey." Grace says, "Trust and obey."
Under law a wayward son was taken outside the city and stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21). Under grace the prodigal son can confess his sin and come back into the fellowship of his father's house again (Luke 15:21-24).
Under law the sheep die for the shepherd. Under grace the shepherd dies for the sheep (John 10:11).
The superiority of grace has been described as follows: grace is not looking for good men whom it may approve, for it is not grace but justice to approve goodness; but it is looking for condemned, guilty, speechless, and helpless men whom it may save, sanctify, and glorify.


Philippians 1:19

, for example, Paul uses it concerning his expected release from prison:

    For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 2:12 salvation means something quite different; it means the solution of a problem that had broken out in the church at Philippi. A serious case of disunity had arisen (Phil. 2:1-4; 4:2). Paul reminds the Christians that the answer to the problem was for them all to have the humble, self-sacrificing mind of the Lord Jesus. Then in verse 12 he says:

    Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

In other words, "I have told you the way of deliverance from the problem that vexes you. Now work out the solution with fear and trembling.
In three passages salvation is used to describe deliverance from drowning:

And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved (Acts 27:30, 31).

    By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house (Heb. 11:7).

    ...he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight, persons were saved through water (1 Pet. 3:19, 20 RSV).

But the uses of the words "salvation" or "saved" in which we are principally interested are those which have to do with deliverance from sin. This is the most common meaning in the New Testament.
Here we must learn to distinguish the three tenses of salvation—past, present, and future:

    Past - I was saved from the penalty of sin.
    Present - I am being saved from the power of sin.
    Future - I shall be saved from the presence of sin.


Past Tense

Here are some verses which speak primarily of salvation from the penalty of sin:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8 RSV).

    (God) who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9).

    Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Tit. 3:5).

Note: In these three examples the word "saved" is in the past tense. However, there are other verses which speak of our deliverance from the penalty of sin where the verb is not in the past tense.

Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

    That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Rom. 10:9).

So you must decide by the contents of the verse rather than by the tense of the verb whether the past tense of salvation is meant. If the subject is the once-for-all deliverance from the condemnation of sin, then you know it is the past tense of salvation.

Present Tense

Although it is true that I have been saved, it is equally true that I am being saved day by day. I have been saved from damnation; I am being saved from damage. I have been saved from the penalty of sin; I am being saved from the power of sin. I have been saved through the finished work of Christ on the Cross; I am being saved through His life and ministry for me at the right hand of God. That is what is meant, for example, in Romans 5:10:

    For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.

The present tense of salvation is much the same as sanctification—the process of being separated to God from sin and defilement. It is this salvation as a continuing process that we read about in Hebrews 7:25:

    Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.


Future Tense

Finally, there is the future aspect of salvation. When we meet the Savior face-to-face we shall be saved from sin's presence. Our bodies will be redeemed and glorified. The following verses describe the glorious-future consummation of our salvation.

For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed (Rom. 13:11).

    But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:8,

    Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Heb. 9:28).

    (You) who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5).


All Three Tenses

If you have difficulty fitting a verse into one of these classes, remember that it might be applicable to all three tenses. Here are a couple of examples:

Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

    In him you also who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13 RSV).

So in cases like these you don't have to choose, because they apply with equal force to all three phases of salvation.



John 13:8-10

we need the bath of regeneration only once to deliver us from the penalty of sins, but we need many cleansings throughout our Christian lives to give us parental forgiveness.
The difference between the two types of forgiveness may be summarized graphically as follows:

  Judicial Parental
The Person's status Sinner
(Romans 3:23)
Child
(1 John 3:2)
Relationship of God Judge
(Psa. 96:13)
Father
(Gal. 4:6)
Result of sin Eternal death
(Rom. 6:23)
Broken fellowship
(1 John 1:6)
Role of Christ Savior
(1 Tim. 1:15)
High Priest and Advocate
(Heb. 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1)
The Person's Need Salvation
(Acts 16:30)
Joy of salvation
(Psa. 51:12)
Means of Forgiveness Faith
(Acts 16:31)
Confession
(1 John 1:9)
Kind of Forgiveness Judicial
(Rom. 8:1)
Parental
(Luke 15:21,22)
Consequence Averted Hell
(John 5:24)
Chastening
(1 Cor. 11:31, 32)
Loss of reward at the Judgment Seat Of Christ
(1 Cor. 3:15)
Positive Result New relation-ship
(John 1:12)
Renewed fellow-ship
(Psa. 32:5)
Frequency Once (One bath of regeneration)
(John 13:10)
Many times (many cleansings)
(John 13:8)

From now on, when we come to verses that speak about the once-for-all forgiveness that is granted to us as sinners through the work of Christ, we will know that the subject is judicial forgiveness. The following illustrate this:

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).

    And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32 RSV).

    And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Col. 2:13).

However, there are other passages of Scripture that deal with parental forgiveness:

For if ye forvive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14, 15).

    Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37).

    And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mark 11:25).

Notice that in two of these verses God is specifically mentioned as Father: it is the Father's forgiveness that is involved. Notice also that our being forgiven depends on our willingness to forgive others. That is not true of judicial forgiveness; willingness to forgive others is not a condition of salvation. But it is true of parental forgiveness; our Father will not forgive us if we don't forgive one another.
In Matthew 18:23-35 The Lord Jesus told the story of a slave who had been forgiven 10,000 talents by the king. But that same slave wouldn't forgive one of his fellow-slaves 100 pence. The king was therefore angry with him and delivered him to the jailers till he paid all his debt. The Lord Jesus concluded the parable by saying, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." Here again it is a matter of the Father's forgiveness. It is sin to have an unforgiving spirit, and God cannot forgive us parentally until we confess that sin and forsake it.
One of the thrills of Bible study is to see these basic distinctions and to be able to apply them in our daily reading. From now on when you come to the subject of forgiveness in the Word you should be able to say, "Oh, yes, that refers to judicial forgiveness" or else "that must refer to the Father's forgiveness of His child."



Gen. 2:3

The firstborn of both men and animals were sanctified to the Lord (Exod. 13:2). The priests were told to consecrate themselves to the Lord (Exod. 19:22). The Tabernacle and all its furniture were sanctified (Exod. 40:9).
In the New Testament sanctification is used primarily in regard to people. However, The Lord Jesus said that the Temple sanctifies the gold on it, and that the altar sanctifies the gift on it (Matt. 23:17, 19). Paul taught that when we give thanks for our food, it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:5).
With regard to the sanctification of persons, God consecrated Christ and sent Him into the world (John 10:36); that is, the Father set apart His Son for the work of saving us from our sins. The Lord Jesus consecrated Himself (John 17:19); in other words, He set Himself apart in order to intercede for His people.
There is even a sense in which certain unbelievers are sanctified. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband" (1 Cor. 7:14). This means that the unbelieving partner is set apart in a position of privilege by having a Christian spouse praying for his salvation.
And there is a sense in which Christ should be sanctified by all believers. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. (1 Pet. 3:15). We sanctify Him by setting Him apart as undisputed Sovereign in our lives.
In addition to the above, however, there are four other important kinds of sanctification which we should distinguish in our study of the New Testament. These are called pre-conversion sanctification, positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and perfect sanctification.


Pre-Conversion Sanctification

Long before a person is born again, the Holy Spirit has been working in his life, setting him apart from the world to belong to Christ. Paul realized that he had been set apart before he was born (Gal. 1:15). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the Apostle reminds the Thessalonians that there were three steps in their salvation:

    1. Their selection by God.
    2. Their sanctification by the Spirit.
    3. Their belief in the truth.

Notice that this sanctification was before they believed and were saved.
In 1 Peter 1:2, the order of events connected with salvation is linked as follows:

    1. Choice and destiny by God the Father.
    2. Sanctification by the Spirit.
    3. Obedience to Jesus Christ.
    4. Sprinkling with His blood.

In eternity God chose us to belong to Himself. In time the Holy Spirit set us apart for the Lord. Then we obeyed the gospel. As soon as we did, all the value of the shed blood of Christ was credited to our account. But the point to notice here is that the sanctification Peter speaks of is a kind that takes place before a person is born again.

Positional Sanctification

The moment a person is born again he becomes positionally sanctified. This means that as far as his standing before God is concerned, he is perfectly set apart to God from the world because he is "in Christ." In a very real sense Christ is his sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30).
Every true believer is a saint; he has been separated to the Lord. This is his position. Thus in 1 Corinthians 1:2 all the Christians in the local church in Corinth are described as sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. They weren't always very saintly. They tolerated sin in the fellowship (1 Cor. 5:1, 2). They went to law against one another (1 Cor. 6:1). They had teachers who denied the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:33, 34). But it was still true of them that as far as their position was concerned, they were saints—sanctified in Christ Jesus.
Now let us look at some of the passages that deal with positional sanctification. In Acts 20:32, the expression "all them which are sanctified" means all believers. In Acts 26:18 the Lord described His people as those "which are sanctified by faith that is in me." The Corinthians are described as having been "washed ... sanctified ... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).
Positional sanctification is also indicated at times by the use of the word "holy." Thus in Colossians 3:12, when Paul addresses the Christians as "holy," he is referring to their standing before God.


Progressive Sanctification

While there are many Scriptures which say that all Christians are sanctified, there are many others which say that they should be sanctified. If we fail to distinguish the kinds of sanctification, we can find this very confusing.
Progressive or practical sanctification refers to what we should be in our everyday lives. We should be living lives of separation to God from sin and evil. Saints should be becoming more saintly all the time.
It was this aspect of sanctification that the Lord Jesus referred to in John 17:17 when He prayed for His own, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."
The believer's cooperation is involved in this (2 Tim. 2:21). Wherever you find exhortations concerning sanctification or holiness you can be sure that the subject is practical sanctification. Thus Paul urged the Corinthians, ". . . let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). And in the same vein Peter wrote, ". . . as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet. 1:15).
One particular form of practical sanctification concerns separation from immorality. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour" (1 Thess. 4:3, 4).
How does a Christian become more holy, more like the Lord Jesus? The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Practical holiness comes from being occupied with the Lord. It is a principle in life that we become like what we worship. The more we behold Christ, the more we become like Him. The Holy Spirit works this marvelous transformation—not all at once, but from one degree of glory to another!


Perfect Sanctification

This aspect of sanctification is still future for the believer. When he sees the Savior face-to-face he will be forever set apart from all sin and defilement. He will be morally like the Lord Jesus—perfectly sanctified.
This is what we read about in Colossians 1:22: "In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight."
In that day the Church will have its ultimate sanctification: "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
Other passages describe our perfect sanctification without mentioning the word. John, for instance, says,". . . we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). And Jude reminds us that our Lord will present us "faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
Now it will be extremely helpful in your study of the Bible to distinguish these various aspects of sanctification. Whenever you find words that deal with holiness, ask yourself, "Is this what happened before conversion? Is this what I am in Christ? Is this what I should be day by day? Or is this what I will be when I am ushered into the glorious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?"



2 Cor. 5:21

As we mentioned at the outset, justification is said to be by grace, by faith, by blood, by power, and by works. How can it be by all these five ways?
First, justification is by grace. In Romans 3:24 we read, "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." This means that man does not deserve to be justified. He cannot merit it or earn it; he must receive it as a gift. Grace is the term upon which God gives justification to man—completely undeserved and unbought—freely, as a gift.
Second, justification is by faith, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). This means that the sinner must receive justification by a definite act of trust in the Savior. Confessing himself to be worthy only of hell, he must accept the Lord Jesus as the One who paid the penalty of his sins on the Cross.
Grace is God stooping down to guilty man and offering justification as a free gift on the basis of Christ's redemptive work at Calvary. Faith is repentant man reaching up and receiving the gift from God without any thought of deserving it by his character or earning it by his works.
Justification is also by blood. "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Rom. 5:9). This, of course, refers to the price which had to be paid in order that I might be justified. The sinless Savior shed His precious blood to settle the debt that my sins had accumulated. The enormous value of my justification is seen in the staggering price that was paid to secure it.
While there is no Scripture that says in so many words that we are justified by power, the truth is contained in Romans 4:25: "(He) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Here our justification is directly connected with the Resurrection of Christ. And rightly so! If He had not risen our faith would be futile, and we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). So our justification is inseparably linked with the power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. That is why we say that we are justified by power.
Finally, we are justified by works. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Here is where a distinct contradiction seems to appear. The Apostle Paul teaches unmistakably that we are justified by faith alone. But James seems to say here, "Not so. We are justified by faith and by works." However, that is not what James is saying. He does not teach that justification is obtained initially by doing good works. Neither does he say that we are justified by faith plus works. What he is saying is that we are justified by the kind of faith that results in a life of good works.
It is futile for a man to say he has faith if he doesn't have works to back it up. That kind of faith—that is, a faith of words only, is worthless (James 2:14-17). True faith is invisible but can be demonstrated by works (James 2:18). Abraham was justified by believing the Lord (Gen. 15:6), but years later he showed that his faith was genuine by being willing to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:9-14). Rahab proved the reality of her faith by harboring the Israeli spies and helping them escape (James 2:25). So when we speak of justification by works we mean that works are the outward manifestation that we have truly been justified by faith. Works are not the cause; they are the effect. They are not the root; they are the fruit.
Putting these all together, we find that the New Testament teaches that we are justified by:

    grace - this means we don't deserve it.
    faith - this means we must receive it.
    blood - this means it was purchased by the Savior's death.
    power - this means that the Resurrection proves God's satisfaction with the Savior's work.
    works - this means that when we are genuinely justified by faith, there will be good works to prove it.

All these aspects of justification have been expressed poetically as follows:

    God's sov'reign grace selected me
    To have in heav'n a place;
    'Twas the good pleasure of His will;
    I'm justified by grace.

    In due time Christ on Calv'ry died;
    There flowed that crimson flood
    Which makes the foulest white as snow;
    I'm justified by blood.

    God raised Him up; this is the pledge,
    Should evil doubtings lower;
    His resurrection quells each fear;
    I'm justified by power.

    The Holy Spirit guided me
    To what the Scripture saith;
    I grasped the truth; Christ died for me!
    I'm justified by faith.

    Now if you doubt that I am Christ's,
    If one suspicion lurks,
    I'll show by deed that I am His;
    I'm justified by works.

    I praise the Lord, 'tis all of Him,
    The grace, the faith, the blood,
    The resurrection pow'r, the works;
    I'm justified by God!

    -Helen H. Shaw



Eph. 1:6

and complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). His sins have been forgiven and he is clothed in all the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It is no presumption for him to say:

    Near, so very near to God,
    I could not nearer be;
    For in the Person of God's Son
    I am as near as He.

    Dear, so very dear to God,
    Dearer I could not be;
    The love with which He loves His Son,
    That is His love to me.

The believer's practice is something else again. Unfortunately, it is far from perfect. In most cases it varies from day to day. Sometimes the believer is on the mountaintop spiritually. At other times he may be in the valley of defeat.

Now God's will is that our practice should increasingly correspond to our position. Out of love for the One who died for us, our everyday lives should be constantly growing in Christlikeness. Of course, we will never reach a perfect state in this life; that will never happen until we die or until the Savior comes. But the process should be going on; we should be becoming in practice more and more like what we are in position.

When we see the Savior we will be automatically like Him (1 John 3:2). This transformation will take place by divine power, without our cooperation. But it brings more glory to God if His people are growing in the likeness of the Lord Jesus in this life.

How can you tell whether a particular passage is speaking about our position or our practice? Well, watch for such phrases as "in Christ," "in the Beloved," or "in Him"; when you find such phrases, you can usually be sure that the writer is speaking about our position (see Eph. 1:3-14). The best way to identify our practice is to notice when we find a verse that tells us what we ought to be or do.

The invariable order in the New Testament is to find position first, then practice. Several of the Epistles are structured on this order. In Ephesians, for instance, the first three chapters describe what we are in Christ; the last three describe what we should be in daily living. In the first three chapters we find ourselves in heavenly places in Christ; in the last three we are tackling the nitty-gritty problems of the home and the business world.

Now let us see how helpful it is to be aware of this distinction as we study the New Testament. Here are seven simple examples of the difference between position and practice.


Position

Practice


Example 1
For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14). Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

The first verse says that all believers are perfect; the second says that all believers should be perfect. This would sound like double-talk if we did not realize that the first speaks of our standing and the second of our state.

Example 2
How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? (Rom. 6:2). Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin (Rom. 6:11).

You are dead to sin—this is the position into which grace has put you. Now be dead to sin day by day—this is what your practice should be.

Example 3
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12). Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children (Eph. 5:1).

As soon as a person is born again he becomes a child of God. From then on he should be a follower of God as a beloved child. All who are God's children are expected to bear the family likeness, that is, to be godly.

Example 4
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). I ... beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called (Eph. 4:1).

We have been called to a wonderful fellowship. Privilege carries responsibility. We should walk worthy of the calling.

Example 5
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints (Rom. 1:7). . . . receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints (Rom. 16:2).

Paul addresses the Christians in Rome as saints; they were "set apart" ones. If they were saved, they were saints. But saints should be saintly; this is the practical side of it, as brought out in Romans 16:2.

Example 6
By grace are ye saved, through faith (Eph. 2:8). Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

Our standing is a gift from God. Our state is the way we should express our gratitude. Notice that the standing always comes first, then the state. We don't become Christians by living the Christian life. Rather, we live the Christian life because we have become Christians.

Example 7

As a final example, we will take Colossians 3:1-5 and show how Paul alternates between position and practice.

If ye then be risen with Christ (v. 1a) seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God (v. 1b).
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (v. 3). Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth (v. 2).
  Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth (v. 5a).

Paul is saying, in effect, "You are dead; now be dead." "You are risen; now live the resurrection life." What would otherwise be unintelligible becomes clear when we realize that the Apostle is speaking about what we are in Christ on one hand and what we should be in ourselves on the other.
In closing let me illustrate how the distinction between standing and state helped me through a difficult period in my life. After I was saved I used to hear people quote 2 Corinthians 5:17 when they gave their testimony:

    Therefore, If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

They would tell of the wonderful transformation that had taken place in their lives—how all the old things had passed away and all things had become new. I would sit there and think, "I wish I could say that all the old things had passed away in my life, and that all things had become new." But it wasn't so. I still had some of the old habits, some evil thoughts, displays of anger, and many other graveclothes from my pre-converted days. At times I doubted my salvation.
Then one day I noticed the phrase "in Christ," and my heart leaped with joy. I realized that the verse was talking about my position—not my practice. And of course "in Christ" it was all true. In Him all the old things had indeed passed away—condemnation, the dominion of Satan, the fear of death, etc. In Him everything was new—forgiveness, acceptance, justification, sanctification, and a host of other blessings. From that time on the verse has held no terror for me. I love it. And the knowledge of what I am in Christ makes me want to live for Him as the Lord of my life.

Question: Both standing and state are found in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 2:9. Can you identify them?


John 1:12 RSV

    Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2 RSV).

Now there is something very final about a birth. Did you ever think about that? Once a birth has taken place it lasts forever. You cannot go back and undo it. A relationship is formed that cannot be altered. Let us say, for example, that a son has just been born to the Joneses. No matter what happens, the child will always be a son of Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and they will always be his parents. In later life he may dishonor his family and cause them deepest grief but the relationship still stands—Mr. Jones is still his father, and he is still the Joneses' son.
Now apply this to the believer. Through the new birth a relationship is formed with God the Father.

It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16 RSV).

    So through God you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then an heir (Gal. 4:7 RSV).

It is a relationship that cannot be broken. Once a son, always a son.
But there is another side to the truth, and that side is fellowship. Fellowship means sharing in common. If relationship is union, then fellowship is communion. And if relationship is a chain that cannot be broken, fellowship is a slender thread that is very easily broken.
Sin breaks fellowship with God. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed (Amos 3:3), and God cannot walk in fellowship with His children when they sin. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). He cannot enjoy communion with those who are hiding evil in their lives.
Fellowship remains broken as long as sin is unconfessed and unforsaken. And broken fellowship is very serious. For example, a decision could be made when a believer is out of touch with the Lord that could put a blight on the rest of his life. How many backslidden Christians have chosen an unbelieving mate and ruined their lives as far as usefulness for God is concerned! Their souls have been saved but their lives have been lost.
Broken fellowship brings the chastening of God. While a believer is free from the eternal punishment of sins, he is not free from the consequences of sin in his life. Why were some of the Corinthian saints sick? Because they were going to the communion table without first confessing their sins and straightening out (1 Cor. 11:29-32). Some of them had even died. They had been made fit for heaven through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, but they were unfit for further life and testimony here on earth.
Broken fellowship will result in loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). All time spent out of fellowship with God is time wasted forever.
So while we rejoice in the truth that our relationship with God is unbreakable, we should greatly fear anything that breaks fellowship with our Father. Actually the knowledge that grace has brought us into such a wonderful relationship should be the strongest motive for maintaining continuous communion with the Lord. Grace does not encourage sin; it is the most powerful deterrent to it.
In the Old Testament, David is a classic example of a saint whose fellowship with God was broken by sin. We read of his confession and restoration to the Lord in Psalms 32 and 51.
In the New Testament, the prodigal son may be taken as an illustration of a returning backslider (Luke 15:11-24) (though the story is usually interpreted as the conversion of a sinner). Fellowship was broken through the son's waywardness and rebellion. But he was still a son, even in the far country. As soon as he returned and began to blurt out his confession, fellowship was restored. The father ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
In 1 John 2:1 we read, "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (RSV). This is written to children, to those who have been born into the family of God. God's ideal is that His children should not sin. But we do sin, and God has made provision: ". . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father." Notice this—"we have an advocate with the Father." He is still our Father, even when we sin. How can that be? Because relationship is a tie that can never be broken. What happens when we sin? "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." He immediately goes to work in our lives, bringing us to the place where we are willing to confess and forsake our sins, thus enjoying the Father's fellowship once more.
When I see the difference between relationship and fellowship it helps me understand these Scriptures. It also makes me appreciate the eternal security I have in Christ and motivates me to live in fellowship with my Father who loves me so.



Isa. 2:12; Joel 2:1, 2

It was a time when God marched forth against the enemies of Israel and punished them decisively (Zeph. 3:8-12; Joel 3:14-16; Obad. 15, 16; Zech. 12:8, 9). It was also any occasion on which God punished His own people for their idolatry and backsliding (Joel 1:15-20; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:7-18). The Day of the Lord spoke basically of judgment on sin and of victory for the cause of the Lord (Joel 2:31, 32).
In the New Testament, the Day of the Lord covers approximately the same period as "the times and the seasons" (Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:1). It begins after the Rapture and includes

  1. The Tribulation or, as it is also called, the time of Jacob's trouble (Dan. 9:27; Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:4-28; 1 Thess. 5: 1-11; 2 Thess. 2:2 ASV; Rev. 6:1-19:16). This is the first phase of the Day of the Lord. It will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. It will also come deceptively, suddenly, destructively, inevitably, and inescapably. It is a period of approximately seven years during which God will pour out His judgments on apostate Judaism, apostate Christendom, and the Gentile nations. These judgments of ever-increasing intensity are pictured in Revelation under the symbols of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. The last half of the Tribulation is known as the Great Tribulation; it will be the worst time of trouble that the world has ever experienced or will ever experience.
  2. The Coming of Christ with His saints (Mal. 4:1-3; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). At the end of the Tribulation Period the Lord Jesus will return to earth with His mighty angels "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel." He will destroy all His enemies before He sets up His kingdom on earth.
  3. The thousand-year reign of Christ. This is included in the day of the Lord (Joel 3:18, cp. v. 14; Zech. 14:8, 9, cp. v. 1). It will be a time of instant judgment for anyone who rises in rebellion against the Lord (Isa. 65:17-25). The King will rule with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15).
  4. The final destruction of the heavens and earth by fire (2 Pet. 3:7, 10). At the conclusion of Christ's millennial reign, the heavens and the earth will pass away with a great noise and the elements will melt with fervent heat. This is the final phase of the Day of the Lord.


1 Cor. 5:5; Phil. 1:6, 10

The dead in Christ will be raised. Living believers will be changed. Together they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to return with Him to the Father's house in heaven.

  • The Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 2:16). Believers will appear before the Bema—the judgment seat—for review and reward. It will not be a question of their salvation but of their service. Rewards will be given for all that meets Christ's approval. Those who have wasted their lives will suffer loss, but they themselves will be saved, though "as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15).

Through an unfortunate translation in the King James Version, "the Day of Christ" appears in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, whereas it should be "the Day of the Lord." Because of the intense trial which they were experiencing, the Thessalonian believers thought the judgments of the Day of the Lord had already begun. Paul assures them that two events will precede the inauguration of the Day of the Lord - a worldwide falling away from the faith, and the revelation of the Man of Sin—the Antichrist.
The Thessalonians would have had no reason to fear the coming of the Day of Christ. For them that would have meant deliverance from trial forever.

2 Pet. 3:12

For all practical purposes, the Day of God is the same as the eternal state.



1 Corinthians 10:32

"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God."
In Acts 15:14-17 these three sections of humanity are mentioned again:

The Church

    God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name (v. 14).


Israel

    After this I will return, and will build you the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up (v. 16).


The Gentile Nations

    That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things (v. 17).

The Apostle Paul also distinguished between

the Jews—the circumcision made with hands (Eph. 2:11).
the Gentiles—the uncircumcision (Eph. 2:11).
the Church—the circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11).

Generally speaking, Bible students do not confuse the Gentiles with either Israel or the Church; that has not been a problem. So in this lesson we will confine ourselves to the distinction between Israel and the Church. This is of great importance. Unless we see that these two groups are separate and distinct, it will seriously affect our interpretation of the Bible, especially in the areas of Church truth and prophecy.
In order to show why the subject is important, we should mention that some people teach that the Church is merely an extension or an outgrowth of Israel. They say, "God has had a continuing Church down through the centuries. Israel was the Church in the Old Testament, but when that people rejected the Messiah, God rejected them forever. There is no future for Israel nationally. The New Testament Church has now become the Israel of God, and all the promises made to Israel nationally now have a spiritual fulfillment for the Church."

We believe that the Scriptures teach otherwise—that Israel and the Church are different in origin, character, responsibility, and destiny.
When Israel rejected the Lord Jesus as her Messiah, God set the nation aside for a time. Then He introduced something entirely new—the Church. When His program with the Church is finished on earth, He will resume His dealings with Israel nationally. So the Church has been brought in as a sort of parenthesis during the interruption of God's relations with Israel, His ancient people.
The distinction between the Church and Israel may best be seen by the following set of contrasts.

The Church

Israel

1. Paul speaks of the Church as a mystery "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" (Eph. 3:5). He says that this mystery was hidden in God from the beginning of the world (Eph. 3:9) and kept secret since the world began, but that it is now made manifest by the prophetic Scriptures (Rom. 16:25, 26). (See also Col. 1:25, 26.) 1. Israel is never spoken of as a mystery. None of the descriptions in the opposite column are true of Israel.
2. The Church began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 2). We deduce this from the following series of facts.

a. The Church was still future when Christ was on earth, because He said, "I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18).
b. When Paul wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Church had by then come into being. He speaks of the believers having been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13 NASB).
c. We know that the promised baptism of the Spirit took place at Pentecost. Therefore, that was the birthday of the Church.

2. The nation of Israel began with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12).
3. Christ is the Head of the Church. 3. Abraham was the head of Israel.
4. Membership in the Church is by spiritual birth. 4. Membership in the nation was by natural birth.
5. The Church is God's heavenly people. The blessings of the Church are spiritual blessings in heavenly places.

The citizenship of Christians is heavenly.

The hope of the Church is to be with Christ in heaven.

5. Israel was God's chosen earthly people. The blessings of Israel were primarily, though not exclusively, material blessings in earthly places.
The citizenship of Israelites was earthly.
The primary hope held before Israel was the earthly reign of Messiah in the land. (This does not deny that believing Israelites went to heaven when they died, or that they had the hope of heaven. But that was not the emphasis that was set before them.)
6. In the Church, believing Jews and believing Gentiles become one in Christ. They become fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel. In Christ, the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile is broken down, and both are made one (Eph. 2:13-17; Eph. 3:6). 6. None of this is true of Israel. As far as Israel is concerned, Gentiles are "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12).
7. In the Church, all believers are priests—holy priests and royal priests. As such they have access to the presence of God by faith at any time (1 Pet. 2:1-9; Heb. 10:19-22). 7. In Israel, the priests were chosen from the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. Only the high priest could enter the presence of God, and only on one day of the year (Heb. 7:5, 11; 9:7).
8. The Church will be taken home to heaven at the Rapture, then will return with Christ and reign with Him over the earth during the Millennium. 8. Redeemed Israel will be the earthly subjects of Christ when He reigns.

Many more contrasts between the Church and Israel could be listed. In his Systematic Theology, Chafer enumerates twenty-four unmistakable distinctions. But the ones we have given should be sufficient to show that the Church occupies a unique place in the plans and purposes of God, and that it must not be confused with Israel.
One of the Scripture passages in which Israel and the Church are regularly confused is the Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 23:37-25:46. This passage concerns Israel—not the Church. It describes conditions prior to and including the return of Christ to reign as King. Notice that it says in 24:16, "Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains--the locale is clearly Jewish. And in verse 20 we read, "But pray ye that your flight be not . . . on the Sabbath day." The Sabbath was never given to the Church—only to Israel. The elect mentioned in verse 22 are God's Jewish elect. The coming of Christ described in verse 30 is not His coming into the air for the Church, but His coming to the earth as Israel's King.
So the Bible student should discern whether a passage is referring to Israel or the Church. If he is reading about the Day of the Lord, he can be sure that the passage refers primarily to Israel. If, on the other hand, he comes to references to the Day of Christ, he can be sure the Church is in view. Thus the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 has to do with Israel, because that is part of the Day of the Lord. But the "last trump" of 1 Corinthians 15:52 relates to the Church, because the subject is the Rapture, and the Rapture is connected with the Day of Christ.
In closing, we must consider two of the arguments most commonly used to attempt to prove that the Church is not distinct from Israel.

  1. In Acts 7:38 Israel is called "the church in the wilderness." But we must realize that the word "church" simply means an assembly or company of people. The same word is used to describe a heathen mob in Ephesus (Acts 19:32). The New Testament Church is identified as being related to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. In Galatians 6:16 Paul says, " As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." The expression "the Israel of God" is used to assert that all believers today constitute "the Israel of God." But we believe this is a misunderstanding. When Paul says, "Peace be on them" he is referring to all believers. But in the words "the Israel of God" Paul singles out those believers of Jewish birth who walk according to the rule of the new creation (v. 15) and not according to the rule of the Law.


Daniel 4:25, 26

In verse 25, Daniel said that the Most High rules the kingdom of men. In the very next verse he says that heaven rules. Thus the kingdom of heaven announces the rule of God, which exists wherever men submit to that rule.
There are two aspects of the kingdom of heaven. The broadest aspect includes everyone who merely professes to acknowledge God as the Supreme Ruler. But its inner aspect includes only people who have been genuinely converted. We may picture this by two concentric circles, a small one inside a large one.

 

The large circle is the sphere of profession; it includes the true and the false, the wheat and the tares. The inner circle includes only those who have been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
By a comparison of all the Biblical references to the kingdom, we can trace its historical development in five distinct phases.
First of all, the kingdom was prophesied in the Old Testament. Daniel predicted that God would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed and that would never yield its sovereignty to another people (Dan. 2:44). He also foresaw the coming of Christ and His universal and everlasting dominion (Dan. 7:13, 14; see also Jer. 23:5, 6).
Second, the kingdom was described as being at hand and present in the Person of the King. First, John the Baptist, then The Lord Jesus, then the disciples announced that the kingdom was at hand (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7). The King had arrived to present Himself to the nation of Israel. The Lord Jesus said.......... if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28 NASB). On another occasion He said.......... the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21 RSV). It was present because the King had arrived on the scene. (While the last two references deal with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of heaven, we shall show later that the two terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament.)
Third, the kingdom is described in an interim form. After He was rejected by the nation of Israel, the King returned to heaven. The kingdom exists today in the hearts of all who acknowledge His kingship while the King is absent, and the moral and ethical principles of the kingdom are applicable to us today. This interim phase of the kingdom is described in the parables of Matthew 13.
The fourth phase of the kingdom is its manifestation. This is the literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. It was foreshadowed on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the Lord was seen in the glory of His coming reign (Matt. 16:28). The Lord Jesus referred to this kingdom when He said, "Many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11).
The fifth and final form will be the everlasting kingdom. It is described in 2 Peter 1:11 as "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
The phrase "kingdom of heaven" is found only in Matthew's Gospel. The term "kingdom of God" is found in all four Gospels. For all practical purposes there is no difference; the same things are said about both. For example, in Matthew 19:23 The Lord Jesus said it would be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. In Mark 10:23 and Luke 18:24 The Lord Jesus is quoted as saying the same thing with regard to the kingdom of God. Then Matthew also quotes The Lord Jesus as saying virtually the same thing with regard to the kingdom of God (compare Matt. 19:23, 24).
Other passages in which the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are used interchangeably are:

Matt. 4:17 compare with Mark 1:15 GO
Matt. 8:11 compare with Luke 13:29 GO
Matt. 10:7 compare with Luke 9:2 GO
Matt. 11:11 compare with Luke 7:28 GO
Matt. 13:11 compare with Mark 4:11 GO
Matt. 13:31 compare with Mark 4:30, 31; Luke 13:18 GO
Matt. 13:33 compare with Luke 13:20, 21 GO
Matt. 14:14 compare with Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16 GO

We mentioned that the kingdom of heaven has an outward aspect and an inner reality. The same is true of the kingdom of God. This may be demonstrated as follows:

Kingdom of Heaven

Kingdom of God

In its outward aspect it includes all who are genuine subjects of the King, and also those who merely profess allegiance to Him. This is seen in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:3-11), the parable of the grain of mustard seed (Matt. 13:31, 32), and the parable of the leaven (Matt. 13:33). It too includes the real and the false. This is seen in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-10), the parable of the grain of mustard seed (Luke 13:18, 19), and the parable of the leaven (Luke 13:20, 21).
As to its true, inward reality, the kingdom of heaven can be entered only by those who are converted (Matt. 18:3). As to its true, inward reality, the kingdom of God can be entered only by those who are born again (John 3:3, 5).

Paul was referring to its inward reality when he said that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). He also emphasized that "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20).
The distinction between the kingdom and the Church may be seen in the following: The kingdom began when Christ initiated His public ministry; the Church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The kingdom will continue on earth till the earth is destroyed; the Church will continue on earth only until the Rapture; then it will return with Christ at His Second Advent to reign with Him as His bride. At the present time the people who are in the kingdom in its true, inner reality are also in the Church; this is the only respect in which the two overlap.



Matthew 13:3-50

In Matthew 13:11 we read of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They are presented in this chapter in the form of seven parables.
In the early chapters of Matthew we find the Lord Jesus presenting Himself to Israel as Messiah-King. But in Chapter 12 the religious leaders rejected Him by accusing Him of performing miracles in the power of the Devil. So now that the King has been rejected, the kingdom will take a different form. That is what is found in Matthew 13. These seven parables give a description of the kingdom in its interim form-during the time between the rejection of the King and His return to reign over the earth. The King is absent, but His kingdom is found wherever men profess to be His subjects. There is both profession and reality. At the close of this interim period the true will be separated from the false and will enjoy the blessings of His millennial reign. The false will be destroyed.

The Mystery of Israel's Blindness

Romans 11:25

Because of Israel's rejection of the King, God has caused a judicial blindness to come upon the Jewish nation. This partly explains the great difficulty which Jewish people have in accepting The Lord Jesus as their Messiah, and the relatively small number who are saved. But this blindness is neither total nor final. Some do see that The Lord Jesus is the One of whom the prophets spoke. And the blindness will continue only until the "fulness of the Gentiles" has come, that is, until the Lord takes His Gentile bride home to be with Himself. Then a believing remnant out of Israel will turn to Christ.

The Mystery of the Rapture

1 Corinthians 15:51, 52

Up to this time in human history it was always believed that everyone would die sooner or later. But now the Apostle Paul makes the startling announcement that not all believers will die. Those who are living at the time of the Rapture will go to heaven without dying. They will be changed-that is, they will receive glorified bodies-and they will never see death. Those who have died in Christ will be raised and taken to heaven with the living saints. Further details are found in Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:5

The Church was a truth kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:25) but revealed to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament period (Eph. 3:5). This mystery embraces such important features as

  1. The headship of Christ (Col. 1:18).
  2. The membership of all believers (1 Cor. 12:13).
  3. The fact that believing Gentiles share equally with believing Jews, that Christ is their hope of glory too, and that the ancient enmity between Jew and Gentile has been abolished in Christ (Eph. 3:6; Col. 1:26, 27; Eph. 2:14, 15).
  4. The Church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, 13).
  5. The Church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27,31,32).
  6. The Church as a display of the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10).
  7. God's purpose to make Christ the Head of a redeemed universe (Eph. 1:9, 10), with the Church reigning as His bride and sharing His glory forever.

"This mystery among the Gentiles" in Colossians 1:27 is defined as "Christ in you, the hope of glory." This is the same mystery as the Church; it emphasizes that Christ is the hope of glory for believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews-all now have the same standing before God in Christ.
In Colossians 2:2 (RSV and NASB) the mystery of God is identified as Christ. We understand this to refer to the mystical body of Christ, with Christ Himself as the Head and all believers comprising the body.
Other passages that refer to the mystery of the Church are Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 4:3. There is a sense in which this mystery of the Church is the capstone of Scriptural revelation. The Apostle Paul fulfilled the Word of God when he passed on this truth (Col. 1:25). It was not chronologically the last part of the Bible to be written but, as far as the revelation of important new truth, it was the climax.

The Mystery of Iniquity

2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8

The only reference to the "mystery of iniquity" is in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8. There Paul, says that "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then that lawless one will be revealed..." (NASB). Even in the early days of the Church a spirit of lawlessness was already operating. There were many antichrists. But the full development of lawlessness was restrained by an unnamed Person (whom we believe to be the Holy Spirit). When that restraining Person is removed (the Holy Spirit will be taken away as the permanent Indweller at the Rapture), then the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist, will stride onto the stage of history. He will be the very embodiment of sin and lawlessness. The world will never before have seen such a concentration of wickedness in any human being.

The Mystery of the Faith

1 Timothy 3:9

The "mystery of the faith" refers to the body of Christian doctrine, or what we call the Christian faith. It is called a mystery because so many of its truths were completely unknown in Old Testament times.

The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:16

Literally translated, 1 Timothy 3:16 reads:

    Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of piety. He who was manifested in flesh has been justified in the Spirit, has been preached among the nations, has been believed on in the world, has been received up in glory.

The verse does not say definitely who is the subject, but the description could only fit one person-our Lord Jesus Christ. Up to the time that Christ came into the world, men had never seen perfect godliness in a human life. But the Lord Jesus came and gave a practical demonstration of what an absolutely godly person is like.
When Paul says that the mystery of godliness is great, he does not mean that it is deeply mysterious, but rather that the truth of the Person of Christ is marvelous and wonderful.
The mystery of godliness stands in contrast to the mystery of iniquity. The first presents a Man who perfectly embodies piety. The second presents the living embodiment of sin. It is the stark contrast between Christ and Antichrist.

The Mystery of the Seven Stars

Revelation 1:20

This mystery is clearly defined. The seven stars in John's vision are the angels or messengers of the seven churches of Asia. The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. In the next two chapters, the Lord addresses letters to the angels of the seven churches. These letters may be understood in three different ways.

  1. They were seven literal letters written to seven literal churches that existed in John's day.
  2. They give a chronological preview of conditions in the Church from the days of the apostles to the end of the Church era.
  3. They describe conditions which may be found in the Church worldwide at any particular time in its history.


The Mystery of God

Revelation 10:7

When the seventh trumpet of Revelation 10 sounds, the mystery of God will be fulfilled. The sounding of the seventh trumpet is accompanied by loud voices in heaven saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever' (Rev. 11:15 NASB). From this we know that the seventh trumpet sounds at the close of the Great Tribulation, when Christ returns to earth to reign (Rev. 11:17). At that time the Lord's faithful Tribulation saints will be rewarded and His enemies will be destroyed (v. 18).
The mystery of God will then be fulfilled. The evil which has been so persistent and apparently triumphant will be put down. God's seeming indifference to man's wickedness and His apparent inaction will have ended. "The mystery of God is forever finished; the glory of God shines like the sun; faith is completely justified, the murmur of doubt forever silenced"
(F. W. Grant).

The Mystery of Babylon

Revelation 17:5-7

Babylon the Great is pictured in Revelation 17 as a harlot sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns. She is named Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the earth. The explanation of the mystery is given in verses 8-18. The woman is a great city that reigns over the kings of the earth (v. 18). The beast is an empire that in turn existed at one time, passed out of existence, will be revived, and will be destroyed (v. 8). The seven heads are seven kings of this empire (v. 9). The ten horns are ten kings who will be federated with this empire (v. 12). The harlot rides on the back of the beast for awhile, but is then destroyed by it (v. 16). The empire itself will eventually be destroyed by the Lord (v. 14).
Our interpretation of the mystery is as follows. The woman represents a great religious and economic system which will have its headquarters in Rome; it will be a world church with vast financial resources. The beast represents the revived Roman Empire in a ten-kingdom form, somewhat along the geographical lines of the European Common Market.
After supporting the world church for awhile, the ruler of the revived Roman Empire and the ten kings who are his allies will turn against the system and destroy it. Further details concerning Babylon and her destruction are found in Revelation 18.


Conclusion

There are four other references to mysteries in the New Testament.
In 1 Corinthians 2:7 Paul says that he and the other apostles spoke the wisdom of God in a mystery. Then he explains that he means truths which were hidden to previous generations but which have now been revealed through the Holy Spirit.
He and the other apostles were "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). Here again the word is used in a general sense to cover all the new truth of the Christian dispensation.
But he reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:2 that it is not enough to know all mysteries and all knowledge, If we do not have love, we are nothing.
And finally, in 1 Corinthians 14:2 Paul explains that if a man speaks in a foreign language with no interpreter present, he benefits no one, even though he may be speaking the most profound mysteries.



Rom. 3:24

    As far as Christ's part is concerned, it is made possible by His substitutionary work on Calvary's Cross (2 Cor. 5:21).

    As far as man is concerned, salvation is by faith, entirely apart from the works of the Law (Gal. 2:16).

    As far as assurance is concerned, a believer can know he is saved on the authority of the Word of God (1 John 5:13).

    As far as security is concerned, the child of God will never perish or come into judgment for his sins (John 10:27-29).

The difficulty arises when we fail to recognize passages that have to do with Christian life and service rather than with salvation. Take John 15:1-11, for example:

    I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full (RSV).

The subject of this paragraph is fruitbearing, that is, the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the Christian (Gal. 5:22, 23). It was not written to sinners needing a Savior, but to saints needing Christlikeness. if you don't see this, you may come up with the conclusion that Christians may be cast into the fire of hell after all (John 15:6). What it actually teaches is that the world takes the name and testimony of a backslidden believer and casts it in the fire. Unsaved people have nothing but contempt for a branch that does not abide in the Vine.
Another passage that is often misunderstood is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.

    According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble-each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (RSV).

The subject of verse 11 is salvation; it teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only valid foundation. But the rest of the passage deals with building on the foundation-in other words, with the service that follows salvation. There is no suggestion that any believer will be tested by fire. It is his works that will be tested. The man himself will not be burned up, but his works may. The emphasis here is not on the faith that leads to salvation but on the works that lead to reward or loss of reward.
Or take as another example Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (RSV).

In the last verse Paul speaks of the possibility of his being disqualified in the end. But the context does not deal with salvation, but with self-control in the Christian life. There was no possibility of Paul's being rejected as to salvation, because he was accepted in Christ. But failure to discipline himself might result in his becoming a castaway as far as service and reward were concerned.
The distinction between salvation and service is the key to resolving one of the seeming contradictions of the New Testament. In Matthew 12:30 our Lord said,

    He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters (RSV).

But in Mark 9:40 He said,

    He that is not against us is for us (RSV).

At first look these verses seem to be a flat contradiction of each other. But the difficulty disappears when we see that the first deals with salvation and the second with service. In the first instance, the Lord Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, who were rejecting Him as the Son of God and accusing Him of performing miracles in the power of the Devil. When it comes to the Person of Christ, anyone who is not for Him is against Him.
The second case was concerned with a man who was serving in the Name of Christ but who was not following the disciples. When they forbad him, Jesus said, "Forbid him not . . . for he that is not against us is for us." When it comes to service for Christ, anyone who is not against us is for us.
These illustrations should show how helpful it is to distinguish passages that deal, with salvation and those that deal with Christian life and service. In your Bible study, therefore, ask yourself whether the passage you are considering deals with

    God's work for us—salvation
    God's work in us—sanctification
    God's work through us—service.


1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 10:14-30

The gist of the teaching there is that it is all fight to eat such foods as long as the Christian does not participate in the feast where the food is offered to idols, as long as his conscience is clear in the matter, and as long as he does not stumble some other person. But when Paul says, "All things are lawful," we must understand that he is not speaking about all things without exception. He is referring only to the subject at hand-matters of moral indifference. If you don't see this, you might adopt the gross interpretation that Paul would condone immorality!
Chapter 14 of Romans deals with the subjects of observance of days, eating meat (in contrast to vegetables only), and drinking wine. Among the other guidelines which Paul lays down is this one: "Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind." Now if you take this out of its context and apply it to such doctrines as the inspiration of the Bible or salvation by grace through faith, you are in serious trouble. It is imperative to see that the principles laid down in Romans 14 deal only with matters that are not black or white in themselves. Another statement in Romans 14 that must be understood in this same way is verse 14: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself . . . " (RSV). Paul knew as well as we that certain things are unclean, but here he is only speaking of foods like pork, shrimp, or rabbit that were unclean under the Old Testament regime.
In Titus 1, Paul devotes considerable attention to those false teachers who were trying to put the Christian believers under the Law of Moses. In verse 15 the Apostle says:

    To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted (RSV).

Now it should be clear that when Paul says, "To the pure all things are pure," he is not stating a universal truth, but is referring only to such matters as meats that had been condemned as unclean by the Law of Moses. To the Christian in this age of grace, all foods which God has provided for human consumption are pure. The labels "Kosher" and "Non-Kosher" no longer apply.
In the matter of Christian service there is allowance for a certain amount of accommodation to the culture and customs of the people. Thus in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Paul tells how he identified with his audiences (without, of course, sacrificing any basic truth or compromising his loyalty to Christ).

    For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law-though not being myself under the law-that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law-not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ-that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (RSV).

But when Paul says, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some," there is no suggestion that he ever compromised the truth of the gospel or participated in any sinful activity. Where it was possible to make a concession without sacrificing truth (as in the circumcision of Timothy, Acts 16:3), he made the concession in order to get a greater hearing for his message. But where the truth of salvation by grace apart from law-keeping was at stake (as in the controversy over circumcising Titus, Galatians 2:1-5), Paul never budged an inch.
The student of the Bible should learn to detect those passages that deal with non-vital matters and should realize that the principles found there must not be applied to basic truths or unchanging laws. This will save him from coming up with applications of the Word that are grotesque and ludicrous.



Joel 2:28-32a RSV

When Peter quoted this passage on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21), he said, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel." But he could not have meant that it was a complete fulfillment, since some of the things that Joel mentioned did not occur at Pentecost.

    The Spirit was not poured out on all flesh, but only on three thousand Jews. There were no wonders in the heavens-the sun was not turned to darkness, nor the moon to blood. Not all the signs on earth occurred, either-such as blood and fire and vapor of smoke.

This means that Pentecost was an early and incomplete fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. Its total accomplishment will take place at the Second Advent of Christ. His coming will be preceded by the predicted signs and followed by the pouring out of His Spirit on all flesh in the millennial earth.
We have another illustration of the "law of double reference" in the famous "virgin" passage of Isaiah 7:14:

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (RSV).

The prophecy obviously had an immediate meaning for King Ahaz, namely, that a child would be born and named "God with us," implying that victory was near. Before the child would be old enough to discern good and evil the Syria-Israel alliance would be crushed, and within a few more years the child would be living on the fat of the land (v. 15).
But the complete unfolding of the verse came with the birth of Christ.

    All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:22, 23 RSV).

A third example of dual fulfillment is found in Psalm 118:26a.

    Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord (RSV).

On the first Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowd shouted,

    Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matt. 21:9 RSV).

But we know that this did not exhaust the prophecy, because in His later lament over Jerusalem the Lord Jesus said,

    For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39 RSV).

The final fulfillment will occur when the Savior returns to earth in power and glory to a people who will welcome Him as Messiah and King.
Still another illustration of a prophecy which has two fulfillments concerns the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus predicted the desolation of the city in Luke 21:20-24. His words obviously came to pass in A.D. 70, when Titus and his Roman legions sacked the city and levelled the Temple. But Jerusalem's woes are not all past. It is clear from Revelation 11:2 that the Gentiles will trample on the holy city for forty-two months during the Tribulation period.
Psalm 2:1, 2 is quoted in Acts 4:25, 26:

    'Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the people imagine vain things?
    The kings of the earth set themselves in array,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed.'

In Acts 4:27 the words are applied to the crucifixion of Christ:

    For truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel ...
That was a preliminary and partial fulfillment of the Psalmist's words. They will have a still further fulfillment at the close of the Tribulation when world rulers will unite in a futile attempt to prevent Christ from taking the reins of universal government.
A final example of the law of double reference can be found in prophecies dealing with the regathering of Israel (Isa. 43:5-7; Jer. 16:14, 15; Ezek. 36:8-11; 37:21). These prophecies had a very partial fulfillment when a remnant of the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity to Israel, as described in Ezra and Nehemiah. But the main event is still future. Any past regatherings have been only a trickle. During the time of Jacob's trouble, God will bring His chosen earthly people back to Israel from all over the world (Matt. 24:31; Deut. 30:3, 4; Ezek. 36:24-32; 37:11-14). Then and only then will the prophecies be completely and finally fulfilled.