The Presence of God, part 5

Christ came into the world of Old Testament Israel to "put away sin" (Heb.9:26-28) and to "bring in everlasting righteousness" (Dan.9:24-27; 2 Pet.3:13), thereby effecting the restoration of man to the presence of the Living God (John 14:1-6). Christ did not come, however, to accomplish this within the boundaries of the Old Covenant economy. In the words of Paul, "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law" (Gal.3:21). Instead of putting away sin, the Law was added "that the offense might abound" (Rom.5:20), "that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (7:13), "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (3:19). God’s design in this was "that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal.3:22).

Christ, the Promise, and His World
The Law’s inability to deliver the promise of life and righteousness is the backdrop for the age-changing role of the cross, and accordingly this gives us clear insight to the meaning of the departure, the absence, and the second appearing of Christ (John 14:1-3). Through the cross Christ took his leave of the Old Covenant cosmos for the reasons stated above. Sin could not be "put away" in that world. The "hope of righteousness" could not be fulfilled in fleshly Judaism (Gal.5:5; Phil.3:1-9). From the standpoint of "the promise", Christ was of another world (Rom.4:13; John 8:23; 18:36; Gal.3:13-18). He could not take up his messianic reign in "the world below" (John 8:23; 18:36).

This point is being stressed because if one does not understand the world from which Christ departed neither will one have a correct understanding of the world of his second appearing. The fundamental reason for the rejection of Christ by his own people was their failure to see that the Mount Sinai creation was not designed to be the world of the coming Messiah wherein God’s promises to the fathers of Israel would be fulfilled. In coming to "his own" (Jn.1:11), Christ did not come to his world. He was no less "a stranger and pilgrim" in earthly Palestine than was Abraham who also sojourned in the earthly, temporal, typical land of promise "as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb.11:9,10). Unlike many of his faith-less descendants who focused on the earthly things of the Mosaic Covenant, Abraham saw the true, spiritual, higher plane of the promise in Christ. His sight was not set on earthly Canaan. Instead, in keeping with the promise, he desired "a better, that is, a heavenly country" (v.16), and this is a clear reference to the "better things" of the "better covenant" that was "confirmed before by God in Christ" (8:6; 12:22-24; Gal.3:17).

With this in mind, attention is called to Christ’s statement to the Pharisees who challenged the validity of Christ’s testimony concerning himself. Jesus said, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh…You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:14,15,23).

The statement, "You judge according to the flesh" (v.15) pinpoints the root problem in Israel’s failure to see Christ and the promise in terms of a new world exclusive of the Law. To judge "according to the flesh" simply meant that the Jews were looking for a messianic restoration in accordance with the earthly, fleshly state of affairs under the Old Covenant. But Christ and his message concerning the new age to come did not fall into this pattern of Israel’s judgment or assessment of their messianic future. In this same connection Paul wrote, "Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (2 Cor.5:16).

The word "flesh" often is used in scripture to denote Israel’s mode of life under the Old Covenant. This is clear, particularly in Phil.3:1-9, where Paul equates "confidence in the flesh" with the things of the Law in which he once trusted. But now (from the standpoint of the cross and Christ’s departure from fleshly Judaism), Paul said, we no longer know Christ (or any one else) according to those fleshly standards. Through the gospel of the Spirit Paul had come to know the true world to which Christ and the promise belonged, and for which the cross was the decisive turning point.

Therefore, when Christ said to the Jews, "for I know where I came from and where I am going" (Jn.8:14), he was speaking of the world of promise to which he belonged from the day that God made his covenant with Abraham and confirmed it with an oath (Gal.3:15-18). The Abrahamic promise and the New Covenant as confirmed in Christ represented the world of messianic promise, and therefore the world of Christ’s second appearing "apart from sin" (Heb.9:28). In antithesis to the Old Covenant cosmos, the world above is where sin has been "put away" (Heb.9:26), and "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet.3:13), according to God’s promise to Israel (Isa.65:17-19). Clearly Christ was speaking of the new world or creation of the New Covenant in John 8 in saying to the Jews, "I know where I came from and where I am going." His world, "the world above" (v.23), stood in antithesis not to planet earth but to the world of fleshly Judaism.

We believe that what has been laid out above from scripture is the biblical framework for understanding the world below from which Christ departed and the world above to which he returned for the express purpose "to maintain the truth of God by making good his promises to the patriarchs" (Rom.15:8, NEB). This application of John 14:1-3 will bear up under a rigorous scrutiny of ALL the teachings of Christ and his apostles, having the full support of all that is written in "the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Christ, the promise, and the new age to come.

The Mission Of The Holy Spirit
We now will focus on the absence of Christ — the interval between his departure and his second appearing — from the perspective of the coming of the Holy Spirit and his eschatological ("last days") mission. Unfortunately, the inseparable connection between his work and Christ’s preparation of a place for his disciples has been ignored for the most part. In the first place the absence of Christ commonly is understood as being coextensive with the Christian age. This is manifestly wrong. We know why Christ departed from the Jewish age, but at least he was there for a time, which is more than can be said for the Christian age IF he is absent from the point of its inception until its very end. Does it make sense that Christ died to establish an age that would stand between him and his disciples until he returns to bring it to an end? That doesn’t say much for the cross and Christianity.

Furthermore, in this erroneous extension of Christ’s absence the Christian age is seen as the range of time for the work of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). Thus the label "last days" has been stamped on the Christian age — the age of the everlasting covenant. This is absurd, and equally so are the consequences. The attempt to string out the Spirit’s eschatological mission through the Christian age has become the impetus for a rampant Spirit-centered gospel that counters everything that is taught in scripture about the special, subservient, eschatological role of the Holy Spirit regarding Christ, the promise, and his second appearing in his gl
ory and the glory of his Father. In generation after generation efforts have been made to recover, reclaim or reproduce in some fashion or another the special gifts, ministries, and functions of the Holy Spirit peculiar to apostolic time. Through the centuries churches have attempted to resurrect the eschatological moment that enshrouded the infant church until its maturation at the consummation of the age (Matt.24; 1 Cor.13:8-13; Eph.4:11-16).

Without question there is an urgent need to return to the New Testament’s historical setting for all that was said and done in that "fullness of time", and from that perspective see the biblical correlation of Christ’s absence and the Spirit’s eschatological mission within "the last days" peculiar to Christ and his apostles; i.e., the "last generation", (the closing period) of the Jewish age (Joel 2; Acts 2, Matt.24).

The Holy Spirit, The Promise, and The World Above
We have shown the correlation of Christ, the promise, and his world with the Abrahamic covenant that preceded and superseded the temporal, typical covenant given at Sinai. At this point of study we want to add to this the Holy Spirit, or perhaps more properly stated, we want to bring in the Holy Spirit. (We’ll comment on this difference later). For now it is important to understand both the timing and the purpose of the coming of the Spirit.

1. THE TIME OF THE SPIRIT’S COMING. From an Old Testament perspective, perhaps Joel’s prophecy is the clearest relative to the promise of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). This is true mainly because Peter confirms Pentecost as the initial fulfillment of this prophecy in saying, "But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). However, while we all agree that the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, there is another text that says more about the timing of his coming than that recorded in Acts 2. On the eve of his betrayal Jesus said to his disciples, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (John 16:7).

Here we learn that Christ’s departure is the decisive factor for the coming of the Spirit. Jesus said, "if I do not go away, the Helper (Gk. parakletos, intercessor) will not come to you." This raises many questions. Why must Jesus go away in order for the Spirit to come? Are Christ and the Spirit opposites? Why would it be an advantage to the disciples to have the Spirit rather than Jesus with them? Is the Spirit greater than Jesus? Does he offer a greater salvation than Christ? These are important questions that bear directly on how the Spirit and his coming fit into this redemptive trio of Christ, the promise, and his world. The answers will surface in the following point.

2. THE PURPOSE OF THE SPIRIT’S COMING. Jesus instructed his disciples in many things during his time with them, but there remained much more to be communicated in the aftermath of Christ’s death, resurrection, and Ascension. He tells them, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you" (John 14:12-15).

What is said of the Spirit’s mission in this text will clear up a lot of confusion and erroneous concepts about his work if it is strictly adhered to as one follows the Spirit through the New Testament to the end. There are a number of crucial points in these verses that need to be singled out and expanded from the perspective of what is taught about the Spirit in other passages.

The Spirit Guides Into All Truth
First of all, the Spirit was sent to guide the apostles into all truth. But what is truth? We know God’s word is truth, but when truth here is seen from the standpoint of Christ, the promise, and the world above, we can understand the necessity for Christ’s departure from the Old Covenant cosmos in order for the Spirit of Truth to come. John wrote, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). We know the Law of Moses was the word of God. Paul, however, draws out the meaning of truth by Christ in writing that the things of the Law were "a shadow of things to come, but the substance (body) is of Christ" (Col.2:16,17). From this standpoint Christ spoke of himself as "the truth" (John 14:6). The "world below" was designed for the "shadows", not for the body, substance, or truth that Christ was in terms of the promise and the age to come. Therefore, his continued presence in the world below would have been counterproductive to the mission of the Spirit to guide the apostles "into all truth." But when Christ returned to his world, particularly through the power of the Spirit (Rom.1:4; 8:11), then the witness of the Spirit was effective in "disclosing" the truth, i.e. the substance, reality, or body of the promise given in Christ in terms of the world above – the higher realm or nature of the New Covenant.

The Spirit Discloses The Things To Come
Jesus said that when the Spirit is come he will tell you (show or disclose to you) "things to come" (John 16:13). What are these things, and when were they to come? These are important questions for the following reasons. First, whatever was to be "disclosed" is what the Spirit does during the absence of Christ. Second, these are things that belong to Christ, given to him of the Father. Jesus said, "All things are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you" (v.15). Third, these coming things would glorify Christ (v.14); i.e., they were the things of his world in which he would be manifested in glory (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; Lk.9:26,27; Col.3:4; 1 Pet.1:11; 4:13) at his second appearing (Heb.9:28).

Many books have been written about "things to come", and almost always the focus is on what the writer believes follows the proverbial end of time (per Amillennialism), or the end of the church/Christian age (per Premillennialism). In these two schools of thought either this global earth or the church age has been made the antithesis of the world of Christ’s second appearing. This error is obvious if you have stayed with us thus far in what has been said about the world of Christ’s departure. We have not departed from scripture in this matter. To leave the biblical framework of "the two covenants" in showing how Christ "puts away sin" and "brings in everlasting righteousness" is to take a leap into "outer darkness" with respect to the truth about Christ, the Promise and the World Above. "The things to come" that the Spirit was sent to "disclose" were fulfilled in the coming new age during the "last days" of fleshly Judaism. Jesus plainly declared in the context of the destruction of outward Jerusalem, "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Lk.21:22). In this same vein of end-time judgment Peter wrote, "But the end of all things is at hand…For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God" (1 Pet.4:7,17)?

The Old Testament Background
With respect to "things to come" it is important to recognize that the Spirit worked strictly out of Old Testament scriptures. Paul, who was guided by the Spirit, said that he preached "no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would
come" (Acts 26:22). By divine design the Spirit-inspired writings of the Old Testament (2 Tim.3:16,17) contained in a veiled form everything that was to come through Christ and the New Covenant. The Old Testament prophets could not discern the meaning of those coming things (Matt.13:17). They "inquired and searched diligently" to understand them, but Peter said, "To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into" (1 Pet.1:10-12).

Here is a clear-cut example of the Spirit’s doing what he was sent to do after Jesus departed from the Old Covenant cosmos. He was disclosing the "salvation" of "the prophets" that was "ready to be revealed" (v.5) at the revelation or second appearing of Christ (v.13). Peter said the Spirit had been sent down from heaven for this very purpose. Furthermore, the urgency of the moment at the time Peter wrote this is unmistakably clear. The end was "at hand" (4:7). The manifold trials were "for a little while" (1:6-7), hence the need for the saints of Peter’s time "to gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end" (v.13). Any atempt to place the receiving of this "salvation" at the passing of planet Earth instead of at the consummation of the Jewish age misses the meaning of the Spirit’s mission and the time frame for the "things to come" spoken by the prophets.

The writer of Hebrews said that the Law, not this global earth, was a shadow "of good things to come" (10:1). Christ was a high priest "of good things to come" (9:22). The focus of scripture, and therefore of the Spirit’s "disclosing" ministry was to the effect, "that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms" concerning Christ (Luke 24:44). The mission of the Spirit and the eschatological moment in New Testament scripture go hand in hand, and never do they get out of AT HAND from the perspective of the closing period of the Jewish age.

Paul, for example, wrote about "the sufferings of this present time", meaning his time, which were not "worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" – the "us" referring to Paul and the "firstfruits" of his day (Rom.8:18,23). "Our light affliction", he wrote, "is but for a moment," working "for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor.4:17). Thus in this eschatological moment of the Spirit’s disclosing mission Paul confidently writes, "for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Rom.13:11,12). Paul was not saying that this global earth was far spent, and certainly he wasn’t saying that Christianity or the church age was running out of time. But something was ready to "vanish away" (Heb.8:13), and it shouldn’t take much reading of Romans or any other book in the New Testament to see what must pass away in order for Christ to "put away sin" and "bring in everlasting righteousness" in the New Creation that the Old Testament prophets spoke about. The Spirit used their writings in showing the things to come, not after the Christian age, but in its ultimate arrival at the end of the Jewish age. In that age-changing context Peter wrote, "We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Pet.1:19). Is Christianity the "dark place" where Old Testament prophecy shines "as a light" until a better day arrives? Is that the purpose of the Christian age – to demonstrate that Old Testament prophecy has not been fulfilled, and that Christ is absent, that he is nowhere to be seen?

One more passage on the disclosing mission of the Spirit. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul explains why the "rulers of this age" crucified Christ, having failed to see "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory" (1 Cor.2:7,8). He goes on to point out, "But as it is written: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."

The focus in this text is on "the things which God has prepared for those who love him" (v.9). These things were not seen, heard or understood before Christ. But now Paul said God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit, "that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (v.12). This text is not dealing with things that have not yet come; that can’t be received until after physical death, the end of time, or the destruction of global earth. These are the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant creation that God promised in Christ and revealed through the imparted Spirit in the days of the apostles.

Notice the parallelism in Christ’s statement, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3), and Paul’s statement concerning "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (l Cor.2:9). In both passages the reference is to "things to come" that the Spirit was sent to reveal. The Spirit, Jesus said, "will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine" (John 16:14,15). Therefore, the things that Paul said God has prepared for the saints are the things that belong to Christ and thus to the place where the disciples would dwell with Christ and the Father.

Again, may we be reminded that the Spirit was not sent to show the things to come until after Jesus departed from the Old Covenant cosmos — "the world below" (John 8:23). What greater proof is needed that the things of Christ and his glory are antithetical in nature to the things contained within the types, shadows, and patterns of the Old Testament economy? The mission of the Spirit was to minister in the spiritual or heavenly things pertaining to Christ, the promise, and the world above – the New Covenant state of affairs that constituted the realm of Christ’s second appearing and abiding presence. In this manner Christ fulfilled his promise to his disciples, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3).

In the next article, further consideration will be given to the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit from the perspective of Christ, the promise, and the world of Christ’s second appearing. When the "things to come" such as, for example, the new Jerusalem and tabernacle of God (Rev.21) are denied their spiritual fulfillment in the Christian age it is obvious that biblical, redemptive history has been abandoned and replaced with a futurist secular eschatology. The mission of the Spirit is thereby distorted, and turned into a Spirit-centered Christianity that overshadows the presence, glory, and power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his everlasting kingdom.