Praise and Prayer
MOST FORLORN of all mankind are we if our expectation is limited to this life (1 Cor.15:19). Material prosperity, sensations of pleasure, high horrors, are by no means the special prerogatives of the saints in Pauls latest revelations. He himself, as their chief representative, lived a life of great hardship, with much persecution, and, at the last, was loaded with a chain, and lived on prison fare, and had very little he could call his own. Far worse than that, the very ones to whom he had brought the highest horrors and grandest glories, who should have at least rewarded him with their undying loyalty and friendshipeven these were turned against him. He was, indeed, forlorn, with no perceptible evidence of his vast spiritual wealth or the rich reward for his labors and his sufferings (2 Tim.1:16).
In contrast to our poor expectations in this life, there seems to be no limit to the riches and glories that await us in the next. They are promised to us, not on account of our deserts, but rather the opposite. Gods main object is to reveal Himself to the heavenly hosts, especially the riches of His grace and love, so He needs such undeserving subjects as we are in order to press home, by practical examples, what He can do for those who are unworthy of His gifts and have done much to draw forth His enmity and little to deserve His favor. Let us press this home to our hearts, or it will be impossible for us to believe the magnificent promises of honors and glories which are ours in Christ Jesus.
The first part of this petition has to do with our future. What are we to expect? The saints in Israel had a very clear and definite idea of what was in store for them, for the prophets are full of predictions on which to base their expectations. Our Lord added much to raise high hopes of a grand and glorious kingdom when He returns. Even if that were the basis of our expectation, we would have cause for thankfulness, for the nations in that day will be blessed through Israel. But this is not our calling! We will not be the lowest on earth, but the highest in the heavens! We would, indeed, be highly favored if we received a secondary place among the celestials. But this would not reveal God to us. His grace would not be properly displayed even by such a promotion. It calls for much more than that! It demands that the last shall become first, the lowest highest. So it is that we, as members of the body of Christ, are given the highest place in the heavens, who did not deserve the lowest place on earth.
Ours is a life of faith. Our blessings lie in the future. While the present is not our expectation, it is a necessary and salutary preparation for the life which is to come. Our own appreciation of Gods glorious grace will be vastly enhanced as we view the fearful failures of the saints even after they have been called, and our own experiences in crucifying the flesh and fighting our spiritual foes. We fail to put the flesh in the place of death, and we fail to use the large shield of faith to protect us from our unseen foes. But our shortcomings should have the salutary effect of convincing us of our own utter unworthiness, and magnifying our thankfulness and adoration for the fullness of His favor.
The Concordant version makes a clear-cut distinction between expectation and hope. We expect that which is sure and certain, something on which we can depend. Indeed, it is translated so when used of God on Whom we rely (2 Cor.1:10; 1 Tim.4:10; 5:5), which is in contrast with the dubiousness of riches, on which we do not rely (1 Tim.6:17). Hope, in contrast with this, must also be rendered apprehensive, as the sailors on board the ship that was wrecked on the island of Melita (Acts 28:6). Faith does not hope, is not apprehensive, but expects, and relies on the promises of God for the future.
The prophetic Scriptures are full of the expectation of Israel, and the Circumcision writings of later revelation confirm them. The disciples of our Lord expected that He was about to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). Yet it is remarkable how much oftener this thought wells up in Pauls epistles. Although they are not nearly half as long as the Circumcision writings, far more than half of the occurrences of expect and expectation occur in them. In other words, about two-thirds of the occurrences are found in Pauls epistles. This is doubtless due to the fact that faith is far more prominent in the truth for today than it ever was in the past.
Expectation is the future outlook of faith. The past provides the foundation of faith, the future its fruition. We look back and believe Gods record of His activities in creation and revelation as recorded in the Scriptures of truth. We, who have His latest and fullest unfoldings, revel in the deeper truths, that He not only created the heavens and the earth, as recorded in Genesis, the book of the Beginning, but that all was created in Christ, the Son of His love, His visible Image, whether that in the heavens or on the earth, whether visible or invisible. All was created through Him and for Him, and He is before all (Col.1:13-17).
Although expectation is not concerned with the past, it is largely based upon it. Confidence in the future of anyone depends on his previous record. When we realize the exalted position of Gods Son as His creative Original (Rev.3:14), so that He is First in place as well as time, it helps us to look forward with confidence to His exaltation in the future, so we expect to see Him as the Last (Rev.1:18), in Whom all will be headed up (Eph. 1:10).
This is especially true as to ourselves. How it cheers our hearts, and consolidates our faith and encourages our outlook for the future to know that we were chosen in Christ before the disruption (Eph.1:4)! Our sonship is not a recent development. This high honor was ours before we were called, yes, ere we were born. It even antedated the entrance of evil into the world. The high nobility of earth do not, as a rule, do anything themselves to deserve their exalted position in society. They inherit it from their ancestors, some of whom may go back as far as the crusades. But the sons of God today derive their title from a patent dated in a time when sin had not even entered this scene. So it does not mar their escutcheon or endanger their prospects.
HAVING NO EXPECTATION
As a background of our present glorious expectation, those of us who are not of the seed of Abraham should always remember the position of the nations in relation to God in the past, before the present administration of Gods grace. Being uncircumcised in flesh, we had no covenant relationship with the Deity, consequently, we had no Messiah, for He came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mat.10:6). Even after the apostasy of the favored nation was apparent, and God turned to the nations through a special apostle, Paul, they were only guests at Israels board! Not having any spiritual values of their own, they participated in Israels spiritual treasures, hence were in their debt, which they sought to settle by sending them fleshly gifts (Rom.15:27).
Israel has a glorious expectation. Jehovah not only promised them a land gushing with milk and honey, peace and plenty under the reign of a righteous King, but supremacy over the other nations. They will not only rule them as kings but bless them as priests. No other nation on earth has any ground to look forward to such a future. Indeed, there were nations that attained to world rule, Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece, but they brought little blessing to mankind, and perished in their own corruption. There will be another world ruler in the future, the Man of Sin, but he will draw down the indignation of God on the nations. They may expect a little economic prosperity from him at first, but then they will be overwhelmed with suffering and woe.
In these last days there is a pseudo-messianic spirit, which leads nations to hold out high hopes of worldwide peace and plenty, a millennium without Gods Messiah. Usually it is to be brought about by changes in the social structure, such as socialism in place of capitalism, and by advances in economics, the harnessing of the powers of nature, the use of machines in place of men. So far these illusive Utopias have led to widespread poverty rather than plenty, to dissatisfaction rather than contentment, to wars rather than peace.
The widespread movement to form a world government, to put an end to the present chaos and insecurity, holds out a hope for the nations that is doomed to bring upon them the direst destruction, except the deluge, that will ever devastate the human race. What they need is a man who is magnetic and powerful enough to unite them under his leadership. When Satan inspires such a man, the anti-Christ, their expectations will doubtless be raised to the highest pitch. Now we will have peace! Now all will have plenty! Estranged from God, rejecting Him and His Christ, they hope to be sovereigns of their souls and designers of their own destiny. But God will blast them from the earth. This is what the nations may expect, apart from Gods grace. Let us remember this, and contrast it with our celestial expectation, which we have in Christ Jesus.
The nations, as such, had they faith in Gods Word, would look forward to a measure of blessing in the millennium, subordinate to Israel. But they must also reckon with the iron club, with which Messiah will deal with all doers of unrighteousness in that day. Through Israel they will learn of Jehovah, the God of the priestly nation, and His ways. Their weapons of war will be made over into implements of peace. But the transformation will by no means be perfect or permanent. In the midst of the millennium Gog and Magog will rise against Israel and perish (Ezek.38-39). At the end Satan will deceive them for the last time, and perhaps the greatest army of mortals ever assembled surround the citadel of the saints, seeking to destroy the mediatorial nation and blot out Gods name from the earth (Rev.20:7-9). Such is the expectation of the nations, as nations.
But we are rather concerned with the individuals among the nations, especially such as received the evangel Paul made known to them in his earliest missionary journey, soon after Israel had rejected the ministry of the twelve. What expectation had they? They had none. Had Christ come to set up His kingdom, even though they were saints, indwelt by Gods spirit, they could not point to a single promise of any place or portion in that Kingdom. What could be done with them there? They cannot claim the promises made to Abraham, or to David, or to their seed, for they are aliens and uncircumcised. Although, in spirit, they could enter into the very holy of holies of the millennial temple, in flesh they would be excluded even from the outer court.
But suppose that they had died. Would they not have been raised at His advent, along with the Circumcision saints? No! There is no hint of such a thing. In fact the Thessalonians were disturbed about this very matter, and did not know what to make of it. Therefore Paul wrote to them that he did not wish them to be ignorant concerning those who are reposing, lest they sorrow as the rest, who have no expectation. They had sorrowed so because they knew of no expectation for themselves. So he reveals it to them for the first time (1 Thess.4:13-18). He bases it upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. He who recalled Him to life will lead forth those who are reposing with Him. The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, and the dead and living will be snatched away to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord (Thess.4:13-18).
When the apostle Paul revealed this expectation to the Corinthians, he calls it a secret (Cor.15:51). We will not find it in the Scriptures before this time, because the very idea of blessing to a distinct body of people among the nations was quite out of line with previous revelation. It takes the spirit of revelation, for which Paul prayed (Eph.1:17), for us to apprehend it. Paul left the Thessalonians in the air, both literally and figuratively. Yet that is hardly a proper habitation for a mortal. The revelation of our expectation was given in installments. He takes us first to the air. Now he enlarges upon this and explains that, at Christs presence, we shall all be changed from mortals to immortals. So we can live anywhere and everywhere, in the air or even in the heavens. In fact, our bodies will no longer depend, as now, upon the soil for sustenance, but will be celestialable to function throughout the universe.
But why should we have celestial bodies when the home of humanity is on earth? It is evident that the saints in the transitional era, which introduced the present secret administration, were not blinded at the beginning by the brilliant blaze of our celestial expectation. Paul himself seems to have lost his sight when the light above the brightness of the sun flashed about him on the Damascus road. It was too bright, so that, instead of enlightening him, he could see nothing, even when his eyes were open. Does not this give us a good illustration and explain why the excessive glory of our celestial expectation was not revealed all at once, but was imparted in installments? The saints were gradually prepared by Paul, during his itinerant ministry, for the full blaze of his celestial revelations in his perfection epistles.
Israel will be blessed with every physical blessing on the earth. Under their own vine and fig and olive they will enjoy health and wealth while they bring righteousness and peace and light to the rest of mankind. Because of their physical relationship to their Messiah they are accorded earths richest blessing and grandest glories, and are chosen to spread His name and fame from pole to pole.
Our expectation is the counterpart and complement of this on a higher plane and with a grander scope. We will enjoy every spiritual blessing among the celestials (Eph.1:3), because of our spiritual relationship to Christ as the Head of the entire universe. In immortal, glorious, powerful, spiritual, celestial bodies we will never need to be concerned about our health or wealth (1 Cor.15:42-44). And we will enjoy the highest happiness, not merely because we are ourselves in heaven, but in bringing blessing to the celestial hosts, to whom we even now make known the multifarious wisdom of God (Eph.3:10), by displaying to them the transcendent riches of His grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7).
This is the expectation of His calling. This is what the future holds for all who are called by God during this administration of Gods grace, whether they are Jew or gentile, Circumcision or Uncircumcision. For the latter, the change from the highest place on earth to the lowest one in heaven would be a stupendous promotion. But for us, aliens, outcasts, curs, words fail to measure the height of our exaltation. It is like the universe, whose dimensions we cannot apprehend. It is the expression of the love of God, which passes all comprehension. May it be our boon to perceive this expectation now, so that the highest of all happiness may be ours in the realization of God, and heartfelt thanks may rise unceasingly to Him as the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.
A. E. Knoch
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