First Years of Christianity: No. 11

John 17:24  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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We shall better understand the wondrous character of the gospel of the glory, as preached in the First Years of Christianity, if we dwell briefly on the gospel of the kingdom, which preceded it, and which, when the church is gone to glory, will succeed it on earth.
In the preaching of John the Baptist, the heavens were only opened to one Person, the Son of God. He was the beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased. The heavens were opened to Him, and on Him the Holy Spirit could descend. (Matt. 3:16, 1716And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16‑17).) John’s testimony was the last and greatest of the prophets to Israel. It was the ax laid to the root of the trees—to all Jewish prejudices and self-righteousness, and was a solemn call to repentance and confession of sins; and finally he announced the Messiah. There was no opening into the heavens for sinners, but only for the one Man who came from heaven.
In the preaching also of Jesus to Israel, it was not the gospel of the glory, but of the kingdom. Several bright gleams shone forth: shall we say in the prophetic vision on the Mount, foreshadowing the coming glory? There were two men with Him in the glory. During His last night before His death there were wondrous words from His lips, both to the disciples and to the Father. He spake not of Jerusalem, nor this earth, nor the kingdom on the earth, but of the Father’s house, the many mansions, and of His going to prepare a place for them; and He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
And He said unto the Father, when about to be with Him, in the glory that He had with Him before the world was, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” (John 17:2424Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)) Yet even after His resurrection the apostles did not understand this. They were still occupied with the promised kingdom to Israel. (Acts 1:66When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6).)
It is also very remarkable, that during the forty days Jesus remained with them, we do not read that He spake to them about the church, or the gospel of the glory, “but being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” When the Holy Ghost had come down, Jesus having ascended up into heaven, and the new company of believers having been baptized by the Holy Ghost—the church being thus formed—the preaching even then was chiefly what characterizes the kingdom. Very distinctly so in Acts 3:17-2117And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. 18But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. 19Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; 20And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:17‑21).
Peter unlocked the door, so to speak, by repentance and baptism into the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom on earth, whilst the King was away in heaven. The preaching went thus far, the apostles saying, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:29-3129Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:29‑31).)
As yet the preaching is limited to Israel, and to the promises made to their fathers—very much, indeed, to the kingdom to be set up on this earth. Not a word yet of the gospel of the glory. Jesus was gone up into heaven, and He would come again. But the gospel preached did not reach up to heaven opened to man.
In Acts 7 there was an immense change. Israel, in the murder of Stephen, committed their final sin as a nation, in rejecting the Holy Ghost. All is now over with them for the present. All is over as to restoring the kingdom to them now; and at the same moment the heavens are opened to man, to the believing dying Stephen. Full of the Holy Ghost, he “looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Alas, from that day they have stopped their ears.
From that moment, though the earth has rejected the Son of God, the heavens have remained open to man, to every one who believes. That day there stood near a young man, at whose feet were laid the clothes of the murderers. We shall hear of him again.. That young man, Saul, was consenting unto his death; that young man was the chosen instrument to go to the nations and proclaim the gospel of the glory.
In Acts 9; 22:26 we have another most remarkable advance. This very young man, Saul, mad with persecuting rage, was on his way to Damascus, with authority from the chief priests to bring believers bound to Jerusalem. A stream of glory shines right down from heaven. He says, “At midday, Ο king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them which journeyed with me.” And he says, from that heavenly glory “I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” What amazement seized that young man! Heaven was opened, and the glory descends, comes down to man, to man the sinner, the enemy. And that voice from heaven, from the brightness of the glory, speaks to the sinner mad with persecuting rage, and asks a question, which implies that those believers whom this young man persecutes, are one with Himself, who speaks from the glory. Astonished he asks, “Who art thou, Lord?” Who can this Lord of glory be? And he hears the wondrous reply, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
Now it was from the glorified Jesus, Saul received the commission to go forth as His chosen witness and heavenly messenger, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, Ο king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” You will see that this was greatly in advance of all that had gone before. The gospel of the kingdom of God to be set up on this earth, most true in its time, was altogether different from this gospel of the glory and the heavenly vision. Discipleship by repentance and baptism was most prominent as the entrance into the kingdom, in John’s preaching, in the Lord’s also, in Matthew and Mark. But Paul was not thus sent. Indeed, as we have said, his preaching was far in advance of that of the twelve, as seen up to Acts 9. He is sent from the vision of the heavenly glory to both Jews and Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light. It was to take out a people for heaven, from the power of Satan unto God. And what he preached was not what man must do, but that Christ must suffer, and “be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” And he could say, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
Now whilst the twelve preached Jesus as the crucified, dead, risen, and exalted Lord and Messiah, Paul at once proclaims Him the Son of God. There was now nothing more to be expected from man. It was no longer what he must do, but what Christ must have done who had appeared to him in heavenly glory. Thus he opened the scriptures: “opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” To him it was the Son of God who had thus died for him, who had been made sin for him, who had put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself, and had sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Could he doubt the perfection of that work which Christ must do, and had done? No, He who had once been crucified for him had appeared from heaven in brightest glory—in light beyond the Eastern no on-day sun. God had raised Him from the dead, who had been delivered for our offenses, and raised Him for the very purpose of our justification. Thus he preached, and thus, by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, he wrote. This was his gospel of the glory. Let us hear him.
He says, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not. So that the radiancy of the glad tidings of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine forth for them.... Because it is the God who spoke, that out of darkness light should shine, who has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:3-63But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. 6For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3‑6). Lit. Translation.) Thus the gospel of the glory of Christ shines down from heaven on a lost and guilty world. All is darkness here. Man is darkness. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving: he presents every form of false religion and dark superstition to hinder the rays of heavenly glory shining into the poor dark soul of man.
Has the radiancy of the glory of God in the love of Jesus Christ ever shone into your soul? Has that risen and glorified Jesus ever spoken direct to you? Can you say, I have heard His voice speaking to me? What a color the heavenly vision gave to all the preachings of Paul, that once fiery young persecutor! When he preached forgiveness of sins to guilty sinners, it was straight from the glory. Nay, the inspired writings of Paul will be all fresh and new, and heavenly, if we read them as in the First Years of Christianity, in the warmth and brightness of the heavenly vision. They will indeed be like a river of water of life, and light from the throne of glory, of God and the Lamb. Let us remember the power of that vision of the glory which attracted Paul from everything under the sun. May it be so with us.