The Heavenly Character of Christianity

The children of Israel were God's earthly people; their calling was earthly, to an earthly inheritance and to blessings on the earth. How different is the calling of the church! We have been called with a "heavenly calling"; the inheritance God has given to us is "reserved in heaven"; and our blessings are spiritual, "in heavenly places in Christ." Although Israel were God's earthly people, they typified the saints of this day, wearing in the border of their garments a riband of blue, to symbolize the heavenly character of the walk of the saints of God.

Abraham, called of God, did not find in the land of Canaan satisfaction for the desires that had been divinely implanted within his heart, for he "looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10.) With other saints of God who confessed that they were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth," Abraham will find satisfaction for all his desires in the better, "heavenly country," and in "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).

Christianity not only takes its name from Christ, but also its character. From Adam we have taken our natural traits, from Christ we take the spiritual; inheriting all our natural features, both physical and moral "from the first man of the earth"; and soon "to bear the image of the heavenly," that is of Christ, "the second Man, out of heaven." Already we have the life and nature of Christ, and because of this we can manifest His features of moral beauty that were so perfectly manifested in Him when on earth.

On earth, the Son of God could say, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me"; and having fully accomplished that holy will He went back to heaven. The disciples were witnesses of His going up to heaven; the Spirit of God has witnessed of His having entered "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us"; that He has "passed through the heavens"; is "made higher than the heavens"; and has "ascended up far above all heavens that He might fill all things" (Heb. 4:14; Heb. 7:26; Heb. 9:24; Eph. 4:10).

Now in heaven, the Lord Jesus is concerned with the will of His God and Father, seeking to glorify Him now, even as He has glorified Him in life and death in this world; and in His present ministry for His own, He cares for them, sustaining, comforting and supplying all their needs; directing, supporting and providing for His servants; and sanctifying the church, cleansing "it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." Soon, He "shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven," according to the promise of the divine messengers of Acts 1:11; and Christians, who have turned to God from idols, serve the living and true God, and "wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

The disciples of the Lord Jesus looked for the establishment of His earthly kingdom, and could not see anything beyond this, even although the Lord spoke of His death, and directed their thoughts to heaven. When the seventy returned from their mission, and were elated on account of all His power had enabled them to do, their Master said to them, "In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). This was something entirely new for the disciples. They had no doubt believed in the truth of the resurrection of the dead, but doubtless looked to have a portion on earth after being raised from the dead. Instead, the Lord points towards heaven, where God had in His grace written their names, to give them there a portion with Christ Himself.

In John 14, the Lord instructs His own further as to the part they were to have with Him in the prepared place in the Father's House. He was going away to the Father from whom He had come, and could say, "In my Father's House are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you." A place with Him in His earthly kingdom was what they looked for; now He speaks of a place with Him in heaven. This was something they could not understand; it was beyond their understanding at that time, not having received as yet the Holy Spirit. They might have been satisfied with a place in the earthly kingdom, but this would not have satisfied the heart of the Son or the heart of the Father. Nothing less than having His own with Him in the Father's House would satisfy the heart of the Son of God. This was the hope spoken of by Jesus on earth, and this is the hope still held out to those who believe in Him.

When Paul wrote to the saints at Colosse, he spoke of "The hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel." The Gospel tells men of God's salvation, directing them to Christ in whom all their blessing is, and bidding them to wait for His coming to take them to their heavenly home. We are not to endeavour to put this world right; Christ will do that when He comes; we are to represent Him in the place where He has been rejected, with the sure knowledge that all our hopes are bound up with Himself where He sits in the presence of His God and Father.

Israel's place of blessing on earth has been secured to them by the call of God, and "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance " (Romans 11:29). God's promises will assuredly be fulfilled, and Jerusalem will yet be the great metropolis of the earth, and all the nations will there pay tribute to the Lord. But God has purposes, formed before the foundation of the world, and according to these the Christian has been blessed "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."

What lay in God's eternal purpose was not revealed to the Old Testament saints. Man was under probation until the cross; and when man had been fully tested, and proved incorrigibly wicked, and brought to an end judicially in the cross, God made known His eternal purpose, and that in relation to Christ, risen from the dead and glorified at His own right hand in heaven. Everything in the heavens and on the earth will be under Man in Christ in the coming day, and those who, through grace have been blessed of God will share His place.

Those blessed according to the purpose of God in Christ, will be forever before God as His sons, holy, blameless and in love sharing there the place of His own beloved Son; and they will also share the glory of Christ in His kingdom, being heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. All this blessing is heavenly, and will be enjoyed in heaven with Christ. There is that which belongs to the millennial display of Christ's glory, and that which is for all eternity.

As Christians, our thoughts are not to be governed by what belongs to this scene. We have died with Christ to the things of this world, and are risen with Christ, and are therefore exhorted to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God " (Col. 3:1). How clearly such a Scripture as this shows the true, heavenly character of Christianity. We are going on to heaven, and all our interests are to be centred on Christ in the place where He is, and where we soon shall he with Him. Spiritual energy is required for this, therefore are we exhorted to set our minds "on things above, not on things on the earth."

When the Lord Jesus prayed to His Father, in John 17, He said, "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men Thou gavest me out of the world." How clear is the line between the world and those God has taken out of the world; and this is emphasised in the Lord's words, " I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are Thine" (ver. 9). The cleavage between the world and the saints is further distinguished in the words, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (ver. 16). Who would deny the heavenly character of the true Christian in the light of such words uttered by the Son of God to the Father?

Since we do not belong to this world, we are exhorted by the Holy Spirit, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). We have been begotten of the heavenly system that God has established in relation to Christ in His presence, for "Jerusalem above … is our mother" (Gal. 4:26). Enemies of the cross of Christ "mind earthly things," but the Christians' "commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory" (Phil. 3:18-21).

How difficult it was for Jewish believers to get their minds away from the thought of earthly blessing. It had been the same, as we have seen, with the disciples when the Lord was on earth. They had been so long trained to look for an earthly Messiah and an earthly kingdom, that the teaching of a heavenly Christ and a "heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim. 4:18) was difficult for them to grasp. Hence the emphasis of heaven in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the writer, by the Spirit of God, speaks of "heavenly things"; (Heb. 8:5; Heb. 9:23); "the heavenly calling" (Heb. 3:1); "the heavenly gift" (Heb. 6:4); "a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Heb. 11:16); and "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). As Gentiles, we have not this difficulty, yet we need the same exhortation, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus … set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2).

The Son of God spoke to Nicodemus of earthly things when He said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God ": but He had also come to speak of "heavenly things"; the things of eternal life, which the Father had commanded Him to speak. The Jew could understand about treasure on earth, and a reward on earth: how strange to him must the words of the Lord have been when he spoke of "treasure in heaven," and of "reward in heaven." Yet these are held out to the Christian, and are to be enjoyed with Christ in His "heavenly kingdom."

As a heavenly people God would have us walk in this world for His pleasure, knowing "that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," and "earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven" (2 Cor. 5:1-2). All around us will soon pass away, but we have the light of heaven in regard to what will never pass away. Therefore let us seek God's pleasure, and the things of the coming day of glory, "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).