5-1-2 Individual Relationships In The Kingdom
The parable of the unjust steward makes the point that in the Kingdom,
the faithful will be given by Christ " the true riches...that which
is your (very) own" (Lk. 16:12). The reward given will to some degree
be totally personal. Each works out his own salvation, such as
it will be (Phil. 2:12)- not in the sense of achieving it by works, but
rather that the sort of spirituality we develop now will be the essential
person we are in the eternity of God's Kingdom. When the Lord spoke of
how the faithful will be clothed by Him in a robe (Mt. 22:11; Lk. 15:22),
He is connecting with the usage of " clothing" as a symbol of
the covering of righteousness which He gives, and which also represents
the immortality of the Kingdom (1 Cor. 15:53,54; 2 Cor. 5:2-5). The choice
of clothing as a symbol is significant; the robe covered all the body,
except the face. The individuality of the believer still remains, in the
eyes of Christ. What we sow in this life, we will receive in the relationships
we have in the Kingdom; there will be something totally individual about
our spirituality then, and it will be a reflection of our present spiritual
struggles. This is Paul's point in the parable of the seed going into
the ground and rising again, with a new body, but still related to the
original seed which was sown.
The parable of the pounds describes the reward of the faithful in terms
of being given ten or five cities (Lk. 19:17). This idea of dividing up
groups of cities was surely meant to send the mind back to the way Israel
in their wilderness years were each promised their own individual cities
and villages, which they later inherited. The idea of inheriting "
ten cities" occurs in Josh. 15:57; 21:5,26; 1 Chron. 6:61 (all of
which are in the context of the priests receiving their cities), and "
five cities" in 1 Chron. 4:32. As each Israelite was promised some
personal inheritance in the land, rather than some blanket reward which
the while nation received, so we too have a personal reward prepared.
The language of inheritance (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4) and preparation of reward
(Mt. 25:34; Jn. 14:1) in the NT is alluding to this OT background of the
land being prepared by the Angels for Israel to inherit (Ex. 15:17 Heb.;
23:20; Ps. 68:9,10 Heb.) . We must be careful not to think that our promised
inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally
prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate
if our reward is only eternal life. The husbandman produces fruit which
is appropriate to his labours, and so our eternal future and being will
be a reflection of our labours now (Heb. 6:7). Not that salvation depends
upon our works: it is the free, gracious gift of God. But the nature of
our eternity will be a reflection of our present efforts.
We have elsewhere shown that our reward in the Kingdom will in some way
be related to the work of upbuilding we have done with our brethren
and sisters in this life (1). The "
reward" which 1 Cor. 3:14 speaks of is the " work"
we have built in God's ecclesia in this life. In agreement with
this, Paul describes those he had laboured for as the reward he
would receive in the Kingdom (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19). Relationships
in the Kingdom of God were to be his reward. This not only demonstrates
the impossibility of attaining the " reward" if we ignore
the brotherhood; it also shows that the Kingdom will mean something
different for each of us; the " reward" we will be given
will be a reflection of our own personal labours for our brethren
in ecclesial life.
Some years later the Lord stressed the same point, when He promised the
faithful that their reward in the Kingdom would be like a stone
with a name written in it which nobody else knew, except themselves
and their Lord, who gave it (Rev. 2:17). It has been suggested that
this refers to a custom of writing a name on a stone, breaking the
stone in half at random, and each friend keeping one half. The half
stone would only fit exactly with the other half stone, and when
the friends met in the future, they would fit the stones together
as proof of their earlier relationship (2).
Relationships in the Kingdom of God will be in that sense private
and unenterable. Bible characters often have epithets in God’s record
of them- Judas who betrayed, Jeroboam who made Israel sin. We will
be given such a name / summation of our relationship with the Lord
in the Kingdom. Nobody else knows / understands / appreciates this
name. This is a clear statement that other believers cannot enter
into the personal relationship between a man and his God. Likewise,
none of us can know the name which was written on the Lord Jesus
(Rev. 19:12). None of us will ever quite be able to enter into the
nature of the relationship between Father and Son. If we could,
He would not be our Lord. Paul possibly expresses the same idea
of an unenterable relationship in 1 Cor. 2:15: " He that is
spiritual discerneth all things (about God), yet he himself is discerned
of no man" (AVmg.). Our real spiritual being is a " hidden
man" (1 Pet. 3:4). The Spirit describes our final redemption
as our " soul" and " spirit" being " saved"
; our innermost being, our essential spiritual personality, who
we really are in spiritual terms, will as it were be immortalized
(1 Pet. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5). This means that our spiritual development
in this life is directly proportional to the type of person we will
be for evermore. If, for example, we develop a generous
spirit now, this is " a good foundation" for our future
spiritual experience (1 Tim. 6:19). This is a stupendous conception,
and the ultimate fillip to getting serious about our very personal
spiritual development. Our mortal bodies will be changed to immortal,
Spirit nature bodies according to the Spirit which now
dwells in us (Rom. 8:11 Gk.). The attitude which we have to the
Lord Jesus now will be the attitude we have to Him at the
day of judgment (Mt. 7:23 cp. Lk. 6:46). He is the hidden manna;
in the Kingdom we will eat Him, in the sense of having fellowship
(the idea of ‘eating’) with Him who is now hidden from us in many
ways (Rev. 2:17).
Rev. 2:17 suggests that eating the hidden manna is to be paralleled with
being given the stone. The context implies this will be done at
the day of judgment. According to a number of commentators, a white
stone was laid down by the judge as a sign of acquittal and acceptance
(3). The Lord would therefore be implying
that after our encounter at the judgment, there will be an ongoing
relationship in the Kingdom of God between us, a locking together
of stones which no-one else possesses. The white stone is also parallel
to the white, stone-looking manna of the wilderness years (Ex. 16:14,23;
Num. 11:7). The reward we will be given in the Kingdom will be our
spiritual food, to be eaten 'daily' throughout the Kingdom. Israel
were to eat on the seventh day (a type of the Kingdom) the manna
which they had gathered and prepared on the sixth day. The manna
is a symbol of God's word as expressed in Christ (Jn. 6). Biblically,
a name refers to personality and character. The new name which no
one else knows thus refers to the reward " prepared" for
us individually, the new personality which we will be in the Kingdom,
the room in the Father's house prepared for each of us (Jn. 14:1).
This latter idea alludes to the way that there were chambers around
the temple named after individuals (e.g. Ezra 10:6). We will each
have our own chamber, in this figure. This new personality will
be written on the manna / stone, it will be the result of our own
very personal distilling of the essence of God's word. The concept
of a name written on a stone sends the mind back to the way in which
the names of the tribes of Israel were written on the stones of
the breastplate, each reflecting a different aspect of the light
of God's glory (Ex. 28:17). We will do this through our personal
understanding of God's word. It is a comforting yet sobering thought
that the Lord sees us as 'names'; not just as people. Biblically,
the name speaks of the character. When He says He will confess us
before the Father (Mt. 10:32), He means He will confess our name
before God (Rev. 3:5); He knows us according to our names / characters.
He speaks of ecclesial members as " names" in Rev. 3:4;
He calls His own sheep by name, and they each know His voice, responding
to His word individually. The call to one sheep will only
be recognized by that sheep; the others won't respond (Jn. 10:3).
He will take individual note of each sheep, treating them accordingly,
as the shepherd leads more gently those that are with young (Is.
40:11). It seems that even now, we each have our own individual
name with the Father and Son, encompassing their understanding of
our essential character. It may even be that in the record of Scripture,
God inspired the writers to record the names of individuals according
to His judgment of them (or at least, how the faithful viewed them
at the time), rather than by the names they actually went under.
What mother would have named her child Nabal (fool), or Ahira (brother
of evil, Num. 1:15), or 'sickness' or 'wasting' (Mahlon and Chilion)?
These names were either given to them by others and the use adopted
by God, or simply God in the record assigned them such names.
The personality we will be in the Kingdom will reflect the struggles
we have personally endured in this life. Relationships in the Kingdom
of God will reflect these. Thus those who had consciously chosen
to be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (4)
are comforted that in the Kingdom they will be given a name
and place in God's temple better than of children in this life (Is.
56:5). All the faithful will be given a name and place in the temple;
so what especial consolation was this to those eunuchs? Surely the
point is that the name (personality) they will then have will gloriously
reflect the self-sacrifice and personal Biblical understanding which
they went through in this life. This alone proves that the reward
will be individual. The Lord's picture of men entering the Kingdom
without limbs is surely making the same point (Mk. 9:47); the result
of our self-sacrifice in this life will be reflected by the personality
we have in the Kingdom. And there is evidence that the Man we follow
will still bear in His body, throughout eternity, the marks of the
crucifixion (Zech. 13:6; Rev. 5:6).
As we face the Lord straight after the judgment experience, perhaps almost
embarrassed at those marks He bears, there will be that unenterable personal
bond between Him and us. Jeremiah, after a symbolic death and resurrection,
went into the personal presence of the King for a private interview (Jer.
38); the Lord Jesus, it would seem, also had a private audience with the
Father soon after His resurrection. Are these patterns of our experience?
Israel left Egypt, passed through the baptism of the Red Sea, and then
walked through the wilderness- all in enacted parable of our spiritual
experience (1 Cor. 10:1). They then passed through the Jordan, and set
foot in the land of promise (cp. our entry to the Kingdom at the judgment
seat). But they had not been circumcised in the wilderness- possibly suggesting
that the new Israel will not have cut off the flesh as they should have
done in their wilderness walk. It is stressed at least five times in Joshua
5 that Joshua himself personally circumcised each of them, and then they
kept the Passover. This would seem to tellingly point forward to our coming
to the end of the wilderness walk of this life, and then entering into
the Kingdom; to have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus (cp. Joshua),
who performs the intensely personal operation of rolling back and cutting
off the flesh, and then we sit down together and keep the Passover, as
the Lord clearly intimated we would (Mt. 26:29). This is how personal
relationships in the Kingdom of God will be.
The idea of a personal meeting with the Father and Son is not only taught
in typology. Job looked out of the tunnel of his depression and pain to
the day when he would see God " for myself; and mine eyes shall behold
(Him), and not another" (Job 19:27). Doubtless spurred by the insensitive
prying into his private spirituality by his friends / brethren, Job seems
to almost exult that he would see God for himself, in his own way, and
nobody else (" and not another" ; see context) would see God
in this way. David had a similar vision; he looked to the day of resurrection
when he would be satisfied, when he awoke, with seeing the face of God
with a good conscience (Ps. 17:15). These are the sort of pictures which
should be embedded in our own private spirituality. Nobody, not even faithful
brethren, can have dominion over our faith; by our own faith
we stand (2 Cor. 1:24, filling in the ellipsis). Solomon exhorts his son
to get wisdom, for " if thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself:
but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it" (Prov. 9:12). The
understanding of God we gain from His word, and the result of rejecting
it, is so intensely personal. We each have a personal seal, as it were,
with our own personal characteristics on it; and we set to our seal the
fact that God is Truth, that He is the God of our covenant (" Truth"
is a word associated throughout the OT with God's covenant relationship
with men; Jn. 3:33).
Is. 46:3,4 presents another such picture: " ...the house of Israel,
which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from
the womb: and even to your old age, I am he; and even to hoar (i.e. gray)
hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear;
even I will carry [you]" . God is likening Himself to a
woman who carries a child in her womb, then bears it, and then carries
it as a baby, but still carries it when the child is an old man.
Incidentally, this simile is proof enough that God is not somehow 'anti-women'.
The God of all knowledge is aware of a fundamental psychological phenomena
in all men; the fear, however passive and buried, of being without their
mother; the fear of loneliness, the fear of eternal separation from the
woman who bore and carried them. From the president to the happy village
grandfather, this sense is there. Perhaps David appreciated this when
he referred to a man weeping at his mother's funeral (not his father's)
as the ultimate cameo of grieving and desolation of soul (Ps. 35:14).
And yet God says that He is in some ways the eternal mother, the one who
bore and carried us in babyhood, but the One who will yet carry us when
we are gray headed and once again unable to walk. Yet He is also the everlasting
Father, through His Son (Is. 9:6). It's a picture of exquisite beauty.
Our relationship with God as the One who will never leave us
is the only answer to what philosophers call 'the existential
problem'; the awareness that has come to every thoughtful soul, the terror
of being so alone as we get older, the dread of being without our human
roots, of becoming the one to whom others (e.g. our children) look to
as their background and root, whilst we ourselves have no tangible link
with our past. This problem is defined by C.S. Lewis in The
Inner Ring: " I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods...one
of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring
and the terror of being left outside" . This horror of existential
loneliness can only be met by our sure knowledge that we have
a very personal relationship in the Kingdom of God with our Heavenly Father,
who will never ever leave us, and will preserve us unto His eternal Kingdom.
Individual Relationship: This Life
Having established that we have a personal relationship with the Father
and Son and that this will be most clearly manifested in the relationships
in the future Kingdom of God, we need to think about how this position
came to be achieved; how all this works out here and now in the Kingdom
of God in its present aspect. The entry of Israel into covenant with God
was a pattern of what we undertake at baptism: " Thou hast
(singular) avouched Yahweh this day to be thy God, and to walk
in his ways, and to keep his statutes...and Yahweh hath avouched
thee this day to be his peculiar people...that thou shouldest
keep all his commandments" (Dt. 26:17,18). Notice the mutuality between
God and the individual member of Israel (natural or spiritual). This is
exemplified in Phinehas; he was commended for being zealous / jealous
(same word) for Yahweh, who is Himself a jealous God (Num. 25:11). He
shared the characteristics of God and thereby enjoyed this mutual relationship
with God. Israel were to teach their children that God had personally
saved them at the Red Sea. The covenant made with Israel then
was made not only with the “fathers” who were then alive, but with every
member of every generation of God’s people (Dt. 5:3; 6:20). David spoke
of praising God for the health of His face; and then talks of how God
is the source of the health of his face (Ps. 42:5,11 RV). It’s
as if the glory of the invisible God rubbed upon David, as it did literally
for Moses, whose faced became radiant with the glory of the Angel who
spoke to him.
There seems a purposeful ambiguity in how the process of calling upon
the name of the Lord is described in the Greek text; it can mean both
us calling upon ourselves His Name, and also His Name being named upon
us by Him. Joel 2:32 says that all those whom the Lord calls
will call on His Name, a prophecy fulfilled in baptism. In similar
vein, the Lord Jesus lived, died and rose as the representative of all
men; and those who know and believe this chose to respond by identifying
themselves with Him in the symbolic death and resurrection of baptism,
and subsequent life in Christ- they make Him their representative, as
He has chosen to be theirs. They respond to His willing identification
with them by living a life identified with Him. Likewise if a man truly
believes in Christ, He will ‘commit himself’ unto him (Jn. 2:24)- the
very same word for ‘believe in[to]’. We believe into the Lord, and He
believes into us.
Time and again the Sermon on the Mount / Plain seems to take a broad
sweep in its record of the Lord’s teaching to us all; and then He suddenly
focuses in on the individual. The AV brings this out well through the
use of “you” (plural) and “thee” (singular): “Blessed are you poor…love
your enemies…to him who strikes thee on the cheek…”. Note how many times
there is this change of pronoun in Luke 6. Clearly the Lord wants us to
see our collective standing before Him, and yet not to overlook the purely
personal nature of His appeal to us individually. We are to be the ground
that drinks in the rain of God’s word, and yet also the husbandmen who
bring forth the fruit to God’s glory; and yet the ground brings forth
fruit appropriate to those who have worked on it (Heb. 6:7). Does this
not suggest that we each bring forth a unique and personally appropriate
form of spiritual fruit?
(1) See 'The Judgment
And The Quality Of Our Brethren', in James And Other
Studies (London: Pioneer, 1992).
(2) Mentioned in H.A.
Whittaker, Revelation: A Biblical Approach (Greenville,
SC: Honest Truth, 1976).
(3) See John Thomas, Eureka
Vol. 1 (London: The Dawn Book Supply, 1959 Ed.), p.315.
(4) It seems this is the
only recorded case of men consciously becoming eunuchs for the sake
of the Kingdom. Did the Lord have these men of Hezekiah and Nehemiah's
time in mind in Mt. 19:12? However, for another view of Mt. 19:12
(which applies it to all single converts), see The