Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (January 2014)
1. The mystery of the kingdom of heaven
2. The mystery of Israel’s hardening and end-time salvation
3. The mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ
4. The mystery of the body of Christ
5. The mystery of faith
6. The mystery of the Lord’s will
7. The mystery of the first resurrection
8. The mystery of lawlessness
9. The mystery of the harlot
10. The mystery of the beast with the seven heads
Conclusion: The importance of deeper insight
In the progressive unfolding of God’s plan for humanity there were various appointed times throughout the centuries when new truths were revealed. These revelations sometimes gave rise to new spiritual dispensations in man’s history of salvation. The most prominent examples of such times were the dispensation of the law which followed upon the giving of God’s laws at Sinai, and the dispensation of grace (also referred to as the church age or the dispensation of the Holy Spirit) which was initiated by Christ’s first coming, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The following appointed time for the initiation of a new dispensation will be when Christ returns as Judge and King.
Paul refers to the important new period which dawned with the coming of Christ: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). Much of what the Lord Jesus tells us in the new dispensation is the fulfilment, or further expansion, of known truths in the Old Testament. But many other things are altogether new and were unknown until the moment when they were revealed to people. The Bible refers to these new revelations as the declaring of “mysteries”.
It is the responsibility of Christ’s witnesses not only to be fully acquainted with the new revelations, but also to proclaim it to others: “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). If we honour our obligation in this regard, other believers will better understand the significance of Christ’s grace, thereby averting the mistake of depriving themselves spiritually due to ignorance, or to mix tenets of the church age with the previous dispensation of the law. Such a mistake can have disastrous consequences: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). It is therefore of the utmost importance to know the mysteries in the Bible and to walk in the light of the new revelations.
Ten mysteries are mentioned in the New Testament, and they all refer to matters which were unknown to Old Testament believers. The Lord expects from all His disciples, and particularly those who preach the gospel, to acquaint themselves with these new revelations and to actively proclaim them. It is only when we fully comprehend and consider all the New Testament mysteries that we will be suitably prepared for further revelations during the second coming of Christ. Even with everything we now know, we only know in part and are still looking ahead to wonderful new revelations of the knowledge of God. Paul says: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12 NIV).
However, our partial knowledge of God and all His works does not limit our understanding of Christ and our relationship with Him. Through the filling of the Holy Spirit we are able to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height [of] the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19). If we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ we will be conscious of the new revelations concerning Him and His gospel, and also of the devil’s secret plans to deceive us spiritually. This knowledge will help us to avoid deviations and to remain on the right track.
The first mystery relates to the kingdom of God, including the different forms in which it was revealed during man’s history of salvation, as well as prophetic references to future revelations thereof. Within the broad framework of God’s universal kingdom an earthly, theocratic kingdom was established in Old Testament times in which the Chosen People of Israel were the special servants and representatives of God. However, that was only the early beginning of a kingdom that was destined to ultimately include the whole world and offer all nations entrance into God’s eternal kingdom.
The Lord has determined various phases in the establishing and expansion of this kingdom, i.e. (a) the Old Testament calling of Israel to act as representatives and mediators in God’s kingdom on earth; (b) the first coming of God’s Son as Saviour of Israel and the entire world, followed by the New Testament dispensation to lay the spiritual foundation for God’s kingdom in the hearts of people; and (c) the physical revelation of God’s kingdom on earth under the direct authority of His Son.
The kingdom of heaven is an earthly manifestation of the bigger kingdom of God, and therefore essentially a part of it. That is the reason why these two concepts are sometimes being used interchangeably while referring to the same kingdom (cf. Matt. 19:23-24). The Gospel according to Matthew offers a large number of parables of the kingdom of heaven in which spiritual mysteries are revealed that were unknown during Israel’s Old Testament kingdom. Only when these objectives have been realised, and access to God’s kingdom has been offered to all nations, an eschatological revelation of this kingdom will occur.
The first of an extensive range of mysteries which are revealed in the New Testament was aimed at focussing Israel’s attention on the deeper, spiritual principles and also the final objective of the kingdom of heaven. It was important for them to consider this new perspective, lest they remained victims of their own restrictive thinking. During the coming of the Messiah, their religious tradition was based upon the following premises:
· During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus the Jewish nation had been observing the Abrahamic covenant for two thousand years, in terms of which they regard the rite of circumcision as an entry point to the kingdom of God.
· For 1 400 years they had the law of the Lord as a moral guideline for God’s people, but they wrongly concluded that the law has power to save.
· A ritualistic tradition of atonement was based upon the complex sacrificial service of the tabernacle and subsequent temple, without realising that the blood of animals cannot take away sins. These typological sacrifices served the purpose of pointing ahead to the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God (Heb. 10:1-10).
· They had a Jerusalem-based kingdom in which kings, in association with religious leaders such as priests and prophets, were the stewards of God’s earthly kingdom. God guaranteed the safety of this kingdom against hostile attacks, on condition that His people obeyed His laws and walked in His ways.
Israel intended to perpetuate this preparatory, shadowy phase of the kingdom of heaven in its existing form and were consequently opposed to any form of spiritual renewal. They only waited on the Messiah to restore the throne of David, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, reinstitute the sacrificial service in order to atone for the sins of the Covenant People, and hoped that He would help them mobilise a strong military force to conquer and destroy their enemies.
However, when Jesus claimed to be Israel’s Messiah but did not make any effort towards delivering Israel from domination by the Roman Empire, He was summarily rejected by the leaders of the nation. But as God He had all treasures of knowledge and wisdom, and for that reason He spoke through parables to explain hidden aspects of His kingdom.
Since Israel had nationalised the kingdom of heaven by only confining it to themselves, they did not appreciate the bigger and more exalted objectives of this kingdom and consequently did not anticipate the fulfilment of the Old Testament’s sacrificial service through the atoning death of the Messiah as the Lamb of God. They still maintained that membership of this kingdom was confined to Israel, and that apart from biological descent from the twelve tribes, covenant privileges were ritually obtained through circumcision, law observance and sacrifices. That means that Gentiles are excluded from God’s kingdom.
The Lord Jesus explained to them the true and universal objectives of this kingdom, what the strict spiritual conditions were with which they had to comply (John 3:3), as well as the nature of the spiritual threats which they would encounter if they wished to live victoriously as members of God’s kingdom. Much of this information was completely unknown to Israel, and for that reason Jesus said: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:35). Because many of these mysteries relate directly to the Person and works of the Messiah, Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah would not be able to understand the mysteries. To His disciples He said: “... it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. ... For the heart of this people has grown dull” (Matt. 13:11, 15).
The parables on the kingdom were given as an introduction to the revelation of further mysteries of the Christian life, which could only be revealed after the crucifixion of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If the nation had heeded the parables they would have been well prepared for that which was to follow. However, the majority of the people hardened themselves against instruction on deeper spiritual truths and therefore had an unteachable spirit. When basic doctrines on God’s kingdom are rejected, such people are not ready to receive teaching on the further unfolding of God’s plan for humanity. That is the reason why the Lord Jesus only proclaimed and explained these mysteries to a core group of believers in Israel.
New Testament believers have no excuse to be ignorant on the revelation of mysteries, and are obliged to ask questions such as the following: What were the hidden, new characteristics of the kingdom which Israel was associated with for such a long time? Who are destined for this kingdom and what is expected of people who wish to be part of it? Another important question is: What will happen to those who oppose and reject this kingdom, and also those who are failed, hypocritical members of this kingdom?
These two parables are closely associated and are also the only two in Matthew 13 which were fully explained afterwards so the disciples could clearly understand them. The expositions are:
“Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:18-23).
“Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said to them: He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:36-43).
According to these two parables, the central points of reference and basic principles of the kingdom of heaven are the following:
· He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man (13:37). Jesus Christ Himself is the Source of the message of salvation, through whom people may obtain membership of the kingdom of heaven. He is the light of the world and the only Name by which we can be saved. His disciples should all be able to testify about this basic truth, because a spiritual house cannot be built before the proper foundation has been laid.
· The field is the world (13:38). This kingdom is not geographically confined to the land of Israel but will ultimately encompass the entire earth. Shortly before the second coming of Christ, the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a witness to all nations, then the end will come (24:14).
· The seed is the word of the Lord (13:19). The word does not refer to the Torah but to the gospel message of the New Covenant. The gospel of grace is part of the mystery of the kingdom which is proclaimed to Israel and the nations to prepare them spiritually for this future kingdom.
· The Evil One robs people of the word (13:19). Ignorant and unbelieving people are the victims of demonic deception. The enemy of God’s kingdom robs people of spiritual truths, and specifically also of knowledge about the mysteries of the New Testament.
· Unsaved nominal believers do not have a future in the kingdom (13:20-21). A superficial spiritual experience without a regenerated heart does not lead to a lasting union with the kingdom (cf. 15:8). Such people do not have the spiritual vitality which is needed to resist opposition and persecution, and that explains why they easily revert to doubt and unbelief.
· God’s righteousness is uncompromising (13:22). The way of living in the kingdom of heaven demands a renewed heart and cannot be associated with the sinful practices of the depraved world. Duplicity brings a quick end to people’s involvement with God’s kingdom. Those who keep on accommodating the thorns of sin in their lives resist the Holy Spirit and eventually quench Him.
· The fruit of the Spirit is the proof of a true faith (13:23). Those who understand and believe the word of God, and are cleansed from all sin, bear much fruit in His kingdom. Their hearts were purified and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Lord does not take into account national identity, descent, or outward covenant signs, but solely demand changed hearts.
· The wheat represents the children of God (13:38). They are the product of the good seed that was sown (13:24). People in whose lives the Word are fully manifested become conformed to His Son who is the Word that became flesh.
· The tares are the children of the devil (13:38). They belong to a hostile kingdom but have been sown among the wheat. These people have the devil as father and are intent on doing his desires – he is a liar, deceiver, instigator and murderer.
· The separation of the wheat and tares will occur during harvest time (13:30). In the present dispensation light and darkness coexist in the world, which means that the kingdom of heaven exists in a hidden form in believers’ hearts – it will only be physically manifested in the end-time when the King comes back to take charge of human affairs.
· The gathering and burning of the tares (13:40). This will take place at the end of the age, referring to the end of the dispensation between the first and second coming of the Messiah. The great tribulation will be a judgement of God upon the unbelieving nations.
· Rewards for faithful service (13:23). The lives of believers yield fruit for the kingdom of heaven – some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The fruit will be an indication of how serious and wholeheartedly the Saviour and King was served, and therefore be the basis for the allocation of rewards of grace.
· Glorification of the children of the kingdom (13:43). They will shine as lights in the kingdom of their Father. But first, all the nations on earth must be offered an opportunity to enter into the kingdom of the Messiah, and only then will His kingdom be fully revealed.
In these two parables alone, various mysteries on the kingdom of heaven have been explained. The disciples, as well as other Jews who understood its deeper meaning, would have recognised the Messiahship of Jesus and fully realised that He is the only hope for the salvation and blessed future existence of Israel and the nations. He is the promised Saviour and King of the world. They had to understand that the kingdom of heaven would only be established on earth much later, after millions of other people would have had the opportunity of also becoming members thereof. However, at that early stage the disciples did not realise that they would be commissioned to initiate the great task of evangelising the world.
During the church age the kingdom of heaven would not be physically revealed on earth, but nevertheless be established as a spiritual reality in the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21). The followers of Christ would be confronted by an evil world, and the continued hostility would call for perseverance and spiritual warfare while fulfilling their duty (John 15:18-20; Eph. 6:10-11). The disciples also had to ensure that they themselves did not become victims of the devil’s subtle deception, as he would not passively look on while his kingdom was threatened.
In the long period before the physical revelation of the heavenly kingdom on earth, there are various commands and principles of life which should be observed. It would depend on the insight, dedication and perseverance of the disciples whether they would achieve their purpose. This is the reason why the Lord, through many parables, ensured that they fully appreciated the seriousness of the matter and that they would also be able to discern and avoid the many deviations from the narrow way. New knowledge which was conveyed to them by means of revealing the mysteries clearly marked out the way to New Testament believers. A correct spiritual orientation and future expectation is imperative in order to counter any false concepts of the kingdom.
There is a large number of parables in which the further unfolding of the kingdom is described, as well as the premises and requirements associated with it. It is of vital importance to every person on earth to take notice of this information. It was given to encourage and assist believers to stay on course, while unbelievers are seriously warned against the reality of the alternative kingdom of darkness with which they are involved – whether they realise it or not. If the Lord is not a person’s spiritual Father, then the devil is his father who will lead him towards a dark future and eternal death (John 8:41-44).
The following are further parables as well as other forms of instruction on a number of aspects pertaining to the kingdom of heaven:
The Lord Jesus made it clear that during His first coming it was not His purpose to be appointed as King to restore Israel’s political kingdom; but as the suffering Messiah He came to fulfil His role as the Lamb of God who had to die for the salvation of lost humanity (Matt. 18:11; 20:18-19). Sinners first had to be spiritually redeemed before they could become part of His kingdom – only then can He reign as King over His liberated inheritance. The parable of the Good Shepherd clearly emphasises these facts, but legalistic Jews could not understand His teaching (John 10:6). Christ exposed the hidden meaning of the parable by describing Himself as the Good Shepherd:
“I am the door of the sheep. ... If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved. ... The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. ... And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:7-18).
Jesus had to lay down His life to be able to save people. This sacrifice would not only be brought for Israel but also for other sheep, i.e. the Gentile nations of the world. Christ also referred to His resurrection – the taking up of His life after He has laid it down. A further mystery that would only be revealed later was that believers from Israel and the Gentiles would be joined together into one spiritual body.
Orthodox Jews who refused to recognise the Messiahship of Jesus did not understand this important revelation on His atoning death and resurrection. The leaders of the nation shared this agnosticism and was responsible that Israel became scattered across the world while the Messiah who was rejected by them, was proclaimed to the Gentiles. At the end of this period Israel will return to their land and be prepared to receive the Messiah at His second coming (cf. Luke 19:41-44; Matt. 23:37-39).
An important mystery which was revealed by the Messiah was that the dispensation of the law had reached its point of conclusion. Consequently, the Old Testament covenant sign of circumcision, together with dedicated law observance, would no longer grant access to the kingdom of heaven (Heb. 8:13). Under the New Covenant, faith in the Son of God would be the only way of spiritual renewal through a cleansed and regenerated heart. Jesus said to an orthodox teacher, who walked irreproachable according to the Old Covenant: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
In the subsequent discussion, the explanation was given that rebirth emerges from faith in the Son of God: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. ... He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:16-19).
Faith in Jesus would henceforth be the only basis for salvation as He was about to fulfil all the shadowy sacrifices of the Old Testament through His crucifixion. The alternative to faith in Him is the judgement upon unbelievers. Not only did most people in Israel love the spiritual darkness of a depraved world more than the light of God’s kingdom, but the same situation would also prevail during the church dispensation. Those on the narrow way were always a small minority (Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24). Blinded religious leaders on the broad way do not understand the revealed mystery on Christ and His saving grace; therefore, they reject Him by questioning or openly denying His Messiahship, virgin birth, the significance of His atoning death, His power to forgive sins, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension as well as the promise of His bodily return from heaven.
A true faith goes hand in hand with a guilt consciousness and a humble trust in God to forgive your sins. Proud people think much of themselves and always boast in their good works and irreproachable lives according to the law, and therefore do not approach the Lord’s throne of grace for cleansing from sin. It was with a view on this situation that Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee justified himself and returned home with an unchanged heart while the tax collector who confessed his sins and expressed his need for salvation, returned home justified. He experienced what it was to be forgiven and spiritually renewed, and thus entered in through the narrow gate.
The unbiblical expectation of a fully manifested kingdom before Jesus has come as King of kings, induces people to strive after high positions such as kings and rulers. That was even the case among the disciples of Jesus. The mother of John and James approached Jesus with a request: “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Matt. 20:21). In His reply, Jesus indicated that this request was not relevant to what was lying immediately ahead for the disciples. They should rather have prayed for strength and grace to be able to suffer persecution and rejection while they served as Christ’s witnesses in a hostile world. It was not yet the time for esteem and dominion, but rather for humility and service:
“But Jesus answered and said, You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? ... You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:22, 25-28).
There is no possibility of dominion in Christ’s future kingdom without a sincere spiritual dedication to the Saviour, as well as a commitment to render service to His hidden kingdom which is not of this evil world. During the present dispensation, political and economic power is wielded by the governments of heathen nations. Christ’s faithful servants will only reign with Him after He has returned and destroyed the kingdoms of the world (Rev. 11:15; 19:15).
By way of another parable the Lord Jesus explained His coming to the world as Saviour, and emphasised that He would only later return as King. The situation which prompted this parable was the salvation of a well-known sinner in Israel, the tax collector Zacchaeuz. After this man’s sincere conversion Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
As a descendant of Abraham, Zacchaeuz was a member of the covenant people and although he had a birthright to inherit the kingdom of heaven he first had to repent from his sinful ways and be reconciled to Israel’s Messiah-King, which he did. From this event it is evident that heirs of the kingdom of God must first be spiritually justified, and to this end it is imperative to recognise Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. Members of the covenant people who refused to do that rendered themselves unworthy for the kingdom.
However, the disciples did not realise that it would be a long-term commission to convince Israel of the gospel of the Messiah, and to also reach out to the entire unsaved world. Before the crucifixion they were still under the impression that Jesus would immediately proceed to establish God’s kingdom as a physical reality on earth. The Lord Jesus explained the truths pertaining to this important matter in the following parable:
“Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, Do business till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ ... ‘But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me’” (Luke 19:11-23, 27).
Jesus was the Man of royal descent who was destined to be the King of Israel as well as the entire world: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). As the Son of Man He would be born in Bethlehem but as God He has an eternal existence. He would be King in Israel (Luke 1:32). Because of this prophecy, early first century believers were under the impression that He would soon be crowned as King.
Jesus is the Man of noble birth who would, after His atoning death as the Lamb of God, travel to a far country (heaven) to be highly exalted and given a name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9). Afterwards, He will return as King. At the beginning of the time of His physical absence He appointed servants to promote the affairs of His heavenly kingdom here on earth.
The mina which He gave to every one of them does not refer to money since they were not promised wealth, power, prestige or a commanding position over people. The mina represents the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Shortly before the ascension of the Lord Jesus the questions on the institution of His kingdom still continued, but in stead of a revealed kingdom He promised to them the power and ability to be His witnesses all over the world:
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
During this time the disciples would be rejected and persecuted by the world while evangelising lost humanity under very difficult conditions. Israel’s Old Testament kingdom would remain in a fallen state with Jerusalem trampled by Gentiles, as the promised eschatological kingdom will only be established during the second coming of the Messiah. In the meantime, the times of the Gentiles would continue and the disciples of Christ would practically have the status of sojourners and pilgrims in an apostate world (1 Pet. 2:11).
When the King returns to the world He will have judicial appointments with two groups of people – the believers who are members of His kingdom, and the unbelievers who rejected Him as King. The believers who worked in the power of the Holy Spirit will receive rewards of grace (1 Cor. 3:8-15). A part of the reward will be royal positions of authority in the King’s worldwide empire, in which some of them will reign over more cities than others, depending on their faithful service to the King. Those who achieved nothing are the ones who did not seriously consider the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8). In the power of the flesh they were unable to produce anything that has value for eternity. They built with wood, hay and straw and, as failed disciples, they will appear before the King with empty hands.
Another important part of the revelation and establishing of Christ’s kingdom on earth is the destruction or incarceration of all followers and persons of authority in Satan’s kingdom. That includes the king of this empire (the Antichrist), his co-ruler (the false prophet) as well as their millions of followers (Rev. 19:19-21). In the parable, Christ says: “But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27). The devil, who has supreme authority in this evil kingdom, will be cast in a pit together with his demons, thereby removing them from the scene (Rev. 20:1-3). There can be no co-existence between the revealed kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
It is an important statement that at His return the King will first summon His servants to reveal how they have performed their duties (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Shortly after the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-17) the disciples will appear before the judgement seat of Christ in heaven. With the rapture of the church the withholder against the revelation of the Antichrist will have been taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:6-12), which means that the false christ can be revealed to reign over the world for seven years (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:7). His followers will all reject the true Christ, and because of that they will be judged by God. People who will be saved during that time by receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour, will die as martyrs for their faith (Rev. 6:9-11; 12:11).
The following parable of Jesus demonstrates the negative reactions of different groups of people who did not understand the mysteries of the kingdom – thereby depriving themselves of great blessings:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding. But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding. So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:2-13).
Israel had such a limited understanding of the kingdom of heaven that they did not fully appreciate their upward call as God’s people, i.e. to be the bride of His Son. They completely neglected God’s command of holiness as indispensable preparation for their future role: “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). With only a few exceptions, they did not pursue this standard of living, and were merely looking for a Messiah with the political and military capacity to confirm Israel’s pre-eminence in the world.
The nation were spiritually dull and not troubled by their sin. That is the reason why they did not expect a humble Messiah who would offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of their sins. When He did appear in this capacity, Israel were not only unworthy to be gathered around Him as His bride, but they were openly hostile towards Him because He did not condone their legalism and self-justification.
According to the parable, the Father sent two groups of servants to proclaim to Israel that the Messiah, who is also Saviour, Bridegroom, and King, has come. The first group of servants included the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as Jesus Himself (cf. Isa. 52:13–53:7; Zech. 9:9; John 8:24). However, Israel rejected their testimony.
After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Father sent a second group of witnesses to Israel, i.e. the twelve apostles. They were also rejected, persecuted, and in some cases executed. The relatively small group of Messianic Jews who accepted the testimony about Jesus were not representative of the majority of unbelievers; consequently, the prophecies on the destruction of Jerusalem and the international dispersion of Israel were fulfilled in 70 AD.
The proclaiming of the gospel among the Gentiles was likewise only accepted by a minority of people in every nation. Even in this minority group there are church members who only have a form of godliness with no testimony of rebirth. They did not put on the Lord Jesus (Rom. 13:14) and only trust in their own righteousness. Nominal believers are depicted by the person in the parable who entered the hall without a wedding garment. People like this will be excluded and left behind at the rapture. Together with the unbelieving and deceived world they will find themselves in the darkness of the tribulation period under the Antichrist’s reign of terror.
It is vitally important to know the mysteries of the kingdom – and particularly the King who is also Saviour and Bridegroom. Only those who are spiritually reconciled to Him and filled with His Holy Spirit are members of His bridal congregation (Rev. 19:7-9).
The parable of the ten virgins emphasises important aspects of people’s disposition towards the kingdom of heaven. Because Israel did not comply with all the demands of God’s Word, they were not ready to receive the Messiah at His first coming. From the following parable it is evident that the situation during the second coming of Jesus will not be much better, as the heavenly Bridegroom will leave behind a large number of self-declared “believers” when He comes for His bridal congregation:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him! Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise answered, saying, No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us! But he answered and said, Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matt. 25:1-13).
To be among the bride of the Lamb, and by virtue of that sharing in all the privileges of His kingdom, calls for much more that compliance with outward criteria such as covenant signs, membership of one or other denomination, as well as the good works which are expected from believers – it calls for a life under the control of the Holy Spirit. The Lord alone can regenerate a sinful person through His Holy Spirit and make him conformable to the image of His Son. In this parable, the oil in the vessels of the virgins refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It ensures that the light of their testimony will keep on shining in the darkest night, that they will not go astray on deceptive ways, and that they will walk in the light of the Lord’s presence up to that moment when the heavenly Bridegroom will come for them.
The foolish virgins did comply with the outward criteria but neglected the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18), who alone can empower them to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17). In their lives the fruit of the Spirit was replaced by fleshly works, which are not at all acceptable to the Lord. Works of this nature, irrespective of how well they are intended, cannot provide a suitable wedding garment to a person. John says: “And to her [the bride] it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).
Through His Holy Spirit the Lord “granted” it to her to be arrayed in this way. These righteous acts are not works which a person does in his own strength for the Lord but works which the Holy Spirit does through him. Without a wedding garment of this nature the persons in question will remain behind when the Bridegroom comes, despite all the rituals, human traditions and works of self-righteousness that they may have to offer (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).
During the first coming of Jesus, orthodox Jews believed that law observance alone would render them acceptable to the Messiah. That was a serious error. During the second coming of Jesus, many believers will be under the impression that they will be able to stand before the Bridegroom without holiness (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:14; 1 John 3:3). Great disillusionment is awaiting those who pursued low spiritual standards.
The Lord Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for the fulfilment of all the wonderful promises on the kingdom of heaven, but also for strength and grace to remain standing during our earthly pilgrimage towards the fully revealed kingdom. We are at present still living in a world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One. The broad perspective and exalted purpose of our prayers should always be the honour of the Lord, as well as a future situation on earth in which only His will shall be done – i.e. when the kingdom of heaven will be revealed on earth: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10). We are looking forward to this situation and strive after it.
Subsequently, we pray for grace to be able to survive under difficult circumstances, to be spiritually protected under the atonement for sins which the Lord offers to us, to demonstrate our changed hearts by the way in which we communicate with our enemies, and to daily remain steadfast against all the wiles of the devil: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:11-13).
We are representatives of a kingdom which is not of this world. While we are underway to this kingdom, we should be witnesses for Christ and shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). To be able to do so we need to also explore further mysteries of the kingdom of heaven which were only revealed after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We therefore have to expand the above-mentioned prayer by pertinently basing our request for the forgiveness of sin on Christ’s atoning death, while also entreating the Father for everything else in the name of Jesus.
It is in the interest of all of us to be well acquainted with all the mysteries which the Lord has revealed in His Word. It sheds light on matters of which we would otherwise be ignorant. We need all this knowledge so that we, as people of God, “may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
Romans 8 concludes with an exalted description of God’s love which was poured out upon lost humanity through Jesus Christ, with a view to regenerating us from being enemies of God to people who are favoured by Him. The biggest sacrifice to establish this relationship was brought by God the Father: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all [Jews and Gentiles], how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). The Saviour did not only die to justify us before God but also lives to intercede for us at the Father’s throne (Rom. 8:34). He has conquered sin and death, and because of that there are no powers in life or death that can separate us from His love. A continued relationship with God is only possible through Him.
In the light of God’s life-changing love through His Son, it is in the interest of all of us to gain clarity on the following questions: What happens to people who try to live their lives outside the love and atonement of Christ? What would happen to Israel who, as a nation, rejected the Messiah after God had used them to prepare the way for the coming of His Son, and from whom Christ was born as the Son of Man? How would the spiritual blindness of the Chosen People affect their relationship with the Lord, and what influence would it have on the covenants between them and God? Paul said it would give rise to the partial hardening of Israel, and that is the subject of one of the mysteries which was revealed to us in the New Testament.
In Romans 9 to 11, Paul describes the calling of Israel as God’s people, the reasons for their spiritual failure, as well as their end-time restoration when the entire nation will be reconciled to the Messiah. He points to the fact that the hardening of the covenant people would not be permanent, that God’s covenants with Israel were not abrogated, and that there always was a small remnant of believing Israelites who pleased God. He also explains that, due to their unbelief, Israel have lost their core position in God’s plan of salvation for the world, but that this broken relationship will be fully restored at the second coming of the Messiah.
The role of the church in world evangelism does not suggest a situation in which Israel was replaced by a predominantly non-Jewish church (the so-called Covenant Theology). Therefore, the church should not become arrogant and conceited by ignoring Israel’s historic and prophetic role in the revelation and further expansion of God’s kingdom on earth. The Lord emphasises the fact that even in their fallen and hardened state, Israel is a blessing to the world, and that they will even be a much bigger blessing after they have received the Messiah as Saviour and King. There is no room in the Christian church for anti-Jewish sentiments and the denial of Israel’s national rights to their land when the Lord restores them in the end-time.
All these profound truths are part of a mystery which was not previously known, but was proclaimed to the Christian church through Paul’s ministry. He says to the congregation in Rome: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:25-26). In these two verses, various important statements are made which should be fully recognised in New Testament theology:
· Israel would become spiritually hardened. However, that would only be in part, in the sense that this condition would not continue indefinitely but be terminated at a certain point in time. The conjunction until means “up to the time of ...” and indicates a definite turning-point in a particular situation or condition. The period of Israel’s national hardening would continue right through the church dispensation when the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in by way of world evangelisation.
· Another implication of the concept “in part” is that not the entire nation of Israel would be spiritually blind and hardened. There will always be a relatively small remnant of the people who will continuously validate the spiritual survival of Israel.
· Believers among the Gentiles should not overreact on Israel’s unbelief and then, contrary to biblical pronouncements, declare that Israel’s role in God’s plan for the nations is obsolete and that they have been replaced by the church. That is not the case.
· The national salvation of Israel will only take place when the Messiah comes and sets foot on the Mount of Olives. Then, “all Israel will be saved”, and more than ever before be used in the establishment and expansion of God’s kingdom on earth.
The prophetic turning-point which will be reached according to the term “until” in Romans 11:25, ties up with two other pronouncements of the Lord Jesus. In His Olivet Discourse He said: “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). At the end of the church dispensation, when the fullness of the Gentiles has been gathered into the kingdom of God, Israel and their capital city will be restored – also spiritually as the people of God and the city of the Great King (cf. Ps. 48:1-2).
On another occasion, Christ also said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “You shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39). That will be the key to Israel’s national spiritual awakening, and the culmination of their complete end-time restoration at the second coming of the Messiah. Subsequently, the entire Israel will serve the Lord with all their heart: “No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34).
The mystery of Israel’s calling, spiritual blindness, and ultimate salvation as a people has been fully revealed to us. The Lord expects us to take notice of these facts and to refrain from acting in an ungrateful and uncharitable way towards Israel. We should learn from Israel’s mistakes (1 Cor. 10:1-12) while, at the same time, be supporters of Israel who pray for the full restoration of this nation and their capital city, Jerusalem (Isa. 62:6-7; Ps. 122:6).
In Romans 9, Paul refers to all the privileges which Israel enjoyed by virtue of their calling as the Lord’s special people – the promises to the patriarchs, their adoption as children of God, the guaranteed blessings through all the covenants that were concluded with them, the laws of the Lord in which the principles of holy living are determined, as well as the religious ceremonies in the tabernacle and later in the temple, including preaching, prayers, the sacrificial system, as well as the inquiring of the Lord (Rom. 9:4-5).
However, all these religious activities and revelations of the Lord through Israel were only in preparation of the incarnation of God’s Son, to whom all authority on earth has been given. Israel is a very special people, “from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Rom. 9:5). In Isaiah He is described as the “Mighty God” who will reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem (Isa. 9:6-7).
Paul was extremely grieved because Israel did not realise their divine calling to be a Messianic people in the full sense of the word (Rom. 9:1-3). They did not walk in the Lord’s ways and failed to serve Him with all their heart, thereby rendering themselves unworthy to recognise, accept, and follow the Messiah. Only a small group of Jews were spiritually awakened and correctly inclined towards God, and that is why Paul said: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Only those who truly had a relationship of faith with the Lord were, spiritually speaking, Israelites (“Contenders for God”). The other were unbelieving, nominal Israelites who were spiritually dead.
In Romans 9 to 11, a subject is discussed which is controversial in many circles, namely who bears the final responsibility for people’s faith or unbelief – is it God or the people themselves? God determines the consequences of the situation in which all people find themselves: either as recipients of His grace or as the objects of His wrath. He wishes to reveal great and wonderful things on earth through the establishing of His kingdom, and to that end He elects believers and appoints them as servants to promote His kingdom through them. The unbelievers who harden their hearts against Him are primarily responsible for the fact that God hardens their hearts even further. In this way they are subjected to the judgements of God in order that His supremacy will be confirmed in this way.
Because of the Lord’s foreknowledge of how people will react to His demands on faith and holiness He can, from the beginning, describe them as pardoned or condemned people. However, this is not part of a rigid doctrine of election in which people have no choice with regard to their final destination. Even Pharaoh made a choice to oppose God and His people. The Lord knew about this and then hardened Pharaoh’s heart further so that He could demonstrate His supremacy over the apostate Egyptians.
As far as Israel is concerned, He has elected the entire nation to be His favoured people, servants and witnesses. This election placed a responsibility on every member of the Chosen People to enter into a relationship of faith with God and to maintain this relationship. Most of them did not make the right choice, and to them election has been turned into rejection.
Shortly after Israel’s exodus from Egypt and experiencing His mighty deeds of salvation, the nation lapsed into idolatry. What has become of their election? “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5; cf. Ps. 95:10-11). Even after they had inherited the Promised Land their inclination towards apostatising continued. Joshua was much troubled because of this, but respected their freedom of choice: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24:15).
The same situation prevailed during the first coming of Jesus. He wanted to gather the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Himself as followers of their long-awaited Messiah, but they were spiritually dull and refused to receive Him. He said to them: “How often I wanted to gather your children ... but you were not willing. See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38). Through the actions of the Israelites the election of Israel has, for a very long time, changed into rejection. When Paul says that God has given His people a spirit of stupor so that they should not see or hear (Rom. 11:8), they were the guilty party for the setting in of this condition. As the favoured ones of God and members of the Chosen People, they had every reason and also the full opportunity to receive the Messiah, but they didn’t. God did not one-sidedly exclude them, since the gospel of Christ is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
The Lord is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance (Acts 17:30; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). As far as salvation is concerned, it makes no difference whatsoever whether a person is a member of the Chosen People (Israel) or any of the Gentile nations. The only thing that matters is whether he accepts God’s grace which is offered to him through Jesus Christ: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:12-13). He will only judge those who wilfully rejected His offer of grace, regardless of which nation they belong to.
Israel’s wrong view on the purpose and role of the law is responsible for their decision to reject the Messiah, while the law was actually meant to prepare the way towards the acceptance of the Messiah. The Gentiles who did not have the law, found it easier to repent and enter into a relationship of faith with Christ. To the Gentiles who believed the gospel, rejection has turned into election, while Israelites who resisted the gospel through their unbelief, had caused their own rejection.
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:30-33).
Why did the law become a stumbling-stone to the Jews? Because law-observance was not an act of faith but a form of justification by works, which was based on their own efforts to honour the law. If law-observance was united with faith, they would have recognised the inadequacy of their own efforts to live by the law, and trusted the Lord for the forgiveness of their sins. In that case the law would have been their tutor to the Messiah (Gal. 3:24), as He came to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21; Acts 4:12).
Believing Jews indeed made the transition from the law to grace. Paul said the purpose of his life was to be found in Christ, “not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9).
To legalistic Jews, observing the law was their ultimate purpose towards attaining righteousness, and for that reason they did not pursue righteousness through faith in the Messiah. On the contrary, He was a stumbling-block to them because He rejected their legalistic justification through the works of the law, and revealed their hypocrisy. These Jews did not comply with the spiritual standard demanded by the calling of God and therefore did not become Messianic Jews: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4).
The majority of Jews alienated themselves from God because of their erroneous concept of the law. Those who were not deceived, and who pleased God by faith, were always a small minority: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved” (Rom. 9:27 NIV).
It is a universal rule that people can only be justified before God by faith. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). Prayer plays a major role in a relationship of faith, and such people always become conscious of their sin when they draw near to God in prayer. In Old Testament times, God gave His law to Israel to demonstrate His principles of righteousness to them, and also to convict them of their sins. He forgave their sins (Rom. 4:7-8), despite the fact that the shadowy sin-offerings of the Old Covenant were not yet fulfilled in the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
If the law and the sacrificial service were correctly understood, it would have driven believers to the Lord to strengthen their faith as they could not comply with the demands of the law in their own strength. However, most Israelites made the mistake of exalting the works of the law and only observing them, rather than pursuing an active relationship of faith with the Lord. They became the slaves of a religious system, in which they primarily boasted in their own works. In the absence of a serious quest for the forgiveness of sins, they were not prepared for the coming of the suffering Messiah who would take the iniquities of the nation upon Himself (cf. Isa. 53:5). When Jesus came as the Lamb of God precisely to fulfil this role these people rejected Him.
During New Testament times, many people make exactly the same mistake. They look for salvation in a religious system with all its rituals and ceremonies but they cannot testify about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, and often have a very feeble prayer life. They also glory in their religious works, rather than in their faith. This problem should urgently be corrected, and that demands honest soul-searching: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). Preaching of the gospel is the only solution to this problem: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
Among the majority of Israelites who rejected Jesus as Messiah, unbelief and a form of godliness got the upper hand. Their lack of faith disqualified Israel to be the Messiah’s witnesses on earth under the New Covenant, and for that reason the responsibility for the evangelisation of the world was soon in the hands of non-Jewish witnesses of Christ.
It is of the greatest importance that we are not only mindful of Israel’s role as a chosen vessel for the revelation of God’s kingdom but that we also give full recognition to it. Their divine history started 4 000 years ago with the calling of Abraham, and will shortly enter a new phase when the Messiah-King returns. By God’s grace, Israel will exist forever: “For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished” (Jer. 30:11; cf. Lev. 26:44-45). During the coming tribulation period, a remnant of Israel will be saved to inherit the Messianic kingdom (Jer. 30:7).
In which way is Israel a blessing to us during the church dispensation while they are still spiritually blinded? Paul earlier reminded the church in Rome that Israel are the people through whom the Word of God has come to humanity, and that not all of them have apostatised and became spiritually hardened: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all!” (Rom. 3:1-4 NIV).
In Romans 11 Paul says that even the apostasy of the Jews is to the advantage of the Gentile world, in the sense that after Israel had rejected the salvation which was offered to them by the Messiah, the command was given to go out and proclaim salvation to the Gentile nations. We have now also become heirs of God’s kingdom, and in future we will benefit in a new way from Israel after they too will have received the Messiah and will serve Him: “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! ... For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:11-12, 15).
We should not reject or demean Israel because of their spiritual hardening, but rather make them envious of the way in which we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. They must come to realise their own spiritual poverty when they behold our spiritual riches in the Lord. We will only be able to do that if we fully understand the mysteries surrounding the past, present, and future of Israel.
In Romans 11, the Messiah’s spiritual kingdom on earth is likened to an olive tree. This tree is a creation of God, and its root which works in the hidden and unseen spiritual sphere, is the Saviour of humanity, Jesus Christ, who Himself is also God. The tree growing out of this root is a generation of people who have been called by God to establish His kingdom on earth. They are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and after Jacob a people descended from the twelve tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah in the royal lineage of David, the Messiah was incarnated as the Son of David and heir to his royal throne.
According to Revelation 22:16, Jesus is “the Root and the Offspring of David.” As the Root of David (and of the live tree) He is the origin, or Lord, of David. As the Offspring of David He is the Son of David who became man to sacrifice Himself for our sins and also to rule on the throne of David during the Millennium. Paul also refers to a scripture in Isaiah in which Jesus is described as the root of Jesse, David’s father: “And again, Isaiah says: There shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope” (Rom. 15:12; cf. Luke 1:32). The expression “the root of Jesse” refers to Jesus’ nature as God because He already existed before Jesse. He is the origin of all blessings, and all people should hope in Him. During the Millennium He will to a greater extent be the epitome of their hope and desire.
To the first patriarch, Abraham, it was clearly said that the Messiah who would be born from his descendants, would establish God’s kingdom among all nations (Gen. 12:3). “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law [through which we cannot be saved] ... that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:13-14; cf. Isa. 49:5-6). However, the command to evangelise the world could only have been issued after the coming of the Messiah. During Old Testament times, God expanded His kingdom in and through Israel, and in that sense they became the branches of the olive tree.
Through their refusal to receive the Messiah, Israel filled up the measure of their fathers’ unbelief and guilt (Matt. 23:29-39). The rejection of the Messiah, who is the root of the olive tree, explains why Israel as a nation (the natural branches) were cut off and withered. Branches from wild olive trees (the heathen nations) were then grafted into the olive tree because they have received the Messiah as their Saviour (Rom. 11:17-24).
It is important to note that the Gentile believers become partakers of the fatness of the root and trunk of the tree – not of its branches, which represent the people of Israel. The olive tree is, therefore, something more than merely the Jewish nation. We are grafted into the Messiah, as we are also taught in the parable of the vine (John 15:1-7), and not into the Jewish people. In our life of faith we have Christian roots and not Hebrew roots.
We should not revert to the shadowy practices of the law, which was the major error in the church in Galatia, but progress towards a completely new life in Jesus Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to become conformed to Israel (the withered branches of the olive tree) and to join them in observing orthodox feasts and Sabbaths in which the Lord Jesus is not recognised or honoured. We celebrate religious feasts as fulfilled Messianic feasts, which calls for a clear New Testament orientation, lest we deny Christ.
To be grafted into the olive tree refers to spiritual quickening and the acquiring of a Christian identity. An unsaved Greek who comes to faith, becomes part of the olive tree because he is now a saved Greek. He does not become a Jew (one of the natural branches). Likewise, only Messianic Jews are part of the tree because they are joined together with the root and trunk (the Messiah). When they are cut off because of unbelief, they continue to be Jews – only unbelieving Jews. The olive tree therefore does not change a person’s ethnic identity. Believers from every people and tribe and nation will one day stand before the Lord (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9).
Some of the severed natural branches of the olive tree (unsaved Jews) will be grafted back into the olive tree in the end-time, and because of that we know that a remnant of Israel will be saved when the Messiah comes (Rom. 11:25-26). Gentile Christians should accept this promise, pray for its fulfilment, and evangelise unsaved Jews by proclaiming to them the good news about the Messiah. Humanitarian assistance to Israel without Christian evangelisation is of little value.
Have you taken to heart the full revelation of the mystery on Israel’s partial and temporary hardening, and do you exert yourself for their full restoration so that times of refreshing may come to them from the presence of the Lord? More knowledge of God’s Word also brings more responsibilities to walk in its light and honour all its commands.
We should have a good knowledge of the Bible and also, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). The Amplified Bible says that we should correctly analyse the Word of Truth by rightly handling and skilfully teaching it. We must therefore ensure that we know and honour the basic meaning of any scripture, and that we explain it in its biblical context, as that would guide us in correctly applying it to our situation. To be able to do that, calls for a thorough knowledge of the progressive unfolding of God’s plan for humanity since Old Testament times, but particularly also of the new revelations which the Lord gives to us in the New Testament through the exposition of the mysteries.
The many diverging and often conflicting theological views about biblical pronouncements in a large number of churches throughout the world, is ample proof that the Word is not thoroughly analysed most of the time. Nor is the Word properly proclaimed or dispensationally applied in its correct context. From the interpretation of the mysteries it is particularly evident to what extent a particular exegete is acquainted with core biblical truths, and understands the harmony in Scripture. The less a person is able to understand a mystery the more he turns to spiritualising, allegorical explanations, replacement theology, mythologising, or critical thinking of a humanistic nature, in order to avoid statements which cannot be reconciled with his own theological frame of reference. In the process they are moving further away from Scriptural truths.
If the mystery on the hardening and end-time salvation of Israel is not correctly understood and proclaimed, it may give rise to one or more of the following forms of deception, which can all be refuted from Scripture:
· Israel’s spiritual hardening is viewed as a permanent condition, which leads to the denial of this nation’s spiritual awakening in the end-time. However, there is ample proof in Scripture of Israel’s physical and spiritual restoration (Ezek. 36:22-28).
· The role of the faithful remnant in Israel is disregarded. Jesus and His disciples were part of the despised minority group, and it is obvious that the golden thread of Israel’s history of salvation runs through them.
· Israel is permanently replaced by the church as “the people of God” through whom He reaches His goal on earth. However, Israel’s covenants cannot be transferred to the church as they, among others, confirm Israel’s right to occupy the Promised Land (Gen. 13:14-15; Ezek. 11:17).
· Some of the Christians view the olive tree of Romans 11 as the people of Israel and see it as their calling to become Jews themselves by learning Hebrew and living under the law (particularly observing the Sabbath), thereby establishing a new Israel. However, they associate with a people who were spiritually dead and physically dispersed across the earth during the entire New Testament dispensation. They have Hebrew roots instead of Christian roots.
· The Messianic kingdom which was promised to Israel after they have been reconciled with the Messiah at His second coming is dispensationally moved backwards by amillennialists and applied to the church dispensation. Transformations and ecumenical rallies are used to try and promote a kingdom situation. But they do not succeed with their efforts because the Bible has predicted a great falling away in the last days, leading up to the global government of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:7).
· It is sometimes arrogantly alleged that the church is better than unbelieving Israel, and in this way the warning is shunned that the church can also be removed from the olive tree should it backslide into unbelief (Rom. 11:22). Large-scale apostatising is indeed a characteristic of the end-time church (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 3:15-17).
· The spiritual revival of Israel when the Messiah comes (Zech. 12:10), is interpreted as the glorification of the church. However, the glorification of the true church occurs seven years earlier at the rapture, shortly before the tribulation period.
All these errors are the direct consequence of wrong applications of biblical doctrines. No wonder that the Church, save for relatively small evangelical churches, have wandered very far away from the truth of God’s Word. They are the victims of deception, and if they are not delivered from this in time, they are not heading for the kingdom of Christ but for the global empire of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:3-4, 7).
There are various mysteries which are directly related to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and also to God’s will for humanity. Israel and the entire world are not kept in the dark on who Jesus is, what the purpose for His first coming to the world was, what the relationship is that we should maintain with Him, and how we can know God’s will in Christ. Before the coming of Christ, faith in God was expressed through shadowy practices, symbolic acts, and prophetic promises, but through His coming shadows and promises became a wonderful reality. By proclaiming these substantial spiritual facts, things were uttered which were kept secret from the foundation of the world (Matt. 13:35).
During the coming of Christ, God’s Word was visibly impersonated. John says: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is our privilege to be guided by the Holy Spirit into all the truth of the Saviour, thereby sharing in His riches of grace.
During the long time before the coming of Christ, people mostly communicated with God in an indirect manner through:
· the mediation of imperfect priests who were forerunners of the perfect High Priest who is the only Mediator between God and man (Heb. 7:11, 22-28);
· repetitive and imperfect sacrifices which pointed ahead to the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Heb. 10:1-10);
· restricted entry to God’s throne of grace in the Holy of holies which was secluded by a veil, but opened up to all people during the atoning death of Christ (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-22); and
· unsuccessful efforts to fulfil the law, until the Son of God completely fulfilled the law and offered His righteousness and holiness to us.
Various mysteries of the gospel were revealed to apostles such as Paul, since these revelations could only be done after Christ was crucified, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out, and the gospel of salvation was also offered to the Gentile world. Jesus Christ Himself is the personification of salvation. Paul said to the congregation in Rome: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest ... to all nations” (Rom. 16:25-26).
The Corinthians are also reminded of the great privilege that they enjoyed by being informed about a mystery which was hidden for centuries but revealed after the coming of Christ (1 Cor. 2:7). The Ephesians are given insight into the same matter and also heard that God created everything through His Son (Eph. 3:3-7, 9). Paul also requests Christians in this congregation to intercede for him, “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). He made the same request to the Colossians, and asked that they would pray for him “to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains” (Col. 4:3; see also Col. 1:26-27; 2:2).
In his pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul emphasises the important fact that Jesus Christ is God who became a human being to be able to sacrifice Himself for the sake of the gospel of salvation: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). People who are not aware of these mysteries tend to deny the deity of Jesus Christ, do not accept the triune being of God, do not fully comprehend the significance of Christ’s crucifixion, experience problems to make the transition from the law to grace, and easily become entangled in spiritual deception and alleged extra-biblical revelations of God.
During Old Testament times God appointed a people, Israel, as His representatives on earth but during New Testament times He uses a completely different group composed of saved individuals from all nations – the church. They are spiritually bonded together as a coherent group which is described as the body of Christ. Before the coming of Christ it was altogether unknown that such a group would come into being, but to us it is a practical and fully revealed reality.
The Lord Jesus cherishes and cares for His church to make them fit for His service. Furthermore, she is being prepared to be united with Him as His wife at His second coming. At present she is a betrothed bride who is waiting on the coming of the Bridegroom. Paul says:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. ... For we are members of His body. ... This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25-32).
The body of Christ is disseminated across the earth. Spiritually, it is indeed a unity within which all members are brothers and sisters in the Lord but on the outward, structural level, the body manifests as independent, local congregations that all function under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, on the foundation of God’s Word, and under the authority of Christ.
The Lord expects every Christian to honour his responsibility as a member of this body. His own body, soul and spirit become part of the Holy Spirit’s temple, and that commits him to holy living. However, some believers live in sin and are motivated by fleshly objectives. Paul asks them: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Each one of us has the duty of determining what our function is within the body, since the members all fulfil complementary functions to ensure the proper functioning of the entire body: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:4-8).
Today, there are many people who act wrongly by prophesying independent from the Bible. However, we are confined to the Word of God and should not deviate from it in any way (Rev. 22:18-19). Only biblical prophecies should be proclaimed, together with messages on encouragement and spiritual strengthening: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3).
Persons who occupy leadership positions in the church of Christ should be “holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). That means that they should understand the deep truths of a life of faith in Christ, and also be able to convey it to others. While doing so they should always have a pure conscience, which demands that they do nothing which is contrary to their faith and testimony. They should not profess one thing but practise another.
The mystery of the New Testament faith indicates that faith, as it was practised during Old Testament times, was given much more content after the coming of Christ. It goes hand in hand with a firm conviction that Jesus is the Son of God who was incarnated to reveal the love of the Father to us. This agape love moved Him to lay down His life for us in order to pay the ransom for our sins. We can only approach the Father by virtue of the atoning death of Christ, with the assurance that He will hear us in the Name of His Son and have mercy on us.
A true faith is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and therefore, on a deep spiritual level, a God-given ability to become conscious of our sins and lost state but also of the grace and remission of sins which Christ offers to us. People who have not yet heard and accepted the gospel of Christ (cf. Rom. 10:17), are still lost, even if they “believe” in other gods or other ways of salvation. They are victims of deception, and as such unbelievers from a biblical point of view: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
The mystery of a true faith has only been revealed in the New Testament, and should be proclaimed to all who are not yet Christians. When this great gift of God has been discovered, people will not base their faith on other religions, on their own works or on the works of the law. Jesus Christ leads people from the darkness of bondage by sin into the marvellous light of true spiritual liberty. He also leads legalistic Jews out of their Old Testament orientation towards a new relationship with the Triune God, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).
The atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation of a new life in Him, in which we are guided by the Holy Spirit to understand the precepts in God’s Word and thus gain more insight into God’s will for our lives: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Eph. 1:7-9).
There are general aspects of God’s will for humanity which are clearly stated in His Word. The first one is that He is not willing that a single person should perish but that all should be saved. After the coming of Christ God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “God our Saviour ... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). “The Lord ... is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Secondly, it is the express will of God that all His children live holy lives: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification. ... For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 4:3, 7-8). Through sanctification and insightful knowledge of His Word, God wishes to enable us to live in accordance with His Word. Paul prays for the Colossians, “... that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
However, there are various situations in life, as well as numerous choices that we have to make, on which the Bible does not give specific guidance. In such cases the Lord expects us to take decisions which will be in the best interest of His kingdom, and therefore also in our own best interest. To be able to do that, we need a very good knowledge of His Word as that, together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will give us enlightened eyes of our understanding (Eph. 1:18) to be able to soundly consider secular as well as spiritual facts.
It is only people who understand the mystery of God’s will who can take decisions which are pleasing to Him while, at the same time, ensuring their survival in the midst of harsh economic and other conditions to which most people – committed Christians included – are subjected.
A further important mystery which is revealed in the New Testament is that there will be a separate resurrection from the dead for the just. Because true believers are closely associated with Jesus Christ as His body or bridal congregation, their resurrection and glorification coincide with the end-time revelation of Christ as Bridegroom, Judge and King. This event will occur suddenly and dramatically. Paul says:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
During the first resurrection Christ will appear to the just as Bridegroom, and be united with them forever. He does not want us to be ignorant about this promise as it is intended to give believers a firm hope of the future as well as a strong purpose for living:
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
The first resurrection and catching away of the just will bring about the end of the church dispensation on earth, as well as the beginning of an extensive range of revelations: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4; cf. Zech. 14:4-5). Before this can happen, the church first has to be united with Christ.
The Bible clearly distinguishes between two bodily resurrections – one for believers and one for unbelievers. The one is called “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29), “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6) and “the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14), while the other one is called “the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29). At least a thousand years will elapse between the two resurrections, and they also differ with respect to their nature and consequences (Rev. 20:4-6).
The fact that Jesus speaks of “the last day” when He will raise up the just (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54), clearly refers to the last day of the church dispensation when He will come to receive us to Himself (John 14:2-3). After the harvest has been gathered through world evangelisation, the just among all nations will be raised and taken to heaven.
Paul refers to the different phases in which the first resurrection occurs: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:22-24).
Jesus Christ Himself has introduced the first resurrection, thereby making it possible for all who believe in Him to share in the wonderful blessing of the first resurrection. When Christ returns at the end of the church dispensation, the main harvest of believers will be gathered in heaven (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Subsequently, the believers form the tribulation period will also be resurrected (Rev. 20:4). All these believers form part of the first resurrection in Christ. Between the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits and the resurrection of the born again just at His second coming (the first resurrection) the entire church dispensation elapses, which has already continued for almost two millennia. From Revelation 20 it is also obvious that a further millennium will elapse between the resurrection of the just and the end of the present earth. Then, the unbelievers will be raised at the second resurrection to be judged at the final judgement before the great white throne.
John refers to the saints who will be raised at the first resurrection to reign with Christ during the Millennium: “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. ... Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6).
During the secret coming of Jesus (the first phase of His second coming) He only comes to raise up the born again believers; that is why Paul says: “And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Nothing whatsoever is said about the resurrection of unbelievers in this scripture. Since a first resurrection also implies a second resurrection, and since we know that both believers and unbelievers will be raised (Act 24:15), it is obvious that the unbelieving dead will be raised at a later resurrection.
Those who have part in the first resurrection are called blessed as they are indeed privileged to be part of this event. Various other scriptures render irrefutable proof that born again believers will be raised first. The following are expressions which refer to the first resurrection only:
· The first resurrection (Rev. 20:6).
· The resurrection of the children of God (Luke 20:36).
· The resurrection of those who died in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16).
· The resurrection of the just (Luke 14:13-14).
· A better resurrection (Heb. 11:35).
· The resurrection to life (John 5:29).
· The resurrection from the dead through Jesus (Acts 4:2).
When the resurrection from the dead of either Christ or the Christians is referred to in Scripture, the Greek expression ek nekroon is used. It means from among the dead and is only used when other dead are not raised at the same time, but are left behind in their graves. This expression, which is used 49 times in the New Testament – 34 of which refer to the resurrection of Christ Himself – is not used even once when the second resurrection is referred to. When the latter, i.e. the raising of the unjust dead, is referred to, toon nekroon, meaning of the dead, is used instead.
At the rapture, the just will be raised from among the unjust dead and, together with the living just, who will be instantly changed, both will rise in glorified bodies to meet Christ in the air. The unjust (unsaved) dead will remain in their graves, since they did not “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). They will only be raised during the final judgement to be condemned as sinners.
The first resurrection coincides “with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). It is also described as “the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we [who are still alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). The sounding of the trumpet at the first resurrection will be the spiritual fulfilment of the harvest festival which is celebrated annually in Israel during the fall. This feast, which coincides with the Rosh Hashanah, was in Old Testament times “a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24).
However, many people draw wrong conclusions from the fact that the trumpet which will sound at the resurrection of believers is described as “the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52). They confuse this trumpet with the trumpets which announce God’s judgements during the tribulation period (Rev. 8 to 11), and because of that they reject the promise of a pretribulation rapture. It is true that various trumpets of God’s judgements will blow during the subsequent tribulation, but they have no bearing on the harvest festival and the resurrection of the just.
The last trumpet which is mentioned in connection with the resurrection of the saints refers to the last of a long series of trumpets which are blown every year from the first of Elul to the second day of Tishri on Israel’s religious calendar. These trumpets announce the coming end of the harvest season and are, particularly, also a call to repentance. The last trumpet in this series blows on the second day of Tishri just before dusk when the day is about to end. This feast is also Israel’s New Year’s festival on the civil calendar. The biblical name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Teruah, which in Hebrew means “the day of the awakening blast”.
Shortly after the last trumpet is sounded the seven-day period which is known as the “seven days of awe”, starts on Tishri 3 and continues until the end of Tishri 9. The seven days of awe prophetically refer to the year-week of the tribulation under the false messiah. On Tishri 10, the Day of Atonement is celebrated.
In the light of this sequence of events, two phases should be distinguished in the coming of Christ – His coming for His saints when the trumpet is sounded before the seven days of awe, and His coming with His saints on the Day of Atonement. These two phases in the coming of Christ differ from each other in the following respects:
Coming before the tribulation
Coming after the tribulation
Comes as heavenly Bridegroom
Comes as King of kings
Comes secretly during the rapture
Comes publicly so all can see Him
Comes for His saints
Comes with His saints
Meets His saints in the air
Sets foot on the Mount of Olives
Rewards His saints
Judges and rules the world
Only seen by saints
Every eye will see Him
Returns to heaven after calling together His bride
Remains on earth to rule as King
In view of the great significance of the Feast of Trumpets in the resurrection and glorification of Christ’s church of all ages (including Old Testament saints who waited for the Messiah), we should fully embrace the promise of the first resurrection. This mystery was clearly revealed to us in the New Testament, and confirms various prophetic references in the Old Testament on an end-time harvest of just people that will be gathered in heaven.
In the New Testament, various mysteries are revealed on the alternative kingdom of darkness. The need is thereby emphasised to put on the full armour of God to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:11). Satan still operates from a hidden, mystical sphere but the Lord wishes us to be informed on the working of deception and temptation, and to successfully resist it.
At the end of the church dispensation the renegade kingdom of the devil will be increasingly revealed, and its representatives will become influential and occupy prominent positions on earth. When the true church as the withholder of the Antichrist has been taken away, this impostor will suddenly be revealed as a devil-inspired world leader. He will have various collaborators who will assist him to execute his evil plans – particularly the false prophet and an alliance of world religions.
People who do not pay attention to the revelation of these mysteries, strongly deny the idea of a personal Antichrist and false prophet who will gain control over the world for seven years. The consequence of this ignorance is that they do not see any danger in the ecumenical movement, and easily become part of the interfaith movement. The deeper they involve themselves with this ideology, the more they tend to deny the existence of the devil and his kingdom – also the hell. However, the Lord Jesus wants to prevent us from becoming the victims of deception, and warns all of us: “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4).
Throughout the centuries, the kingdom of darkness actively opposed God and His kingdom. It was always done in an indirect way by using deceived people to spread all sorts of lies. True believers were aware of this deception, unmasked its perpetrators as false prophets and strongly resisted their false teachings. Because of this opposition, the kingdom of darkness was never able to achieve its objective of uncontested control over the world, and the struggle between light and darkness continued unabated.
Paul refers to this drawn-out struggle, as well as the dramatic consequences that will set in when the witnesses of light are removed from the world for a limited time: “And now you know what is restraining [the Antichrist], that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:6-9).
All forms of spiritual deception during human history may be described as apostasy or antichristian lies. People who actively promote these distorted views are branded as false prophets or false teachers (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1), and in extreme cases as antichrists. As such they are forerunners of the end-time Antichrist who will plunge the entire world into spiritual darkness: “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. ... Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:18, 22).
All who deny the deity and Messiahship of Jesus are collaborators of the great Liar and therefore forerunners of the Antichrist. The withholder of all the antichristian lies is the true church as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:1-6). Because Jesus Christ dwells in these people’s hearts through the Holy Spirit, they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. False churches that expose themselves to spiritual deception, become more and more estranged from the true Christ and in course of time become collaborators of another Jesus and another spirit, i.e. the Antichrist and his spirit of error (2 Cor. 11:3-4). They only have a form of godliness but denied its power, i.e. the Spirit of truth who leads people to Christ and His Word (2 Tim. 3:5).
In Revelation 17 and 18 respectively, John refers to two Babylons which will rise to prominence in the end-time. The one is mystery Babylon which is the spiritual home of the false religions, and the other one a commercial city in which iniquity will soar to unprecedented heights. Because Babylon is the epitome and origin of the world’s pagan religions in the end-time, the false alliance of world religions is fittingly described as “Mystery Babylon”. She is depicted as a woman who rides on the beast, which alludes to the fact that he recognises, supports and uses her. In Revelation 17 the angel says to John:
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication. So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marvelled with great amazement. But the angel said to me, Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. ... The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. ... And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. ... And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:1-7, 9-10, 16, 18).
The identity of the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns is discussed in more detail in Revelation 13. It refers to the Antichrist who will be the ruler of the seventh, apostate world empire. Of these empires, five had fallen before the time of John, i.e. the Babylonian Empire of Nimrod, the Assyrian Empire, the restored Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar, the Medo-Persian Empire, and the Greek Empire. The sixth one, the Roman Empire, was in power at that time, while the seventh and last one, that of the Antichrist, was still future.
The woman sits on all seven of these empires and has spiritual dominion over them. The seven mountains, or kingdoms, on which she sits should therefore not be narrowly interpreted as Rome, nor the woman merely identified as the church of Rome. She symbolises all the false religions of all times. She cannot be related only to Rome as there were more than seven apostate Caesars who persecuted the Christians. From Nero to Diocletian alone there were ten. The woman reigns over the kings of the earth, deceiving them and their followers against worshipping the true God. She represents the spiritual power of deception that Satan has on earth. It is in this sense that the whole world, with the exception of a small minority of true Christians, lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19).
It is of the utmost importance to consider the role of the false religions in the end-time as they will be officially recognised by the Antichrist and endued with great power and authority in his empire. They will be associated with one another in an ecumenical alliance and gradually narrow the differences between them until they eventually form a corporate group who will accept the Antichrist as their common messiah. To the deceived Christians he will be the Christ, to the Jews the Messiah, to the Muslims the Imam Mahdi, to the Hindus Krishna, and to the Buddhists the Maitreya Buddha.
After the revelation of the Antichrist the whole world will be religiously united, with the exception of the 144 000 Jewish evangelists and the true Christians of that time. The united world religions will institute a merciless and bloody persecution of Christians who refuse to join their ranks or to worship the beast. The blood of the martyrs of Jesus will be on the hands of this woman who will be the mother of the harlots. On a much greater scale than previously, she will persecute God’s children on earth with a view to obliterating true Christianity.
There are various ecumenical bodies in the growing interfaith movement; among others, the Parliament for World Religions and the UN’s United Religions Initiative. Their aim is to pursue religious unity under the pretext that all religions worship the same God, and are therefore spiritually closely related. Once this idea has been firmly established, the followers of all religions will have been deceived to the extent of embracing and worshipping the same world messiah. It will then be opportune for the appearance of the universal messiah of all faiths, and also for the global false prophet.
From Revelation 17 it is evident that the harlot who represents the false world religions will not function in isolation but act in close association with the Antichrist’s political system and world government. She will have a clear political agenda to induce her followers to accept the world government and the number of the Antichrist. She will also have a religious agenda to deceive her billions of supporters into accepting him as global messiah, and to worship him.
The Antichrist’s marriage with and alliance of false world religions will be contracted in imitation of the relationship between Christ and His bride. However, religious Babylon, the bride of the Antichrist, will not have a long and happy marriage. She will initially enjoy great privileges and prestige in the Antichrist's empire, but after 3½ years the Antichrist will turn on the great harlot and destroy her. John describes her execution as follows: “And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Rev. 17:16).
In the middle of the tribulation period, religious Babylon, the harlot-bride, will be abolished and her places of worship closed, destroyed, or used for other purposes. The same fate awaits the orthodox Jewish faith. Daniel says: “…in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate” (Dan. 9:27). The harlot-bride of the Antichrist will thus only be married to him for 3½ years when his role as world messiah and deceiving angel of light will come to an end. After that, he will be revealed in his true character as a cruel dictator, murderer and self-deified god. His harlot-bride will then be confronted with the frightening choice of either worshipping him as god or be publicly humiliated and destroyed. Most of the deceived and spiritually blinded religious people of that time will accept the Antichrist's ultimatum and bend the knee to the end-time Baal as the god of this world.
The harlot-bride of the Antichrist can, right from the outset, count the days of her brief period of glory – 1260 days from her marriage until the dark day of her public execution or degradation to slavery. What a terrible price she has to pay to find favour in the eyes of the beast! She has to sear her conscience, turn her back upon the living God and His Son, Jesus Christ, be prepared to be terribly abused, and on top of it all conclude a covenant with death – all that for the proverbial bowl of lentil soup! That is the way of death which was also trodden by Esau and Judas Iscariot.
The mother organisation of the apostate religious peoples of the world is rapidly taking shape. From the viewpoint of traditional Christianity, this process develops through the following seven phases:
1. Unity in the whole Christian world, including between Protestants and Catholics.
2. Religious equality among all religions in constitutions, government structures, and educational systems.
3. The forming of interfaith alliances among all religions, based upon the pursuit of common interests.
4. Propagation of the idea of the universal God who is worshipped by all faiths.
5. Propaganda for the coming of the universal messiah of all faiths.
6. The appearing of the world messiah and his united worship by people of all religions.
7. The forced worship of the Antichrist as God, 3½ years after his appearing.
When phase 6 has been reached at the beginning of the tribulation period, the harlot-bride will enjoy the peak of her popularity and public support as she rides on the back of the beast. In phase 7, her sudden downfall and destruction will occur when all people in the global empire of the beast will be commanded to worship him as God.
We should always keep in mind that the great struggle between God and Satan started in prehistoric times when Lucifer tried to exalt himself to a position which is equal to that of God. Because of his rebellion he was cast out of heaven, and that gave rise to the protracted war between the kingdoms of light and darkness. Satan has definitely not relinquished his plans to become ruler of the universe in God’s place. All the religious deceit in the world is fanned by the spirit of error, and aimed at the final objective of the global worship of Lucifer and the Antichrist (Rev. 13:4). We are now experiencing the last big assault from the kingdom of darkness in an effort to realise its objective of establishing the devil and his “christ” as undisputed global leaders. When the withholder [the church of Christ] has been taken out of the way, the plans of an antichristian takeover will be rapidly implemented.
John does not only reveal the mystery of the alliance of false world religions which are represented by the harlot, but also the mystery of her demonic leader. The angel said to him: “I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns” (Rev. 17:7).
According to Revelation 13 and 17, the Antichrist will have characteristics of all the ancient world empires. In Revelation 13:1-2, John uses the same symbols for the ancient world empires than those used in Daniel 7:4-6. The Antichrist is depicted as a composite animal the mouth of a lion (Babylonian), the paws of a bear (Medo-Persian), the body of a leopard (Greek), and a head with ten horns (Roman). As in the Babylonian Empire, he will make an image and force all his subjects to bow down before it in worship. As in the Medo-Persian Empire, he will order genocide of the Jews when they fall in disfavour with him, and he will also rule with the irrevocable and unchangeable laws of the Medes and the Persians – i.e. through military decrees. As in the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, he will establish a rapid deployment force with the ability of quick operations in order to enforce his authority. As in the Roman Empire, immorality, corruption, and violence will be the order of the day, as well as the summary execution of all the opponents of his empire.
However, in biblical prophecies there are two different images of the Antichrist – that of prince of peace and that of military tyrant. Initially, he will appear on the scene as the rider on a white horse (Rev. 6:2), all nations will follow him, conclude a covenant with him (Dan. 9:27), and even worship him as messiah and saviour of the world (John 5:43; Rev. 13:8). Those who do not understand the mystery of the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns, will not be able to identify him for who he really is, and consequently be easily deceived by him.
The ten horns on his head refer to ten end-time world leaders who will reign with him: “An the ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast” (Rev. 17:12). They will be completely controlled and dominated by him: “These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast” (Rev. 17:13). Together with the Antichrist, they will abandon and destroy the alliance of false religions after they have served their purpose (Rev. 17:16).
The Antichrist, the false prophet and their worldwide following will be conquered and destroyed when the true Christ comes (Rev. 19:19-21). Make sure that you are not among their followers. An association with them can only be averted if you have a relationship with the true Christ and are fully informed on all the mysteries which He reveals to us in His Word. During this time, shortly before the second coming of Christ, it is even more important that we refrain from worshiping and proclaiming “another Jesus” who differs from the biblical Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Gal. 1:6-8). All distortions of the truth are done under inspiration of the spirit of error, and are ultimately aimed at embracing a false messiah (cf. John 5:43).
The revelation of mysteries in the New Testament is of great significance in giving us more insight into the further unfolding of God’s plan for the salvation and sanctification of lost people, to acquaint us with previously unknown aspects of the spiritual battle in which we are involved, thus equipping us for what the future holds for us. The ten mysteries which the Lord reveals in His Word form part of an elaborate series of revelations in the New Testament. Only believers who fully take notice of these revelations and also conduct their lives accordingly are truly able to persevere on the narrow way and ensure that they do not become the victims of deception. They will emerge from the struggle victoriously, be spiritually ready when the Bridegroom comes, and with boldness give account of their lives before the judgement seat of Christ. The Lord Jesus endues us with all the knowledge and grace that we need (John 1:14).
The spiritual benefits which are offered to us through a study of the ten mysteries may be summarised as follows:
An exemplary member of God’s kingdom. Full insight into the spiritual requirements, nature and objectives of God’s kingdom will ensure that we are worthy members of it, are successful in resisting everything which is contrary to it, fully appreciate its eschatological fulfilment, refrain from pursuing a physical kingdom before the King comes, and fully understand and promote Israel’s role in the further revelation of this kingdom.
Israel’s temporary hardening and end-time salvation as a people. The Lord used Israel’s rejection of the Messiah as an opportunity to offer the gospel to the Gentiles, thereby opening the door to them to also become part of His kingdom. However, Israel’s spiritual hardening is only temporary, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26). We are deeply indebted to Israel since the Word of God has come to us through them. If we are well enough acquainted with God’s plan for Israel we will rejoice in their physical restoration at the end of the church dispensation, while also eagerly awaiting their spiritual rebirth as a nation.
The mystery of the gospel. Before the coming of Christ, the detail of the final plan of salvation through the atoning death of God’s Son was unknown. The revelation of this mystery introduced a new dispensation for the salvation of lost humanity, and consequently concluded the preceding dispensation of the law with its imperfect sacrifices and other shadowy practices (Heb. 10:1-10). People to whom the gospel of Jesus Christ is still a mystery are inclined to base their salvation on the law and other religious rituals, but they do so at their own spiritual detriment (Gal. 5:4).
The mystery of the body of Christ. During New Testament times, Israel’s calling and separation as God’s special people on earth made way for a completely new group of believers who are described as “the church of Christ” (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:24), the “saints” or “those who are sanctified in Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2), and “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27). This body is composed of members who were all regenerated by the Holy Spirit and consequently worship God as their common Father. They belong to Christ and are His witnesses on earth. Some of them are also members of humanly-instituted denominations, but not all members of churches are necessarily born again and therefore members of the body of Christ.
The mystery of faith. A true faith is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and leads to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour in your heart. This commitment renders much more substance to faith than was possible during Old Testament times. This new, God-given form of faith should clearly be distinguished from other forms of faith which are the products of deception (by e.g. “believing” in an idol), or which is the outcome of human rationalising (mental ideas without any spiritual content which can lead to a changed heart). From a biblical point of view all people who do not, through the Holy Spirit, believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour are unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). Have you discovered the mystery of a true faith? Paul, who formerly believed in God through the law, has discovered the true Christian faith that superseded the law, and rejoiced in it (Phil. 3:8-9).
The mystery of God’s will. Fallen humanity are not acquainted with God’s will. Through His Word and Spirit, God reveals hidden aspects of His will to us. Firstly, it is His will that all people on earth be saved – definitely not only members of the Chosen People, or a selected group of Gentiles who are predestined to become believers (Acts 17:30; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). There are also further aspects of His will, i.e. that all believers should live holy lives (1 Thess. 4:3; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Only people who have done God’s will with regard to justification and sanctification will see His face in His revealed kingdom (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 12:14).
The mystery of the first resurrection. The promise of a special resurrection for the just could only have been made after Jesus Christ had paid a ransom for the world’s sin, and also conquered death by rising from the grave. All believers are partakers of His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17-23). If we die with Christ to the world and to sin, we will also live with Him and share in the blessing of the first resurrection. Together with this promise we also receive the wonderful assurance of the catching away of believers before the tribulation (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Luke 21:36). Those who do not believe in these promises, are still in the dark concerning the revelation of mysteries in the New Testament, and particularly also on what the future holds for us: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-10).
The mystery of lawlessness. The Lord reveals to us that, through the centuries, there was a spiritual war between God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. The spirit of error, which is intent on questioning and opposing God and His Word, is referred to as the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7). This spirit emerges from an evil kingdom which is still hidden, but will be revealed in the end-time when the Antichrist appears on the scene (2 Thess. 2:8). People who do not recognise the existence of a kingdom under the control of Satan think they have no need for deliverance from this evil kingdom, neither do they show any interest in God’s spiritual armour to protect themselves against attacks by evil spirits. Furthermore, they do not expect the appearance of a personal Antichrist who will control the world together with his many collaborators after the withholder (the true church indwelt by the Holy Spirit) has been taken out of the way.
The mystery of the harlot. An alliance of false world religions is one of the end-time institutions which will make final preparations for the appearance of the Antichrist. When the false christ suddenly appears on the scene, this ecumenical body of believers will become his bride, ride on the back of the beast, enjoy full recognition in his empire, and will be used by him to persecute and execute evangelical believers who refuse to recognise him as world messiah (Rev. 17:1-7). Believers who are not mindful of this important fact are often influenced by humanistic considerations to become part of ecumenical groups, thus inadvertently joining hands with those who prepare the way for the Antichrist.
The mystery of the beast with the seven heads. The final mystery related to the Antichrist himself, who will personally appear on the scene as a world leader. He will gain control over all nations on earth (Rev. 13:7) and also force them to worship him as Saviour and God (Rev. 13:8, 15; 2 Thess. 2:4). His revelation and the institution of his seven-year government will be the end-time culmination of a spiritual war which was waged for ages from a mystical, spiritual sphere. He will be empowered by Satan (Rev. 13:2), his co-ruler will be the false prophet (Rev. 13:11-14), and his “bride” will be the alliance of false world religions (Rev. 17:3). His last big war will be against the true Christ, but that will give rise to the complete annihilation of satanic forces on earth (Rev. 19:19-21).
We are privileged to have all this prophetic knowledge on current and future world events. The revelation of things that were kept secret for a very long time not only illuminates important aspects of the spiritual struggle but also draw our attention to the saving grace of the Lord, so we can fully comprehend the height, depth, breadth and length of His love for us. Let us not be among those who were reprimanded because of their ignorance and unbelief during the first coming of Christ: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). Ignorant people who only have a form of godliness are not in the right relationship with Christ as Saviour; neither do they have a biblical future expectation because the prophetic word is still hidden to them. Let us walk in the light of God’s Word!