GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN AND THE CHURCH
SCRIPTURE TO BE READ:
. . . the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.(Eph. 1.22, 23)
God’s Eternal Plan
God conceived an eternal plan even before the foundation of the world. His plan, as we have said, serves the dual purpose of. (1) having all things to manifest Christ, and (2) making man to be like Christ—which is to say, for man to have the life and glory of Christ. In realizing His dual aim, however, God encounters two problems: (1) the rebellion of Satan, and (2) the fall of man.
In an earlier age an archangel became jealous, through pride, at seeing Christ the center of all things. He wished to exalt himself to be equal with the Son of God. Intent on grasping for himself the centrality of Christ, he rebelled. One third of the angelic hosts followed him in rebellion against God. Even the living creatures on earth followed suit. Satan’s rebellion hurled all things into chaos, it being no longer possible for them to manifest Christ. All things today may still declare the glory of God (Ps. 19.1), but they certainly cannot manifest God himself.
God therefore created man in order that (1) having the life and glory of Christ and being given dominion over all things, man might bring all things back to God; and (2) being united with God, he might be used of Him to deal with Satan’s rebellion. Unfortunately, man fell.
Hence for God’s dual purpose to be realized, He must now resolve these two problems. He must (1) redeem fallen mankind, and (2) eliminate Satan’s rebellion.
In order to realize God’s dual purpose and resolve God’s twin problems, the Lord Jesus came down from heaven to become man and accomplish the work of redemption. He is the Christ of all things as well as the Christ of mankind. He is the centrality as well as the universality. Universality means that which is not limited by time and space. Christ is not only the Christ of the Jews and the Christ of the church, He is the Christ of all things. He is all, and in all.
The redemption of Christ has three cardinal features: that of (1) substitution—for the individual; (2) representation—for the church; and (3) headship—for all things. Christ is the Head, therefore He includes all. And the death of Christ is an all-inclusive death. So that just as the Federal Head died, so also all things included in the Head died too. His death as Federal Head had brought all things as well as mankind into death, thus reconciling all things and mankind back to God.
Christ has resolved every problem on the cross. There He crushed the head of the serpent. He has solved Satan’s rebellion and destroyed all the latter’s works. There too He redeemed the fallen race and reconciled all things to God. Through the cross He imparts His life to men that they might be like Him.
In sum, by the cross Christ has realized God’s double purpose and resolved God’s two great problems.
The Position and Responsibility of the Church
What position does God give the church? What is the vision God entrusts to the church on earth? Why does He permit Satan, whose head is already crushed, to remain on earth?
God leaves the church on earth not only to preach the gospel to save sinners but also to demonstrate the victory of Christ on the cross. He permits Satan to remain on earth for the sake of creating opportunity for us to prove the victory of His Son. He expects us to exhibit the victory of His beloved Son. Consequently, a defeated believer brings disgrace to God.
The church is the body of Christ. And the body ought to carry on the work of the Head. The church is the fullness of Christ. As Christ overflows, there is the church. The church is to continue what has already been done and taught as recorded in the Four Gospels. There are three principal points to be found in the New Testament: (1) the cross, (2) the church, and (3) the kingdom. On the cross Christ has accomplished redemption and won the victory. The kingdom is to manifest the redemption and victory which Christ has achieved. But in the meanwhile the church is now to maintain on earth that which Christ has fulfilled on the cross. The cross speaks of God’s legal judgment. The kingdom is to reveal the execution of God’s authority and power. But the church stands between these two to affirm what the cross has accomplished and to foretaste the powers of the kingdom age to come (cf. Heb. 6.5).
Satan cannot overcome the personal Christ. Yet he is able to put the personal Christ to shame through the corporate Christ—because the defeat of the body is construed to be the defeat of the Head. And the failure of one of its members is taken as the failure of the whole body. We are the complement of Christ (". . . he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days . . ."—Is. 53.10), just as formerly we were the extension of Adam. God leaves us on earth for the sake of our fulfilling His eternal plan and arriving at His purpose of the ages.
Before the ark was brought into Jerusalem it remained in the house of Obed-Edom (2 Sam. 6). May we faithfully guard the blood—the work of Christ, and the cherubim—the glory of God, which are both connected with the ark.
The Nature of Christ’s Victory and the Church
SCRIPTURE TO BE READ:
He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.(Rev. 3.21)
The victory of Christ is the pattern for all victories—"As I also overcame. . ."
The Bible tells us we have three different enemies: (1) the flesh—in us, (2) the world—outside of us, and (3) Satan—above and below us. According to the ascended position of the church, Satan is under us.
The Old Testament uses three different tribes to typify these enemies. The Amalekites typify the flesh, which is to be overcome through constant prayer. The Egyptians signify the world, which needs to be buried in the Red Sea. And the Caananites represent the powers of Satan, which must be conquered and destroyed one by one.
The flesh is set against the Holy Spirit: "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other" (Gal. 5.17). The world opposes the Father: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2.15). And Satan contends with Christ:
"To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3.8). We thus see that the flesh is overcome by walking after the Holy Spirit; the world is overcome by loving the Father; and Satan is overcome by believing in Christ.
The first enemy that appears is the flesh. In the earlier era an archangel became self-centered and willed to exalt himself to be equal with God. This is how self first entered the world. This marks the beginnings of sin, the world, and Satan.
When God created man He gave the latter a tremendous power, that of reproduction. Man is able to pass on his life to his progeny. Originally God had the hope that man would eat the fruit of the tree of life, thus possessing God’s life and transmitting the same to his descendants. Accordingly, He forbade man to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan slipped in and committed spiritual adultery with this first couple. He injected his poisonous seed into them for them to reproduce it in their descendants. Satan is the father of liars (John 8.44). His seed is the lie, whereas God’s seed is the truth. The principle with which Satan tempted Adam to sin is the same principle on which he himself sinned.
Satan has his kingdom as well as his family. He gets people to become children of his family and to be citizens of his kingdom over whom he then acts as king.
After Satan had tempted man to sin his operation thereafter was confined to the earth, that is to say, to the world. The curse he received was that "upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Gen. 3.14). He can rule, walk on the earth, and take man—who came out of dust—as his food. Accordingly, this is Satan’s great defeat. Even in the fall of man God has won a tremendous victory.
Satan has his organization on earth, and what he organizes becomes the world. He is king in his own organized world, and the whole world lies under him (1 John 5.19).
The Victory of Christ
Before the Lord Jesus came forth for public ministry He was first baptized. This signifies that it was in death and resurrection that He carried on the work of three years and a half. There was absolutely no flesh involved in the work of His life. We call the life of these three and a half years a life of the cross. The Lord Jesus never did anything according to His own will. He always did the will of Him by whom He was sent. He not only did the Father’s will, He also waited for the Father’s time (John 7.6,10).
In tempting the Lord, Satan tried to entice Him to act outside of the word of God—to entice Him, for example, to turn stone into bread. But the Lord answered, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4.4). He frequently said, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing" (John 5.19); and, "I can of myself do nothing: as I hear, I judge" (John 5.30). "Of himself" means a coming out of himself, that is, a drawing upon himself as the source. Satan often tempts people to verify themselves after they have been validated by God. How he lures the Lord to prove himself to be the Son of God after God has already borne witness to this fact (at His baptism).
The Lord’s crucifixion is wholly in accordance with God’s will. For He prayed thus in the garden: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt"; and, "My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done" (Matt. 26.39,42); and finally, in speaking to Peter He said, "The cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18.11) His being able to accept the cross is victory. Unshaken by outward and inward forces, this is victory. No flesh activating itself within, no worldly attraction or instigation stirring without, and no Satanic ground being yielded to beneath—that is victory. Throughout His life our Lord never lived according to the flesh. He had set the flesh so completely aside that He was the first man in whom Satan had absolutely nothing. Neither the flesh nor the world nor the devil had any place in Him.
God’s Desire: For the Church to Live Out the Victory of Christ
In saving men God saves them from the flesh, the world, and Satan. He calls us to deny everything which comes out of the world, what is earthly; to deny everything which emanates from self, what is of the flesh; and to deny everything which proceeds from Satan. Satan uses the world and the flesh to assault us. Only in those who are truly spiritual will Satan attack directly. Those who wholly reject the world as a system and deny the mind of the flesh will be directly assailed by Satan.
The cross of Christ needs the body of Christ. If sinners only accept the cross objectively, they alone will gain. But if in addition sinners receive the cross subjectively, God too will gain. The cross of Christ acts like a sword which cuts off all which is of the old creation from us; the resurrection of Christ gives us a new beginning.
The victory of Christ includes: (1) crucifixion—the putting away negatively all belonging to the old creation, (2) resurrection—the bringing in positively of a new beginning, and (3) ascension—the obtaining of a victorious position.
Through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ the church is to live out His victory on earth. The cross ought to be planted in the center of our life. God holds us responsible for letting the cross cut off all the old creation known to us (but not, incidentally, for what we are unconscious of).