The Book of Books—Part 14

Christian Hopes and Prospects—Part 1

ALL the inspired writers of the Bible were enthused with the divine plan of salvation, which each, in his own way and in harmony with divine providence, helped to present. The consistent harmony of the Bible’s teachings which we found displayed throughout all the Old Testament books, and in the New Testament to the end of the Book of Hebrews, continues in evidence throughout the seven books which we will now review. These books, like the writings of the Apostle Paul, are in the form of letters, or epistles, and were written by the Apostles James, John, and Jude. These seven books are commonly known as:

JamesII John
I PeterIII John
II Peter      Jude
I John

In these seven books there are admonitions to Christian faithfulness, and assurances of God’s care for his people, those who are called to be saints. There are also reminders of the Christian’s glorious hope of living and reigning with Christ, in that kingdom of promise by means of which God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth will be fulfilled.

And the Christian’s hope of glory, as it is expressed by the Apostle Paul, is the more wonderful because of being brightened by the prospect of the promised blessings which are yet to be enjoyed by the world of mankind. Because of this prospect of blessings for others, the Christian hope is an unselfish one. This is emphasized throughout all the books of the Bible.

The promises of God are that all the families of the earth are to be blessed, and that, of the increase of Christ’s kingdom and the peace it will bring to mankind, there shall be no end. It was in keeping with this loving purpose of God, reassuringly stated over and over again by his holy prophets, that when Jesus, the Messiah, was born, an angel announced, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people.” (Luke 2:10) And so, intermingled with the various expressions of Christian hope in the epistles now before us, we will also find reaffirmations of the divine purpose to use the called-out ones of this age to be, with Jesus the Messiah, the channel of blessing to all mankind when the kingdom of promise is established.


Need of patience … The firstfruits … Faith dead without works … Controlling the tongue … Heavenly wisdom … Riches for the last days … Hope of Christ’s return

The full title of the Book of James is, “The General Epistle of James.” It is addressed to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” and to these he sends “greetings.” (James 1:1) While the nation of Israel contained twelve family divisions, originating with the twelve sons of Jacob, we are not to suppose that James intended his letter to be read generally by the entire Jewish nation, for he knew that only a small remnant of that nation had accepted Christ as their Messiah and consequently the rest would not be interested in a Christian letter. The thought is, evidently, that he intended his epistle to be for the benefit of Jewish believers from among all the various tribes of Israel.

The letter is largely inspirational in character, consisting of exhortations to wholesome Christian thinking and activity. He knew that every follower of the Master found himself in surroundings hostile to his aims as a Christian, and needed constantly to be on guard against the encroachments of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, so he wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”—James 1:2-4

James exhorts, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, … but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” (James 1:5,6) Again, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (vs. 8) “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him,” is a timely word of assurance and comfort. (vs. 12) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (vs. 17) This is a reminder of the source of all our blessings.

Verse eighteen reads, “Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” In our study of Paul’s first letter to the brethren in Corinth, we noted that in his explanation of the resurrection, he said that those first to be raised from the dead would be “Christ the firstfruits.” (I Cor. 15:23) Now James is identifying this firstfruits class for us, explaining that it is made up of those who are begotten by the Word of truth.

These are the “new creatures” referred to by Paul in II Corinthians 5:17. They are the ones who have the hope of a new, a heavenly life. Through “patient continuance in well-doing” they are seeking for “glory and honor and immortality.” (Rom. 2:7) In other words, they are the called-out class of the Gospel Age. That they should be described as the firstfruits of God’s creatures, implies that there will be afterfruits, and this the Bible clearly shows to be the case. The afterfruits class will be the whole world of mankind, restored to life during the “times of restitution of all things.”—Acts 3:19-21

Continuing his exhortations, James writes, “Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) Chapter two enlarges upon this thought, showing that faith without works is dead. If we merely hear the Word, and profess to believe it, yet do not conform our lives to its righteous precepts, our professions of belief are valueless. James concludes this exhortation by saying, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”—James 2:26

The Greek word translated ‘spirit’ in this text means ‘breath’. James’ use of this illustration indicates that he thoroughly understood the truth on this subject; that is, that it requires the union of the breath of life with the body in order to have life. Probably he had many times read the statement in Genesis, where we are told that God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7) There is no such thing as an immortal soul!

Chapter three is almost wholly an exhortation to Christians to control their tongues. Too often, as James observes, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) He explains that the cause of this is most likely an impure condition of heart. “both a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” he asks.—vs. 11

In a further penetrating remark, James says, “If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.” He explains, “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” Then, by contrast, James writes, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”—James 3:14,15,17,18

In James 4:10, he writes, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” This is true of every faithful Christian on a far grander scale than is possible for the human mind to grasp. It was true of Jesus. In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul tells us about it in an exhortation for us to be like Jesus. He writes:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

God’s promise to the followers of Jesus is that if they, like he, humble themselves in doing his will, to the full extent of actually being willing to suffer and to die with him, they will be exalted to live and reign with him. A glorious prospect, indeed!

In chapter five of his letter, James becomes somewhat prophetic, forecasting some of the conditions of the last days. He speaks particularly of the heaping together of treasures for the last days. (vss. 1-3) This, he indicates, would come about, at least partly, because of worldwide inequities which would allow some nations to become rich more or less at the expense of others who are poor. Christians whose minds and hearts are attuned to the principles of divine justice and righteousness are properly pained by every evidence of injustice they see about them. At the same time, however, the Scriptures do not bid them take such matters into their own hands.

To these, and especially in view of the distressing conditions of this present evil world, James writes, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”—Gal. 1:4; James 5:7,8

To every faithful believer In the Early Church, the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom would be the solution to every problem of the sin-sick and dying world. They knew, also, it would mean the fruition of their hope—that blessed hope of living and reigning with Christ. They knew that his coming and his kingdom would be the complete fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophets had foretold concerning the blessing of all the families of the earth, the restitution of all things.


Election and predestination … Suffering and glory … Where will the ungodly appear?

The Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to the “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (I Pet. 1:1) His use of the word strangers evidently denotes that he had not personally met these brethren. That they were brethren, and not unbelievers of the world, is evident from the next verse in which he speaks of them as being “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”—vs. 2

There is an election feature of God’s plan, not a pre-selection of individuals to be saved regardless of their qualifications, but an election, or predetermination of different classes to be used in the general plan of salvation. This was indicated by James in his speech at the Jerusalem conference when, after outlining God’s plan for this age and for the next age—that now God is calling out a people for his name, and that Gentiles are included under the arrangements—he said, “For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”—Acts 15:13-18

Paul spoke of this election in so far as the church is concerned, explaining that God has predestinated that each one in this called-out class must be “conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29) This work of transformation into the likeness of Christ is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, which in turn works in our lives through the medium of God’s Word. Peter speaks of this as a work of sanctification, and explains that it is being accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

In the opening verses of his letter, Peter mentions several important elements of Christian hope. He says that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we have been “begotten again unto a lively hope [or hope of life] … to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” Then he explains that we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”—I Pet. 1:3-5

The great salvation, the inheritance which is incorruptible, is reserved in heaven, Peter explains. It was not to be revealed, not to be entered into, until the last time; in other words, not until the end of the age and the return of Christ. Paul mentioned this when he said that there was laid up for him a crown which the Lord would give to him at that day, and not only to him, but to all them also that love his appearing.—II Tim. 4:6-8

In verse nine, Peter speaks of the salvation of souls. The word soul in the Bible does not refer to a living entity within the body which continues to live after the body dies. The reference here is to beings—in this instance, those called to be saints. Nor is the salvation the apostle speaks of merely an escape from the Lord’s condemnation—and certainly in no sense the erroneous idea of escaping the fires of hell, for such an idea is not taught in the Bible.

In the next verse, Peter indicates that the salvation he refers to is the one of which the “prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit … which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. 1:10,11) Many texts of Scripture give assurance that the called-out class of this age will share this foretold glory with Christ. Surely this is a “great salvation.”—Heb. 2:3

Jesus’ disciples did not at first grasp the meaning of the prophecies pertaining to the sufferings of Christ. They saw only the forecasts of his messianic glory. However, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, their minds were illuminated, and now, In order to strengthen Christian faith, Peter calls attention to these prophetic utterances which showed that Christ must suffer and die as the world’s Redeemer and Savior. And he also emphasizes the glory that should follow. Throughout his epistle Peter reveals that every Christian will ultimately share in that glory that should follow. The condition, of course, Is that they first share in the foretold sufferings of Christ.

The fact that in the divine plan Christian believers are privileged to share in the foretold sufferings of Christ and thus prove their worthiness to share in the glory and power of his kingdom is one of the principal themes of this epistle. In I Peter 2:5 he writes that these called-out ones are “an holy priesthood, to offer up sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Book of Hebrews reveals that the brethren of Christ are a priesthood, authorized to offer sacrifice, even the sacrifice of themselves, and now Peter confirms this vital truth for us.

In verse nine, he speaks of our being a “royal [or kingly] priesthood.” This confirms Paul’s claim that Christ and the church together were represented by Meichisedec, who was both a priest and a king. Thus, in the midst of timely exhortations to Christian faithfulness and endurance, we find these nuggets of thought which serve to bind the promises and prophecies of God’s Word together so that it presents a gloriously harmonious testimony concerning the great plan of salvation for both the church and the world.

In the offering of sacrifice, suffering is involved, and It Is this which Peter describes as the sufferings of Christ. Peter writes, “Even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps.” (I Pet. 2:21-24) In the next chapter we read, “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for welldoing, than for evildoing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit. “—I Pet. 3:17,18

In the fourth chapter he writes, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Again he touches this viewpoint, saying, “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”—I Pet. 4:12,13,16

This suffering which faithful believers share with Christ is, as Peter indicates, a fiery trial. It tests their fidelity to God and to Christ. The entire Gospel Age is set apart in the plan of God for this trial, this testing of the church. In verse seventeen, Peter refers to it as the judgment—from a Greek word meaning ‘decision’—which begins with the “house of God.” God’s people, the called-out class throughout the age, have suffered many fiery trials. Upon the basis of their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Lord when thus tested, they are accounted either worthy or unworthy of living and reigning with Christ, sharing in his glory.

It has been a severe test, but the reward is correspondingly great. In the expression, “If the righteous scarcely be saved,” Peter continues to show that their trial is a severe one. And it is indeed through much tribulation that any of the consecrated qualify to enter into the kingdom as kings and priests to reign with Christ. Those whose hearts are right, however, can depend upon the Lord to give them strength to endure and, depending upon him, they can be sure that nothing will separate them from his love.

Peter then makes a statement which has been greatly misused, because misunderstood—“If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (I Pet. 4:18) Because of traditional misconceptions of the plan of God, many have surmised that Peter is implying that the ungodly and the sinner will appear in a hell of torment. But Peter does not say this, nor is it what he meant.

The Greek word here translated ‘appear’ means literally to ‘shine’, or to ‘show’. In view of the severe trial of the righteous in this age, a testing so severe that they scarcely prove faithful, Peter is apparently asking what kind of showing the ungodly and the sinner will make. If they were now on trial for life, the implication is that they would fail.

Peter is not discussing the future trial period of the world, so does not answer his own question. Had he done so, his answer would have been in harmony with Jesus’ teachings, when he said, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not. … The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:47-49) The last day is the time of the general resurrection. (John 11:24) It is in that day that the ungodly and the sinner—those who have done evil—will be awakened from death and given their opportunity to hear, understand, and obey the words of Jesus, believe on him, and live. That will be their judgment day; but they will not be invited to suffer for righteousness’ sake, so their trial will not be so exacting. Neither will they get the same high reward that is gained by the believers of this age, but will be restored to life as perfect humans upon the earth.

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