The Creator’s Grand Design—Part 9

Jesus’ Associate Rulers

THE disciples of Jesus became convinced that their beloved Master had been raised from the dead, and when he appeared to them for the last time before returning to his Father in heaven, they made bold to ask about his kingdom. This was a natural question. During his various appearances to them he had talked about the kingdom—the kingdom in which they believed he would be the great king. He had told them that all power had been given unto him in heaven and in earth, and they wondered if he would use this power to set up his kingdom; so they asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”—Acts 1:6

Jesus’ reply to his disciples was: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7,8) Not yet having received the Holy Spirit, the disciples did not have a clear idea of what the kingdom of the Messiah would be like, but they must have sensed from Jesus’ reply that it would not be established immediately; for first they were to be his witnesses to the world of mankind, and even to their unenlightened minds this must have implied a considerable lapse of time, for our modern means of communication were not then in existence.

The Purpose of Preaching

Preaching the Gospel of Christ, as his witnesses, was a far cry from being associated with him in a powerful kingdom which they believed was destined to rule the world. What was to be accomplished by this preaching? Many have supposed that the objective of this missionary effort was to convert the whole world to Christ and thus to bring the people into his kingdom. These suppose that the kingdom of Christ was established at Pentecost, and that it has been gradually expanding ever since.

But this is not what the Bible teaches. If this had been God’s design, then it has miserably failed; for now, nearly two thousand years after Pentecost, the larger portion of the world is in heathen darkness, with the remainder almost wholly under the influence of the evolutionary theory of creation, and other forms of unbelief. The great masses of mankind today do not give any thought to the kingdom of Christ as a solution for the problems of the world, and the nations have no inclination to follow the precepts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

What, then, is the purpose of preaching the Gospel of Christ and his kingdom? An indication of this purpose is given in Acts 2:47, where we read concerning those who had responded to the witness given by the apostles at Pentecost and later, that the Lord “added to the church.” Jesus had spoken of building his church, and now we learn how this was to be accomplished—that it was to be through the spread of the Gospel of the kingdom by the witnesses of Jesus.

But what is the church? This English word is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means ‘a calling out’, or ‘a called-out class’. The church of Christ, then, is made up of a class that is called out of the world, called to be separate from the world. This thought has a number of implications, one of them being that it is not God’s purpose to bring the whole world into the church and that the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ is not designed in the plan of God to convert the world.

The witness work began with the Jewish people, and later was extended to the Gentiles; and it is in connection with this enlargement of the work that we are given a further explanation of what the Lord expected would be accomplished by the effort. At an apostolic conference in Jerusalem James said, “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) Here again we have the thought of a people being taken out from the world, rather than the conversion of all.

For His Name

These called-out ones, James explains, were to be a people for God’s name. This indicates that they were to become members of his family. These are the sons of God mentioned throughout the New Testament. Paul wrote: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”—Rom. 8:16,17

It will be recalled that Jesus invited his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. This implied suffering and dying with him, and on this point the Apostle Paul wrote: “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (II Tim. 2:11,12) These inspired statements of the Word reveal that when Jesus’ kingdom is established, he will have associate kings reigning with him—individuals selected from the human race who have proved their worthiness of this high position by their willingness to suffer and to die with him.

In Revelation 14:1-5 these joint-heirs with Christ are pictured as being on Mount Zion with him. In this symbolic presentation, Jesus is represented by a lamb. This is because he sacrificed his life that the world might live. The Revelator explains that those who are with the Lamb on Mount Zion are those who followed—followed him, that is, unto death. We are informed that these have the “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” In other words, they are the children of God who will live and reign with Christ.

In Revelation 19:7 these same followers of the Lamb are spoken of as becoming united with him in marriage. Thus In this further sense, they are a people for his name. In Revelation 22:1, the kingdom is depicted as “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” It is from this throne that the water of life will flow out for the blessing of the people. And when the kingdom is thus set up and functioning, “the Spirit and the bride” will say, “Come, … take the water of life freely.”—vs. 17

Rulers in the Kingdom

The way that leads to joint-heirship with Jesus in his kingdom is a difficult one. It is a way of suffering that terminates eventually in death. Jesus knew that those who walked in this way would need encouragement, so he said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) This is a promise to the prospective rulers in the kingdom of Christ—not to those who later will become subjects in that kingdom. It is important to keep this distinction in mind, for the kingdom of Christ will have both rulers and subjects.

Jesus is, of course, the King of kings in his kingdom. Having been put to death in the flesh to redeem mankind from death, it was necessary that Jesus be raised from the dead in order to be the world’s ruler; and this Is also true with respect to his footstep followers. Throughout the age from Pentecost unto now these have, one by one, finished their course of faithfulness in death, and at the end of the age they are restored to life in what the Bible terms “the first resurrection.”—Rev. 20:4,6

Called, Chosen, and Faithful

Those who are to live and reign with Christ are, as we have seen, called to this high position through the Gospel, the Word of life. This has been the main objective of the preaching of the Gospel throughout the age, beginning with Pentecost. True, others have heard the message, and to the extent they have understood and responded they have been blessed. But only a few in the entire age, literally a hundred and forty-four thousand, have responded in full devotion to the Lord and his cause, a devotion that has led to the laying down of their lives in sacrifice.

In Revelation 17:14 we are informed that those who are qualified to be with the Lamb are “called, and chosen, and faithful.” To be called to this high position in the kingdom as associate rulers with Jesus is not enough. There must be a response to that call by a complete surrender to the doing of God’s will. Upon the basis of this consecration the called ones become ‘chosen’. Thereafter it is necessary to make one’s calling and choosing sure by a lifetime of faithfulness. Jesus said, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10

Faithfulness to the Lord involves willingness to serve him in whatever way he may indicate to be his will. It means loyalty to his Word of truth. The Apostle Peter speaks of still other aspects of faithfulness. Reminding us that we are called to be partakers of the divine nature, Peter writes, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—II Pet. 1:4-11

A Heavenly Calling

In Hebrews 3:1, the Apostle Paul addresses the church class as “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” A misunderstanding of the promises of God to those who are partakers of this calling has given rise to the erroneous idea that his plan for the world of mankind is to take as many of them to heaven as possible. Those advocating this theory have ‘ailed to see that the Lord is simply calling a few, a little flock, to this high position, to be associated with Jesus in the rulership of his kingdom, and that this kingdom, when prepared and established, will extend the blessings of human life to all the remainder of the world of mankind.

In writing about the sons of God who are called to live and reign with Christ, the Apostle John said, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) Following his resurrection Jesus manifested himself to his disciples by various signs—signs which took the form of different bodies. He appeared as a gardener, a stranger, a fisherman, and, to Thomas, as one who had been crucified. The disciples did not see Jesus’ glorified, divine body, for he could not thus be seen with human eyes. But John informs us that the faithful sons of God will see Jesus as he is, because they will be made like him. These, then, will also be invisible to human eyes.

Human Representatives

Jesus, together with those called out from the world and proved worthy to live and reign with him, will constitute the spiritual, or invisible, phase of the messianic kingdom. But there will also be an earthly ruling phase of Christ’s kingdom which will represent the spiritual phase. Who will be the human representatives of the messianic kingdom? The Scriptures answer this question clearly. Luke 13:28,29 speaks of the time when the people shall see “Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God.” And we are told that then the people will come from the east, west, north, and south, and sit down with these ancient faithful ones in the kingdom.

In Psalm 45:16, this same group is spoken of as the “fathers” in Israel, and the explanation is given that in the kingdom these fathers will become the “children” of The Christ and that they will be made “princes in all the earth.” Jesus as the great king in his kingdom is mentioned in Isaiah 32:1, and we are told that he will reign in righteousness, “and princes shall rule in judgment.”

These princes will not be ordinary, imperfect humans, governed largely by selfishness. Paul tells us that they are to be brought forth from death in “a better resurrection,” and made “perfect.” (Heb. 11:35,40) From the beginning of their administration under Christ they will doubtless be recognized as superior in every way, and well equipped to direct the affairs of men as the visible representatives of the spiritual Christ. While these human princes will not be the kingdom in the full sense of the word, they will be so fully the representatives of it that they will be so recognized by men.

Specially Tested

Just as it was God’s design to specially test those ultimately chosen to reign with Christ in the spiritual phase of his kingdom, so he also tested those who will serve as its human representatives. Their testing was upon the basis of their faith and obedience. During that long period of time from Abel to John the Baptist—approximately four thousand years—this testing continued. And God overshadowed his faithful people of old with his love and care, even as has been true of his people during the present age. When the people scoffed at Noah’s belief in the coming Flood, they did not realize that they were being used to test his worthiness of a better resurrection, to be one of the princes in all the earth who will represent the messianic kingdom.

And think of the great lawgiver, Moses! At the age of forty he thought to take matters into his own hands and deliver his people, but his plans miscarried, and he fled from Egypt in fear. For forty years more he waited for some indication from the Lord as to his future course, meanwhile working at the humble occupation of caring for his father-in-law’s flocks. What a test this must have been upon Moses’ patience; yet he passed that test and was ready to do the Lord’s bidding when the time came and the divine will was clearly pointed out to him.

The next forty years of hardship and toil, for which Moses received little gratitude from the people, further tested his fidelity to God. The experiences through which he passed in the wilderness served as valuable training in preparation for his future position as one of the princes in all the earth. Even though Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, his faith and confidence in his God were not shaken. When Moses is raised from the dead, the Lord will be able to entrust him with great responsibility, knowing that every detail of work which might be assigned to him will be carried out faithfully and with an eye single to the glory of God.

And consider Daniel, a Hebrew captive in Babylon, who became prime minister of the Babylonian Empire! Daniel attained this high position despite his loyalty to Jehovah and his high principles of righteousness, which irked his enemies. How many there have been through the ages who, if threatened with death in a lion’s den, would have remained true to their God? It was through this and other faith-testing experiences that Daniel proved worthy of the better resurrection, and qualified to serve as one of the princes in all the earth.

To quote Paul: “What shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets; who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.”—Heb. 11:32-35

Experiences Utilized

Throughout all the centuries, God was utilizing the experiences of these Ancient Worthies to prepare them to be the human representatives of Christ’s kingdom. During all that time the world in general did not even believe there was a God. They knew about their gods of wood and stone, and superstitiously bowed down in fear before their hideous idols. But they did not know that a living God, the Creator of heaven and earth, was training personnel for a future government through whom they, when awakened from the sleep of death, would be enlightened and blessed.

It is doubtful if the Ancient Worthies themselves understood clearly just what their future position in the arrangements of God would be. They believed the promises of God that a powerful kingdom would be established through a Messiah he would send, and they hoped that in some way they would be the servants of God in that government—that then they could serve God without fear of persecution, violence, or death. Isaiah taught that under the jurisdiction of that government the “rebuke” of God’s people would be taken “from off all the earth.”—Isa. 25:8

But regardless of the reward, the Ancient Worthies were committed to God and were faithful to him. The attitude of all the Ancient Worthies who qualified to be princes in all the earth was well expressed by the three Hebrew captives in Babylon. When threatened with death in a fiery furnace if they did not bow down to the great image of the king, they replied: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”—Dan. 3:17,18

This also has been the attitude of the Lord’s true people during the present age, as they, through much tribulation, prove themselves worthy to reign with Christ. Thus the associate rulers in Christ’s kingdom—those on the spiritual plane, as well as those on the earthly plane of life—will all have been thoroughly tested. No one will be in either of these groups who has not previously demonstrated his full obedience to God under test. This, indeed, was also true of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords in his kingdom.

When all in both these classes are brought forth in the resurrection—the spiritual class in the first resurrection, and the earthly class in the better resurrection—the kingdom will begin to function for the blessing of all the families of the earth. Christ and his church will be the lawgivers in that kingdom, and the princes will administer the law and be the instructors of the people in the true meaning and application of all the divine requirements.

These two phases of the kingdom are referred to by the Prophet Micah, and symbolized as Zion, the spiritual phase, and Jerusalem, the earthly phase. The kingdom as a whole is symbolized by a mountain. The people are represented as going up to this mountain of the Lord, and being taught by him through the kingdom agencies. As a result, they beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks, and they learn war no more. Then, we are assured, every man will dwell under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid. (Mic. 4:4) What a blessed prospect!

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