THE CITY OF GOD - GOD’S PURPOSE FOR MAN
Many Christians believe that the focus of their lives lies at the end of this present ‘age’. This Chapter looks at the more distant focus, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This should be our focus, for, like the saints of old, our eyes should be on this ultimate purpose, the City of God. Additionally, it is necessary to understand which scriptures refer to the ages to come and which are to be fulfilled in this age, for much confusion comes from looking for the fulfilment of prophecies in this age which are not directly relevant to it.
Because the writer to the Hebrews states we have already come to "the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," (Heb.12:22), some discount the future aspect of the City of God. This belief is often found amongst those who hold to an understanding known as ‘Replacement Theology’. This ‘belief’ considers God has replaced ‘Israel in the flesh’ by the Church, ignoring the outstanding promises of God to His people, Israel, regarding the land, etc.. There has been a reaction to this, however, which has resulted in an overemphasis on the Jewish roots of the Church.
Those who do not believe that God’s purposes for Israel have finished yet, often separate the Church from Israel in their understanding, even giving the impression that the Church is secondary to Israel. They appear to ignore the reality that the Church in this age comprises those who have been called out of the nations, whether they be Jew [of Israel], or Gentile.
It is, therefore, necessary for us to have a much broader overview of God’s purpose for all mankind, even though it may challenge our concept of who is the ‘Church’, and who is ‘in Christ’. Also, it is essential for us to understand the correct place of God’s promises to Israel, placing the prophesied future events regarding the end of this age, the millennial reign of Christ and the coming new heaven and new earth, in their correct order, so that the Holy Spirit can give us a clearer understanding of the role He has for us, the Church, to play in this end-time hour.
The City of God
Hebrews Chapter 11 tells us about a group of believers that were made righteous by faith. Sometimes they are referred to as the ‘heroes of faith’. The list includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, and Samuel, and goes on to say there are many others. Verse 13 tells us, however, that they died in faith "without receiving the promises, but having seen them, and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth," they made it "clear that they are seeking... a heavenly" country, (Heb.11:13-16). Verse 16 goes on to say that God "has prepared a City for them."
What Abraham had been looking for, "dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise," was this "City, which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God," (Heb.11:9&10).
None of these ‘heroes of faith’, although they "gained approval through their faith, received what was promised, because God had provided something better," so that "apart from us, [those of us who have been born of God in the time since the cross], they should not be made perfect," (Heb.11:39 & 40).
We begin to see, that rather than being a separate group, we, who call ourselves Christians, are one with all who have believed in God from the beginning of creation, and with all those in the future whose names are also written in the Lamb’s book of life, (Heb.11 and Rev.21:22).
In Paul's letter to the Galations he explains that Abraham had two sons, one by a bond woman and one by a free woman. The son born according to the Spirit, by the free woman, through the promise, is an allegory of the New Covenant, this woman corresponding to "the Jerusalem above," which is free. We are told this ‘City’ is our mother, (Gal.4:22-26). Paul tells us that we, "like Isaac, are children of promise," the children of Sarah the barren woman, (v.27&28). We see that our mother is this same ‘City’ that Abraham and the other Old Testament saints were looking for.
In Rev.3:12, Jesus promises, that ‘on’ those who ‘overcome’, He will write "the name of the City of His God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from... God." Yet Hebrews 12:22-24 says we have already "come to Zion, and the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, and to the sprinkled blood." This apparent paradox is created because at this time, in the spirit, we have already come to the City, whilst at a future date, in our immortal bodies, we will also enter this same City. This group, who are "the Church of the firstborn", does not only comprise of those who have been born of the Spirit since Jesus’ resurrection, but also the Old Testament saints.
John, in the book of Revelation, was shown the "new heaven" and the "new earth," after Satan had been thrown into the lake of fire along with Death and Hades. An angel then said to John, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb," and he carried him in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed him the "holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." Its foundations had the names of the twelve apostles written on them, and the gates had the names of the twelve tribes of Israel upon them. Here, again, we see the combination of Old and New Testament saints. The City was of pure gold and had no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The glory of God illumines it and the Lamb is its lamp. The only ones who can enter are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, (Rev.21:9-27), and this group includes both Old and New Testament saints, for this is the culmination of the ages.
We can see from these scriptures that the focus of Abraham's life, and the lives of many others, was this City, the City to which we, the Body of Christ, the Church, have already come to in the spiritual realm, but are yet to reach in the natural realm. It is important for us to understand this goal and focus of all ages past, and the one which is yet to come, despite any confusion caused because this City is called, "our mother" as well as "the bride, the wife of the Lamb," (Gal.4:26 & Rev.21:9).
The Church is normally thought to consist only of the believers in this age, the last 2000 years, and not to include the Old Testament saints. Because Christians are referred to in Scripture as the "Bride of the Lamb," which comprises those who have been born again between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and His second coming, many think that ‘Israel in the flesh’ is destined for a different end. Scripture would suggest otherwise.
The Church and Israel
Paul explained to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, that they were at one time separated "from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise... but now in Christ Jesus... [they had been] brought near by the blood of Christ," who has "now made both [groups] one, and broken down the dividing wall," (Eph.2:11-14). We, who believe, are now in the Commonwealth of Israel. We need to absorb the fact that God, in His foreordained plan, has brought those Gentiles who have been saved by grace, into this commonwealth.
We see this unifying process described in Romans 11. Paul says that the Gentiles have been grafted into the "cultivated olive tree," (v.24). Israel [in the flesh], we are told, is partially hardened until the "fullness of the Gentiles has come in," having been broken off for their unbelief.
The olive tree, at present, is made up partly of Israel, who in past ages have believed, and partly of Gentiles and Jews of this age who are born again of the Spirit. Part of Israel, some (NOTE 5: See Note 4 in Chapter One.) of those who have been cut off, are yet to be grafted back in again, (v.25).
Here again we see that God’s plan will combine the Church in this age, [Jews and Gentiles saved by grace], and natural Israel, kinsmen according to the flesh, in the age to come.
It is necessary, at this stage, to understand that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel," (Rom.9:6). Paul explains that Abraham’s descendants are only those who are children of the promise, because it was through Isaac that his descendants would be named, (v.9&10), saying, "It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants." This means that those with a natural birthright are not automatically saved.
In the days of the Old Testament, ‘belonging to Israel’ did not guarantee salvation. Isaiah, we are told, cried out concerning Israel, "It is a remnant (NOTE 6: The word ‘remnant’, is often wrongly used as a description for those saved in this age being few in number, which is not scriptural. The word ‘remnant’ is only used in Scripture as applicable to natural Israel, never to Christians.) that will be saved," (Rom.9:27 and Is.10:21&22). Before Jesus came, it was only those who pursued the law "by faith" that attained to righteousness, (Rom.9:32). Likewise, in the days that lie ahead, not all who are Israel of the flesh will make it into the Millennial reign of Christ. Many who are by natural birth in the nation of Israel will remain cut off.
The Present Age, the Age of Grace
In the period of time since the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ people of all nations, including Israel, have been able to come into the New Covenant by grace, through faith, by the blood of Jesus. This New Covenant is the same covenant that Jeremiah prophesied as pertaining to Israel in Jer.31:31-34, as quoted in Heb.8:8-12. Some of the Gentiles and some of the Jews have become partakers of this Covenant now, whilst part of Israel will not come into it until the next ‘age’. As already explained in the previous Chapter, we need to recognise that the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus, through the cross, is the very same Covenant we have come into now, and which a future remnant of Israel will come into in the Millennial reign of Christ, when Jesus comes to the earth as King. In the present age we are made partakers of this Covenant by faith, whilst in the next age Israel will become partakers through the promise. Ezekiel prophesied about this time when Israel would come into this New Covenant in Ez.36:26-28, the time when the whole house of Israel will again dwell in the land: "I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe all My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers. So, you will be My people, and I will be your God," (Ez.36:24-28).
Jesus Second Coming - First on the Clouds, Then to the Earth
When Jesus returns, He comes first in the clouds, and the dead in Christ will arise, and then we who remain will be caught up together with them to be with Jesus in the air, (1Thess.4:16&17). What has come to be known as the ‘Church Age’ will have been completed. This is the event which is called the ‘Rapture’, a term which is not actually found within Scripture. It combines the ‘catching away’ of those saints who are alive when Jesus returns with the ‘first resurrection,' (Rev.20:6). Those that are not raised again at this time will rise at a ‘second resurrection’ at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth, (Rev.20:5 & 12). Those who are alive when Jesus returns, but are not ‘caught away’, are those who have not believed. Those who have not believed will include that part of Israel which is still cut off from the cultivated olive tree. These, with the unbelievers of other nations, will go through the events which Scripture refers to as the "wrath of God," (Rom.1:18; Eph.5:6; Col.3:6; Rev.14:10&19; Rev.15:1&7; and Rev.16:1), or "the great day of the Lord... a day of wrath... the day of the Lord’s wrath," (Zeph.1;14,15&18). This is a time of great judgement during which many are killed and through which only a number will enter the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ upon the earth. Many confuse the future time of ‘great tribulation’, which is coming upon the earth, with the separate future time of ‘God’s wrath’ being poured out before the second stage of Jesus’ return; His return to the earth. Jesus comes first "on the clouds of the sky"- with His angels to catch away the saints, and then, 3½ years later, to the earth - with the saints. Scripture does not confuse these very different occasions and is very clear about the distinct twofold nature of Jesus’ Second Coming.
In Dan.12:2, Daniel refers to the first resurrection (NOTE 7: Rev.20:5&6 tells us there are two resurrections, by referring to a "first" resurrection as well as informing us that the "rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed." Jesus also refers to two resurrections in John 5:29 where He tells his disciples, "An hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and shall come forth; those who did good, to a resurrection of life; those who committed evil to a resurrection of judgement." Some suggest there is yet another resurrection, occurring before the ‘first resurrection’, which is usually referred to as the ‘out resurrection’ as this belief is based on Phil.3:11 where Paul refers to a resurrection ‘from’ the dead. Those who hold this belief suggest Paul was aspiring to another resurrection other than the first resurrection. This ‘interpretation’ of Phil.3:11 is used in an attempt to suggest that it is better to aspire not to go through the time of great tribulation which is coming before Jesus returns on the clouds.) when he says that only "many" - not all - "who sleep in the ground will awake... to everlasting life." The rest will be part of the ‘second resurrection’. Daniel, in this scripture, is speaking to Israel, not the Church, and so we can see that along with those Christians who have died in the last two thousand years the Old Testament saints will be part of the ‘first resurrection’, a resurrection to which they wished to attain: "...Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah.. David, and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight; women received their dead by resurrection, and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection," (Heb.11:33-35).
Before Jesus’ first coming, when the righteous saints died, they did not go to heaven but went to Sheol, the place of the dead. Sheol was divided into two parts. The righteous went to the part known as ‘Abraham’s bosom’, to which Jesus referred when He told the story of a man called Lazarus who went there, (Luke 16:19-31). Sheol’s location is possibly in the centre of the earth.
When Jesus died we know that He went to Sheol. Peter tells us that when Jesus was "made alive in the spirit" He made "proclamation to the spirits in prison," (1Pet.3:18&19), to those who once were disobedient at the time of Noah. He preached the gospel, even to those who were dead, (1Pet.4:6), that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may, nevertheless, "live in the spirit according to the will of God." The number of persons responding and involved is unknown to us.
When Jesus rose from the dead "He ascended on high and led captive a host of captives," (Eph.4:8). It seems that those in ‘Abraham’s bosom’ were released from Sheol and translated to heaven to be with the Lord there. At the time of Jesus resurrection the Old Testament saints became able to partake of the New Covenant and be made alive in the spirit! The ‘many’ that Daniel referred to, those righteous saints who died before the time of Jesus’ first coming, are now, therefore, in heaven, where they await their immortal bodies, which they will receive when they partake in the "first resurrection," (Rev.20:6). Since Jesus’ resurrection and glorification they have been made partakers of the New Covenant also. It is not something they have yet to come into. The efficacy of the ‘Cross’ embraces not only those who came after it, but includes those who went before. Abraham and the other ‘heroes of faith’ have never been cut off from the cultivated olive tree.
When Jesus rose from the dead we know that the tombs opened and "many bodies [not spirits] of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and, coming out of the tombs after the resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many," (Matt.27:52&53). These are just part of that company in ‘Abraham’s bosom’ who have gone before us, having already received their resurrection bodies, being "first fruits" along with Jesus, (1Cor.15:23), when He rose from the dead. Who comprise this group we do not know.
At the time of the forthcoming "first resurrection" and simultaneous "catching away of the saints", when Jesus comes "on the clouds", we will also receive our immortal bodies along with those Old Testament saints who did not receive their immortal bodies at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, (1Cor.15:20-27). We will subsequently return to the earth with Jesus, after the "wrath of God", to be part of His 1000 year reign upon the earth, (Rev.19:14).
Jesus Second Coming and the Ages to Come
Jesus’ second coming has two stages which begin when He comes "on the clouds of the sky," (Matt.24:30). He comes with His angels, [not His saints], to "gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other," (v.31). It is not until after the ‘wrath of God’ that He comes to the earth, to the Mount of Olives, with the saints. Zechariah prophesies of this second event, saying, "In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives... then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones(saints) with Him," (Zech.14:4-9). It is at this time that the Beast and the False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and Satan is bound for a thousand years, (Rev.19:14-20:2).
Zechariah prophesies, "In that day, living waters will flow out of Jerusalem", just as Ezekiel does in Ez.47:1-12. Ezekiel, in Ez.40-47:12, describes a New Temple which will be built, after the "whole house of Israel," who God had sent "into exile among the nations," have been brought "back from the peoples," and "from the lands of their enemies," (Ez.39:25-29). Speaking of this time when God will have brought all of them from "all the lands...into their own land," He says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you", (Ez.36:24-27). THIS IS WHEN THAT PART OF ISRAEL WHICH HAS BEEN CUT OFF FROM THE CULTIVATED OLIVE TREE COMES INTO THE NEW COVENANT. This happens after the "wrath of God" and Jesus’ subsequent return to the earth itself. This is the time when we will see that "God has not rejected His people," as Paul explains in his letter to the Romans, (Rom.11:1), the time when Jesus will be in the midst of His people and "King over all the earth," (Zech.14:9). Those of Israel who have come through the ‘wrath of God’ will then be given new spirits, but unlike the Church, who have partaken in the "first resurrection" 3½ years earlier, they will not receive immortal bodies. They will not until the ‘second resurrection’.
During the millennial reign of Jesus, those of the "first resurrection", changed in the twinkling of an eye into their immortal bodies when they were caught up to be with the Lord in the air, (1Cor.!5:52&53 and 1Thess.4:17), will rule the nations "with a rod of iron," (Rev.19:15 and 2:27). Our roles and positions during the Millennium will depend on the "crowns" (Note 8: ‘Crowns’ are symbols of rewards and Scripture mentions several, e.g. 1 Pet.5:4.) given to us when we come before the judgement seat of Christ, (2Cor.5:10). The judgement seat of Christ is not to be confused with the White Throne judgement after the ‘second resurrection’, (Rev.20:11&12). So, it is not until the end of the Millennial reign of Christ (Note 9: Paul explains to the believers at Corinth that "we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad," and so our ambition should be "to be pleasing to Him," (2Cor.5:10). The context would suggest this is limited to believers only. The time of this judgement is fixed by Jesus when "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with the angels; and shall reward every man for his works, (Matt.16:27) - "thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just," (Luke14:14). (See also, 1Cor.4:5, Rev.22:12, 2Tim.4:8.) and the second resurrection that the rest of Israel get their immortal bodies.
After the millennial rule of Christ on the earth, Satan is released from his prison, the abyss, where he will have been imprisoned throughout Jesus’ 1000 year reign. He will then deceive the nations once more so that they gather for war "on the broad plain of the earth" surrounding "the camp of the saints" at Jerusalem. But they are destroyed by fire from heaven, (Rev.20:3 and Rev.20:7-9). Satan is cast into the lake of fire, (v.10), and all the dead are raised in the ‘second resurrection’, and judged according to their deeds. If any man’s name is not found written in the book of life he is thrown into the lake of fire, which is the "second death", (Rev.20:11-15). The "second death" has no power over those who were part of the "first resurrection", (Rev.20:6).
Peter tells us that the "heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up," (2Pet.3:10).
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Peter explains we "are looking for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells," (2Pet.3:13). John was shown this "new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away," (Rev.21:1). He also saw "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God," (v.10), "made ready as a bride and adorned for her husband," (v.2). All that have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life are able to enter her, (v.27). Here we see the culmination of the purposes of God. Nations still exist yet man has been made one with God. Originally innocent, man became defiled, but will then will have been made pure.
From Innocence to Purity
In the beginning God made man. He was innocent. When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, (Gen.3:6 ), he fell. So began man’s journey which was to result in some attaining to purity. Purity necessitates being delivered from evil. The first Adam initially communed with God, for he knew to do no other, being created to do so, but he fell. Those of the second Adam commune with God, their Father, for they love Him more than evil. Only through Jesus and His victory through the cross and resurrection is this acheived. This act of the Saviour avails for all mankind and those who obtain salvation will reach the CITY OF GOD, the new Jerusalem.
In Christ Jesus, we who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He made both those who were formerly the "Uncircumcision," the Gentiles in the flesh, and "so called, Circumcision [Israel]... ONE" having
broken "down the barrier of the dividing wall, that in Himself He might make the two into ONE NEW MAN... reconciling them both in ONE BODY to God through the cross," (Eph.2:11-22). Many years before the cross, Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt, (Heb.11:26), for he was looking to this reward. To be ‘in Christ’ is the purpose of God for all mankind. A purpose that began before this present, so called, ‘Church age’; even before the foundation of the world.
As this age reaches its climax, the Lord is wanting us to understand the prophecies that apply to this time we are now in. To do so, it is necessary to place the prophesied events of the Millennium and beyond in their correct place and time scale. This prevents us wrongly applying prophecies to ourselves which we should not. Only then can we see our role and place more clearly. It is very important that we do not expect events taking place in this present age which are to be worked out in the ages to come. Likewise, we must ensure we are expectant of those events which are to be worked out in this age.
So, as we are each involved in playing our part in God’s plan and purposes, may we each have our eyes on the CITY OF GOD like the saints of old, considering our activities relative to the ‘Great Plan’, the road on which we are all travelling.
|This Diagram shows the make up of the
‘Ages of Man’
from Creation to the culmination of the Ages when there will be
a new heaven and a new earth containing the City of God.
|Man was created ‘innocent’ but one day
will be made ‘pure,’
through the victory won for him by his Saviour, Jesus Christ.
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