“The quality of an occasion and the success of it is often determined by the amount of preparation that goes into it.”
The significance of this quote is self-evident. Although there are times of spontaneous gatherings that are fun filled and rewarding, it would not be wise to plan or strive for any important or significant event without tedious preparation. And, when it comes to matters of our faith, we should be even more mindful about these things. Take for example the Sabbath of the Jew. For them Biblically it is a most holy occasion and must not be taken lightly. It should be entered into soberly with attention to details. Mark 15.42 writes, “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath.”
Because Jews are forbidden to work on the Sabbath, they must take the day preceding the Sabbath to prepare for it. It is written that a pious Jew is not one who is a Sabbath observer but is one who properly prepares on the eve of the Sabbath. It is on the day of preparation (Friday) that marketing is done, meals are prepared for the following day, the home is cleaned and put in order, business deals completed, and so on. On the spiritual side, on this eve of the Sabbath, charitable deeds may be done and the holy book meditated upon and with times of prayer. Saturday, the Sabbath, is a day of total rest and focus on the Lord God.
Of course the Christian does not celebrate the Sabbath, nor is held under bondage to the letter of the Law. Instead, the believer observes Sunday as a day of special significance for gathering together and worship—it is the day of the resurrection of Christ, the first day of the week. This day testifies three important matters of our faith:
- The resurrection testified the authenticity of Jesus Christ is the Son Of God, sent by the Father from heaven to the earth as the Lamb of God to redeem mankind from our sins.
- He is the first fruits risen from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in spirit, soul, and immortal body making intercession for us.
- We too will receive the redemption of our bodies and will resurrect from the dead on the day of the Lord. Thereafter we will share with Christ in His everlasting kingdom.
For the believer in Christ, the day of preparation is the time period between “today” and the hour of His return. As the Jew intensely examines all things and strives to enter the Sabbath well prepared to meet the LORD in worship, the believer now prepares his life to enter into eternal living fellowship with Christ and our Father. The preparation of the Jew is largely outward dealing with the physical aspects of life, whereas for the believer this preparation is largely inward involving the root character of our being.
A Sabbath Rest Remains
The Sabbath for the Jew is a literal day, beginning sundown on Friday and ends sundown on Saturday. However, it is written,
“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.” Heb. 4.8-11 (Note: The word “Sabbath” is incorrected omitted in some Bible translations.)
This speaks of a spiritual Sabbath, a more perfect, eternal, and glorious rest yet to be entered into… in the Day of the Lord. Though this rest in its fullness remains before us, even as we are yet in these “un-resurrected” bodies, we may still spiritually enter into it by faith, as a foretaste of things to come. The real emphasis here, however, is that this Sabbath rest will be part of the grand climax of all things, in the fullness of times.
The Ages to Come
Let us now look more closely at this coming age and the glorious event that triggers it, the return of Christ. In reading from Ephesians 1:9-14 it is called the fullness of time when all things in heaven and on earth are gathered together in Christ. We, being believers in Christ, are now predestined for this miraculous time according to the plan of God; and are now sealed with the Holy Spirit for our accompanying inheritance, the redemption of our bodies. This divine plan for man’s redemption is exceedingly higher than the much-thought of plan of “dying and going to heaven.”
“…so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2.7 In all of Christendom, the anticipated arrival of this age is similar to the arrival of the Sabbath day for the Jew. We must prepare for it with great anticipation.
This age to come is initiated by the Parousia, a Greek word for the second “coming” or “arrival” of Christ. James speaks of the Parousia of Christ:
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming (Gk. Parousia) of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and latter rains.” Jam. 5.7
The “early” rain represents the first coming (Parousia) of Christ as Savior, the Lamb of God who redeems His people from their sins. There is a resurrection accompanying this Parousia. It is a spiritual resurrection as noted in Ephesians,
“…even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2.5-6
It is beyond my comprehension why this noted spiritual reality is not focused on more in the teachings of our faith. It becomes almost overwhelming to meditate its truth.
The “latter” rain speaks of the anticipated second coming (Parousia) of Christ when He returns not as a Lamb but as a Lion, as the Messianic Lord. Accompanying this event is the real bodily resurrection when the believer’s body will be raise from the dead fashioned after the resurrected body of our Lord.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” 1 Cor. 15.51-53
It is written in Romans 5.23, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” This completes the redemption of man—his bodily resurrection. Man’s spirit comes alive in his new birth in Christ. His soul is being transformed even now as God works in him to do and will of His good pleasure. (Phil. 2.13) But in the resurrection man is whole, redeemed body, soul and spirit.
“In the twinkling of an eye.” There is no advanced warning or announcement for the Parousia. “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Mk. 13.32 There is no time left to prepare. We have had our lifetime on this earth given by the Lord to prepare for such a time. Have we squandered our time beguiled with frivolous temporal things, failing to consider the weightier matters relating to the Kingdom of God and eternity? Have we having accumulated much perishable things such as wood, hay and straw and become lean on gold, silver and precious gems. (See 1 Cor. 3.10-15)
God met the needs (by grace) of the Israelites when they were first redeemed from bondage in Egypt. He provided quail and manna from heaven to eat, water from a spring to drink, and defeated their enemies, the Amalekites. (Ex. 16 & 17) The rest of their 40 years roaming the wilderness was spent in preparation for entry into the promised lands. There was a level of maturity expected of them to enter, conquer and defend, manage the land, govern, and have a proper relationship with God.
The needs of the believer are met, by grace in Christ Jesus, in redeeming the fallen soul from the bondage of darkness and death. New eternal life is given to them, and they are given the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide within. All things necessary have been freely given through faith in Christ. They are now equipped to grow up and act accordingly; to put off the old man(self) and put on the new man (self)…created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4.20); be an overcomer in spiritual affairs (as Christ encouraged the believers of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3; to function (in a ministry) as a member of the Body of Christ contributing to the whole, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Eph. 4.11; and to learn obedience even as Christ learned obedience from what He suffered; these are to name a few aspects of spiritual maturity.
The apostle Paul was fully convinced it was his personal calling of the Lord to equip believers, making them prepared for the Parousia. He writes, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man perfect (complete) in Christ.” Col. 1.28-29 Note, “every man” is repeated three times. Other translations use “everyone.” The individual is never lost or merged into the community of believers, the Church. Yes, we are but one of a multitude congregation of believers, but also one who must stand individually before Christ in Judgement. Christ does judge the churches, as He does so in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. He instructed John to “Write in a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea,” Rev. 1.11 warnings, admonitions, and words of encouragement.
1 Cor. 3.10-15 also speaks of this being a time of rewards and losses for every believer, not in terms of eternal salvation itself but in terms of function, purpose and relatedness in the eternal kingdom. It is to the individual believer that Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat (Bema seat) of Christ, that each one may receive his due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5.10 This is a most sober hour of our lives as we prepare our souls for this Day of the Lord. Knowing this, the writer of Hebrews writes twice, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion,” Heb. 3.7,15, and further writes, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Heb. 10.25
Perfect in Christ
The passion of Paul to spur each and every believer on to spiritual maturity is noted throughout his writings. In one place he writes, “To this end (maturity) I labor, striving with all His energy working powerfully within me.” Col. 1.29 One can picture Paul in great endurance, in troubles, hardships, calamities; in beatings, imprisonments, riots; in labor, sleepless nights, and hunger (2 Cor. 4-5); all of this:
“so that we may present every man perfect (complete) in Christ.”
This passion is for the “saved” in Christ. Yes, there are many with a passion for unbelievers to come into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But this all-out fervor is towards the believers in Christ—who have been “saved” by His grace. Paul continues to write, “to present you holy, unblemished, and blameless in His presence.” Col. 1.22 The Gospel of salvation cannot stop with the “believing in Christ and new birth experience and going to heaven.” It must, by all means, continue on to embrace the message of preparing for the Day of the Lord and spiritual maturity.
To the Church, Paul writes, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. For I promised you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” 2 Cor. 11.2 Here, the message of preparedness is not so much to the individual but corporately, to the Church as the functioning Body of Christ. Paul foresees, at the Parousia, the culmination of the age of the Church and the transformation of the Church into the “bride” of Christ. This, beloved, is no small matter. It is within the purposes of God from eternity to eternity. We see the culmination of all things occurring on the new earth as the corporate Church is presented to Christ as His bride:
“And I heard a sound like the roar of a great multitude, like the rushing of many waters, and like a mighty rumbling of thunder, crying out:
For our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him the glory.
For the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His bride has made herself ready.
She was given clothing of fine linen, bright and pure.
For the fine linen she wears is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then the angel told me to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’” Rev, 19.6-9
This is her destiny, and the ultimate calling of the Church.
The Great Objective
There is a continued spiritual work to be done in the believer, both in the Church and through the Church. The great objective towards maturity is to not only produce faith and knowledge of the Son of God, but the formation of Christ in the soul as dwelling in the heart—“Christ in you the hope of glory.” Col. 1.27
O’ my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let not this truth of Christ in you remain a mystery or be diminished from an experiential truth (as written on the heart) to merely a factual truth (as only written on paper and in the mind.) As Paul prayed this prayer of passion for the Church of Ephesus, let it now be voiced afresh for you and me:
“…that out of the riches of His glory He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then you, being rooted and grounded in love, will have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3.16-19
This prayer is for the Church as the corporate expression upon the earth who is to become the Bride of Christ; and for every believer who is a member of that Church, which is the Body of Christ on the earth. This is the destiny of the Church.
The Preparation of the Church
Esther was in preparation for a full year vying among other virgins to become the bride of the mighty Persian King Xerxes. During that time period much was done outwardly to magnify her natural beauty and to train her how to behave and function like royalty. But it was the inward quality of a Godly character that overwhelmed the King so that, “…the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she found grace and favor in his sight more than all of the other virgins. So he placed the royal crown upon her head and made her queen….” Est. 2.17.
So now the Church (and its individual members) is in her time of preparation. Some of that preparation is learning how to function as a corporate whole:
“And it was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.” Eph. 4.11-13
How awesome! It is almost unimaginable to contemplate this great workings of the Body of Christ, laboring under its Head, Jesus Christ, to prepare His bride for His eternal purposes.
It must be loudly proclaimed, sounded as a wake-up trumpet call to all believers, that this task of preparing the Church does not fall only upon the five aforementioned ministries. The call is upon every member to function in the manner God has so placed them in the Church. As every part of our own bodies has a function and purpose, so does every member of the Church. This is their calling, this is their responsibility:
“From Him the whole body is fitted and held together by every supporting ligament; and as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.” Eph. 4.16
This Church must learn to function as one, in unity, under its Head, Jesus Christ. For how can its believers ever learn to function, and undertake responsibility in the Kingdom of God once it is joined to its King as His bride? For surely the Church will sit with Christ to rule with Him in the Messianic Kingdom in the age to come. But as with Esther, superseding all these outward activities of learning to function as a bride/queen, there remains the issue of character, Godly character. This is the core of our being, the source of all our thoughts and intents of the heart. Personalities can be shallow and deceiving, but character reveals who we really are. A “nice” personality can conceal a bad character for just so long, then its poorer elements will begin to surface. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and the evil out of the evil brings forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of his heart, his mouth speaks.” Lk. 6.45
Godly character, this too is provided for under God’s grace.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Through these He has given us His precious and magnificent promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, now that you have escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Pet. 1.3-4
“Partakers of the Divine nature. These are bold words, and may be so understood as to excite the wildest and most presumptuous dreams. But bold as they are, and startling as they may sound to some of us, they are only putting into other language the teaching of which the whole New Testament is full, that men may, and do, by their faith, receive into their spirits a real communication of the life of God. What else does the language about being ‘the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty’ mean? What else does the teaching of regeneration mean? What else means Christ’s frequent declarations that He dwells in us and we in Him, as the branch in the vine, as the members in the body? What else does ‘he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit’ mean? Do not all teach that in some most real sense the very purpose of Christianity, for which God has sent His Son, and His Son has come, is that we, poor, sinful, weak, limited, ignorant creatures as we are, may be lifted up into that solemn and awful elevation, and receive in our trembling and yet strengthened souls a spark of God? ‘That ye may be partakers of the Divine nature’ means more than ‘that you may share in the blessings which that nature bestows.’ It means that into us may come the very God Himself.” [MacLaren Exposition]
Note the subtle grammar change in this passage from the first person plural pronoun “us” to the second person pronoun “you”; by it what is true of all Christians is applied specially to those whom the writer is addressing and to all who read it—you and me. This promise becomes very personal. In addition, the particular tense in which these verses are written does not look upon the word “partakers” as something entirely future, but as something of which the believer should even now be a partaker.
This thought that man is intended to be partaker of the divine nature, or to be so transformed in character is rare among the fundamental teaching of most churches. Passages such as this is all too often looked upon as an encouragement to imitate godly good works, which is nothing other than giving the flesh an opportunity to satisfy its conscience—a form of religion. True understanding that, “it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure,” Phil. 2.13 and that we, in our ourselves, “can do nothing” without the reality of Christ abiding in us and we in Him, (Jn. 15.5) slays the flesh and all its powers to produce its own righteousness. True holiness and righteousness, and transformation of character are accomplished in the believer only through faith in the promises and true rest in Christ.
PATIENCE IN TIME OF PREPARATION
This is not so much the age to do many things in the name of Christ, as crusaders in this land of darkness. It is the age to become Christ-like in nature, to learn to function in love and unity within the Body of Christ, to become true lights upon a hill in this sea of darkness, and be transformed into a fit bride for Christ. This is much—a great mandate to receive and embrace. But embrace it we must. Our eternal destiny is influenced by it.
Also during this time in our walk upon this earth we will encounter many trials, tribulations, persecutions. Many adversities may befall the precious child of God as the fullness of redemption is yet to come. But come it will in all its glory and majesty, for it is promised by the Father Himself. Let us now hold fast in our faith being grounded in knowledge and truth. Let patience have her way.
“Therefore be patient, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer awaits the precious fruit of the earth, being patient for it until it receives the early and latter rains.” Jam. 5.7
The emphasis here is, “be long patient,” or “suffer with long patience,”—let not your patience be exhausted. It means to let your hope endure, not short-lived, continuing as long as is needed, even to the coming of the Lord. Then, in the coming Messianic Age, you will be released from all sufferings.
“Consider him that waits for a crop of corn; and will not you wait for a crown of glory? If you should be called to wait longer than the husbandman, is not there something more worth waiting for? In every sense the coming of the Lord drew nigh, and all his people’s losses, hardships, and sufferings, would be repaid. Men count time long, because they measure it by their own lives; but all time is as nothing to God; it is as a moment. To short-lived creatures a few years seem an age; but Scripture, measuring all things by the existence of God, reckons thousands of years but so many days. God brought about things in Job’s case, so as plainly to prove that he is very pitiful and of tender mercy. This did not appear during his troubles, but was seen in the event, and believers now will find a happy end to their trials. Let us serve our God, and bear our trials, as those who believe that the end will crown all. Our eternal happiness is safe if we trust to him: all else is mere vanity, which soon will be done with for ever.” (Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
We have said much on these pages about the coming of our Messiah and our need to prepare to be gathered unto Him on that Day, and to be joined with Him as His eternal bride in His eternal Kingdom. This is truth. James 5.7-11 counsels us to, ‘reject irreverent and silly myths. Instead, train yourself for godliness. For physical exercise is of limited value, but godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for the present life and for the one to come. This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance.
To this end we labor and strive,because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.