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The Body and Bride of Christ and Her Reward:
A. The Seven Figures of Christ and His Church in scripture are used to reveal the relationship between Christ and His Church.
1. The Shepherd and the sheep anticipated in the Twenty-Third Psalm are used in John 10, where Christ is the Shepherd and those who believe in Him are His sheep. According to this passage (a) Christ came by the door, that is, through the appointed lineage of David; (b) He is the true Shepherd who is followed by the true sheep; (c) Christ is also the Door of the sheep, the Door of entrance into salvation as well as the Door which provides security (Ref. John 10:28-29); (d) life and food are provided for the sheep by the Shepherd; (e) in contrast, other shepherds are merely hirelings who would not give their lives for the sheep; (f) there is a fellowship between the sheep and the Shepherd â€“ just as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father, so the sheep know the Shepherd; (g) although Israel belonged to a different fold in the Old Testament, in the present age there is one fold and one Shepherd in which Jew and Gentile alike have salvation (Ref. John 10:16); (h) As the Shepherd, Christ not only lays down His life for His sheep but ever lives to intercede for them and provide for them the spiritual life and food they need (Ref. Heb. 7:25). According to Psalm 23:1, â€œThe Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.â€
2. Christ is the True Vine, and believers are the branches. Although Israel was related to God in figure of a vine in the Old Testament, Christ is the True Vine and believers are the branches, according to John 15. The figure speaks of both the union with Christ and communion with Christ. Believers are exhorted to abide in this unbroken fellowship with Christ (Ref. John 15:10), and the results of abiding are cleansing and pruning (Ref. John 15:2), effectual prayer (Ref. John 15:7), celestial joy (Ref. John 15:11), and eternal truth (Ref. John 15:16). The central truth of the vine and the branches is that the believer cannot enjoy his Christian life or be fruitful in his service apart from a living connection with Christ the true Vine.
3. Christ is the Cornerstone, and the church comprises the stones of the building. In contrast with the Old Testament, in which Israel had a temple (Ref. Ex. 25:8), the church is a temple (Ref. Eph. 2:21). In the figure Christ is pictured as the Chief Cornerstone and individual believers as stones of the building (Ref. Eph. 2:19-22). It is Godâ€™s present purpose to build His church (Ref. Mat. 16:18). In the construction of the church as a building, each stone is a living stone because it partakes of the divine nature (Ref. 1Pet. 2:5); Christ is the Chief Cornerstone and Foundation (Ref. 1Cor. 3:11; 1Pet. 2:6); and the building as a whole becomes â€œan habitation of God through the Spiritâ€ (Ref. Eph. 2:22). In the figure of the building, the dependence of each believer upon Christ as the Foundation and Chief Cornerstone is evident, and the stones of the building likewise reveal interdependence of believers, with the building as a whole the temple of God through the Spirit.
4. Christ is pictured in the New Testament as our High Priest with the believers as believer-priests. The believer-priest has a fourfold sacrifice: (a) he offers a service of sacrifice, presenting himself once for all to God (Ref. Rom. 12:1-2); (b) he offers a service of worship, in giving praise and thanksgiving to God (Ref. Heb. 13:15), including a service of intercession, or prayer on behalf of his own needs and othersâ€™ (Ref. Rom. 8:26-27); Col. 4:12; 1Tim. 2:1; Heb. 10:19-22). As our High Priest, Christ enters into heaven through His Blood shed on Calvary (Ref. Heb. 4:14-16; 9:24; 10:19-22) and now intercedes for us (Ref. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). As members of the royal priesthood, it is important for us to note that believers also offer (c) the sacrifice of good works and (d) the sacrifice of their substance in addition to offering their bodies as a living sacrifice (Ref. Heb. 13:16).
5. Christ as the Last Adam and the church as the new creation is a figure in which Christ, as the Resurrected One, replaces Adam, the head of the old order, and becomes head of the new creatures in Christ. The figure is based on the certainty of the resurrection of Christ and the significance that in His resurrection Christ established a new order. The believer is seen to be in Christ by baptism of the Spirit, in contrast with being in Adam. In his new position in Christ he shares all that Christ did on his behalf by way of providing both righteousness and new life in Christ. Because Christ is the Head of a new creation, it requires a new commemorative day, the first day of the week, in contrast with the Sabbath, which belonged to the old order.
6. Christ as the Bridegroom and the church as the bride is the figure that is prophetic of both present and future relationships between Christ and His church. In contrast with Israel presented in the Old Testament as an unfaithful wife of Jehovah, the church is revealed in the New Testament to be a virgin bride waiting the coming of her Bridegroom. Just as the church as the body of Christ is the most important figure revealing the present purpose of God, so the church as the bride is the most important figure revealing the future relationship of the church to Christ.
B. The Church as the Body of Christ
The New Testament revelation of the church joined together and formed into the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, â€œ For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jew or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spiritâ€ (Ref. 1Cor. 12:13). Three major truths are presented in this figure: (1) the church is a selfâ€“developing body; (2) members of the body are given special gifts and are appointed to special service; (3) the body is a living union or an organism.
1. As a self-developing body, the church is presented in Ephesians 4:11-16 as comprising individuals who have special gifts. The central truth is that believers are not only exhorted to serve God in various capacities, but they are equipped to do a particular work to which God has called them. A believer fulfills his proper service when he fulfills the particular role in the body of Christ which is assigned to him by the Holy Spirit and shares in perfecting the body of Christ (Ref. Eph. 4:13).
2. Members of the body of Christ are appointed to a specific service in keeping with their gifts. It is most important that each believer examine himself soberly to see what gifts God has given him and then use these gifts to the glory of God. Important gifts are mentioned in Romans 12:3-8 and 1Cor. 12:28. Every believer has a gift, and believers may have more than one. The Spiritual gifts, while sometimes related to natural abilities, are not to be confused with them. While a person may have the gift of teaching naturally, only God can give the gift of teaching spiritual things.
Spiritual gifts are not secured by seeking, but rather by the Holy Spirit apportioning gifts â€œto every man severally as He (Holy Spirit) willâ€ (Ref. 1Cor. 12:11). In the Apostolic church some gifts were given which continue throughout the present age; others were sign gifts which apparently ceased after the first generation of Christians (Ref. 1Cor. 12:28-13:10). Every gift, however, is subject to regulation by the Word of God, is not a proper basis for pride, and is a great responsibility for which each believer will have to give an account(Ref. 2Cor. 5:10).
The work of God is done primarily through the church as an organism, directed by Christ the Head in keeping with the capacities of each individual member. While it not uncommon for a believer in Christ to be required to do some things in areas where he may not be especially gifted, obviously his highest function is to perform the task for which he has been placed in the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. As he presents his body to the Lord as a living sacrifice, he can know Godâ€™s perfect will (Ref. Rom. 12:1-2).
3. The body is a living organism united eternally in Christ. The unity of the body comprising both Jew and Gentile and people of various races and cultures is set forth in Ephesians 1:23; 2:15-16; 4:12-16; 5:30). The church as the body of Christ has a marvelous unity in which the division between Jew and Gentile is ignored, and Gentiles and Jews have equal privilege and grace. The body of Christ contrasts sharply with the relationship of God to Israel and Gentiles in the Old Testament and is a unique situation limited to the present age. Members of the body, according to Ephesians 3, share in the wonderful truth hidden from Old Testament prophets but revealed in the New that Gentiles are fellow heirs and of the same body, partakers of the same promise in Christ by the Gospel as the Jews (Ref. Eph. 3:6). The unity of the body emphasized in Ephesians 4:4-7 is an eternal unity which is the basis of Christian fellowship and service in the present age and the ground for eternal fellowship in the ages to come.
C. Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride:
In contrast with Israel, who is the unfaithful wife of Jehovah, the church is pictured in the New Testament as the virgin bride awaiting the coming of her Bridegroom (Ref. 2Cor. 11:2). Christ as the Bridegroom is introduced as early as John 3:29 by John the Baptist.
The major revelation, however, is given in Ephesians 5:25-33 to illustrate the proper relationship between husbands and wives in Christ. Here the three fold work of Christ is revealed: (a) in His death, â€œChrist also loved the church, and gave himself for itâ€ (vs.25); (b) Christ is engaged in the present work â€œthat He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Wordâ€ (vs.26); (c) â€œthat He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be Holy and without blemishâ€ (vs.27). In dying on the cross Christ fulfilled the oriental symbolism of paying the dowry or necessary price to secure His wife. In the present age, by the washing of water, the application of the Word of God, and sanctification to the believer, Christ is preparing and cleansing His bride for her future relationship. At the end of the age at the rapture â€œbeing caught upâ€ of the church, the Bridegroom will come for His bride and take her to Heaven (Ref. 1Cor. 15:51-53; 1Thes. 4:14-17). There He will present her as the church that reflects His own glory, perfect, without blemish, or wrinkle, a Holy bride suitable for a Holy Bridegroom. The wedding feast which follows, is celebrating the marriage of Christ and His church. This marriage feast is announced in Revelation 19:7-8 at the very time that Christ is about to come to earth to set up His earthly kingdom.
The love of Christ for His church revealed in this figure is an outstanding demonstration of the love of God. Five characteristics of Godâ€™s divine love for us in scripture.
1. The eternal duration of the love of God stems from the fact that â€œGod is Loveâ€ (Ref. 1John 4:8). God has not attained to love by self-effort or cultivation, nor does He hold love as a detached possession which might be abandoned at will. Love is a vital part of His being. If His love were to cease, a very essential part of the person of God would cease. He is what He is, to a large degree, because of His love. The love of God can know no change. To Israel He said, â€œI have loved the with an everlasting loveâ€ (Ref. Jer. 31:3); and of Christ it is written, â€œHaving loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the endâ€ (Literally meaning â€œwithout endâ€; (Ref. John 13:1; cf. 15:9). In Godâ€™s love toward an individual there is neither fluctuation nor cessation.
2. The love of God is the motivation for His ceaseless activity. Though the love of God was once and for all manifested in the sacrifice of His well-beloved Son (Ref. Rom. 5:8; 1John 3:16), what was manifested in a moment of time is, nevertheless, the revelation of the eternal attitude of God toward men. Could we have gazed into the heart of God before the creation of the material universe we would have see every provision then made for His Lamb to be slain for the sin of the world (Ref. Rev. 5:6). Could we now gaze into the heart of God we would see the same undiminished compassion for the lost that was expressed in the death of His Son. The momentary death of Christ was not a spasm in the divine affection; it is the announcement to a lost world of the fact of Godâ€™s eternal, unchangeable love.
3. The love of God has transparent purity. There is no selfishness in divine love; God has never sought benefits for Himself. He receives nothing; He bestows everything. Peter exhorts believers to love with a pure heart fervently (Ref. 1Pet. 1:22); but how very few love God for what He is in Himself apart fro all His benefits! How different it is with Godâ€™s love!
4. The love of God has limitless intensity. The most costly benefit in the universe is the blood of Godâ€™s only Son; yet God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Ref. John 3:16). The sacrifice of His Son for men when they were â€œsinnersâ€ and â€œenemiesâ€ seem to reach the out-most bounds of infinity; however, we are told of a â€œmuch moreâ€ love even than this. It is Godâ€™s love for those who have been reconciled and justified through Christâ€™s death (Ref. Rom. 5:8-10)â€”indeed, nothing â€œshall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lordâ€ (Ref. Rom. 8:39).
5. The love of God has inexhaustible benevolence. Divine love is not passive. Moved to an infinite degree by His love, God acted in behalf of those whom He otherwise would have had to banish from His presence forever. The Father could not ignore the just condemnation of the sinner which His own holiness imposed; but He could take upon Himself the curse which belonged to the sinner â€“ â€œGreater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friendsâ€ (Ref. John 15:13) â€“ and this He did in order that, without violating His own Holiness, He might be free to save the guilty (Ref. Rom. 3:26). God being free through the substitutionary death of Christ, God knows no limitations and does not cease working until, to His own Satisfaction, He places the justly doomed sinner in Heavenâ€™s highest glory, even conformed to the image of Christ.
D. The Bride Adorned and Rewarded
Among the many judgments of Scripture, one of the most important is the judgment seat of Christ where the church id judged and rewarded. With reference to sin, Scripture teaches that the child of God under grace shall not come unto judgment (Ref. John 3:18; 5:24; 6:37; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 1Cor. 11:32); in his standing before God, and on the ground that the penalty for all sin â€“ past, present, and future (Ref. Col. 2:13) â€“ has been borne by Christ as the perfect Substitute, the believer is not only placed beyond condemnation, but being in Christ is accepted in the perfection of Christ (Ref. 1Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:10; Heb. 10:14) and love of God as Christ is loved (Ref. John 17:23). But with reference to his daily life and service for God, the Christian must give an account before the judgment seat of Christ (Ref. Rom. 14:10; 2Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8), which judgment will occur at the coming of Christ to receive His own (Ref. 1Cor. 4:5; 2Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12; cf. Mat. 16:27; Luke 14:14).
When standing before the great white throne judgment for their final judgment, the unsaved are to be judged â€œaccording to their worksâ€ (Ref. Rev. 20:11-15). It is not the purpose of this judgment to determine whether those standing there are saved or lost; it rather determines the degree of penalty which, because of their evil works, shall rest upon those who are lost. Likewise, the saved, when standing before the judgment seat of Christ at His coming, are judged according to their works and this judgment does not determine whether they are saved or lost; rather, it determines the reward or loss of reward for
service which will be due each individual believer. Those who stand before the judgment seat of Christ will not only be saved and safe, but will already have been taken into heaven: not on the ground of their merit or works, but on the ground of divine grace made possible through the savior-hood of Christ. Under grace the character of the believerâ€™s life and service does not, and cannot, in any way condition his eternal salvation, and so the life and service of the believer becomes a separate and unrelated issue to be judged by Christ â€“ whose we are and whom we serve.
When gathered before â€œthe throne of His glory,â€ there is also to be a reckoning of reward on the basis of merit for both Israel and the nations, but apart from the issues of personal salvation (Ref. Mat. 25:31; cf. Mat. 6:2-6; 24:45-46; 25:1-46).
There are three major figures used in the Scriptures to reveal the nature of the believerâ€™s rewards at the judgment seat of Christ.
1. The figure of stewardship is brought out in Romans 14:10-12. Here in connection with the judgment of other believers, the exhortation is given, â€œBut why doest thou judge thy brother? or why does thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God the Father.â€
In this passage we are exhorted not to try to evaluate the quality of a fellow Christianâ€™s works. This does not mean that sin should not be judged and rebuked, but it refers rather to the value or quality of his life. Too often Christians indulge in criticism of others in order that their own lives may appear better in their own sight.
Revealed in this passage is the fact that every Christian will have to render account to God. The figure is that of a steward or a trustee. The key to the judgment is not success or public acclaim, but rather faithfulness in using what God has committed to us.
2. In 1Corinthians 3:9-15 the believerâ€™s life is viewed as a building built upon Christ as the Foundation. In determining the force of this passage, it should be observed: (a) Only those who are saved are in view. The personal pronouns â€œweâ€ and â€œyeâ€ include all who are saved and exclude all who are not saved; likewise, the word â€œmanâ€ refers only to the one who is building on the Rock Christ Jesus.
(b) Having presented to the Corinthians the Gospel by which they were saved â€“ which salvation provides the Rock on which the saves one stands â€“ the Apostle Paul likens himself to a wise master-builder who has laid the foundation; but in strong contrast with this, he indicated that each believer for himself is building the superstructure upon the one Foundation which is provided through the grace of God.
The appeal, therefore, is to each one to take heed how he builds thereon. This is not a reference to so-called â€œcharacter buildingâ€ which finds no basis in those passages addressed to the saints of this age; their character is said to be â€œthe fruit of the Spiritâ€ (Ref. Gal. 5:22-23) and is realized not by fleshly effort, but when walking by means of the Spirit (Ref. Gal. 5:16). The believer is represented as building a superstructure of service, or works, which is to be tested by fire â€“ possibly by the eyes of fire of the Lord before whom we will stand (Ref. Rev. 1:14).
(c) The â€œworkâ€ which the Christian is building upon Christ Jesus may be of wood, hay, or stubble, which fire destroys; or it may be of gold, silver, and precious stones which fire does not destroy and which, as in the case of gold and silver, is purified by it.
(d) To the one whose â€œworkâ€ shall abide which he hath built on Christ, a reward shall be given; but the one whose â€œworkâ€ shall be burned shall suffer loss: not of his salvation which is secured through the finished work of Christ, but of his reward. Even when passing through the fire which is to test every Christianâ€™s work and even when suffering the loss of his reward, he himself shall be saved.
3. In 1Corinthians 9:16-27 and especially in versus 24-27, the figure of a race and winning the prize is used to reveal the quality of Christian life and service. Having reference to his own service in preaching the Gospel, the apostle inquires, â€œWhat is my reward then?â€ The true answer to this question most naturally depends upon the nature and the quality of service he has rendered to God. The apostle therefore proceeds to recount his own faithfulness in works (vs. 19-23); no one will deny the truthfulness of his report. He then likens Christian service to a race in which all believers are running, and as in a foot race only one receives the prize â€“ and that through a superior effort.
Similarly, in Christian service the believer should exert all his strength that he may obtain his full reward â€“ run, as it were, to surpass all others. Again, as the athlete is temperate in all things that he may obtain a corruptible crown, so the Christian should be temperate in all things that he may obtain an incorruptible crown.
The Christianâ€™s reward is sometimes mentioned as a â€œprizeâ€ (Ref. 1Cor. 9:24), and sometimes as a â€œcrownâ€ (Ref. 1Cor. 9:25; Phil. 4:1; 1Thes. 2:19; 2Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1Pet. 5:4; Rev. 2:10; 3:11).