Part 13. “Accounted worthy.” (Luke 20:35)
In Part 12 we saw something that is not commonly appreciated, in other words, that there are two distinct resurrections of the saints, one which is guaranteed to all believers, and which Paul speaks about in I Cor.15 and 1 Thess.4, and the other something to strive after, which is referred to as a prize, and which Paul wrote about in Philippians 3. It is this latter resurrection which interests us particularly in this number.
Before we enter on this study, one thing needs to be stated. We must never imagine that by human fleshly effort we can reach this sublime plateau which Paul calls the “out-resurrection.” Words he used describe the process as a race to be run, or a fight to be fought, an overcoming, to reach a goal and obtain this prize, but the Lord will not allow man to obtain it by the sweat of his brow. If we begin speaking about “works” they must be understood as “faith works”, of the type illustrated in Hebrews 11 in the roll-call of the O.T. saints.
Those who receive the “prize of the high calling” (or more strictly, the “calling on high”) are said to be “worthy.” This word is found in a number of places in the N.T., and comes first from our Lord’s own lips, when confronted by the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in resurrection. Without going into the finer details of the problem they presented to Jesus, we read as part of His reply, “Those who shall be accounted worthy to attain to that age, and the resurrection which is out from among the dead . . .” (Luke 20:35)
Somewhat later, in the Olivet discourse on the second coming, our Lord spoke about many dire circumstances that would arise on the earth in the end times. But He then added these words, Watch and pray that you may beaccounted worthy to escape all these things . . . and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36) This immediately solves a problem that causes a sharp dissention between believers, some of whom speak of a “pre-tribulation rapture”, whilst those of the opposing camp insist on a “post-tribulation rapture.” In point of fact, both are true. Our Lord’s words here show quite clearly that there will be some, who are classed as “worthy”, and who will “escape” this tribulation, and “stand before the Son of Man” in resurrection, whilst a “great multitude” will pass through the great tribulation and “wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev.7:14) These are also spoken of as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev.7:9)
In the “Hall of Remembrance” of the saints in Hebrews 11 we read that this truth was known from the beginning. Not content with an earthly inheritance, “they desired a better country, a heavenly.” (Verse 16), whilst others, enduring trials that make us wince, “refused deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Verse 35) To most of these saints, tribulation was a daily trial. But they endured to the end, even though they “died in faith, not having received the promises.” (Verse 13)
One further point about “tribulation” before we continue. Being “worthy to escape” the “great tribulation” does not mean that these believers will have an easier time than the rest who have to endure it. Paul said in Acts 14:22, “We must pass through much tribulation to enter the Kingdom of God.” In other words, none of us can escape the “fiery trial” that God uses to fashion and shape His servants. Those who escape the great tribulation will have already been subject to much tribulation of a more personal, individual nature, that maybe few know about. The eyes of the Lord are upon us all, and He sees from the Throne the tests of endurance of His saints that make them worthy.
The theme arises yet again in 2 Thess.1:4-5. “We glory in you . . . for your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations which you endure, which is a plain token of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be accounted worthy of the Kingdom of God, on behalf of which you indeed suffer.” This brings us to another focal point. It is because of the Kingdom that they suffer. Is this fully understood? We must never confuse the Kingdom with salvation. Salvation belongs to all who believe, but the positions of government in God’s Kingdom belong only to those who are “accounted worthy.” Not all believers will have achieved this goal, and although partaking in resurrection (which is secure for all) will be denied the higher governmental places of responsibility in the Millennial Kingdom.
The Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3 contain much teaching on what it means to become worthy. But the actual word only occurs once in that section. “You have a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” (Rev.3:4) Those who were worthy were a small fraction of the whole church, according to our Lord’s words.
Our Lord takes a very stringent line with the seven churches. He puts His finger on all the dangers facing them, all the obstacles they face, and all the temptations that would seek to prevent them from obtaining a prize. But in each case He says, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. He who overcomes . . .” Notice here that the Holy Spirit is speaking to all the churches, and therefore the prizes, although connected with individual churches, are in fact for all.
We have spoken about ruling in the Kingdom. One of the prizes (in 2:26-27) focuses on this. “He who overcomes and keep my words to the end will I give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . . even as I received of my Father.” This prize is very great because in the days of the O.T. we read in Psalm 2 that the privilege is granted only to the Lord. “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron . . .” To envisage being with the Lord, and sharing His world-wide heritage, and ruling with a rod of iron, is a very heady thing. It immediately calls into question exactly what sort of character is needed to be able to perform this function with absolute equity, justice, compassion, and love. Who is ready for such things? It takes one’s breath away even to contemplate what it might entail. And that is why the Lord needs to take His flock through times of great trial and testing, to make them worthy for such privileges.
Even more staggering is the prize of 3:21-22. “He who overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne.” Words fail us to imagine that such bounty might be granted to some, who have passed through fire and water to shape and fashion them for this privilege. To all who read these words, there comes the persistent challenge to act as Paul, in considering everything of one’s past life, both good and bad, as sheer refuse, and so to press on relentlessly towards the goal for the prize of the calling on high.
Do we have any further instructions in respect of “overcoming”? What do we have to overcome? I suppose it might be summed up in the expression, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” John’s letters have much to say about overcoming the world. Paul’s letter to the Romans has much to say about overcoming the flesh. And in Revelation 12 :11, we read that “they overcame him [the Devil] by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, not loving their lives unto death.” That is a very comprehensive statement. If we quake at the problems of the road ahead, Paul tells us that “We are more than overcomers through Him who loved us.” (Rom.8:37) The Lord never tests us beyond what He knows we can bear.
Perhaps we can now approach Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:6. “He has raised us up together, and made us sit together among the heavenly ones in Christ Jesus.” Sadly the translation is lacking. Both of these verbs, (raised together, sit together) are not in the past tense as expressed in the A.V. They are in the Aorist Tense, which is found in the masterfully constructed Greek language, and means “no horizon”. Hence the best way to translate aorists is to give the force of the verb, but not the time frame of the verb. Hence we should translate, He raises us up together, and makes us sit together . . .” This is made abundantly clear by the verse quoted above from Rev.3:21-22, where the joint-enthronement is shown to be conditional on overcoming. Paul told the Philippians that he did not yet consider himself to have attained. Hence he could not have been telling the Ephesians that he had attained. Both letters were written from prison in Rome.
We have now reached a very important stage in the progress of this New Testament teaching. The word “together” appeared in Eph.2:6, and in fact is just a prefix to the words “raised” and “seated”. But these are not the only occasions in the N.T. when such “togetherness” is stated. It may be surprising to realise that there are no less than 19 such items, all in Paul’s writing. To him was granted the fulness of the teaching of the Mystery. These “identifications”, listed below, show what it means to be “in Christ” rather than just a follower of Christ. This is not an invidious distinction, designed by students, but a very present reality taught by Scripture.
I have taken this list from Wellspring No.38, where I first introduced the subject.
- I am crucified with Christ. Rom.6:6 Gal.2:20 Sustauroo Sustaurow
- Made conformable to His death. Phil.3:10 Summorphoomai Summorfoomai
- Planted together in the likeness of His death. Rom.6:5 Sumphutos SumfutoV
- Died with Christ. Rom.6:8, Col.2:20, 2 Tim.2:211. Sun Christo Sun Cristw
- Buried with Him. Rom.6:4 Sunthaptomai Sunqaptomai
- Made alive with Christ. Eph.2:5, Col.2:13 Suzopoio Suzwpoiew
- We shall live together with Him. Rom.6:8, 2 Tim.2:11 Suzao Suzaw
- Your life hidden with Christ in God. Col.3:3 Sun Christo Sun Cristw
- Raised with Him. Eph.2:6, Col.2:12 Sunegeiro Sunegeirw
- Fellow-citizens of the household of God. Eph.2:19 Sumpolites SumpolithV
- A Joint Body. Eph.3:6 Sussoma Susswma
- Built together into a dwelling place. Eph.2:22 Sunoikodomeo Sunoikodomew
- Joint heirs. Rom.8:17, Eph.3:6 Sunkleronomos SugklhronomoV
- Joint Partakers. Eph.3:6 Summetokos SummetocoV
- Fashioned together into His likeness. Rom.8:29, Phil.3:21 SummorphosSummorfoV
- Seated together with Christ. Eph.2:6 Sunkathizo Sugkaqizw
- Reign together with Christ. 2 Tim.2:12 Sumbasileuo Sumbasileuw
- Glorified together. Rom.8:17 Sundoxazo Sundoxazw
- We shall appear with Him in glory. Col.3:4 Sun Christo Sun Cristw
Our conclusion to today’s whole study is that the name “Christ” in the N.T. is sometimes used corporately, rather than just of the Lord Jesus Himself. Therefore, returning to the subject matter presented in Part 1 of this series, we can see that when Paul spoke about “Christ the firstfruit” he was cryptically including all those who were “in Christ.” This raises the subject matter of the next number, where we shall have a look at the timing of these two “first resurrections.”