Reading: Hebrews 2:1-18; 3:1; 12:25-29.
The words of verse 5 in chapter 2 can bear a slightly improved translation, and would be more correctly translated if put in this way: “Not unto angels did he subject the inhabited earth to come of which we are speaking”. So that what is being spoken of in this letter is the dominion of the inhabited earth to come, a Kingdom which cannot be shaken. Those two things, one at the beginning of the letter and the other at the end, are related to the same thing, and all that lies between the two passages represents the basis of that Kingdom which cannot be shaken over the inhabited earth to come.
Now in that inclusive connection there are four things in this letter. I am not going to attempt to speak about them all at this time, but I want to mention them. The first is the original purpose of God, the second is the securing of that purpose by the Son through the cross, the third is the heavenly calling and partnership with the Son of the saints, and the fourth is the training of the saints as sons for dominion. We take the first matter:
The Original Purpose of God
“Not unto angels... but one hath somewhere testified, What is man?” Another very good, and, I think, accurate translation puts it thus: “What is man that Thou makest mention of him, or the son of man that Thou puttest him in charge.”
In the history of this world as recorded in the Scriptures the first and the final question is that of dominion in this universe. Every other factor and element in the Scriptures is gathered into that. Genesis and the Revelation bound that history, and the two comprehensive features of Genesis and the Revelation are dominion and redemption, and all the other books of the Bible are aspects of these two things, and they all have to be gathered into these two things, dominion and redemption.
In the book of Genesis the first thing in order is dominion. “Thou madest him (man) in order to have dominion”; that is the statement. The original purpose of God in man’s creation was that he should have dominion. And then in Genesis, because that dominion was lost, was forfeited, the programme of redemption was introduced.
Then you go right through the Bible and you find that redemptive programme being set forth in many ways, in types, figures, symbols, prophecy, representation, and then carried out in actuality in the coming, in the person and in the work of the Son of God, concerning whom this letter to the Hebrews says at its beginning: “God... appointed Him heir of all things.” And you come at length to the end of this world’s history, gathered up in the book of the Revelation, and there at the beginning of the book you find the redemptive programme consummated: “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins...”; “...who redeemed us unto God by his own blood...”. The redemptive programme consummated, and dominion for ever established.
That is the Bible, but it is wonderful to notice that this one single letter in the entire Bible covers all that ground in itself. Here it opens with the eternal intention, “Thou madest him to have dominion”; and then it is seen that that dominion was forfeited. Then through a large section of the letter the redemptive programme is unfolded, the High Priestly person and work of the Lord Jesus; and then, “Receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken...”; dominion established, never again to be forfeited or lost. This letter to the Hebrews is a remarkable book.
There, then, is God’s purpose, and that purpose is governing all God’s dealings with men, and that purpose lies behind every divine activity, and it is to govern and lie behind all our spiritual concerns for ourselves and for others. The purpose of God in this dispensation, since the redemptive work was accomplished in Christ by His cross, is to call out of the nations a people to be prepared and fitted to reign. It is not just to call out a people to be saved. That is only related. That is only a fragment, an essential and indispensable step towards the end, but no end in itself. The message of the Gospel is not just the message that man may be forgiven and saved from his sins. The full message of the Gospel is that man is called to occupy a place of dominion in the ages to come, that man is called into the place which God eternally intended that he should occupy, for which God created man, that he might have dominion. That is the message, and that has to govern all our concern, our interest and our activity, and that has got to shape our mentality with regard to God’s dealings with us.
That, of course, is a phase which comes later in our consideration, but if we want an explanation for God’s ways, God’s methods with His people, and an adequate objective in seeking the salvation of men, it is this: God had a purpose, a high, a great, a glorious purpose in creating man. The explanation of man’s very existence is in the eternal counsels of God, and it is here set forth in these words: Not unto angels, but unto man, did He subject the inhabited earth to come of which we are speaking. If we want to understand why God deals with us as He does, why the people of God are subjected by Himself to such fiery trials and to such a course of difficulty and suffering, the explanation is here: he is chosen to reign, and he has got to learn how to reign and what reigning is. Oh, the Gospel is a great thing, and that is why here at the end of this letter, as it first of all introduces and presents the great purpose of God from eternity concerning man, and then unfolds with such fulness the great redemptive work, with all its cost, with all its wonder, with all its power, it is all summed up in this way: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
What is so great salvation? It is not just our salvation from our sin, not just our salvation from hell. That is a great thing, but it is our salvation back into all that mighty thought of God before the world was, when He said — or when They said — “Let us make man....”; “Thou madest him to have dominion.” That is the so great salvation. How shall we escape if we voluntarily antagonise, positively resist, say vehemently, We will not have it? No! None of that is necessary — neglect! Fail to give heed to so great salvation! That is the purpose, the great object of God from eternity, that the people of God shall with the Son of God be a reigning people in His Kingdom which is for ever and ever. You notice how first of all the Son and His Kingdom are introduced, and then man is brought in: “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?” “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; — see the crown of His Kingdom, the crown of His exaltation; it is by reason of what He has done in His cross — therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” He is brought in as heir of all things, appointed by the Father, and given a Throne which is for ever and ever, and a kingdom of righteousness. And then: “What is man that Thou makest mention of him, or the son of man that Thou puttest him in charge?” You see believers, the people of God, are brought there into relation with the Son in His Kingdom to reign, and so the second chapter goes on with that relatedness: “For it became him for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren...”. They in oneness with Him, in family relationship, are to have dominion. That leads us right on to chapter 12: “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...”.
Now there is one other thing that is explained by this. It is that persistent, dogged effort in all its many-sidedness of the whole kingdom of Satan to prevent the people of God from reaching their divinely intended end. That effort begins with the Lord Jesus Himself; that is, in depriving Him of His Lordship. You and I must more and more be impressed with this one tremendous thing, that the main note, the dominant note, the supreme feature of our life and ministry, our testimony and our position as the Lord’s people, is in relation to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. The great declaration of the commencement of this dispensation made by Peter on the Day of Pentecost was: “God hath made this Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ, a Prince and a Saviour.” This was the note, mark you, that opened the dispensation; this was the note and the proclamation which, on the one hand, resulted in the gathering in of men, the Holy Spirit’s mighty operation in relation to the church; and, on the other hand, which caused the fury of the adversary to break upon the church. That is the supreme note of the dispensation, and if you follow on through the book of the Acts you will see that it was on that note that the Holy Spirit came and did His mighty work. Again, at Caesarea with Peter, amongst the Gentiles, now not the Jews, the cry of Peter in the midst of that company was: “He is Lord of all”, and the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were assembled together. That is the Holy Ghost’s note for this dispensation. His Saviourhood is a great thing, but His Lordship is greater. His Saviourhood is in a sense only incidental, because it comes in by reason of what has taken place in sin; but His Lordship is eternal, back to eternity and on to eternity. That is the Lordship of Jesus Christ against which the enemy is set, and we know quite well that it is not until we come to the place where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is established from centre to circumference of our lives that we come really into victory.
So many of the Lord’s people know Him as Saviour; that is, they have come into the joy of assurance of salvation, but they are living an up-and-down life, a life with much defeat in it and much weakness and much contradiction, and which has in it much inconsistency. The whole trouble is that Jesus is not Lord. When that mighty thing happens which results in Him being established as Lord, then there is power, then there is liberty, then there is glory.
As we have already said, this issue of His Lordship is becoming more and more acute in the history of this world as the age nears its end; therefore, the call to the people of God, the call to believers, the call to the church that their need at the end of the dispensation is to be the need of His sovereignty, His sovereign Lordship. The Lord would work with us to bring us there, not just that somewhere remote in this universe, called heaven, Jesus is exalted, is enthroned; no, but that enthronement, that Lordship is a practical working factor in our lives inwardly and outwardly; that it is an expressed thing, a manifested thing, a ministered thing; that it is brought to bear upon situations, upon circumstances, upon need; that Jesus coming in the power of His Kingdom should register His mighty impact upon things here now. The Lordship of Jesus Christ is to be a practical, working thing.
It is a working thing, and, mark you, it is a basis of appeal on the part of the church. He is King of the princes of the earth, He is Lord of lords and King of kings, His interests have dictated the course of things. It is a ground of appeal, and it is a ground which is upheld in heaven. God upholds that ground. Jesus is Lord. God answers a challenge to that Lordship. There are many challenges that He ignores, but He responds to every challenge to that Lordship. That opens a wide field, and we will not go further with that.
Now the next thing that I feel should be mentioned in connection with the original purposes of God in Christ concerning man, is that unto the realisation of that purpose man has got to be prepared. The redemptive work has been accomplished in Christ. Here we are introduced to it at once: “Having accomplished purification of sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high”. He tasted death on behalf of every man. The work has been done in Him. “He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one.” On the ground of what He has done, and what has been done in Him, something has got to be done in the saints to bring them to the place that He now occupies. There has got to be the expression in us of that which has been accomplished in and by Him.
I want to gather that to one point: “He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one.” The point is, What is sanctification in relation to the Kingdom, the Throne, dominion? It is very vitally related. There will be no reigning unless there is sanctification; there will be no dominion unless there is sanctification. Sanctification in Christ is the way to the dominion, to the reigning, to the realisation of God’s eternal purpose. What is sanctification then with its tremendous significance for the purpose of God? It is a separation from all that which came in and, coming in, meant the forfeiture of that dominion which God intended.
But I am going to put that in another way. It is the breaking of the power and the stripping off of the whole natural life. The whole natural life of man now since the fall — since Satan’s interference and man’s response to Satan’s interference — is in itself the great obstruction in the way to God’s purpose in him and for him; and when I speak of the whole natural life I am not just speaking of that sinful life which everybody recognises and acknowledges to be evil. I am speaking about man as he is. According to this world’s standards, and according to the best standards of men, he may be called a good man, but God says: “There is none righteous, no not one.” And the great apostle himself said: “In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” That lies behind our religious life very often. Our very religious life can be energised by nature. Our interests for the Lord may be by the energy of our own natural life, and so we find the flesh sporting itself in the things of God, a kind of natural interest carried over into divine things: that just as you might be taken up with interesting things in this world, and study them, and apply them, and use them, and turn them to certain account for the furtherance of certain interests, so you have swung all the application of mind and heart and wisdom to the things that are divine, and you begin to manipulate things for God, and organise things for God, and govern things for God, and be something in the things of God. It is all the natural man brought over into divine things, which can be interesting, fascinating. Yes, the deep things of God making an appeal to that in us which can be so fascinated, things such as prophecy, the things to come. Oh, the fascination of prophecy!
I shall never forget the shock that came to me once across the other side of the Atlantic. I was due to speak in a city there, and I arrived on the closing evening of a series of meetings on prophecy and was in the last meeting. I was to open my own series of gatherings at the end of that last meeting, and I listened to the address on prophecy, on the signs of the times and so on, and I saw the people all down with their notebooks, going at it as hard as they could go, noting down all these things, tabulating all these interesting facts, all this data about prophecy. They were very interested and very busy, and then that finished. I had been very much waiting on the Lord for His message, and He gave it to me, I believe, and when I began to speak at the end of that meeting my message was: “And he that hath this hope within him purifieth himself”; the practical outcome of the times being fulfilled and the Lord’s coming in view; the practical outcome of a life of sanctification and holiness. The people lost interest, and they flung down their notebooks, and closed their Bibles, and were not a bit interested any more. There was no fascination about it.
You see where we can get to. It is all natural, busy, interested, feverishly taken up with things for the Lord, and yet it may be all the drive of this natural life.
Now what I want to say, and the point upon which I want to lay special emphasis in all love, and yet with all faithfulness, is this: Beloved, you and I will never come through to God’s eternally intended place for us in the heavenly Kingdom until everything of this earthly life has been smitten, has been smashed. We have got to be broken men and women on the side of this nature; we have got to know the meaning of the cross as planted right at the centre of this whole life of nature, to bring it to naught, so that we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it; and if there is to be anything, and if there is anything at all, it is the Lord only doing it — doing it at the time, and then usually leaving us empty and spent and helpless, until He comes along again. It is so different from this continuous, everlasting go, go, go of the flesh. It is helpless dependence upon the Lord because the cross has been planted there right at the centre of all the strength of nature, and now our preaching of a crucified Lord has to be by crucified men, our working in relation to a heavenly Kingdom has to be by heavenly men; that is, those who are drawing their very life from heaven, from God: those for whom Christ and Christ alone is their life and their resource, and they know it. The essential unto the heavenly Kingdom is a breaking, fully, finally, of what is earthly.
So the course of the believer’s true spiritual experience is, on one side, emptying, emptying, weakening, weakening; on the other side it is growing knowledge of Him as fulness, as strength, as life, as everything. The Kingdom which cannot be shaken is Jesus Christ in His fulness in the saints, in the church, and nothing else. “Wherefore, receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken”. Let the fruit of my effort come up against that mighty shaking of the heavens and the earth, and what will be left? Let my strength encounter that shaking of God, and where shall I stand? Let my work for God meet the impact of that shaking, and what will remain? Let anything of me come into the realm of that tremendous upheaval, and what can there be? It will go in the category of the things that are made, “the things which are shaken will not remain, as things which are made”, says the apostle. The things which cannot be shaken are the things which He does, and only those things, the unshakeable things. Are we then today supported by the Lord Jesus? Is He our life, our energy? Is He our strength? Is He our resource in everything? Do we know Him? Only so can we come to God’s end, for Christ is God’s end. All things are summed up in Him by God. He is Heir of all things. It is to know Him, and by reason of the very nature of things we can only know Him in a living way as we have to know Him. We do not know the Lord only as we have to know Him. You cannot learn the Lord Jesus by a book. You cannot know the Lord Jesus by information. The only way to know Him is by having to know Him, being wrecked upon Him, being put to it so that you have got to make a new discovery of Him; and so He brings us to a place of helplessness in order that we might discover anew our resource in Him. That is the way to dominion, for no flesh shall glory before God, in His presence no man shall stand there to take any of the praise to himself. All the glory is going to come to God’s Son. Every bit of the glory is going to Christ, and yet we are going to share His glory. How? Because He has become everything to us, and we have nothing of ourselves in which to glory. It will be His glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all ages for ever and ever, amen.