I think we will begin this morning with the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1 at verse 1: “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son.”
There is a very true sense in which those words are the focal point of the whole Bible. You will notice that everything that has been before leads up to this point and everything that was to be afterward begins here. This statement represents a tremendous change.
First of all, it is a change of time. In old times, you notice the words, in old times, at the end of these times - it is a change of time. It is also a change of God’s method. That was how God did things in old times; now His method is changed. This is how He does things after those times. Then this whole letter will tell us how God worked in old times. It will bring into view all God’s ways in the Old Testament. It will refer to Moses and Israel and all that came in through Moses and now it says: that is finished. In many different ways and paths God worked and spoke in old times. Now that is all finished and God has commenced in a new way. It is an entirely new method of God which begins at this point.
It is because Christianity has not recognized the nature of that change that it is in so much trouble. Christendom is in trouble. It is doing everything to try to save itself. All these great organizations in Christianity - the ecumenical movement, the world council of churches and all these things - are an effort to save Christianity from collapsing. Christianity in general is breaking up and these movements are to try to keep it on its feet.
Within Christendom in general there is what we call ‘evangelical Christianity’. And that also is in trouble - many conferences, many discussions, many books - oh, so many things to try to get evangelical Christianity out of trouble! Perhaps you don’t agree with that. Well, you haven’t seen very much of Christianity!
Within evangelical Christianity there are other believers. They also are disappointed with evangelical Christianity. Many of them are leaving the churches; they’re meeting in little groups in homes. They are disappointed. I have many letters from Christians in different parts of the world who say, “We’re disappointed with the churches, what shall we do?” Do you know anything about that? It’s a very widespread situation. These are hungry children of God who are not being fed.
Now all this is very largely due to failure to understand this great change. A thoughtful reading of the New Testament will make us very clear that some change is taking place.
We have been dwelling in the gospel by John. It is almost impossible to read the gospel by John without seeing some big change is taking place. It is not only the account of things that Jesus said and Jesus did but all this represents a big change that is taking place. There is a movement going on from one position to another. There is a whole system of things which is passing away and an entirely different system is coming in.
The “not” is very clear and the alternative “but” is very clear. Not what has been, but what is now. Now that governs, as we have said, the whole New Testament and I think this letter to the Hebrews is a wonderful summing up of that great transition.
There are two things in this letter which are related to this big change. You will know that in this letter a great emphasis is upon going on unto full growth. The word is: “Let us go on!” It is the letter of going on, going on to the fullness of Christ, going on to the full growth of the spiritual life. This note is struck so strongly: go on! And that emphasis relates to leaving what belongs to the past and going on into what has come in with Jesus Christ.
We shall only go on as we recognize the change that has taken place with the coming of Jesus. We shall only go on as we understand this great transition, as we know where we are in God’s eternal activities and those eternal activities are now focused not in a system but in a Person. All that is contained in that little phrase, “Hath at the end of these times spoken...”
I’m going to ask you, are you concerned with going on to full spiritual growth? If you are, let me say to you that it depends upon how much you understand this change that has taken place.
Now, this letter was written to people who were in danger of coming to an end that God never intended. Before you get to the end of the letter you will come upon something very impressive. You will come upon two great crises. The crisis in the history of the old Israel... you will find a prophecy from the Old Testament taken over and applied to the present.
This letter was evidently written just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews. In the year 70, as you know, Jerusalem was invaded and destroyed. The temple was destroyed, all the temple services were brought to an end and the people were scattered over the world. And that has remained like that for two thousand years.
Now the prophecy was, “I will overturn, I will overturn. Yet once more and I will overturn”. Now that has two aspects, first of all the earthly aspect, the things of the earth were going to be overturned and brought to an end. That was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem. The word was: “I will shake the things that can be shaken”. But then there was the other half of the prophecy, not only the things of the earth, but the things of the heavens shall be shaken; a heavenly system which has been brought down to the earth will also be shaken. The first happened in the year 70. The second is happening today.
I wonder if you notice what is happening, we have said that Christendom is in trouble. It is trying to keep itself together, it is trying to save itself from collapsing. But all these efforts will be in vain. The thing is going to break down, God is going to shake it. Everything that can be shaken is going to be shaken says this word. Now, the word is: Who is going to stand when everything is shaken? That applies to us; this great shaking is going on, we’re losing our confidence in much that is in Christianity. We’re asking many questions about Christianity.
A leading servant of God said to me a little while ago (he has a worldwide knowledge of Christianity) he said, “If I did not know the Lord for myself, I would wash my hands of Christianity.” This thing is breaking up. Do you agree with me? Is it true? Well if you knew, you would feel like this.
We’ll come back to this letter. Firstly, to go right on to God’s fullness and secondly, to stand firm when everything around you is breaking up, depends upon the message of this letter or the message of the New Testament. What is the message?
There is a great change that has taken place by the coming of Jesus Christ. I wonder how far I am carrying you with me? Do you not see that this whole world system is breaking up? I don’t know what your morning papers are like but I know our papers in England every day bring some kind of fresh disintegration. Not one day comes and goes without some fresh trouble somewhere. It’s in industry. Of course in Holland you don’t have industrial troubles! Do you have strikes? Well they’re going on everywhere. I have heard about what happened in Amsterdam a few days ago in the student world. Isn’t it strange that this thing is happening in the student world in every country? There it is in England, here it is in Holland, there it is in France... all over the world this student trouble is taking place. When I was young we had nothing of that!
Industry, education, the social life, the breakdown of moral standards in social life; perhaps you don’t have divorces in Holland! Perhaps you don’t have any of this terrible moral situation... but I can see that you do. The whole moral system is breaking down. Yes, in every sphere this world is going to pieces. God is shaking everything and He is also shaking a form of Christianity. A little boy was asked the other day if he would like to go to the moon. “Yes!” he said, “I think I would like to go to the moon.” “Why would you like to go to the moon?” “I would like to get away from my three sisters, they’re awful!”
Well, you see, everything is upside down, but here it is. A whole system in this world, including Christianity, is going to be shaken and we in our time are seeing this taking place. That is the setting of this letter. You know how the letter finishes, “Wherefore receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken...” What is this new thing that has come in with Jesus Christ which is going to endure forever? That wants more than two or three meetings to answer it but let us try to do what the Lord enables.
A whole new system has come in with Jesus Christ and this new order is a spiritual and not a temporal order. It is the order of the kingdom of heaven and the order of the kingdom of heaven is a spiritual order and not a temporal order.
Now do you see what Christendom has tried to do? The Roman church was the beginning of this: setting up a temporal, earthly order of Christianity with an earthly city, with an earthly system, a system of priests and ritual and all these things; an earthly system of government, so that it is a temporal government and how terrible it has been! Rome dominates all those who belong to it and has sought to dominate this whole world on a temporal basis.
Well, perhaps you don’t agree with that, you in this country would not have that! But you know, that kind of thing has come into all Christianity. Do you notice that the development of Christianity has become more and more an earthly thing? The buildings; they’re earthly things! The orders of the church are earthly things. Christians are always trying to organize something on this earth, trying to bring something here into this world that you can see with your natural eyes and will impress you with Christianity by what you can see, a big organization here.
And then from the general thing to the particular: there is a great movement going on to try and form New Testament churches. Everywhere there is this effort to form churches, to form churches on a New Testament basis. In other words: to imitate the New Testament. Do you know all imitation is artificial? You cannot imitate the original! All your imitation will be artificial. This is a very great mistake: trying to form New Testament churches.
The apostles never tried to form churches! Think about that. “Oh!” you say, “But they did! They went everywhere forming churches!” That is just where everybody is mistaken. Churches were born, they were not made. They were not turned out of a factory; they were born out of heaven. They were not made by man’s hands; they were begotten by the Spirit of God. They were not by man’s intention, but by the spontaneous action of the Spirit of God.
Were you made a Christian by some other people? Were you born again because some people “borned” you again? No, if you’re a true child of God you say, “No, God did it. Whatever God used, it was God who did it.” And what is the Church? It’s only the body of those who have been born again.
You cannot form New Testament churches. They have to be born. They have to come in spontaneously by a work of the Spirit of God. But Christianity says, “We must have a church here, and we must have a church there.” Well, that’s what they did in Israel. In every city they set up a synagogue which was a carrying on of the temple service. The synagogue in every city pointed to the temple in Jerusalem and they said, “This is a representation of that”. So you have synagogues everywhere. Christianity has taken on that idea. Well, I think I’ve said enough about that.
We’re talking about this tremendous change that came with Jesus Christ. Do you remember when He was speaking to the woman of Samaria, He, with her, brought in one of these fundamentals: “not - but”. There was a point in His conversation where He referred to spiritual things - shall I say: religious things - that’s how she thought of it. And she said, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet”. Very clever... trying to switch the thing off from herself to something else: “Oh, I see this is a religious man. Alright, I can talk religion... ‘I perceive that you’re a prophet, our fathers worship God in this mountain’” pointing to Mount Gerazim where the Samaritan temple was. “You Jews say that men ought to worship God in Jerusalem” meaning the temple in Jerusalem.
What did Jesus say? “Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh and now is, when not in Samaria, nor in Jerusalem...” Not... nor... but! Not, but. “God is Spirit: and they that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The hour now is! The great transition has come. The great crisis of history is here and the change is: not all that system at all, but now and onward, a spiritual order.
An hour of great change in the whole history of things: the transition from the whole historic Jewish system, to Christ. Paul puts this very thing into another word, he says, “The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” This temple in Samaria is temporal, it is earthly and it will go. This temple in Jerusalem is temporal and earthly and it will go. And it did go! It has gone. But the things which are not seen are eternal.
Dear friends, we have been brought into a great heavenly order which is not seen on this earth. We know that we are in something that is not of this world.
Now we follow over into the New Testament. In this letter to the Hebrews, we shall presently come upon a wonderful gathering up of this great truth. In chapter 12 verses 18 to 24 you have one of the greatest instances of “not - but”. Let us look at it.
“For ye, ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and to the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that no word more should be spoken unto them; for they could not endure that which was enjoined, If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned; and so fearful was the appearance, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake...”
All that comes under the “not”; “ye are not”. Verse 22 begins with “but”!
“But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, and 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 blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.”
If you put a line under “not - but” there you have this tremendous change from Sinai to Zion. At Sinai the whole earthly system came in for Israel and now that is at an end and a new heavenly system has come in. Have you realized that one Israel has given place to another?
Have you realized that a thing has happened that Jesus said would happen? Jesus said to the rulers of Israel, “The kingdom of heaven shall be taken away from you and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof.” That is, bringing forth heavenly fruit.
The big conflict over this, as you know, is represented in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. That letter is another letter of the great transition. It is the fruit of what the apostle Paul had seen when he saw Jesus Christ. Paul said, “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me” and when Paul saw Jesus Christ as God revealed Him, it changed his entire conception of things. What nothing else in all this universe would have done - that is, make Saul of Tarsus, the rabid Jew, a minister of Jesus Christ - nothing in this universe would have done that but he saw Jesus Christ and he saw what Jesus Christ means in the eternal system of God. And that did this very thing.
So we come to this letter to the Galatians chapter 3, verses 7, 9, and 29. What is Paul saying there? “They which be of faith in Jesus Christ are Abraham’s seed...” Oh, what a change! Saul of Tarsus boasted, “I am of the seed of Abraham, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee of the Jews” and “They which be of faith in Jesus Christ are Abraham’s seed...” He is not a Jew who is one naturally, he is a Jew who is one born of Jesus Christ. What has happened? An old Israel has passed away and a new Israel has come in with Jesus.
You go to the end of the letter to the Galatians, chapter 6 and in the closing of the letter Paul wishes God’s blessing upon the whole Israel of God. But do you notice the connection? In Christ there’s neither Jew nor Greek. The old Jew has gone out! We are all one new man in Christ. This is God’s new Israel.
The Israel of God
Now you’re able to see what Jesus was doing, He spoke about the kingdom of heaven. Israel had claimed that the kingdom of heaven was theirs. “Yes, the kingdom of heaven belongs to us!” said Israel. Says Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven shall be taken away from you and given to another.” And Israel’s hope was the Messiah. All Israel’s thought was about the coming Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah, not only of Israel but the whole Israel of God. You know that the word ‘Christ’ is just the Greek word for the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ just means ‘the Anointed One’.
So you have a new heavenly kingdom and a new heavenly Messiah Who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And how does this new kingdom begin to function? Why did Jesus choose twelve apostles? Because there were twelve tribes of Israel and the number twelve in the Bible is just the number of government. It is the number of Israel and Israel was intended to be the governing nation amongst the nations. Jesus has transferred the number twelve from the old Israel to the new. So He has chosen twelve apostles. You’ll find them right at the end of the Bible in the new Jerusalem.
Ah, but there’s something more. When Moses went up the mount to receive the whole earthly system for Israel, he took seventy elders with him. He left them at the foot of the mountain, but there were seventy of them. And Jesus chose seventy to send them out to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. Is it necessary for me to go on with this? You see the point: with the Lord Jesus a new Israel has come in, a new heavenly spiritual system.
Friends, I’m in trouble, it’s this thing: what am I going to do with a new Jerusalem? What am I going to do with Hebrews 12:18-24? That you are come to mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God... what am I going to do with that? Of course in my mind perhaps there’s much more than is in yours, I have got the whole history of mount Zion opening up in my mind, the same as to the history of Jerusalem, and I see that that whole thing is transferred to this new order. “You are not come to mount Sinai... you are come to mount Zion”. What is that?
Do you remember the history of Zion? Zion was that stronghold of an enemy which David snatched from the enemy’s hands. And David made that his city from which he ruled all Israel and he made it the place where God had His dwelling. Can you transfer that to Jesus Christ? By a tremendous conflict Jesus has captured this thing from the enemy. What is this thing called “Zion”? It is in this room! You and I are children of Zion.
I love that little eighty-seventh psalm, do you remember what David says there? “His foundation is in the holy mountain, the Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob... I will make mention of Tyre and Philistia and Ethiopia”. And what David means is these people say, “You know, I was born in Tyre! That great and wonderful city, Tyre. My name is on the register of Tyre. I’m a citizen of Tyre.” “But of this man it shall be said, he was born there...” And the Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than Philistia or Tyre or all the dwellings of Jacob. Hebrews 12, “We have come to the church of the Firstborn whose names are written in heaven.” Our names are in the Lamb’s book of Life. We are citizens of a heavenly city, you have come to Zion; greater than all the cities that have ever been.
When the shaking comes Jerusalem will go, and Rome will go, and Babylon will go. All these great names of cities will go with the shaking of God through history. But our citizenship is in heaven and you’ll never shake that. “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem so the Lord is round about His people from this time forth and forevermore.” You come to Zion and we want many hours to talk about Zion, but this is all transferred to the Lord Jesus - what has come in with Him.
Of course in this world people don’t know what important people we are! If you were to say to people of this world, “You know, I’m a citizen of the most important City that has ever been or ever will be.” They would look at you... you don’t look like that!
Back to John, John 17. Jesus is praying, “I pray for the men whom Thou hast taken Me out of the world, they are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” No, the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem are not known here. And yet they are known, for we must come back to the City. What is the heavenly Jerusalem? Paul says the Jerusalem that is beneath is in bondage. But the Jerusalem which is above is free! What do you like to sing? Have you got a hymn in your hymnbook which says, “Free from the law, oh happy condition”?
Now back to Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free.” Citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem which is above which is free and which is our mother; children of freedom! Well I mustn’t remind you of the context of those words of the old Israel in bondage.
Well, first of all the heavenly Jerusalem is comprised of the people who have been set free. The second thing about Jerusalem is that it is the seat of government, the center of government. Oh, here’s a revolution. Go back to the book of the Acts, they have been given the commission to go out into all the world, “Go into all the nations and preach the gospel.” What did they do? Well, they said, “We must have a committee. We must make a board of directors and we must have our board meetings with our agenda. And we must decide what we’re going to do and how we are going to do it. We’ll do all this in our board meeting.” Did they do any of that? You cannot find a trace of it in the New Testament. What did they do? They had a prayer meeting. They got into touch with heaven, the government which is there, and as they prayed the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul unto the work whereto I have called them,” not “You have appointed them.” I had better not say any more about that. Do you see the difference?
No, Jerusalem which is above is the center of the government for this dispensation. There is no headquarters on this earth. The headquarters of all divine operations for this dispensation is in heaven. We are to have our government and direction by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. Jerusalem is the center of heavenly government.
If we are citizens of Zion, of the heavenly Jerusalem, we’ve got to receive all our direction from heaven. We have got to be governed in all our ways from Above. Well, there’s a lot more to be said about that. I’m going to finish on one other thing for this morning.
Jerusalem is the centre of influence for the world. You go back to your Old Testament and you look at Jerusalem then, you will find that the whole world of Israel was influenced from Jerusalem. The one thing that every Israelite desired was to go up to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was reaching out with its influence over the whole Jewish nation. Jerusalem had a great influence in the world.
And you know that in a sense that is true today. Although the Jews today have not got the old Jerusalem, the idea of Jerusalem has a great influence upon Jews in every part of the world. They want to rebuild Jerusalem; they want to go to Jerusalem. It has such a grip on them. Their lives are governed by Jerusalem. Transfer that to the heavenly Jerusalem, get rid of mental pictures and grasp the spiritual meaning.
Dear friends, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, it ought to be affecting our lives here. Heaven ought to be influencing us now. What is one of the first things that comes to you when you become a child of God? Surely it is just this, “I don’t belong here any longer. I belong somewhere else and all my heart is going to that somewhere else. I am seeking the things which are above, not the things which are upon the earth. I’m living in the light of heaven. Heaven has a tremendous grip on me.” The new Jerusalem is the centre of a great influence and this is the way in which other people will know of our citizenship. It will not be because we sing hymns about going to heaven; it will not be because we say “Well, we’re going to heaven.” They will know because heaven has come to us!
We have an influence in this world that is not of this world. That is what we are here for. Well, we’ve only started on Hebrews 12:18, “Ye are come to mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God...” I don’t know whether we’ll get any further than that today, but I hope you’re seeing something: the great thing that has come in with Jesus, the great thing that we have come into because Jesus has brought it in.