by T. Austin-Sparks
Let us first of all run through the letter to the Hebrews, noting heavenly touches and features.
Reading: Heb. 1:10; 4:14; 3:1; 6:4; 8:1,5; 9:23,24; 11:16; 12:22,24,25,26.
Here are a rather surprising number of references to the heavens, and we shall do little more than note the connection of these in general and in particular.
First of all, we remind ourselves of the occasion of this letter. It was called forth by reason of either an actual or a threatening return on the part of Jewish believers to Judaism, or the making of Christianity simply an outcrop of Judaism. There had been a movement towards Christ and, probably as a part of that general campaign of Judaisers, these believers had been caught and enticed, drawn away from their separateness and their complete devotion to the Lord Jesus and from the truly spiritual meaning of union and fellowship with Him, and had already retrogressed or were in peril of going back to the old system while retaining the name of Christian. The writer of the letter, in the presence of that peril and its tremendous loss to them, was seeking to save the situation. It was a loss which is set forth in some of the strongest words in the New Testament. You will go a long way before you will find anything stronger than the sixth chapter of the letter. It shows how serious this situation really was, and what a tremendous thing it meant for any who would take such a course. The letter was an inspired endeavour to save the situation. So Judaism (or Mosaic-ism) was taken up and shown to be but an earthly illustration of something which was eternal, in the heavens, bound up with Christ, and that the earthly representation had served its purpose and in the coming of Christ had been set aside and that now Christ in heaven and their union with Him in the Spirit carried into spiritual effect all that had been suggested and set forth in type in the Mosaic system. The earthly representation was passed, the spiritual and the heavenly had come in, and there was no further need for any of these earthly representations, because the greater and more satisfying had arrived.
Moreover, not only had God, in sending Christ, fulfilled all those things and completed them, thus putting them on one side, but the attitude of the Jews towards God's action and visitation in Christ was going to be very shortly visited with judgement, and not only in a spiritual way was Judaism set aside, but before very long it would be overthrown in judgement. There would be no temple, and no earthly Jerusalem as there had been; no priesthood, no sacrifices, but the whole system would be wiped out before long in one terrific shaking. And then the test would arise as to whether their association with God was merely on the basis of representations, types and shadows, or on the basis of a heavenly, spiritual union with Christ.
We are no doubt familiar with all that, but to be reminded of it is necessary in order to see why there is this constant reiteration of heavenly factors and elements. When a thing is hammered out again, and again, and again, surely we should begin to say: This is evidently the key to the situation, this is evidently where God is putting His finger, this is that to which He would draw our attention. So we give heed, and hear the word "heavenly" again, and again, all the way through this letter.
That is set over against something. If you heard that word spoken into your heart by the Holy Spirit repeatedly, "Heavenly! Heavenly! Heavenly!" you would say, "Now what is the Lord trying to say to me? What is my danger? Where am I?" That is just what this letter is for. If you have heard this word gonging through your heart you will turn to say, "Now what is it all about? What is the connection?" Then, if you will go through these dozen or so references to the heavenly, you will see what it is all about.
Christ in Heaven the Centre and Sum of All
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Heb. 4:14).
The first one which we have mentioned, not in the order of occurrence, but for the special purpose, is this one in Hebrews 4. It sets forth our starting point. Jesus the Son of God has passed through the heavens.
We know quite well that the heavens are departmental. There is more than one heaven. There is the lower heavens, where principalities and powers have their seat, according to Ephesians 6; and there are other heavens. There is the place far above all principality and power, where Christ is said to be seated. It is to the utmost heaven that He has gone, far above all, the ultimate place. He has passed right through all heavens and reached - wherever and whatever it is - the final place of ascendancy, of elevation, of dominion, of government and authority, of exaltation, of personal glory. He has passed through the heavens as High Priest, which means that if He has reached the last heaven (so to speak), the last range of heavenly realms as High Priest, then all His priestly work is perfect, all that He has done in mediation is fulfilled to the last stage, and He has arrived at the end of the journey, in virtue of the perfect priestly work. He has passed through the heavens.
The single point we want to indicate in this passage is this: that Christ in heaven represents the Centre and Sum of all. As we have already said, He has made heaven the base of all things for this dispensation, and everything now is in heaven. And Christ in heaven is God's Centre and God's Sum of all things. All things are to Him and from Him, and all things being bound up with Christ in heaven must therefore be heavenly in their nature, in their source, in their goal. That is all we wish to say about that particular passage, that it gives us our starting point.
We must remember that it was the starting point for the church, it was the starting point for apostolic ministry, it was the starting point of all things as they were in the beginning. It was not until the Lord reached that place and gave evidences of it by sending the promise of the Father, that the apostles were released for their ministry and the church came into being. The church's coming into being, and the apostles being released unto their ministry with such tremendous zeal and with all the marks of Christ being in the place of supreme authority, was just the complete outworking of His having reached that place of supremacy. Not until then could anything happen. The apostles were held up, the church could not be brought unto its spiritual birth until that was an actual fact, but when He was received up on high then everything had its beginning. And we must remember this in connection with that word in John 1:1 that God regards all that was before as not having been, so far as this world was concerned, until then: that is, things began with God by Christ being enthroned. It is God's starting point; that is, God's new beginning. If John 1:1 represents that first beginning, then everything went wrong after that here, so far as this world is concerned, and that history is blotted out in the Cross of the Lord Jesus. With Christ exalted a new beginning is made, a new creation, and that is God's beginning and our beginning.
You see how true that was in the case of the first apostles, in the case of the church, and in the case of the apostle Paul. The beginning for the apostle Paul was when he saw Christ in heaven. The fact of Christ in heaven was his beginning. Nothing less than that could have had the effect necessary upon such a man as Saul of Tarsus, and it was the discovery that Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had persecuted to the death and was seeking to wipe out of remembrance, was in glory, in heaven. That was too much for him. It took him some time to get over that. But it meant a new beginning.
You and I will never come into the fulness of effectiveness, of victory, until there has broken upon our hearts the fact of Christ in glory: not the historic fact, not the doctrinal fact of the resurrection and ascension and exaltation of Christ, but the fact of Christ in glory. And, what is more, we shall never get through unless that is a settled thing by the Holy Ghost in our hearts. We can go out into the world as it is, into the dark places, the hard places of this earth, where death reigns and men are in the grip of Satan, and nothing less than the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus, and that all things are in His hands, will get us through. If you have any question whatever that all authority is in the Lord Jesus, both in heaven and in earth, you are not going to get through to the end. That fact must be borne in and settled in your heart by the Holy Spirit. It is the beginning and it is the end.
The Heavenly Calling
We go back and see where we are related to that:
"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and High Priest of our confession" (Heb. 3:1).
If Christ is in heaven in that way, our calling is a heavenly calling. What is this partnership? If you look carefully at the context you will see that this partnership with Christ of a heavenly calling, this being partakers of a heavenly calling, is the calling from on high to share ultimate dominion with the Lord Jesus over the inhabited earth to come. This is the context:
"What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man, that you are concerned about him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:6-7).
What for? That through death (having tasted death) He might bring many sons to glory. What for? Because it is the portion of man according to God's heart to have dominion over the inhabited earth. "For not unto angels did He subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one has somewhere testified, saying, What is man...?" (Heb. 2:5-6). Now, when we go on to the other side, in the Epistle by John where we come in, we shall see what that means. Here it is touched upon. When God gets man wholly constituted according to His own mind, then that man will govern God's universe for Him. Christ is the Head and the Firstfruits of that type, and there is going to be conformity to the image of Christ for the purpose of ultimate government in this universe through man, the church. That is the heavenly calling.
Here is Christ in Whom it is all vested and gathered up. Now we are called into union with Christ for the same purpose, that in Christ, by reason of union with Christ, ultimately God's governmental purpose should be carried out through us. The context bears that out quite clearly, and the appeal is: "Therefore, holy brethren..." (Heb. 3:1).
That gives you the nature of this instrument. It is a family matter; it is a relatedness upon a basis of family life, "partakers of a heavenly calling..." So that our calling is heavenly now and for ever. God will govern through a heavenly people.
The Heavenly Gift
Then we turn to the next passage:
"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit" (Heb. 6:4).
We know what the heavenly gift is: the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. In relation to the calling there is the gift. The gift makes possible the realisation of the calling. The gift is two things: (1) Resource (2) Communication. We are linked with Christ in heaven by the Holy Spirit. That is our line of communication. Along that line of communication (the Holy Spirit) the resources which are in Christ for us are ministered, so that the heavenly gift is to make the heavenly calling possible by a definite spiritual union with Christ in heaven and communication of the fulness that is in Him to us. Again, it is heavenly.
If you look at the context of this passage you will see how everything is based upon the effectiveness of Christ's mediatorial work to make us suitable for this position in heavenly union with Christ, and your mind will be thrown back to Jacob. Jacob came to Luz (as it was previously called) and which became known as Bethel. There he saw the ladder set up on the earth with the top reaching to heaven. Upon it the angels of God were ascending and descending. Above it stood the Lord, and He communicated with Jacob by way of the ladder. When Jacob awoke out of his sleep he said: "How awesome is this place!" Showing that Jacob was entirely unfit for the house of God and for heavenly communication. He was smitten with his own state of being unsuitable for a heavenly relationship. He went on his way, and during twenty years God dealt with him in discipline, and at the end of the twenty years He met him at Jabbok and in a great conflict, destroyed his strength of the flesh and brought him down into subjection to Himself. Then Jacob could go back to Bethel and pour out a drink offering to the Lord. He had become suitable to the place which before had been dreadful and awesome to him. A drink offering is something joyful. If you are in a place which is too awful for you, you do not pour out drink offerings to the Lord; you want to get out of it again. But here Jacob has been made suitable to the house of God. The Lord has dealt with all that is unsuitable to heavenly fellowship, and the result is heavenly fellowship established.
So here we have the heavenly gift to link us on the ground of the mediatorial work, the sacrificial or priestly work of the Lord Jesus, linking us with Him in heaven and communicating to us His resources.
The Heavenly Government
"Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb. 8:1).
This passage clearly indicates two things. In the first place that the government is in heaven and secondly that this throne of the Majesty in the heavens is founded upon priestly work, the work of mediation. "We have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." We know of a king sitting down on a throne, but here it says that a High Priest sat down in the throne. That is typical, that government is by the priest. So the government is established by the Christ. One of the things which we need to have more light upon is the Personal government of things from heaven by the Lord Jesus. It is a thing which is true, and is not difficult to say, but sometimes it is very difficult to see that the Lord Jesus is now governing the nations at this very time in relation to His own end. You have to wait a long time to see that working out. You cannot see that immediately, we cannot see it while things are going on, but this is what the Word of God teaches, and this is what faith has to rise to, that what is going on in this world is under the government of the Lord Jesus.
I do not mean that the Lord Jesus is doing these things, but that He is governing these things. I do not mean that He is responsible for these awful conditions in the earth, but I am saying that the Word of God teaches that He is governing back of all these things to His own end.
In the Word of God it is manifest in the smaller things. Paul says: "Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel..." (Phil. 1:12). When you look at those things, including all manner of sufferings and afflictions, and difficulties, and hear Paul say that they fell out for furtherance of the Gospel, you know that was no mere chance, but the result of the government of Christ back of the things in this world.
What is true in the smaller things, is set forth as true in the greater, that the whole world condition and procedure and development has Christ behind it governing it toward His own end. And in the end God will have His own object, and the works of demons and men against Him will have served His object, and will have been sovereignly used to realize that object as perhaps nothing else could have realized it. Unless we believe that, we are at loss. Here it is said that He is on the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, and what is the use of a statement like that if it does not apply to anything here? The implication is that He Who has passed through all heavens has the ultimate say in the course of the universe now.
The government is twofold. There is the government outside the church in the nations, a governmental order of one kind operating there. There is also a governmental order inside the church of a different kind, and you and I ought to be knowing what that is, the government of the Lord Jesus within the church, a heavenly government. It is different altogether from the government of men, the government of individuals, or of bodies. it is the government of Christ by the Holy Spirit within the church.
The Heavenly System
"Who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'See' He says, 'that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain' " (Heb. 8:5).
"Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb. 9:23-24).
What does this set forth? Copies of heavenly things! The heavenly things themselves! Surely it speaks of a heavenly system. The things were only copies, patterns, representations.
The tabernacle and its whole order is the great inclusive copy of the Old Testament. But what do the Word and the Spirit say about that? That they were but suggestions of heavenly things, they were indications of something in heaven, they set forth something else. They were not the real things, not the things themselves. They were only types of the real things. What are the real things?
There is a tabernacle. What is a heavenly tabernacle? There is a priesthood. What is a heavenly priesthood? There is the service of the house of God. What is the service, the ministry of the house of God? This whole thing to a minutiae represents a heavenly system. What is it? Well, those who are familiar with the typology of the Bible know quite well that the tabernacle from centre to circumference, to the last detail, is a representation of Christ Himself. What does it mean, then? That while Christ is a Person, a living Person, He is also a heavenly system. Christ is a ministry, and ministry is simply the ministration of Christ. Any ministry that does not minister Christ is not New Testament ministry. Ministry is simply the bringing of Christ out, the imparting of Christ. Christ is heavenly, so that there must be a heavenly spiritual fellowship with Him to impart Him to others. That is the only system of ministry that the New Testament knows. Ministry is a matter of ministering Christ, imparting Christ.
What is the tabernacle, the temple, the house? It is Christ. You and I, since through the Cross we have been joined with the heavenly Christ, have become the heavenly tabernacle, the one Christ: "For as the body is one, and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is the Christ" (1 Cor. 12:12). What is the Christ corporately considered? Christ is the Head, we as members, forming one habitation of God through the Spirit, one temple, one heavenly tabernacle. So the tabernacle of old was a type of Christ and His members as a spiritual body, a spiritual house. That is the only church the New Testament knows.
So you can follow it through into every detail, and find that the heavenly things themselves are the whole order of Christ as expressed in His own in heavenly union. Much more, of course, needs to be said, and it opens a wide field for consideration, but this is the inclusive fact. The Lord is simply foreshadowing, illustrating something which had been before times eternal and has come out now in this dispensation. What is it? A heavenly fellowship of Christ and His own through the Cross, expressed in ministering Christ one to another, and to others.
The Heavenly Country and the Heavenly City
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:16).
We hardly need speak about that in fulness. You notice that which leads up to this passage: "And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is (now) they desire a better country... therefore (wherefore) God... hath prepared for them a city."
This makes it perfectly clear that God's thought all the way through, even in the days of Israel, the days of the people here referred to, was all heavenly. If He intimated to Abraham a land and a city, the full answer to that was never Canaan and the earthly people. Paul makes it perfectly clear, both in Romans and in Galatians, that the full answer to the promise to Abraham is the heavenly Jerusalem and the spiritual city, and that when Abraham had got into the land he still felt that there was something lacking. And when he died, he was not only still longing for that land, but he had come to see that that land could never answer to what had come into his heart. There was something more than that, and it was a heavenly country, a city which had foundations, whose builder and architect was God. Nothing on earth could take the place of that. God was governing the hearts of these men all the way through by what was heavenly.
The heavenly country is Christ. Christ is the land of promise. Christ is the fulness of God. Christ is the realm into which we come, the land into which we come and find all God's provision, God's wonderful bounty.
The city is, as the apostle says in Galatians, the church. When you and I really come in by revelation and in a spiritual way into the fellowship of the saints, we begin to realise what the heavenly city is; that is, we come to realise that we have come home. There is nothing like the true fellowship of the saints to settle all your heart longings. You know quite well that if you are cut off from the saints, you will get back into fellowship as soon as you have the chance. We have come to the heavenly church; it is a heavenly fellowship which answers to that. That is the answer to our deepest desire, the country and the city.
It means much more than that, but this is at least an indication of it.
The Heavenly Citizenship
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem... to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven..." (Heb. 12:22-23).
Most people like to go and see their birthplace at some time or other. They talk about it. No one else may see any beauty in it, but they think it is the most wonderful place in all the world. Their hearts are tied to that wretched old place, as everybody else would regard it! We are born from above. That is our new birthplace, our names are enrolled in heaven, we are citizens. What do we find? If we are truly born from above, by reason of that divine life in us which came to us from our birthplace above, we are always gravitating heavenwards. I always have a doubt about the genuineness and the thoroughness of a new birth if the individual concerned can go on indefinitely in worldliness afterwards. I do not believe in telling them that they have got to give up this and that, to stop going to that place and the other, but I look to see a gravitation heavenwards, so that these things just drop off. If you are born from above you begin to move heavenwards, setting your affections on things above, losing your interest in this world, moving away, and becoming more and more conscious that you are a stranger here, that this is a foreign country. That is simple, but it goes to the heart of things.
The Heavenly Warning
"See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven..." (Heb. 12:25).
You note the connection of that. God spoke, warning on earth in Moses, and those who refused did not escape but they fell in the wilderness, they came under judgement. Now here is God speaking out from heaven. How? You simply go back to the beginning of this letter, and that explains it: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.." (Heb. 1:1-2). God has given the full revelation of His mind in Christ out from heaven. God's revelation for this dispensation is out from heaven in His Son, Son-wise, and that brings with it the responsibility for the whole dispensation.
The Testing of Everything
"And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, 'Yet once more I will I shake not only the earth, but also the heaven'" (Heb. 12:26).
That is the testing of everything of which we spoke in our previous meditation. Everything is going to be shaken in earth and in heaven, with a view to finding out just how much there is of Christ living in it. These Jewish believers were going to see the temple and the whole temple system wrecked, and then they would discover just how much they had got of Christ, or how much of their life was bound up with earthly things. They would see what was left when that was all gone.
God is not only going to shake Judaism, but this heavenly thing. He will shake heaven and earth, and we shall find out by that shaking what we have left when the earthly system passes, when even the representation of heavenly things in Christianity is tested (for Christianity has developed a representation of heavenly things, just as Judaism has). Men have made an earthly representation of the New Testament revelation of the church, and ministry, and priesthood. It is all going to be tested. For many it is now in the melting pot. The issue is the shaking of heaven and earth. What have we got left? The issue is Christ.
Whether you like all that we have said, or agree with it or not, does not worry me; but I am concerned that we have come to Christ, to show that Christ in heaven is our life, Christ in heaven is our all, and appointed to be so by God, and nothing here can take the place of Christ. God will bring everything to an end that takes the place of Christ. He has determined from eternity that in all things Christ should have the pre-eminence, and have the fulness, and that nothing shall glory before Him or take His place.
The Lord bring us into a larger measure of Christ, and a larger measure of Christ into us.