by T. Austin-Sparks
In order that the essential nature of the Lord's work and the Lord's purpose in this age should be known livingly and worked out livingly, a higher spiritual position is necessary. We understand so well the nature of the work of the great adversary in this connection. We see the success of that work even before we get out of the New Testament.
From the high altitude of the first years as set before us in the book of the Acts, the church began to decline. When we get out of the apostolic age we find that decline steadily going on, until the church publicly, generally, becomes a thing of this world, even becoming politically attached to the earth. The battle all through the ages has been in this very connection, as to whether the church would maintain or retrieve the loss of its heavenly high position, or for any reason at all, by prosperity or adversity, accept something lower. What is and has been true throughout all its history is true today and is true with us. It is true in the case of every individual believer, as it is of the whole - the tendency to come down; and everything from the side of the enemy is directed towards creating a lower level of things than God intended, and therefore a lower level than that to which the Lord can wholly commit Himself. It is only as the Lord's position for His people is held that the Lord can commit Himself.
It is at this point that we need to recognise something that may solve some problems or just give the final answer to a lot of our difficulties. That to which the Lord really does commit Himself wholly is the spiritual side of things, not the temporal side of things, even in relation to His work. He may facilitate; He may help; He may send resources; He may rule and overrule in temporal matters; but we would agree that it would be very dangerous for the Lord to make that His realm of complete operations. That is, whenever a difficulty arises in the temporal realm, if the Lord immediately came right in and swept that out of the way and gave an easy, clear path to His work and His servants, it would really militate against true spirituality, and it would bring the whole thing down to a temporal level, and you can see what would happen. Multitudes would come in because of the advantages. 'It is a good thing to be a Christian; God does everything for you if only you will be a Christian', and so you become 'rice Christians', as they are known in certain parts of the world. So the Lord neither can, nor will, nor does, commit Himself fully to the temporal aspects of His own work.
My point at the moment is that the Lord does commit Himself to the spiritual side. You may be having a bad time in temporal things; there seems to be hold up, delays, contradictions and you wonder that the Lord does not do this and that in the realm of material things which you think are necessary to the Lord's work. But when you begin to look at the spiritual side of things, you have to say that the Lord is there, there is something happening there, the Lord is going on there. There seems to be a contradiction, but really it is only a proof that the higher the level above the earthly and above the natural, the fuller is the measure of the divine commitment. That is what we are after. Perhaps in the churning sea of illustrations and symbol and type, you have just lost sight of the real landscape, but that is what it is. A certain level is necessary for the full accomplishment of the divine purpose in this dispensation, and the measure of the Lord's commitment is the measure of our 'altitude'. Heaven always symbolizes universality. There is a sense in which you cannot get beyond there. Spiritually the position in union with a heavenly Lord means fulness, and the measure of fulness depends entirely upon that heavenly life and the heavenly nature of everything.
Perhaps that helps us to come to these closing chapters of the Gospel by Matthew. We come to our next altitude in chapter 24.
The Shaking of the Earthly
"And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on His way; and His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple." How does that strike you? The disciples wanting to take the Lord Jesus on a sightseeing trip, and show Him the buildings of the temple! That is where their eyes are, that is what they are thinking to be important, that is their idea of impressiveness, importance, greatness and grandeur. You have not gone very far towards this mountain before you note this setting. "But He answered and said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the consummation of the age?" (A.R.V. Marg.). You know what follows through Matthew 24. It is the old ground of the prophetical school, and we are not having anything to do with that now, because that would bring us down out of our mountain at once; but what does clearly arise here in connection with this Mount is that it is the Mount of the heavenly dispensation. We see that material and temporal things according to this world's ideas and standards of greatness and even of the religious world's standards, are the things which govern the mentality of these disciples after all this time. There is something there so deep-rooted, so inveterate, so persistent. We do not judge them, we are just like them. However spiritual we may think we are, the fact remains that we are tremendously influenced by temporal standards. It is a continuous battleground as to how things stand in this world before men, and even as to what the great religious leaders, and even evangelical leaders of our time regard as the important thing. It has a good deal of influence with us.
The Lord makes His pronouncement about that. The whole thing is going to be completely disintegrated. And it is on a mountain that He takes up this whole question, and you cannot get away from the fact - however it may be chopped up by those who are interested in these things - that at least the first part of this chapter relates to Jerusalem, and what comes out is that it is going to be broken up, shaken to its foundations and will totter to the ground. All that which they thought so great and so permanent is going. All that which they thought so established here will not have one stone left upon another.
On the Mount He begins to show the disintegration of the one in order to make room for the other. On the Mount heaven touches earth and from there the heavenly dispensation is clearly in view. Notice some of the small details, for example, "The disciples came unto Him privately." Of course, they are scared for their very lives that such statements as He has just made should be known by the people concerned, so it is in secret that they come to Him; they are afraid of this whole thing. How different they are not so long afterwards! You see them in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost! But here they are afraid for themselves and they are afraid for Him, and they are afraid for everybody. What a real difficulty it is!
The Test of the Heavenly Dispensation
He leads them to the Mount of Olives. Just glance back at chapter 21, and you will see that it was from the Mount of Olives that He sent those to find the ass on which He would ride into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah: "Behold, thy king cometh unto thee; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). From the Mount of Olives He went, and in that meek and lowly way presented Himself as King. The fickle multitude, of course, jumped at earthly possibilities, and again the disciples are all in it. But when you get to Matthew 21:15, you get to the true situation in Israel among the Jews, and it will be found that even the fickle multitude will come to that presently when they discover that He did not mean a temporal, political kingdom at all. And when all that prospect seems to be more than doubtful, the crowd will join the ruler's cry, "Away with Him!" The real thing deep down behind is in verse 15: the positive antagonism towards Him; no desire to have Him, of course stimulated by envy and jealousy. The place where it was really drawn out as to what people wanted was the Mount of Olives. From there it was first of all drawn out as to what people were after; apparently on the one side wanting a king, (but see what sort of king and kingdom they wanted!), and behind that was, "We cannot have that and we do not want the other." There is a deep-down antagonism to the kind of kingdom that He is really bringing in, although it may seem otherwise in the case of the multitudes who went before and followed after shouting "Hosanna".
Really their thoughts and His are very far apart, and that becomes very clear in the end. The Mount of Olives first of all gets down into the truth as to what people are after. You never know the truth about a situation. It may look alright, it may seem to be quite favorable, but in fact it may be all wrong, false, untrue. You never know until you obtain the heavenly position of higher ground, and then from that higher ground you can see the truth about things. That works in principle; that works in history. If you present the high ground of God's full thought for His people and the hearts of the people are really set upon having a work for God down here that is flourishing and prosperous and well-spoken of, you find that people are really, after all, only going with Him so long as He comes into line with their ideas and ambitions. But immediately that runs counter to thoughts more earthly, thoughts even in relation to Him, something deeper rises up. They are not going to have that. You have seen that many times; you must not touch their things. They say it is for the Lord, but you must not touch it; it is their own. If you are not coming to help their thing or things with your ministry or presentation, of course they won't have it, and it resolves itself into this: they won't have Him; that is not the kind of Lord they want. They want a Lord who is going to make their thing for Him successful down here. You can only know and discriminate between the true and the false when you yourself are on the higher ground. Perhaps you know something about that. The Lord may have led you on spiritually, He has led you into new realms, and you look back and see what your devotion to the Lord really amounted to before - very largely something in this life.
The Heavenly Dispensation the Doom of the Earthly
Then the Mount of Olives was also the place from which Jerusalem's rejection and doom was settled. Matthew 21:19-20 embodies this: "And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only; and He said unto it, Let there be no fruit from thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How did the fig tree immediately wither away?"
From this Mount, He wept over Jerusalem. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:37-38). From the Mount of Olives this whole thing - which is not the true, not the heavenly, although professedly, ostensibly, for God - is rejected and its doom is fixed.
A Kingdom Which Cannot be Shaken
It was over against the Mount of Olives, just by the Mount of Olives, that the Lord went up in ascension, and the whole dispensation from that point, everything in relation to Him, became heavenly. You see how this Mount governs this whole matter of a temporal, earthly dispensation, and a spiritual and heavenly one. The Mount of Olives is the dividing point in this matter. We said that the first part of Matthew 24 relates to Jerusalem, and it is clear that it connects with the letter to the Hebrews. "Ye are come unto... the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22). And then what follows? "But now He has promised, saying, Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken..." (Heb. 12:26-28). You see how this fits in there. The letter to the Hebrews is the transition from the earthly, (the whole system of types in the old dispensation), to the heavenly, and then it comes to its climax with this: all the earthly will be shaken to its very foundations and will totter to the ground, but "receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...". That is all fixed, so to speak, in the Mount of Olives. From that vantage point you can see the difference between that which is down there and that which is up above. Hebrews, of course, is the heavenly kingdom.
Here on this mountain we have the foreshadowing of the new dispensation which can only really be seen from above. People looking up from below will never see it. You have to get up above and see it from the heavenly standpoint to see what God's real character in this dispensation is, the character of His work and His purpose. You must have the eyes of your heart enlightened.