Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats: A Study on Matthew 25:31-46 (Part Seven)

Part one:

The eonian allotment of the “sheep” contrasted with our allotment

Those comprising the nation of Israel during the millennial reign of Christ will be the most blessed of all the inhabitants of the earth, and - as we’ve seen from Ezekiel 47:21-23 - the gentiles who will be residing in the land during this time will be treated “as native-born among the people of Israel.” Thus, compared with the eonian fate of the cursed “goats” (who will be dwelling outside the land of Israel and will constitute the nations over which Israel will have dominion), those among the nations who will be enjoying “the allotment of the kingdom” during the eon to come (the “sheep”) will be incredibly blessed. 

And yet, as blessed as the “sheep” among the nations will be during the eon to come, there is another category of people among the nations whose eonian allotment will be far superior to even the allotment of these righteous gentiles. The gentiles I have in mind are, of course, those whom God has chosen to become members of that collective entity which the apostle Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). 

One of the earliest references to the superior allotment of those in the body of Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 15:50. There, Paul wrote, “Now this I am averring, brethren, that flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God, neither is corruption enjoying the allotment of incorruption.” To understand why the “allotment in the kingdom of God” that Paul had in mind here is vastly superior to the allotment of the “sheep,” it must be remembered that every gentile who will be present at the judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 will be mortal, and with bodies of “flesh and blood.” As noted earlier, they will be among the survivors of the last seven years preceding the return of Christ at the end of this eon (the only other category of surviving humans who will enter the kingdom of God as mortals will be those constituting faithful Israel at Christ’s return, such as the 144,000 sealed Israelites referred to in Rev.7:2-8 and 14:1-5).

In contrast with these two categories of surviving humans will be those who will take part in what Christ referred to as the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29), and what John referred to as the “former resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6). The “former resurrection” will only involve those who died before Christ’s return to earth and (as I’ve argued elsewhere) will occur 75 days after this event takes place. Those who are raised from the dead by Christ at this time will be “neither marrying nor taking out in marriage” during the eon to come, “for neither can they still be dying, for they are equal to messengers, and are the sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36). The rest of the saints in the kingdom during the eon to come - beginning with the generation which will be alive on the earth at Christ’s return – will be mortal.[1] For this latter category of saints, marriage and procreation can (and will) continue.

That there will, in fact, be mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites enjoying an allotment in the kingdom of God on earth is confirmed from a number of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures where the future kingdom is in view. See, for example, Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:20-25; Jeremiah 23:3-6; 30:18-20 (cf. v. 3); 33:10-11, 19-22; 59:20-21; Ezekiel 36:8-12; 37:25-26; 44:20-25. In all of these passages, we read of things said concerning people in the millennial kingdom during the eon to come - including the priests who will be ministering in the temple - that can only be said of mortal, flesh-and-blood Israelites, and in which only those who are mortal will be involved during this time (such as marrying and “multiplying” in the land). And, of course, dwelling among these flesh-and-blood Israelites (and further populating the kingdom with the children they will be having during this time) will be the gentiles referred to in Ezekiel 47:22-23 (who I’ve argued will be the “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46).

In contrast with what we know concerning the conditions that will characterize the kingdom of God on earth during the eon to come, Paul told the saints in the body of Christ that “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God.” In other words, the only people who will enjoy an allotment in the kingdom of God that Paul had in mind here are those who are no longer mortal – i.e., those who have “put on incorruption” and “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53). If, when Paul wrote 1 Cor. 15:50, he had in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth, then he would’ve been contradicting the fact that there will, in fact, be flesh-and-blood (i.e., mortal) humans in this kingdom during the eon to come. However, Paul wasn’t contradicting scripture, because he didn’t have in mind the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth. Rather, what Paul had in mind in 1 Corinthians 15:50 was the kingdom of God into which the saints in the body of Christ will be entering after the “snatching away” and meeting in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18) – i.e., the kingdom of God as it will exist in the heavenly realm.

It is in the heavens that Christ is, presently (2 Cor. 5:1, 6-8; Phil. 3:20), and we know that the kingdom of God will be established in this realm after Satan has been cast out. In Rev. 12:7-12 we read of the coming of the kingdom of God in the heavens as follows: ”And a battle occurred in heaven. Michael and his messengers battle with the dragon, and the dragon battles, and its messengers. And they are not strong enough for him, neither was their place still found in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent called Adversary and Satan, who is deceiving the whole inhabited earth. It was cast into the earth, and its messengers were cast with it. And I hear a loud voice in heaven saying, “Just now came the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ, for the accuser of our brethren was cast out…Therefore, make merry, ye heavens, and those tabernacling in them!

So Scripture is clear that, in addition to being on the earth, Christ’s kingdom will be established in the heavens and among the celestials as well. This makes the “kingdom of God” a future reality that pertains to those in the body of Christ just as much as it pertains to Israel (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Eph. 5:5; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5). It is this celestial aspect of the kingdom of God to which Paul was referring when he expressed his confidence that the Lord would be saving him “for His celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). It is the kingdom of God in heaven – not the kingdom of God on earth – in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment.”

It is because the kingdom for which we are destined is celestial in location that we (who are presently “soilish” in nature) must come to wear “the image…of the Celestial,” and thereby become “celestials” (1 Cor. 15:48-49). Our present “terrestrial” body must be transformed and made fit for life that is “eonian, in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-2; Col. 1:5). It is in the realm where Christ is presently residing - i.e., the heavens (1 Cor. 15:47) - that we will be “at home with the Lord” after we have been “dressed” with our “habitation which is out of heaven” (2 Cor. 5:6-9).[2] It is the heavenly realm for which our glorified bodies will be suited, and it is here that the kingdom of God in which we will be enjoying our allotment will be located.

[1] It should be noted that a person’s being mortal does not mean that death will (or must) occur; it simply means that they’re able to die, and that they lack what the author of Hebrews referred to in Heb. 7:16 as “the power of an indissoluble life.”

[2] The expression “out of heaven” does not mean our glorified bodies presently exist in heaven and will have to leave heaven when the time comes for us to be vivified. Concerning the word translated “out of” here (ek) we read the following on ( “Ek ("out of") is one of the most under-translated (and therefore mis-translated) Greek propositions – often being confined to the meaning “by.” Ek has a two-layered meaning (“out from and to”) which makes it out-come oriented (out of the depths of the source and extending to its impact on the object).”

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, one of the meanings given for the preposition ek is, “of the material out of which a thing is made.” The following verses are referenced as Scriptural examples of this usage: Matthew 27:29; John 2:15; 19:2; 9:6; Romans 9:21; 1 Corinthians 11:12; 15:47; Revelation 18:12; 21:21. Of especial relevance to Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 5:3 are the two verses from 1 Corinthians that are referenced above. In 1 Cor. 11:12 we read that “the woman is out of (ek) the man,” and in 15:47 we read that “the first man was out of (ek) the earth…the second Man is the Lord out of (ek) heaven.”

In these examples, that which is in view is the source of the material from which something is formed, and of which it consists. Adam did not originally exist in the earth, and nor was he himself removed from it. Similarly, Eve did not originally exist in Adam, and nor was she herself removed from him. Rather, just as Eve was formed from material which was taken from Adam, so Adam was formed from material which was taken from the earth (i.e., soil). In the same way, Christ’s glorified, resurrected body consists of material that is heavenly in its source and nature, and which is, consequently, suited for life in the heavens. It is for this reason that Paul referred to Christ as “the Lord out of (ek) heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47) even though Christ was, at the time of Paul’s writing (and continues to be to this day), in heaven.

Thus, to say that our future resurrected body is “out of heaven” simply means that heaven will be the source of the material of which it will consist (making us fit for eonian life “in the heavens”). The “soilish” material of which our body presently consists will, at the moment of our vivification, be replaced with material that is heavenly in source and nature. It is in this way that the “body of our humiliation” will be “transfigured” (Phil. 3:21) and “delivered” (Rom 8:23) when we’re vivified in Christ.

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