"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
We Now Have a Foretaste of That to Come
The Firstfruits of Heaven
By Fred O. Blakely
We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, as we wait for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23, ASV; cf. II Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-25).
The principle of the firstfruits' witness to the nature of the full harvest was established under Moses. The first-ripe grain and fruit were to be brought as an offering to God, being the firstfruits and pledge of the harvest to come (Ex. 21:16). At Kadesh-Barnea, when the spies brought back the firstfruits of Canaan, they bore a specimen of what that good land held for the people of God (Num. 13:21-27).
Thus, was portended the spiritual situation of those who have become united with Christ in His death and resurrection. They now have in themselves the firstfruits and pledge of the consummate experience in and with Him in the world to come. That is what is intended by the expression of our text, "the firstfruits of the Spirit." The witness of the present experience, therefore, when properly discerned, can tell us much of what awaits us in the eternal world.
The Newness of Life. "Behold, I make all things new!" is the proclamation of Him "that sat upon the throne" (Rev. 21:5). "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away,'' recounts John of his vision of things to come (v. 1).
That is the immutable purpose of God, as Isaiah would say. And God's is "the hand that is stretched out" to execute it. Who, therefore, shall annul the purpose, or turn back the outstretched hand (Isa. 14:26-27)?
God will do as He has determined, and none shall effectively challenge, hinder Him, or stay His hand (Isa. 43:13, ASV; Dan. 4:35). That is just because He "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11).
The Merciful Preparation. But--mercy of mercies!--God, through Christ, now seeks to ready people for that coming occurrence. He would have none to be unprepared for it, and so found "naked" before Him (II Cor. 5:3). So are those who receive the Son constituted new creatures in Him.
Already, as pertains to their spirits, "the old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (II Cor. 5:17, RSV). Thus, have they been made "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:11-12). The bride is duly prepared for "the marriage of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:6-9).
In the readiness-this "newness of life" in Christ-we have "tasted of the heavenly gift" and do taste thereof (Heb. 6:4-5). In the "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" that we now experience in our blessed Lord (Rom. 14:17, ASV), we have a specimen of the fuller measure thereof to be realized "at the resurrection of the just" (Lk. 14:12-14; 20:34-36). So do firstfruits bear witness of the future harvest, as well as constitute an "earnest" thereof (Eph. 1:13-14).
The Indwelling Godhead. In the ultimate heaven, we are told that God will "dwell with" the redeemed ones. "And they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3; cf. ch. 7:15). "And the Lamb," being "in the midst of the throne," shall "feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters" (ch. 7:17).
Nothing is declared of the Spirit's function in the glorified state. On the basis of what we know of His present ministry, we may logically conclude that the experienced Presence by the saints of the Father and the Son will be had through the Spirit, as it is now in the preparatory state.
The Present Situation. "Ye are the temple of the living God," the saints on earth are told; "as God hath said [Exod. 29:45], I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (II Cor. 6:16). The close correspondence of this phraseology with that of Revelation 21:3 should be observed. It bespeaks the firstfruit nature of the present experience of God of which we treat.
So does the Indwelling now realized by God's people proclaim to the spiritually discerning that "far better" experience yet to come in eternity (Phil. 1:23; Heb. 11:39-40). The current Presence, it is to be noted, is "through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:21-22). That is, it is by "the communion of the Holy Spirit" that we now know and walk with the Father and the Son (II Cor. 13:14, ASV).
In fact, we come to the spiritual cognition of both these members of the Godhead by the Spirit. That is the involvement of Jesus' remark to Peter at Caesarea Philippi. The Father revealed to him the identity of the Son (Mt. 16:17; cf. I Cor. 12:3). It is equally true of the Father, as is made clear by Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6-7.
To be aware of this Indwelling, is to be "spiritually-minded," as Paul put it. Not to be so, is to be "carnally-minded," which state is one of spiritual death, he added (Rom. 8:6).
There is nothing so spiritually invigorating and sustaining as spiritual consciousness of the fact that "God is in you of a truth" (I Cor. 14:25). Thus, Jesus' remark that to know Him and the Father "is life" (Jn. 17:2-3).
It is written, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). The answer, of course, is, Positively no one, as regards ultimate effectiveness. It is true that they may reject us and our witness-even persecute and slay us because of it. But eventually both God and we shall be vindicated, and the rejecters will have to face Him in eternal judgment.
The Direction in Service. One of the certain glories of heaven is that of perfect, unrestrained direction by God of His people. That blessed circumstance is required by the declaration that they "shall serve Him day and night in His temple" (Rev. 22:3). That service, of course, will not be an undirected one, but in full and complete accord with the divine will.
In heaven, it will be recalled, God's will is perfectly done (Mt. 6:10). The angels, who always behold His face, constantly "do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word" (Ps. 103:20). And, in the glorified state, said Jesus, we shall be "as the angels of God in heaven" (Mt. 22:30)-certainly in that respect as well as others.
That perfect obedience will not be one grudgingly accorded, but cheerfully and consentingly rendered. Such will be the case because we shall have been completely transformed-spirit, soul, and body-into the image of Christ. Thus, God's will shall be our will, and that with no opposition at all involved. The very thought of that destined situation is thrilling, challenging, and sustaining to us here.
The Beginning Experience. Even now, under the handicap of the "earthen vessels" in which we have the knowledge and Presence of God, He directs us. We but require to have minds and hearts to perceive that guidance.
So is it written, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:6). Again: "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps" (ch. 16:9). And again: "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).
To the submissive, the promise of God is unequivocal: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye" (Ps. 32:8). "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory," was the psalmist's confidence in the Lord (Ps. 73:24).
The New-Covenant Situation. In the new covenant much, indeed, is made of the present direction of His people by God. The promise to the Apostles was that the Spirit would guide them "into all truth" (Jn. 16:12-15). That He did, in both their teaching and their journeying (Acts 8:29, 39-40; 16:6-10; I Cor. 2:6-13).
The divine guidance, in our discipleship of Christ, is fully certain. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world," is His blessed promise (Mt. 28:20, ASV). So the recognition of the Apostles. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ," is Paul's request for the brethren (I Th. 3:5), a comprehensive one, of a truth.
"The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you," wrote John, "and ye need not that any man teach you; but the same anointing teacheth of all things, and is truth, and is no lie; and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him" (I Jn. 2:27; cf. v. 20; Phil. 2:12-13; Heb. 13:20-2U.
In this area also, it is apparent that we have a firstfruit of the heavenly experience to come. And it is a truly blessed one.
The Joy of the Lord. As the Savior admits us to our eternal abode, He will do so with the welcome words, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Mt. 25:21, 23). There, joy without alloy with trouble and sorrow will abound-and that forever. It is written, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:4).
The Prophet Isaiah foresaw this destiny of the saints, and sang of it. "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35:10; cf. ch. 51:11).
The Present Measure. As part of the Spirit's firstfruits, we who are in Christ now have an appetizing foretaste of the heavenly bliss. Hence, it is written, "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17, ASV). Thus, are we "the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3, ASV; cf. I Cor. 1:30-31; Jer. 9:23-24).
It is said of the first-century saints, "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52, ASV; cf. I Th. 1 :4-6). Following the Day of Pentecost, the Jerusalem saints exemplified this joy in the God of their salvation. "They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:46-47; cf. ch. 8:5-6, 39).
Come now, let us seek to restore this aspect of the first-century faith. "Whom, having not seen, ye love," wrote Peter in reference to Christ; "in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (I Pet. 1:8-9). Thus, it is written, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10).
As we now partake of that joy through faith and by the Holy Spirit, we are antedating the experience of the fullness thereof which we shall know in the world to come.
The church, in its rejoicing in Christ Jesus, therefore, is in tended to be an outpost of the ultimate heaven, showing fort) something of what awaits the saints in that happy place.
The Fellowship of Saints. Finally, in the present fellowship of the brethren, we have a firstfruit of that which we are to enjoy forever in the new Jerusalem. There, with all the imperfections of the mortal state gone, and the brethren wholly conformed to the image of God's Son, what a blessing that will be of Fully knowing as we are known, and seeing and feeling as God Himself does, there will be no occasion for the misunderstandings that sometimes mar fellowship here. And certainly none of the faulty personal traits that tend to do so "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" will prevail to perfection (Eph. 4:3). It cannot be otherwise, since "God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace" (I Cor. 14:33), and His will shall be perfectly done there. For those who are spiritually one with Christ, "the Prince of peace" (Isa. 9:6), that delightsome prospect is part of the ineffable joy that is set before them in Him.
The Present Realization. Now, as we delight in one another's fellowship in Christ through the Spirit, we have the firstfruit and earnest of the fullness thereof that awaits us in heaven. By faith, already we "are come unto Mount Zion," and "to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:22-24). As we, in the Spirit, mingle before the throne, we have at least a faint sampling of that perfect unity and joyous fellowship that shall prevail in those celestial precincts.
It is to be observed that, just to the extent genuine spirituality is achieved and cultivated in the church on earth, can we have this foretaste of the heavenly experience of its perfection. Let us, by all means, seek that blessing, to the praise of God's glory, and the comforting and strengthening of the saints.
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).