|THE DIVINE PURPOSE OF THE AGES
John A. Macmillan
I AM REVEALED
Jan 29, 2012
The "God of the whole earth" does not purpose to tolerate forever this rebellion against His righteousness. "I have
sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee
shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (Isaiah 45:23). Ere this can be accomplished, the instigators of human rebellion
must be cast down. In this regard the divine method is clear. "The powers of the air" are allowed to retain their seats
only while their successors are being prepared. God, having redeemed a people and purified them, has introduced
them potentially into the heavenliest. When they have approved themselves, they will in actuality take the seats of the
"powers of the air," thereby superseding those who have manifested their unfitness and unworthiness.
This purpose, present and future, is very definitely stated in Ephesians chapter 3:9-11. Here it is revealed as the divine
will that "now (nun, the present time) unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known
through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (3:10). The Church is to be God's instrument in declaring to these
rebellious and now usurping powers the divine purpose, and in administering their principalities after they have been
unseated and cast down.
This is further declared to be "according to the eternal purpose of the ages which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord"
(3:11). That is to say, God, through all the past ages, has had in view this wonderful plan of preparing in Christ Jesus a
people, chosen and called and faithful, whom He might place in these heavenly seats to rule through the ages yet to
come. It is spoken of, in the verses just preceding, as "the mystery, which for ages hath been hid in God," one phase of
this mystery being the wonderful veiling of the deity of the Son of God in our human nature, that we through Him might
"become partakers of the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4).
This exaltation of the saints and its object were revealed to Daniel in the first of his own great world visions. In verse 22
of chapter 7, after the coming of the Ancient of Days, "judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time
came that the saints possessed the kingdoms." A little later (7:27), we read that "the kingdom and the dominion, and
the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." This
meaning is clear. The saints of the Most High are the overcoming Church, raised to sit in the heavenliest. Below them,
and as objects of their care, are the people of Israel, called here "the people of the saints of the most High." Israel will
administer the earthly kingdom and will be head of the nations, but overall will rule the exalted Church as the executive
The Extent of This Authority
We shall turn again to chapter 1 of Ephesians and consider in detail the powers and things that have been made
subject to our Lord in His exaltation to the Father's right hand. As we meditate on the completeness of His authority, let
us remember that He is there as the Representative of redeemed humanity (Hebrews 2:5-9). And may "the eyes of
[our] understanding be enlightened" (Ephesians 1:18) by the Holy Spirit so that we may believe, without any doubt or
shrinking, that the wisdom and will of the Father have made us sharers of this same authority, and that He verily intends
that we should exercise it day by day in growing comprehension and apprehension.
Made to Sit
We notice, first of all, that the Risen Christ has been "made to sit."
The act of sitting indicates that, for the time being, certain aspects of His work are in abeyance. Later, the Lord will
again "rise up to the prey." But just now, with "all authority" delivered unto Him, He is awaiting the Father's time, and
meanwhile exercising the powers placed in His hands for the working out of the redemption purchased from mankind on
His session is "all principality, and power, and might, and dominion" (1:21).
The great princes and authorities, of whom we have previously spoken, are subject to Him. So are the lesser ones; He
is far above all "might" (dunameos, a word usually used in the New Testament of spiritual power). This refers to that
working of satanic energy which is becoming increasingly manifest, directed as it is against the bodies and minds of the
children of God. The inroads that are being made into Christian communities are appalling, but few in the Church are
as yet awake to the fact that fresh powers from the unseen world are flooding in upon us. Nor is the cause of this hard
to trace. In parts of the heathen world, where the Word of God energized by the Spirit of God has penetrated, the
powers of the air have fallen back. Demon possession ever retires before an aggressive evangelism, and its
manifestations become less frequent. But in our so-called Christian lands, the authority of the Word is now called in
question by the great leaders of the churches, and there are few theological institutions where it is recognized as the
very Word of God. In like manner, the Spirit of God is dishonored, first, by this very denial of the Word which He has
inspired, and second, by the disregard paid to His Person and authority. Thus, there is a reversion to heathen
conditions spiritually, and as the great agents for the overthrow of demonic powers (the Word of God and the Spirit of
God) are discredited, these powers are pressing in again upon our country and people. One single evidence of this
fact is the tremendous advance that spiritism is making among all classes: while, as another proof, the very doctrines of
the Church, depleted of their vital spiritual force as they are becoming, are showing undoubted marks of those
"teachings of demons" of which the great apostle bade his hearers beware.
Christ sits also far above all "dominion" (Kuriotetos, lordship). This term is closely allied with the preceding, much as
"principalities and powers" are grouped together, the second term in each case signifying similar action on a somewhat
lower plane. In Colossians 1:16, we find "dominion" connected with "thrones," which throws light upon the relative term
"might." In the passage in Ephesians and in that quoted from Colossians, both terms refer directly to spiritual powers,
whereas in Second Peter 2:10 and Jude 8, the only two other occasions of the use of the word in the New Testament,
the primary reference is to earthly dignities.
In This Age
He sits far above "every name that is named, not only in this world" (aion, age) (1:21); the great names of this age are
below our Lord. The writer of Hebrews took pains to point out to Israel that even Moses was inferior to Messiah (Christ),
as a servant is less than his Master. But what an effort religious leaders are making today to show that Jesus was only
a man, and as such to be ranked with the best men. Over the door of one of the great church building of New York,
appear figures of some world famous men - such as Emerson, Einstein, Confucius, Buddha, Etc., and with them the
figure of Christ as one among many! Not so speaks the Spirit of Truth; in His setting forth of the majesty of the Divine
Son of God, there are none that can be compared; He is "far above" all. In this continued attempt to exalt humanity,
there is to be recognized the working of him who deceived our first parents with the falsehood, "Ye shall be as gods."
The Age to Come
"But also in that which is to come" (1:21). The coming age also yields no name that ranks with that of our Lord. In that
age, moreover, the now-dominant spirit forces shall be bound. Their successors, the glorified Church, shall recognize
the preeminence of their exalted King. United with Him as Head and Body, they will have become manifestly His
"fullness." He fills "all in all," but has chosen to do so through His Body. Thus, in the age to come, the members of
Christ shall have an active ministry for God throughout the limitless extent of His universe.
Under His Feet
"Hath put all things under his feet" (1:22). The feet are members of the Body. How wonderful to think that the least and
lowest members of the Body of the Lord, those who in a sense are the very soles of the feet, are far above all the
mighty forces we have been considering. Yet so it is. What need for the Church to awake to an appreciation of her
mighty place of privilege. Exalted to rule over the spiritual powers of the air, how often she fails in her ministry of
authority or grovels before them in fear.
Head over All
"Head over all things to the church" (1:22). We have little grasped the force of this marvelous truth. We think of it as if
it indicated that Christ was simply in all things and circumstances and places the Church's Head. Let us reverse the
words to bring out more clearly their deep significance: "Head to the church over all things." His being Head over all
things is for the Church's sake, that the Church, His Body, may be head over all things through Him. We need to sit
reverently and long before these mighty truths, that their tremendous meaning may grasp our hearts. In this attitude,
the Spirit of Truth can lift us into their comprehension, which the human mind alone will always fail to compass.
The Operation of God
The argument which we have been following has been thus far centered in the Epistle to the Ephesians. We pass, for a
few minutes, to the Epistle to the Colossians, that we may view from a different standpoint how completely this whole
matter of the authority of the believer is based on the working of the Father, and how the efficacy of that working
depends on the correlated truth of the subjection of Christ to Him. Though coequal with the Father, the Eternal Son
accepted a subordinate place, and undertook the task of reconciling, through the blood of His cross, all things unto God
(1:20). Having for this purpose yielded Himself under the power of death, He was quickened by "the operation of God"
the Father (2:12).
Let us read carefully 2:12-15, noting that the working here indicated is all on the part of God the Father. It is He who
(2:13) quickened the saints together with Christ and forgave their trespasses. It is He who (2:14) blotted out the
adverse decrees of the law, which stood in the way of His people and nailed the canceled handwriting to the cross of His
Son. It is He who (2:15) spoiled (apekdusamenos, completely stripped) the mighty principalities and powers that had
opposed the resurrection of the Lord and led them captive in triumphal procession in Christ.
A frequent misunderstanding of this passage is that the Lord Jesus "stripped off" from Himself the clustering powers of
darkness, overthrowing and putting them to an open shame. But a correct rendering shows clearly that the Agent is
God the Father. Of what does He "strip" the powers of the air? Of the authority that had been theirs. Death is the
penalty of sin; and when Christ, bearing the burden of the world's guilt, went down to death, they sought to exercise
their ancient prerogative and hold Him under its power. But in the wisdom of the Father, the yielding of the Righteous
One to death discharged the long-established bond of the Law. Exultantly, the Father nailed the canceled bond to the
cross of His Son; then, "stripping" of their authority the discomfited principalities and powers, He handed this authority to
His Son. The "show" (triumphal procession), which the apostle figuratively uses, corresponds to the elevation of the
Son above His enemies, mentioned in Ephesians.
Thus in Colossians there is stressed the Father's working in the active thwarting and overthrowing of the hostile powers
and their subjugation to His Son, while in Ephesians the Son is seen seated above these in all the authority of the
Father's throne. The authority of the believer is not taught so fully in Colossians, although the statement is made that in
Him His people are "complete" (literally, made full). That is to say, through union with Him, they partake of the fullness
of the Godhead, which is practically another form of being "blessed with all spiritual blessings."
The Failure of the Church
We saw in a previous section the Lord as Head over all. His position and power are supreme. Why, then, is there not
more manifest progress? Because a head is wholly dependent upon its body for the carrying out of its plan. All the
members of its body must be subservient, that through their coordinated ministry may be accomplished what is
purposed. The Lord Jesus, "Head over all things to the church, which is His body" (Ephesians 1:22-23), is hindered in
His mighty plans and working, because His Body has failed to appreciate the deep meaning of His exaltation and to
respond to the gracious impulses which He is constantly sending for its quickening.
The Word of God
It is a most vital truth of the divine working that the Word of God is the pattern by which the ministry of the Church is
framed. The glory of the Body of Christ is the fact that its members are living members, each with a personal will. The
Holy Spirit comes into these individual members in order to bring them into unity with the will and purposes of the Head.
But this is not done through inward impulse alone. Inward impulse inaugurates obedience toward the Head, but the
renewed mind cannot be fully instructed save through the Word. Consequently, it is only as the Word is carefully
meditated upon, understood and obeyed that the Head has freedom of action through its members. How little the
average member feeds with careful mastication upon the Word, most of us know from our own experience.
The Spirit of God
The importance of this can be seen by comparing Ephesians 5:18ff, with Colossians 3:16ff. In the first passage, the
stirring of the inward emotions of the heart, with the consequent subjection of believers one to another, in their various
relations, is indicated as the working of the Spirit of God in His fullness, but in the second passage, exactly the same
results are pointed out to be the result of the rich indwelling of the Word of Christ. The Word of Christ is the setting
forth of His will in a form that is understandable by the renewed mind. But the renewed mind, while understanding the
Word, lacks power to perform it. The fullness of the Spirit is the incoming of the Spirit of God to empower the human
spirit for the carrying into effect of the accepted will of the Head.
Thus, unless the Word richly indwells for the instruction of the mind, the Spirit of God, although present in His fullness,
has nothing to work upon. The impulses of the Head cannot be translated by Him into appropriate action through the
Body, but are often like the immature motions of a child. The Head is thereby hindered because the Body has not
grown up into the stature of a perfect man. In divine patience the Head waits. Brethren, we are to blame greatly, not
only for our own weakness, but also for "the hands that hang down and the palsied knees." God help us to realize this
and to fulfill our ministry through the Word both to others and to the Lord.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE BELIEVER, by John A. Macmillan, Copyright 2007, WingSpread Publishers.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES