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“These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39,40).
The term “Ancient Worthies” is used by Bible Students to identify those faithful worshipers of Jehovah who lived before Jesus died.
We can identify the first and last members of this class. The first was Abel who was murdered by his brother Cain. And the last named was John the Baptist. The apostle Paul gave us an abbreviated list in Hebrews chapter 11. After a short list of Ancient Worthies, verse 32 clearly implies he had many more in mind.
In Hebrews 11:39, Paul says they “received not the promise.” What was the promise for these Ancient Worthies? We have a clue earlier in the chapter, in verses 13-16 (RV): “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.”
The Apostle indicates that these Ancient Worthies recognized they were “strangers and pilgrims in the earth.” Thus they knew that their lives then were not the fullness of life that God had for them. This is further elucidated by the revelation that they were seeking another country [or city]. That is an existence in another condition, a better condition, of “heavenly” origin. We suggest that the Ancient Worthies did not know about the heavenly reward. Those things were not revealed until Jesus came to Earth (2 Timothy 1:10). However, they believed God lived in heaven and worked His will from His heavenly location, wherever that might be. They believed that this heavenly God would take care of them. And they desired and looked forward to that future eventuality.
Living in the Harvest of the Gospel Age, our present Lord has blessed us with a clearer understanding of the Divine Plan. We understand the two salvations — the heavenly and the earthly. That distinction, along with the hope of the Ancient Worthies, is suggested in Hebrews 11:40 (RV): “God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Paul notes here that the Ancient Worthies’ reward for their good report is that they would be “made perfect,” but not apart from, or before, the Church is perfected. But in what manner would the Ancient Worthies be “made perfect?” He means that in the Kingdom they will be raised as perfect human beings! They cannot be immortal beings like the Church, because their class existed only before the high calling was opened. The last mentioned member of the Ancient Worthies, John the Baptist, as great as he was, will not attain to the glory of the Church. Jesus said in Matthew 11:11: “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
The reward of the Ancient Worthies in being raised to perfect human life will yet be better than that of the world. Hebrews 11:35 says: “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:” The “better resurrection” is better than that of the world, because the world will yet have to work to attain human perfection by progressing on the “highway of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8). The presence of the Ancient Worthies as examples of perfect humanity will be a blessing to mankind, as they will be able to see what they themselves will eventually attain with diligent and obedient action during the Kingdom of Christ.
We appear to have this pictured in Numbers 29:7-11. “And on the tenth day of this seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation; and ye shall afflict your souls: ye shall do no manner of work; but ye shall offer a burnt-offering unto Jehovah for a sweet savor: one young bullock, one ram, seven he-lambs a year old; they shall be unto you without blemish; and their meal-offering, fine flour mingled with oil, three tenth parts for the bullock, two tenth parts for the one ram, a tenth part for every lamb of the seven lambs: one he-goat for a sin-offering; besides the sin-offering of atonement, and the continual burnt-offering, and the meal-offering thereof, and their drink-offerings.”
Atonement Day and the Ancient Worthies
This sacrifice is specified for the tenth day of the seventh month. The tenth of Tishri, the seventh month, is also the day for one of the three most important rituals in ancient Israel — the Day of Atonement! This was the day of national cleansing, the day of national renewal. As such, it occupied the attention and devotion to God of the entire nation. It follows that this sacrifice in Numbers 29 had to be the first sacrifice subsequent to the Day of Atonement ritual.
The Day of Atonement sacrifices represent the sacrifices of The Christ (Anointed) — the head, Jesus, and his body, the Church. When these Gospel Age sacrifices are complete, when the Church has finished her course, then we may look forward to the full establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Then will be the resurrection of the Ancient Worthies.
So the very first sacrifice after the Atonement sacrifices should reflect a Kingdom Age setting. And so it does. This first sacrifice is a bullock! A bullock represents a perfect human being. Thus it becomes clear that this is the perfect animal to represent the resurrection of the Ancient Worthies. They are the first to be raised after the Church is complete, and they will be raised as perfect human beings! (Compare Psalm 51:19.)
The burnt offering sacrifices specified along with the bullock are a ram and seven lambs. We suggest that the Ancient Worthies will recognize Jesus, the ram, and the Church, the seven lambs, as their true source of power and authority. (We will refer back to these seven lambs shortly.)
The meal offering of flour that goes with these burnt offerings, brings another aspect to mind. There was 3/10 for the bullock, 2/10 for the ram, and 1/10 for each of the seven lambs for a total of 12/10 or 12 omers1 of flour. Twelve is a symbol of God-given perfect government. Consider the usage of twelve in the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, and the walls of the New Jerusalem, which measure 12 x 12. So the Ancient Worthies, as princes in the earth, represent God’s perfect government arrangements.
(1) One omer is the tenth part of an ephah, about 2.2 liters.
The last observation we draw from Numbers 29 is that the sacrifices to this point have been burnt offerings. But in verse 11 there is indicated the need for a sin offering, in this case a goat. Why is this needed? Regarding the Ancient Worthies in the Kingdom, it is suggested:
“It is not probable that they would make mistakes; but if upon their awakening, they should at once be turned over to Jehovah, and, as in Adam’s case, the slightest deflection would mean death, we can see that their position would be much less favorable than it will be under the New Covenant arrangement during the Millennial reign of Christ. This is a very gracious arrangement for their best interests, for any possible mistake would be covered by Christ’s mediation and not bring them under sentence of death” (R5074).
One might wonder why a goat is used and not another bullock. Recalling the Atonement Day sacrifices, the bullock was for “Aaron and his house,” whereas the goat was for “the people.” That is the sin offering sequence — the blood of Jesus is exclusively committed to the Church during the Gospel age. But during the Mediatorial age, the Church is brought in, as they have had first-hand experience with failure and human weakness, which Jesus did not have. So specifying a goat here may allude to the Church’s particular help to the world, and, in this case, the Ancient Worthies.
The Ancient Worthies have further privileges in the Kingdom as a reward for their faithfulness during the age of sin and death. They will be the visible representatives of the invisible rulers. In the 45th Psalm we have an overview of all of the classes that will be blessed and rewarded. Verses 1 to 9 describe the great King himself, Jesus. The Church is described in verse 10 to 14. The second part of verse 14 and verse 15 call the great company “the virgins her companions.”
In verse 16 the Ancient Worthies are designated: “Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.” The word “princes” perfectly describes their role in the Kingdom. A prince is a member of a royal family. Princes have a regal authority appropriate to their assigned role. What is their assigned role? Several texts give a glimpse of what they will do in the Kingdom.
Isaiah 1:25-27 — “And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.”
This text begins with God’s action of purifying fleshly Israel during the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). The Ancient Worthies will bring that trouble to an end. They are the “counselors” of this verse, appropriate roles for the “princes” of the heavenly Kingdom. “Afterward thou [Israel] shalt be called, The city of righteousness.”
Another text demonstrating this deliverance is Micah 5:5: “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.”
When “the Assyrian shall come” is the final experience of the time of Jacob’s Trouble. The deliverers will be the seven shepherds and eight principal [princes] of men. The eight princes are the Ancient Worthies. The text uses the same symbol, namely princes, as did the Psalm. The number eight bespeaks “newness,” and in particular here, the resurrection. The seven shepherds are the Church in glory. (Recall the seven lambs from Numbers 29, same application.)
One last text demonstrates this role of the Ancient Worthies as visible representatives of the Kingdom. Ezekiel 44:1-3 (ASV), “He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. And Jehovah said unto me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut. … The prince, he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Jehovah; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.”
The east gate is a symbol of the high calling of the Gospel Age. Being shut signifies the close of that High Calling. But it is the “prince,” the Ancient Worthies, sitting right at the porch of that east gate, showing the authority they have and the channel by which the Glorified Christ communicates with man.