The Church’s Inheritance
“Jesus said to them, I assure you that anyone who leaves home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will receive much more in this present age and eternal life in the age to come” (Luke 18:29-30, Today’s English Version).
All people who identify themselves as Christians have at least a partial knowledge of and faith in God’s plan of salvation. Relatively few, however, have a deep understanding of how broadly encompassing that plan is — that it includes everyone who has ever lived, regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or religious beliefs.
Within God’s overall plan of redemption, there are two mysteries or secrets that were kept hidden for ages and generations, until the time was right to make it known. Relatively few during the past 2000 years have understood these two secrets of God’s plan.
First Secret of God’s Plan
The Apostle Paul describes the first mystery in Ephesians 1:4,5,8-12. “Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons — this was his pleasure and purpose. … In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head. All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. Let us, then, who were the first to hope in Christ, praise God’s glory” (TEV)!
The purpose of God’s plan has been to bring the whole creation together and united under one head — His son Jesus Christ. This is the first secret. To accomplish this, God sent his Son to make known unto mankind the plan of redemption, to call “all people everywhere to repent” of their sins (Acts 17:30 NIV), and to give his life in sacrifice to free mankind from the penalty of sin — death. God’s desire is that no one would perish [eternally]; that all of mankind would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So God expressed His love by formulating a plan that would redeem and restore His human creation back to what they had lost through sin.
The Second Secret of God’s Plan
To “bring all creation together … with Christ as head,” God plans to use a select group of people who would be previously united with Christ — the “us” in Ephesians 1:4,5. This is the second secret which Paul explains in Colossians 1:25-27 (Phillips): “That I might fully declare God’s word — that sacred mystery which up until now has been hidden in every age and every generation, but which is now as clear as daylight to those who love God. … And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all the glorious things to come.”
This second secret is that members of the human race would be invited to lead a life patterned after Jesus and devote themselves to the same purpose for which he came to earth — restoration of the human race to perfection and harmony with their Creator. This course of life would prepare these individuals to work with Christ during his Millennial Kingdom to assist each member of the human race in transforming their lives and making them worthy of everlasting life.
God knew that people who overcome trials and difficulties are best equipped to assist others to overcome similar trials, difficulties, challenges, and temptations. Consequently, God, seeing the end from the beginning, inspired the Apostle Paul to write about this second secret, stating, “Christ in you, bringing with him, the hope of all the glorious things to come.”
This sacred mystery is Christ dwelling in you, by God’s holy Spirit, enabling you to rise above and largely overcome the selfish tendencies of your fallen human natures and the evil influences which pervade our world. Paul describes this in Ephesians 1.
“In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. … That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Ephesians 1:13,14,16-19).
Clothed With Christ
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44 NIV). Those who want to become Christ’s associates in his Kingdom work are invited by the Heavenly Father to follow His Son’s example in the way they lead their lives, “that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NAS).
Those who answer God’s call are begotten by the Holy Spirit to a new life that leads to the glorious inheritance of being the children of God and the brethren of our Lord Jesus. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NIV). “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV).
Clothing ourselves with Christ means trusting in his merit to cover our sins and weaknesses and putting on the character of Christ, a life-long transformation of character. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve … God’s … good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
This transformation requires constant, diligent effort. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV). “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:6-7 NIV).
The Present Inheritance of the Church
The followers of Christ have a rich inheritance now as they walk in the footsteps of Jesus. “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened … so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:9-14 NIV).
Here, the Apostle Paul mentions many features of the present inheritance enjoyed by the disciples of Jesus. One is access to God through prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).
The peace and contentment that comes from having a close spiritual relationship with God and His Son, Jesus, is another part of the Christian’s present inheritance. It protects us from the fears that will cause people’s hearts to fail. We dwell safely “in the secret place of the Most High” (Psalm 91:1) amidst the trouble all around us. This peace comes largely from understanding what lies beyond the trouble in the world. Jesus promised that the holy Spirit would enable us to understand what is to come. “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13 NIV).
Another part of the Christian’s present inheritance is the absolute confidence that our sins are forgiven. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2 NIV). We no longer have to bear a burden of shame over who we are. God regards us “new creations,” one of his own children (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Faith is part of the Christian’s current inheritance. Like a sixth sense, faith enables us to be confident about the things of God which cannot be detected with the five natural senses. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). Along with the other “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), faith enables us to discern God’s will and receive his approval. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
The Future Inheritance of the Church in God’s Kingdom
The future inheritance offered to the faithful overcomers of this Gospel Age is almost unimaginable. “God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own glory and goodness. In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature [God’s own nature]” (2 Peter 1:3-4 TEV). The messages to the Seven Churches of Revelation contain a litany of promises describing the future inheritance of the Christian:
- Ephesus — the right to eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7).
- Smyrna — to not be hurt at all by the second death (Revelation 2:11).
- Pergamum — to receive some of the hidden [incorruptible] manna; also a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
- Thyatira — authority over the nations, to rule (or shepherd) them with a rod (or shepherd’s staff) of iron; they will also receive the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28).
- Sardis — to be dressed in white garments, and have Jesus acknowledge their names before his Father and the angels (Revelation 3:5).
- Philadelphia — overcomers will become pillars in the temple of God and always dwell there; Jesus will write on them the name of God, and the city of God, the New Jerusalem; and Jesus will write on them his new name (Revelation 3:12).
- Laodicea — the right to sit down with Jesus on his throne, just as Jesus has been given the right to sit down with his Father on His throne (Revelation 3:21).
The heavenly Church is identified in scripture as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9-23) and “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). They will assist Christ in determining who is entitled to receive eternal life. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world” (1 Corinthians 6:2 NIV)?
This judgment will include a period of time during which mankind learns to do what is right and then is evaluated on their progress. “For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).
The Bible’s “Day of Judgment” is not a 24- hour day of pronouncing sentences. Instead, it is a 1000-year Millennial Day during which Christ and his Church will teach mankind to live righteously, and in peace and harmony with one another. This work is part of the Church’s future inheritance: To assist Christ in educating the world in righteousness — not merely what is right behavior, but also why it is right. The Church will help mankind put that behavior into practice, evaluate them on their progress and then finally, make the decision on whether they will be given eternal life. This decision will be based on whether or not men have learned to act with love and compassion toward everyone (Matthew 25:31-46).
A Royal Priesthood
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10 NIV).
Becoming part of a royal priesthood is another part of the Church’s future inheritance. In Israel, a priest was the individual who performed religious rites, and served as a mediatory agent between the people and God. The ultimate goal of a priesthood was to bring the people back in harmony with God — perfection (Hebrews 7:11).
Jesus is identified as the High Priest of the Church now, and of the world in his Kingdom. The Church as the Body of Christ will assist him as under priests in his work. John writes the Church saying, “They sang a new song: ‘You [Christ] are worthy to take the scroll and to break open its seals. For you were killed, and by your sacrificial death you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they shall rule on earth’” (Revelation 5:9-10 TEV).
In Revelation 20:4-6, John explains, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection … they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (NIV).
“Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:1- 4 NIV). We are being called to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray. We can do this because we ourselves have experienced, and overcome, the same or similar weaknesses. Therefore, we understand their plight. This means that there is a real benefit and purpose to our experiences now, and our struggles to overcome weaknesses and temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
God has a plan for the eradication of sin and the ransom, redemption and restitution of our race. His plan is for Christ, as High Priest to first atone for sin using the merit of his sacrifice and raise mankind from the dead. Then, with his Church as part of the royal priesthood, help them to transform their sin-sick human hearts in Christ’s kingdom back to perfection and harmony with God. “This honour [inheritance] have all his saints” (Psalm 149:4).
At this time, the followers of Christ are in training to become priests, learning to deal gently and compassionately with those who have gone astray. Let us use every opportunity to demonstrate to our Heavenly Father that we are zealously working to develop the character and skills needed to serve under the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ