July /August 2016 Volume 98, Number 4
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, all texts from New King James Version unless noted otherwise).
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The disciples of Jesus were anointed with the holy Spirit at Pentecost, not in the manner of the prophets and other ancient worthies of the Old Testament, but they were begotten by the spirit of God to a new nature. If faithful unto death, they were eventually to receive a spiritual birth and to become a New Creation.
In his second epistle, Peter reminds us of our high calling: “Seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue, whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye might become partakers of a divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4 RVIC).
As recorded in Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus, after leaving the multitudes who followed him, went up to a mountain and there he taught his disciples. The promises to those who followed him were very great, and they required a beauty of spirit which included meekness, humility, compassion, mercy, purity of heart, and willingness to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These disciples were called “blessed” and that they should “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
Jesus taught his followers a new way, one of obedience to righteous laws, and also of understanding the true meaning of the law, which required the humility which he himself demonstrated, for he gave glory to his Heavenly Father in all things. Though the reward for following the narrow path of righteousness would be great, Jesus also promised there would be suffering along the way. The promises given to the disciples at this early stage of Jesus’ ministry occurred well before their spirit begettal, but he had begun to prepare them for what was to be a truly extraordinary journey.
Following the death and resurrection of our Lord, and after his ascension to the Father, the holy Spirit was bestowed in dramatic fashion upon the disciples of Jesus who were assembled in that upper room. This occurred on Pentecost, the 50th day after the offering of the barley sheaf at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest and included a holy convocation (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:9- 11, Exodus 23:16).
Upon receiving the holy Spirit, Peter immediately went out and preached with great effectiveness Jesus Christ, the Messiah, anointed of God, and revealed to the multitude assembled for the feast the great truths concerning God’s wonderful plan of salvation.
All those who heard that day and were repentant in their hearts received the gift of the holy Spirit. About 3000 were baptized on that occasion. With the knowledge of God’s salvation, and the gifts bestowed upon many, great responsibility was also going to be required. The “exceedingly great and precious promises” reveal not only manifold blessings, but suffering for Christ’s sake; the path to glory was going to prove a difficult and narrow one.
A Narrow Way of Sacrifice
Br. Russell wrote in The New Creation, “Many are the Scriptures that point out that the call to be “New Creatures” is a call to glory, honor, and immortality (Philippians 3:14, 2 Peter 1:3, etc.), but everywhere the Lord indicates that the path to this glory is a narrow one of trial, testing, sacrifice; so that only those who are begotten of his spirit, yea, filled with it, will be able to come off conquerors in the end” … Romans 8:37 … “and attain to the glorious things whereunto they are called, the way to which has been made possible to the called ones through him who has promised, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in your weakness’ ” (page 92).
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings that when his glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12).
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a promise as “assurance given to a person that one will do or not do something.” It lays the groundwork for an expectation of good. We often use the term “I promise” easily, and sometimes that expectation which we kindled by our promise remains unfulfilled for various reasons, perhaps because of our inabilities or even forgetfulness. Yet someone was likely disappointed and discouraged because we failed to keep our word.
Not so with our Heavenly Father! Every promise made by God has absolute assurance of fulfillment. We shall consider some of the promises made to the disciples of Jesus, those who received and were begotten by the holy Spirit of consecration. Even before the time of Jesus’ first advent, there were many Old Testament promises which would have prepared the faithful to welcome their Redeemer.
Hearkening back to the creation of man, while still in the Garden but following disobedience of the first pair, God provided a glimmer of hope that He would send a deliverer. God told Eve that there would be a seed emanating from her that would bruise (crush) the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15, Romans 16:20).
Many generations passed and great events occurred from the time of this promise given to Eve by God, until the LORD reaffirmed this hope to Abram: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that despiseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 RVIC).
There was to be a seed that would bless all the families of the earth. “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18 RVIC).
Moving forward to the time of the first advent of our Lord, Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them for a time, but that he would return: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3, RVIC).
These disciples were the followers of Jesus for whom the precious promises are intended. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Here the seed is identified which would bring the blessing to all the families of the earth. “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 RVIC). “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is” (1 John 3:2 RVIC).
The Apostle Paul declared to the Romans: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14-17)
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). We who are called to be disciples of Christ are predestined or foreordained to be conformed to his image so that we may be brethren to Him who was the firstborn.
And consider the oft-quoted passage in Romans — “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has promised that all things work together for our good, our higher spiritual good, even though the purpose may not be clear to us at first. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand” (Psalm 37:23-24). If we are faithfully serving and growing, then we can be confident that all that happens in our lives is working out that which is necessary to bring us to the point where we will have attained the prize of the high calling which we fervently seek.
Promise of the Holy Spirit
There are many, many promises in the scriptures that pertain to those anointed by the Spirit of God, those who are begotten of the Spirit to a new nature. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we abide in Him and if His spirit dwells or abides in us, we are a New Creation! If faithful, we will be brought to the birth as our old nature passes away.
We also cannot overlook the important fact that there are broad promises that encompass the entire church from the beginning of the Gospel age until the present time, from the Ephesus period of the Christian church to our day.
Each stage or period of the church was blessed with an angel or messenger, someone who at great personal cost to himself delivered the message then due. Aside from this individual message to the faithful at that particular time, there was this refrain as well: “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches” — the churches, plural. This implies that this message is directed not only to the faithful Christians at their unique period in history, but to all the faithful followers of the Lamb during the age, even until today.
The reward to the “little flock” is so magnificent, so wonderful, one can scarcely take it in.
These promises include the divine nature — immortality; to sit with Jesus in his throne; to rule over the nations; that our names would be written in the Book of Life; that we will have a new name; we may feast on the hidden manna — the bread from heaven, as well as other glorious blessings. However, it is made quite clear that these promises pertain only to the “more than conquerors,” “to him that overcometh” in every circumstance.
Finally, let us consider a few of the many other “exceeding great and precious promises” for all the saints of God to feast upon:
● “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
● “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ).
● “Let us rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8 RVIC).
● “And this is the promise which he promised us, eternal life” (1 John 2:25 RVIC).
● “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1 RVIC).
● “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
● “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
● “But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).
The promises of our Heavenly Father to the faithful followers of Jesus are so great, so magnificent, that we can heartily say with the Apostle Paul: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“Your ways, O LORD, inform me, Your paths, instruct me. Lead me in Your truth
and instruct me, for you are the God of my rescue. In You do I hope every day.” (Psalms 25:4,5 Alter)