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"Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen.
Revelation 22:20

This is a Home Bible study. It exists to promote the Word of God as it's written, which means nothing added or taken away, and minus opinions.

The Bible is the only source of Divine Truth in the world today. Although it is both helpful and informative in many ways, the Bible often doesn't tell us everything we want to know but the Bible does tell us everything we need to know.

My role is to guide you through the Scriptures; to explain what this book says and in some cases what it does not say because this is just as important.

Ultimately, you have a decision to make concerning your salvation - no one can make it for you. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator God, has given everyone the ability to make choices - this is is called "Free Will." I pray you consider your choice wisely.

II Timothy 2:15

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.


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Friday, April 27, 2018

Ephesians 4:11-13 (Lesson 14)


Home Bible Study©

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)


 

Established November 2008                                                 Published Weekly on Friday AM

 

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1Timothy 2:3-4)

 

Ephesians (4:11-13)                                                               (Lesson 14)


Welcome to the study of our Apostle Paul’s letter to the Believers in Ephesus.

 

Last week we learned when the Lord Jesus Christ arose on the third day He not only conquered His enemies Satan, sin, and the second death, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN” (Ephesians 4:7-10).

 

In verse 4:8 Paul speaks of the Lord’s first ascension on the morning of His resurrection.  HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES means, after spending three days and nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40), the risen Lord liberated the O.T. souls that had been held captive in Paradise and He led them in a procession to heaven.

 

HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN does not mean spiritual gifts (Charisma) as in the gift of tongues, healing, etc.  Here the Koine Greek word for gifts is Doma which speaks of the characteristics of these gifts.  Paul reveals these gifts in verse 4:11:  apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.   He then proceeds to teach why God gave these gifts to the Church:  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (4:12).

 

These gifts were to remain in effect “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

 

The goal of every true Believer is to be like Christ Jesus.  It goes without saying, there has never been a unified church and no one has ever attained full knowledge of the Son of God while they remained in the flesh,  However, all Believers have received God’s gift of grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the gift of Christ, which enables them to live their “new life” set apart to God for works of service, to the building up of the body of Christ, to the glory of God (Ephesians 2:8-9, 4:11).

 

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Please open your Bible at Ephesians 4:11-13.


Ephesians 4

 

And He gave (gifts, i.e.) some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors, and teachers, for (what) the equipping of the saints for (what specifically) the works of service, to (what end) the building up of the body of Christ (our firm Foundation - 1 Corinthians 3:11); until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to (become) a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

 

There’s a lot going on in this passage.  I’m going to begin by breaking it down this way.  The Ephesian Church was acting like immature children instead of as spiritual adults.  Our Apostle Paul wrote a letter of rebuke to the carnal Corinthians, addressing their carnal behavior (spiritual immaturity).  Many in the Corinthian Church believed they were spiritually superior to other Believers, but our Apostle Paul pulled the rug out from under that infantile attitude (1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 26-31, 3:1-3).  Paul’s letter of rebuke taught the Corinthian Church a better way. 

 

If Paul were to write a letter to the churches today, what message would it contain?  Would Paul be pleased with the church’s spiritual growth?  Would he give thanks and praise to God for their diligent effort to preserve the unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace?  I don’t think so.  As for me, I would expect to see a comment similar to this:  “It’s one thing to have the faith of a child, it’s quite another to behave as one.”

 

In four separate N.T. passages there is an association between two Koine Greek words Teleios and Nepios.  Teleios (tel’-i-os) Strong’s Greek #5046 means:  perfect, full-grown; mature.  Whereas, Nepios (nay’-pee-os), Strong’s Greek #3516 denotes an infant; a child.  After being saved, every true Believer goes through a period of spiritual infancy and if we’re being honest we all revert when we behave immaturely now and again.  Total (future) sanctification will occur when we meet the Lord in the air and not before.  But here’s the thing; true Believers should not remain in a state of spiritual immaturity.  Sad to say, many Believers are characterized by their spiritual immaturity; meaning:  they choose to remain in a spiritual fog. 

 

We’re to examine the scriptures to learn what this book has to say about spiritual infancy and the flipside of this issue spiritual adulthood – the mature man (woman is implied, folks). 

 

Four Passages Contrasting Spiritual Infants and Adults

 

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

 

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

 

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature, which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; (Ephesians 4:13-14).

 

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature (1 Corinthians 14:20).

 

How does the true Believer grow from spiritual infancy into a mature, new man, in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:13-15)?  Paul answered this question in Romans 12:1-2:

 

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

 

As seen in this passage, spiritual growth occurs when the Believer chooses to be transformed.  This transformation occurs by the renewing of your mind.  The renewing of your mind happens at the rate by which the Believer gains knowledge of Scripture, and especially knowledge of the Son of God, then chooses to obey God.  

We’re to “live” what we learn.

 

In Hebrews 4:12 our Apostle Paul wrote:  The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

 

Accordingly, Scripture has the power, since it is living and active, to transform an individual from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity to the degree they allow it to renew their mind.  Therefore renewal and transformation are equal to knowing and obeying the Word of God.  

 

To elaborate further, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul instructs the Believer to:  take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 

 

The Ephesian Church was not practicing this principle and it certainly isn’t being accomplished today.  Church leaders and people are disagreeing with God’s Word to the point they either ignore it or dismiss it outright.   This proves the Church has not attained to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (4:13).  In all its history, God’s one Church has never been one, in agreement about the faith and they have disagreed about the knowledge of the Son of God which includes His work of the Cross.

 

New, watered-down, bibles are hitting the bookstore shelves frequently nowadays.  Just because it has the word “bible” on the front cover does not mean it contains God’s Word.  Case in Point, the Gay Pride bible is in bookstores now.  It’s been completely rewritten with Rihanna as God and drag queens as her disciples.  It gets more offensive as you go along.  I’m not against homosexuals, for we are all sinners in the eyes of God.  I do have a problem with people who promote sin and advance their ungodly agenda by ridiculing God’ Word and the faith.           

 

There’s so much more to discuss, but I don’t intend to remain on this biblical bunny trail much longer...  Let’s go with this:  Lifeway Bookstores recently removed a bible from its shelves because the sale of this book helped raised funds for the “Susan G. Komen Foundation,” which in turn funds Planned Parenthood…  Before you opt to give them a “pat on the back” please note Thom Rainer the president of Lifeway Bookstores (the popular Southern Baptist Christian book store) recently announced all their stores would be pulling all Bibles from the shelves.  This decision came about after the store received dozens of complaints from customers whose children were caught reading Song of Solomon and giggling.   Instead of suggesting these parents should educate their children about what they were reading; Mr. Rainer chose this response:

 

“We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to the millions of individuals, churches, and organizations that have purchased Bibles from us in the past,” Rainer said at an emergency press conference.  “If we had screened the material more thoroughly we would have known that there are explicit references to parts of the human anatomy in the text.”

 

“I just figured out what the metaphor with the two fawns was referencing. Oh man, do we have egg on our face for selling this vulgar material for so long,” he added.

 

According to Mr. Rainer the bookstores will begin selling censored (watered-down) versions of the Bible instead of the “defective” ones as soon as they can get them printed.  So, Mr. Lanier has judged the Bible defective which implies God is defective.  

 

Now, I present the reason I chose to follow this biblical bunny trail.  According to this not defective book we’ve been living in the “last days” since Jesus’ first Advent (Hebrews 1:1-2).  What we’re witnessing on an ever increasing scale is people are conforming rather than transforming.  People have always defied authority; we’re not witnessing anything brand new (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  However this book has something to say about mankind, including Christians, conforming to the world in these last days. 

 

The following is a short list:

 

About the People

 

Rampant sexual immorality (Matthew 24:37) Jesus spoke about the time of Noah and this age (Genesis 3:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:2)

Indifference to others (2 Timothy 2:3)

Lovers of Money (2 Timothy 3:2)

Haters of Good (2 Timothy 2:3)

Lovers of pleasure (Isaiah 5:20; 2 Timothy 3:4)

 

People’s Spiritual State

 

Religious Hypocrites (2 Timothy 3:5)

Deniers of Creationism (Matthew 3:4; Romans 1:18-22)

Deniers of the Second Coming of Jesus (2 Peter 3:3-4)

False Faith/Apostasy (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Occult Practices (1Timothy 4:1) – note there are more than 1,600 known Christian cults in the world today)

False Messiahs (Matthew 24:5, 24:11; Luke 21:28)

 

To the Christians who remain as spiritual infants Paul writes:  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food (Hebrews 5:12).

 

This book says Christians possess the power to renew their minds; however, many are not “turning this power on.  Instead of listening and obeying God’s commands, people are occupied with their own thinking and way of doing things.  In effect, the folks with one foot in the church and one foot in the world are telling God “I got this!” (1 John 2:15-17). 

 

THREE CHARACTERISTICS OF SPIRITUAL INFANTS

 

Let us now study particular portions of the abovementioned passages in order to better indentify the signs of spiritual infancy.

 

INFANTS DO NOT LISTEN

 

I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men (1 Corinthians 3:1).


Paul’s use of the word brethren underscores the fact he is addressing Believers in the Church of Corinth, those who are saved.  His point being, even though they were saved he couldn’t communicate with them in a manner normal for mature Believers speaking with mature Believers.  When both are spiritual men or women in Christ, Believers can reason with one another from the Scriptures because both hold the Word as truthful and authoritative.  It’s the last word for all re: the faith and their walk.   

 

However, when one says he or she is a Believer but will not respond to the clear teachings and authority of God’s Word, it is fair to classify him or her as an infant in Christ.  This is why Paul had to speak to the Corinthians as men and women of flesh, as to infants in Christ rather than spiritual adults.  He could only give them milk to drink and not solid food for they were not able to receive it.  Milk contrasted with solid food is a fitting picture denoting the Believer’s inability to digest God’s Truths.  Many American Christians today are similar to children who want candy and dessert, instead of what their body needs; a regular, nutritious meal that will ensure they grow healthy and strong.  Sugar rather than protein equals a poor choice, always.  So Paul is saying the mature people in Christ dine regularly on what has been written, i.e. God’s Word.  

 

Having stated that, the Scriptures contain milk and meat and are capable of ministering to the needs of all who are seriously intent on listening to the Word no matter their level of spiritual maturity.  It is the responsibility of both the teacher and the pupil to determine what God wants each person to learn from the passage under study.  What is tragic however is for the pupils to demand the teacher offer only milk and for the teacher to never “dig deeper” into the Word of God so as to challenge their student’s to mature, especially in those areas where they are immature (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   

 

The spiritual leaders listed in Paul’s aforementioned passage will undergo a stricter judgment (James 3:1) and cannot shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) no matter how the folks within the sound of his teaching may choose to respond.  It’s been my experience when people don’t approve of the message they turn the messenger off, especially if they’re teaching the Truth.  I’ve seen people get up and walk out of church during the sermon on more than one occasion.  But, I’ve also witnessed patients ignoring their doctor’s orders and his or her advice to “alter their lifestyles,” in order to become well and add years to their life  Therefore I can state unequivocally anyone who speaks the truth to the public-at-large experiences immature responses from the folks who think they have a better way. 

 

There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12).

 

HBS statistics show the readership increases and decreases routinely, but more so after I’ve taught a particular principle in the Bible lesson.   At least one of my “arrows of truth” hit its mark evidently!  I’ve shown the Light onto something personal in their lives and they in turn have turned the Light off.   

 

When I was an immature teen-ager, I used to turn my parent(s) and other authority figures off if they said something I disagreed with or didn’t want to hear.  I was too prideful to see their comments were meant to help me.  In essence, I was a partaker of milk when I should have been ready to accept solid food.  Remember:  everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the Word of righteousness, for he or she is an infant.  Babes in Christ tend to avoid strong doses of the Truth because the written Word convicts them of their wrongdoing, this unsettles their consciences, prompting them to change, or repent.  

 

The medical professional will tell you unless you admit a problem exists; there is little chance of correcting the problem and benefiting either mentally or physically from that decision.  Although these folks may publicly agree to God’s Sovereignty and His Truths, when God’s Book trumps personal desires, infants reject its authority because they disagree with what God has said.  Since God has left them with no “wiggle room,” Believers who shrink from studying the Word telegraph their spiritual immaturity.  Spiritual infants have been known to discredit or deny the Word in their desire to rationalize and justify self-serving behavior. 

 

INFANTS REBEL

 

Indeed even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly (1 Corinthians 3:1b).

 

The Corinthian Believers had heard and received the gospel at an earlier time (Acts 18), yet they still walked as though they weren’t saved by God through Christ.  They had not “turned the power of the Holy Spirit on.”  This is abnormal behavior for any true Believer.  They were rebellious regarding their new life and position in Jesus Christ.  They were rebelling against God’s command for all believers to walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

 

What are the desires of the flesh?  1 John 2:16 reveals this truth:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.  

 

Elsewhere Paul states similarly, do not quench the Holy Spirit (1Thes. 5:19).  It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Believer that secures the victory over sins of the flesh which include:  sexual immorality, covetousness, and self-centeredness.  The power of the ministry of the Holy Spirit parallels the degree to which Believers “turn the power on,” allowing the Word of God to richly dwell within them and then obey it (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16).

 

INFANTS DISPLAY JEALOUSY AND CAUSE STRIFE


Notice the progression here relative to these three characteristics: immature Believers won’t listen to good counsel, they rebel, so Paul explains how this childish behavior affects others in the body:  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men (1 Corinthians 3:3)?

 

Where jealousy exists with regard to personal beliefs and feelings strife will result. 

Immature ideas about what God has said, or didn’t say and uncontrolled, immature emotional feelings (selfishness) cause discord and division in the Body of Christ.

 

Why?  With this attitude, in their infancy, it’s still all about them, versus God’s glory.  Babies want what they want, when they want it.  Note how an infant cries until he or she receives the desired attention.  The babe in Christ has difficulty in putting away the old self (Ephesians 4:31), that is, his or her self-centered ambitions and quest for prominence and significance.  But in truth, as Paul said of himself in Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live . . . .  This message informs us every mature Believer must live with an attitude of being dead to self.

 

There’s a “wake-up” call for the church:  for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-11).

 

The phrase “Infants in Christ,” states the Believer’s passage, walk like mere men.  Or said differently, they act like non-believers.  Always keep The Main Thing the Main Thing.  The Believer’s goal is God’s glory!  It’s not about self.  Hence, when faced with a decision regarding personal interests over those of Christ’s body, we’re to choose the latter.

 

Now let’s look at Ephesians 4:11-13 again.  This book says God has purposed His one Church on earth to glorify Him by works of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-10, 12).   In order to accomplish this mission God has provided His Church godly men to lead them.  Paul identified these men as:  apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (4:11). 

 

Why were these godly men necessary?  Paul gives the answer in Ephesians 4:12-14: 

 

for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (4:12),

 

until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man (4:13a), so that the Body of Christ would not remain as immature children (in the faith) tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (4:14). 

 

As they say, “With visibility there comes accountability.”  God has set these leaders in place for His church to function properly, i.e. in accordance with God’s will.  Those truly called to fill these positions will have been tested and proven, (see Moses in the O.T. and our Apostle Paul in the N.T.) having gone through adversity, the fire of preparation, or their walk.  They will display true humility and Christlikeness (1Timothy 3).  They do not desire a position of authority and power; instead they desire to serve the Lord and others in a manner that suits Him.  In other words, it’s not about them and their particular ministry; it’s all about keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing!  The glory goes to God!

 

(To be continued)

 

© Copyright 2011

GJ Heitzman’s Ministry

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ephesians (4:7-10) (Lesson 13)


Home Bible Study©
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                 Published Weekly on Friday AM

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1Timothy 2:3-4)

Ephesians (4:7-10)                                                               (Lesson 13)

Welcome, I want to thank y’all for choosing HBS as your study partner.

In verse 4:1 our Apostle Paul pleaded for the Ephesian Church to “Walk in a manner worthy of your calling to which you have been called.”  He then listed the five characteristics of those who walk in this manner:  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love (4:2).  Five is the number of grace in scripture (nearly every measurement of the Tabernacle was divisible by five, for instance).   Because God showed His grace toward us, we are called to be gracious in our dealings with each other, in love (Romans 5:8-9; Ephesians 4:32; 1 Peter 3:8).

Paul then gives the reason for “walking” in this manner.  It is to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3).  Paul’s talking about an organic, spiritual unity founded on seven (which signifies divine perfection, as in the creation event, totality, or completion) essential unifying factors related to the Triune Godhead (4:4-6).  The same unity God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit experience is the exact same unity God’s one Church already has and must labor to preserve.

Beginning in verse 7, Paul changes the subject segueing from corporate unity to looking at Believers individually.  “…to each one of us” (4:7) means he’s now speaking directly to each Believer who make up the Body of Christ.  What’s Paul’s message?  Paul wants all these folks, both Jew and Gentile, to come together as one.  As a unit they are then to illuminate the world, drawing lost souls out of the darkness and into the Light.  To accomplish this effectively each one of them has to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree together, so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in mind and conviction (1 Timothy 1:10).

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Please open your Bible at Ephesians 4:7-10 and let’s read this passage together.   

Ephesians 4

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”  (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended in the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

Some people believe verse 7 is saying Christ has given specific spiritual gifts to each Believer.   However, Paul hasn’t been talking about spiritual gifts and he’s not “changing horses’ midstream here.”  Paul normally used the Koine Greek word Charisma when speaking of the spiritual gifts given to Believers for God’s service.  But here Paul used the Koine Greek word Doma in reference to these gifts.  We don’t have to wonder what Paul was talking about because he tells us what these gifts are in verse 4:11:  “He gave some, as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” These five church offices were given to the Church, which is Christ’s body for its edification, in love.  Paul got more specific in verse 4:13 saying, (so) we’d all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 

These two passages together explain these five church offices all have to do with communicating the Word of Truth to all.  This means Believers and unbelievers alike.  Not everyone sitting in church on Sunday is a true Believer.  When the Bible was completed, God withdrew some of these gifts from the Church such as apostles and prophets.  However, God’s one Church should not assume all these gifts have disappeared.  Those who have been called to serve the body in Truth are certainly gifted men; above the ordinary, so to speak, and they would have to be.  They are obligated to communicate God’s authoritative Word starting from “In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1); to “Yes, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20) and every spoken word in between.   Per Paul the Church is known as “the pillar and support of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15).  Meaning, God’s entire truth must be preached to every generation without adding to it or taking away from it.   

Therefore, it says,WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES (triumphed over His enemies), AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN” (4:8).   

There are mixed opinions regarding what this verse says.  Paul is quoting from Psalm 68:18, in part.  I say “in part” because he does not quote it exactly.  With the Spirit’s leading he’s modified it somewhat to get his point across to the Believers in Ephesus. 

In Ephesians 4:8-10 Paul is tying the gift of Christ to two events that actually took place, His first ascension and His previous descent into the center of the earth.  He borrowed from Psalm 68:18 to illustrate the enemies of Christ, that is, Satan, sin, and death which were defeated at the Cross.  Jesus Christ gives the gift of the Spirit to all those who identify with His death, burial, and resurrection, in faith.   

for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-1;
1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us (how many) all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  When He disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:13-15; Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:1-6; Psalm 2).

Paul’s saying all true Believers are to reckon (consider) themselves dead to sin and alive to God.  This event occurs instantaneously the moment you believe the gospel of peace (Romans 2:16, 16:25). 

WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES – Paul regularly draws images from everyday life to teach a point.  Here he uses the analogy of a Roman general that conquered the enemies of Rome.  After the fight the general took captives and returned to Rome with them.  There he led his army and these captives through the streets in a triumphal procession.  In Judges 5:30 we find the conqueror distributing gifts (spoils) among his soldiers and the people.   

So, in this passage we have the imagery of the Christ, triumphant in His battle on earth, returning to heaven.  When He ascended on high, He led captive the captives (trophies of His triumph over Satan, sin, and death) and He gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to every true Believer.  The phrase, “led captivity captive” is referring to Jesus Christ liberating the souls of the O.T. saints (Believers who had put their faith in God and His Word) from Sheol.  No O.T. Believer died and entered heaven straight away as they do today.  That’s because the way to God the Father was shut!  It could not be opened until Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, shed His blood for the sins of all (2 Corinthians 5:15).  He descended into the center of the earth, to Sheol, and took the captives there captive.  He then led them to heaven, into the very presence of God, emptying that section of Sheol which the Lord identified as Paradise (Luke 16:19-31). 

As I hinted earlier in this lesson, this was the first of the Lord Jesus Christ’s two ascensions.  How do we know this?  Please turn with me in your Bible to John 20:16-17.  On the morning of Jesus Christ’s resurrection He met Mary Magdalene briefly.  She didn’t recognize Him initially, thinking He was the gardener (John 20:15).   As you read about this encounter please pay attention to Jesus’ words:  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”

The O.T. scriptures provide a “shadow” of this event; it’s called the Day of Atonement the most solemn holy day of Israel’s feasts and festivals.  Every year on the Day of Atonement, the Jewish High Priest would sacrifice a goat (with no imperfections) to atone for the sins of the Israelites (Leviticus 23; Hebrews 9:22).  He alone was permitted to pass through the holy place and then enter “the Holy of Holies” which was within the Tabernacle.  There, in the presence of God Almighty, he sprinkled the goat’s blood on the Brazen Altar.  The High Priest then, per his instructions, returned to the people.  The sprinkling of the goat’s blood symbolized the cleansing of the Brazen Altar for the coming year (Leviticus 16:15-19). 

There’s more to the Day of Atonement than what I’ve explained but now you have a general idea of what took place on the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  The day Jesus, God’s perfect Lamb, died He descended into the lower parts of the earth to the Paradise side of Sheol.  There He remained for 3 days fulfilling His prophecy:  “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 – Berean Study Bible).

Are Hades, Sheol, and Paradise Real?

The thief who confessed his faith in the Lord while awaiting his death, asked Jesus to remember him.  Scripture records Jesus’ response:  “And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

When I was a child I was taught by the priest of our parish Paradise was heaven.  When Jesus died, He went to heaven.  That’s where He would encounter this thief.  Well, that was wrong!  Much later, I discovered through personal Bible study Paradise was in Sheol, the center of the earth.  On the opposite side of Paradise was Hades.  Hades was the place where the souls of unbelievers went after they died.  Their bodies went into the earth, but their eternal souls went to Hades, a place of torment (2 Peter 2:9-10b).  Paradise is the opposite of this.  The souls of the Believers in the Old Testament that died went down to Paradise.  Why?  The way to God the Father was unopened.  Jesus was the “Firstfruits.” His substitionary death, consequent burial, and His prophesied resurrection made the way to the Father open to Believers (1 Corinthians 15:20-49).   

There’s an account in scripture told by Jesus Himself in Luke 16:19-31 which gives us a record of a remarkable conversation that took place in Hades/Sheol between “the rich man and Lazarus.  Some people conclude this is not a real event because these places aren’t real; this was only a story used to teach righteous living.  I disagree whole heartedly.  These words came from the Lord and with them He explains in a few words that Sheol/ Hades and Paradise did exist.  They are not the same thing and they are not in the same place.  They are separate locations. 

The lifeless bodies of the saints who died from Adam onward were buried in the ground but their eternal souls had to have someplace to go, since the way to heaven was inaccessible, with a couple of exceptions (see Enoch and Elijah) before the Cross.  Although millions of animals and birds were sacrificed to God in His Temple, all that blood combined could not take away one individual’s sin (Hebrews 10:4).  Jesus Christ became the way (John 14:6).  His atoning blood at the Cross built a bridge, in love, to heaven and to God the Father (Genesis 3:9-19; John 14:6; Hebrews 9:12-14, 10:19-24).    

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended in the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things)

This verse has caused much confusion in the churches, so people teach this passage differently.  However, this verse is to be understood literally.  Paul is stating a fact; therefore, verse 9 says what it means and means what it says.  The one, He descended, had to occur before Jesus Christ’s first ascension, in glory, to the third heaven.  The souls of all the O.T. Believers had to be liberated from Sheol and the only Person who could manage this was the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Peter states Jesus preached to the spirits of those now in prison (torment).  

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison (Sheol), who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Please note Peter’s not saying the gospel was preached to them.  Jesus made a proclamation.  We don’t have the Lord’s message to the prisoners in torment recorded for us, but the Redeemer probably mentioned the hopelessness of their situation.  They had the advantage of God’s Word spoken through the prophets and the O.T. scriptures but due to their unbelief they have been sentenced to a life of torment for eternity.    

From Adam onward faith in God and what He has said (the gospel of that particular dispensation) has always been the vehicle for one’s salvation.  All the O.T. saints were saved by faith, but they were denied access to God (heaven) because Christ’s work of the Cross was a future event.

 So, Jesus Christ removes the captives from the Paradise side of Sheol, out of the lower parts of the earth, up to heaven and the Father, that He might (ful)fill all things (4:10, Ephesians 1:23).  This is what the work of the Cross accomplished.  The Carpenter’s work is completed!  It is truly finished. 

This declaration from our Apostle Paul that Christ ascended to the third heaven in order to “fulfill all things,” to complete them all and to render them perfect is specifically speaking about God’s one Church.  We know this because Paul goes on to explain how the risen Lord will bring this about when empowered by the Holy Spirit:

Giving apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (4:11).
For equipping the saints for ministry for the building up of the Body of Christ (4:12).
Until we all obtain unity of the faith in the knowledge of the Son (4:13).
Achieving maturity, the full stature of Christ Jesus (4:13).
So that we will no longer be children, tossed about by false teaching (4:14).
That we would grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head (4:15).

It goes without saying this includes the filling of the Holy Spirit, which is the way Christ Jesus indwells His Church.  Through the Spirit, Jesus Christ will mature His body and this will be evidenced by unity, if His people “turn the power on, that is.” (Ephesians 1:10, 2:14, 3:6).

(To be continued)

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