In tonight’s teaching on “the canopy of heaven”
I want to pick up a neglected topic, Heaven and the Holy Spirit.
This thinking has some biblical support, e.g. vs.7 “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? vs.8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7-8), but overall lacks careful investigation of the text of scripture..
Peter finds it important to tell his readers of, “the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet 1:12).
An expression which reminds us of the events on the Day of Pentecost; “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house….And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2, 4).
In the narrative of Acts, the Spirit now linked heaven and earth because Jesus had ascending into heaven (Acts 1:11) as the exalted Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
THE SPIRIT OF JESUS
Peter’s preaching at Pentecost doesn’t dwell on the ministry of the Spirit but on that of Jesus. Explaining the source of the phenomenon of tongues he restifies, vs.32 “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.vs.33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit,he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:32-33)
That Jesus is the giver of the Spirit is taught throughout scripture (Matt 3:11; Luke 24:49; John 7:39; John 20:22; Acts 2:33; Acts 8:17). It is much rarer however to ask why this us.
The unique relationship which has come into being between the glorified humanity of Jesus and the Spirit is clearly conveyed in John’s words, “as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Jn 7:39). The glorified Christ will send the Spirit because as Geoffrey Bingham wrote, the Holy Spirit “has become ‘the Spirit of the man’ (ie. the man Jesus, the man now exalted and glorified).”
The Father has given the Spirit to the exalted Jesus to glorify him and establish him as Lord of all (John 3:34-35; Acts 2:36; Acts 10:36; Rom 10:12; Rev 17:14; 19:16). This is why it is Jesus unrestrainedly poured out the Spirit on the Church.
The gift of the Spirit is an expression of the Lordship endowed upon the Son by the Father. (Phil 2:6-11; Rom 14:9; Acts 2:36). It is also a sign of his deity, because n the Old Testament it is always God who pours out the Spirit (e.g. Isa 32:15; Isa 44:3; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28-29; Zech 12:10).
That the exalted Jesus is the “director” of the Spirit is most pronounced in the visions of Revelation which use the expression “7 spirits (of God)” (Rev 1:4; Rev 3:1; Rev 4:5; Rev 5:6) to emphasise the fullness, power, purity and holiness of the Spirit located before God’s throne in heaven.
The background is the “seven eyes” in Zechariah representing the eyes of Yahweh (which range throughout the whole earth Zech 3:9; Zech 4:10b cf. 2 Chron 16:7-9). The promise is of a divine deliverance, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech 4:6).
The expression “7 spirits of God” makes it clear that the Spirit is in full unity with God and not part of the creation. The Spirit in fact lovingly watches over all creation.
At the commencement of the letters to the seven churches Jesus is introduced as “the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (Rev 3:1).
Jesus has the seven-fold anointing (Isa 11:2) which is the source of the fire which burns on the lampstands of the churches (Rev 1:20) so that they might bear illuminated witness to his truth.
In chapter 4 John is taken into the heavenly throne room of God and sees, “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Rev 4:5).
Fire is a regular symbol for judgement in the Old Testament (Isa 4:4; Isa 33:14; Malachi 3:2) and John the Baptist had prophesied that Messiah would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:17).
The Spirit is heaven’s agency to bring divine judgement on the earth.
This is supported by various biblical texts; “he (the anointed one) shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath (ruah) of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” (Isa 11:4); “then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath (pneuma) of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” (2 Thess 2:8).
The sword of Christ’s mouth when he returns is a sword of judgement (Rev 1:16; Rev 2:12, 16; Rev 19:15), and it is “the sword of the Spirit…the word of God” (Eph 6:17).
It is important to note that the fire in Revelation 4 is released upon the earth in response to the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:4-5).
But he does this at the behest of the Lamb; for we read of John’s vision of God’s throne room in Revelation 5, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Rev 5:6). Having been victorious in death and resurrection the Lamb now directs the eyes and spirits of God. In a dynamic sense the Spirit of God has become the Spirit of the Lamb.
With the glorification of the Lamb the Spirit is no longer confined to the throne room in heaven but is “sent out into all the earth” to act powerfully on behalf of the Lamb’s beleaguered people (cf. 2 Chron 16:7-9).
Whilst Jesus and the Father remain enthroned in heaven the Spirit is commissioned is to enact the Lamb’s victory in the world through the Church by fullness of divine power. This is particularly true through the Spirit’s gift of prophecy.
SPIRIT OF PROPHECY
As we saw last week God has a plan to unite heaven and earth (Eph 1:9-10). Prophets are called to declare the plan (Jer 23:18, 22; Am 3:7) and to warn the people of God against the idolatries, injustices and deceptive teachings which would prevent them from carrying out the plan.
This relates especially to beliefs and behaviours which would incite the judgement of God e.g. Deut 28:15-68. This order is clear from the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation, with its warnings of judgements against sin unless the people repent e.g. Rev 2:5; 16; Rev 3:3, 19.
In the very broadest sense prophecy has to do with “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:2, 9; Rev 12:17; Rev 19:10; Rev 20:4). Best understood as primarily Jesus’ witness to himself rather than our testifying to Jesus. It is the essential nature of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ.
The Spirit of God has always been the inspirer of the prophets (Num 24:3-4; 1 Sam 10:6-10; 2 Sam 23:1ff; Micah 3:8; Joel 2:28ff; Acts 11:28; Acts 13:2; Acts 21:4, 11;1 Cor 12:10; Eph 3:5) enabling them to speak about the death and glorification of the Anointed One (1 Pet 1:10-11).
Jesus himself said, ““But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26).
The Word of God and the Spirit of God are in the closest possible relationship, a relationship that is communicated to inspired men and women because the Spirit has been taken into Jesus.
This is not to be thought of as some external transaction, for the Spirit has been perfectly internalised in the humanity of the Son of God through his sacrificial obedience (Luke 24:26).
Since the glorification of Jesus what the Spirit says is what the exalted heavenly Christ is saying. What Jesus heard from the Spirit he spoke on earth, now what the Spirit hears from Jesus in heaven he speaks to the Church.
The order of the relationship between incarnate Son and Spirit is reversed from what it was in the Gospels. In the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation, Jesus addresses each congregation, then we are told, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; Rev 3:6, 13, 22).
Whilst the whole of Revelation is a testimony of heavenly things seen “in the Spirit” (Rev 1:10-11; Rev 4:2; Rev 17:3; Rev 21:10) it is Jesus who makes the contents of the book known to the apostle John. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1; Rev 22:16).
The Spirit is not a part of the chain of revelation, God-Christ-angel-John. He makes possible the visionary experience of the seer by suspending his normal consciousness enabling John to receive the revelation. John’s normal sensory experience was replaced by visions and auditions given him by the Spirit in a “trance” (cf. Acts 10:10; Acts 11:5; Acts 22:17).
The Spirit creates a state in which a believer is open to the revelation and reception of divine truth (Which is signified by the image of light in scripture e.g. John 1:4-5, 9; John 3:20; John 8:12; Acts 13:47; Acts 26:23; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 3:9; Eph 5:8; Phil 2:15; Rev 1:20; Rev 3:1.). The result is faithful witness to Jesus carried out “in” the Spirit (e.g. John 15:26-27; Acts 1:8; Rev 1:2, 9; Rev 6:9; Rev 12:11, 17; Rev 20:4).
Inspired prophetic oracles in which John speaks Christ’s words to the churches are “in the Spirit”, even where he is not mentioned (Rev 16:15; Rev 22:7, 12-13, 16, 20). Likewise, where the Spirit speaks words to the churches it can only be “in Christ” (Rev 14:13b; Rev 22:17a). To “be filled with the Spirit” and to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” are interchangeable because of the communion between Christ and Spirit (Eph 5:18; Col 3:16).
It is in the Spirit that we enjoy all the blessing of the new life of Christ. (Christ’s own new and glorified life is the basis for our new life in him.)
When Paul thanks “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3), he means blessings that belong to the realm of the Spirit of God. (cf. Rom 1:11; 1 Cor 12:1; 1 Cor 14:1, 37; Gal 6:1; Eph 5:19; Col 1:9; 3:16).
Whatever blessings Jesus has from the Father have been imparted to him by the Spirit (cf. Rom 1:4; Rom 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 3:18) and then in the Spirit to us.
The riches of the love, joy, peace etc. that come to us in the Spirit are a share in the heavenly life of Jesus (John 15:11; Rom 5:5; 1 Pet 1:8). “Spiritual” doesn’t mean ethereal or non-material in opposition to “earthly”.
We are spiritual people because we belong to the Spirit. So “spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16) are songs inspired by the Spirit, and the “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44-46) is a real body but one suited to the supernatural eternal life of the Spirit etc..
The blessings of such rich life in the Spirit are sometimes conveyed symbolically. In John’s writings water is a symbol for the communication of the Spirit.
In John 7:37-39; vs.37 “Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. vs.38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” vs.39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Cf. John 4:13-14; “springs of living water”).
It should not be forgotten that in John the death of Jesus is a turning point in his glorification (John 12:23-28; John 13:1; John 17:1-5).
The various references in Revelation to the Lamb guiding his beloved sheep to “springs of living water” and the “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 7:15-17; Rev 22:1) should be understood as references to the Spirit giving life eternally.
It is the life of the heavenly, glorified God-man Jesus which is poured out by the Spirit into the hearts of believers (cf. Rom 5:5).
HEAVENLY INTERCESSION OF THE SPIRIT
The heavenly Lamb with the “seven horns…seven eyes…the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6) possesses the fullness of God’s power and discernment for the Church’s mission in the whole world. Prayer is central to this mission.
Since the Bible tells us that the heavenly Jesus is interceding for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25) and that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26) be the deepest possible communion between the glorified Jesus and the Spirit in the prayer life of the Church.
This is borne out by the prominence of prayer immediately after the Lamb takes the scroll from the hand of God in heaven; “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Rev 5:8-10).
When the Spirit prays in us he is plumbing the depths of God and praying the complete prayer, the one that is offered in the perfected humanity of Christ (1 Cor 2:10ff; Heb 5:7 –10). The Advocacy of the heavenly Jesus and the Advocacy of the indwelling Spirit turn us into advocates for the cause of Christ’s kingdom on earth (John 14:16). Such prayers will not fail (1 John 5:14-15).
Since “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor 2:10), this must include the Spirit searching the deep prayers of Jesus. E.g. in John 17, in Gethsemane, and on the cross.
When we come to the end of the Bible we have a picture of the complete unity of Spirit and Church in their mutual longing for the consummation of the cause of Christ; “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev 22:17). It is not as though there are two intercessors following one after the other, but a united prayer in love for Jesus. The implications of the presence of the heavenly Spirit in the Church are immense.
“What the Spirit prays through the Christian prophets is what the Church in her eschatological purity, ready for the coming of her husband the Lamb (cf. 19:7-8; 21:2) should pray, and so the prayer is ascribed to ‘the Spirit and the Bride’.” (Bauckham)
As we are conscious of the Spirit as the pledge and guarantee of our heavenly inheritance (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 5:5) our heavenly identity becomes real to us. In being “children born of promise… born according to the Spirit” (Gal 4:28-29) we relate to “the Jerusalem above… our mother” (Gal 4:26).
Regeneration by the Spirit is the essential foundation of any real spiritual insight into heavenly things. “vs.3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. vs.6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…. vs.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”” (John 3:3, 6, 12)
In Christ the Church is being built as “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). as she enjoys communion with the heavenly temple, a temple whose worshippers are witnesses (Rev 11:1-3) charged with the task of being built up in the faith and expressing the Lordship of the ascended Christ in all things (Eph 4:7ff.).
That the two witnesses in Revelation 11 stand for churches is clear because they are called “lampstands” (cf. Rev 1:20; 2:5).
The Church as a witnessing temple is a prophetic community making known the presence and power of her King through proclamation, sign, suffering-death, resurrection and ascension (Rev 11:4-14). The Church recapitulates the life of Jesus in the glory of the Spirit making all of God’s people prophets (Rev 11:18).
Every dimension of the life of the Church is to be Spirit-filled. The Spirit builds (1 Cor 3:16f; 1 Cor 14:12); inhabits (1 Cor 6:19); directs (Acts 13:2 -4; Acts 15:28; Acts 16:6 -7); appoints leaders (Acts 20:28); gifts (1 Cor 12- 14; Eph 4:7- 14); unifies (1 Cor 12:4, 7; Eph 4:3) and extends (Acts 8:29) the Church.
The shape of the life of the people of God is faithful testimony through suffering and apparent defeat. This form of life bears effective witness to the whole world (Rev 11:9-13; Isa 24:6; Isa 26:21) as a communication of the gospel of Christ. It also provokes repentance in a remnant of humanity (Rev 11:13 cf. Rev 16:9).The Spirit works with Christ, the Father and the Church rather than working alone.
(In Revelation he prefers to work with other characters (God, Jesus, the apostle John, the churches). His co-agency, actively Rev 3:1; Rev 4:5; Rev 5:6, or passively Rev 1:4, 10; Rev 4:2, Rev 17:3; Rev 19:10; Rev 21:10, appears much more frequently than his personal action (Rev 11:11) or being acted on (Rev 5:6).). The one place where the Spirit acts directly is in raising the faithful witnesses who have been killed for their testimony to Jesus; “after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet” (Rev 11:11). This is a resurrection.
An afflicted Church desperately needs the words of end-time comfort and ethical injunction that comes from the Spirit to strengthen her obedience; vs.12 “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. vs.13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”” (Rev 14:12-13).
Through Christ the Spirit is our wonderful Counsellor (cf. Isa 9:6). He is also a motivator to evangelism and mission.
It is as the Church hears the longing of the Spirit that she joins in inviting others to come to Jesus. “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev 22:17). The Spirit is the one who in answer to the prayers of the Lamb and his saints creates a thirst in the lost for the things of God.
From the perspective of the throne of God in heaven at the centre of all things is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Rev 5:6).
This threefold 7 (horns, eyes, spirits) means that the crucified and glorified Jesus has all power, wisdom and fullness of Spirit to enact the plan of God on earth through the Church.
It is the Spirit who is the agent of all the works of Christ e.g. regeneration (John 3:5-6; Tit 3:5) adoption (Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:6) sanctification (Gal 5:22-23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2) and glorification (1 Cor 15:44, 46).
He incorporates us into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), empowers prayer (Acts 4:23-24; Rom 8:26; Eph 6:18; Jude 20) and enables worship (John 4:23-24; Acts 10:46; Eph 5:18-19; Phil 3:3).
As members of a Church raised, seated and blessed with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:3, 20; Eph 2:6) we are called to share in the fullest possible extent in the glorious life of Jesus.
“for one who is ‘in Christ’… his human nature …exists not just alongside of the Creator, but in such a way that his human being is anchored in the very being of God. The breath taking import of all this … is that our human nature has been taken up and in Jesus to the top and summit of being, and that with him and in him man is located in the very centre of all things!” (T.F. Torrance).
To appreciate such glorious things comes through a revelation that we have been given the Holy Spirit from heaven. Only the Spirit can reveal to us that in Christ we now share in the inner relationships of God (1 Cor 2:10f; 2 Pet 1:4).
We know God by indwelling God, and being indwelt by God, this happens through the gift of the Spirit “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13)
If we “have the Spirit” (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 7:40) it is because we are in communion with the glorified Jesus in his having of the Spirit (Rev 3:1; Rev 5:6). This means that all that the Spirit imparted to Christ can flow through our lives; the Church is essentially a place of heavenly revelations, prophetic witness, worship and prayers and empowerment to take the gospel to the whole world.
As at the End rivers of life flow from the throne of God and the Lamb to bring healing to the nations (Rev 22:1-3), Jesus prophesied such waters of the Spirit’s restoring power would flow through us (John 7:37-39) bearing witness to the glorification of Jesus. This is our essential testimony.
In fulfilment of the prophecies of Zechariah, we are in Christ, the fully anointed one, “sons of new oil” (Zech 4:14) signifying by life and deed the coming of a new creation.
If what the scriptures teach about the heavenly Holy Spirit and the life of the Church seems largely untrue to our experience we need to ask in what way do we not believe in Jesus (John 7:37).
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 26th August, 2018 Alive@5
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 26th August, 2018