It’s a funny thing to find yourself quoted, this happened last week as I was looking through a manuscript prior to its publication.
The citation was, “The ultimate question about everything is this, “Is God a Father, and if so, what sort of a Father is he?”
In a conference on Knowing the God of the Bible it’s more helpful to begin with an assertion. “God is the sort of Father that will do whatever it takes to make sure his children receive their full inheritance.”
The importance of inheritance as the revelation of Fatherhood came to me recently in working on Revelation 21, where in the climactic vision of the book God speaks from his throne and says triumphantly, ““The one who conquers will have this inheritance, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”” (Rev 21:7 ESV).
The “inheritance” described is the new heavens and the new earth, the holy city of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-4 ESV). Outside this inheritance there’s nothing worthwhile only an outer darkness and anguish, for the godless are completely dispossessed.
In Christ our inheritance is not of some things, or great things, but all things.
Without a revelation of the amazing scope of the believer’s inheritance there is no personal insight into the character of God as Father. Being saved we know that our God is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” but most human beings haven’t had this revelation and the cost of not knowing the Father’s inheritance can be devastating. Let me use some illustrations of the terrible cost of not knowing a F/father’s inheritance.
When Australia was forcibly colonised by the British Empire generations of Indigenous fathers were stripped of land, language and culture t pass on to their children. One outcome of this is (2015-16) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 25 times more likely to be in detention and 17 times more likely to be under some form of youth justice order than non-Indigenous children.
Recently we had the tragic situation of two Indigenous teenagers drowning in the Swan River as they tried to swim across away from police. I wasn’t the least surprised to hear the mother of one of them, who lives in our area, say her son never really knew his father. When he was born his dad was in prison.
Years ago a Christian woman from our district said to me, “You see all these young guys’ streets wandering the streets of Belmont; none of them has a father.”
But the problem isn’t restricted to Aboriginal Australians. At our last men’s breakfast our speaker, who used to work for the ambulance service, talked about the high number of publically unreported male suicides through hanging. People only kill themselves, or turn to drugs, alcohol, crime etc., when they feel their lives are empty and they’ve nothing to look forward to.
If you know you have a wonderful inheritance, an inheritance not even death can take from you, your life will have about it a sense of fullness. Cf. vs.9 “For in him the whole fullness of God dwells in a human body, vs.10 and you have come to fullness in him” (Col 2:9-10 ESV).
It’s impossible to understand the vastness of our heritage from an ordinary human perspective, but to get some sense of proportion about “what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9 ESV) it’s important to start with a sense of who God is in himself.
To do this we don’t start with the creation story in Genesis but with the prayers of Jesus the eternal Son of God.
ALWAYS AN INHERITANCE
Unlike other faiths who believe in a Creator the unique Christian understanding is that the substance of our inheritance isn’t some “thing”, like the Paradise Muslims long for, but a share in the Son of God’s eternal relationship with his Father. Our inheritance is secure and unending because their relationship is everlasting. The Father has always been Father and the Son has always been Son.
So in John 17 Jesus prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5).
This eternal glory is not something he will keep to himself; so later he goes on to pray, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV).
Since Jesus could say, “All that the Father has is mine” (John 16:15 ESV), this means all that the Father has is ours. It was always the plan of God to share the riches of his inheritance in Christ with all his children.
This is especially clear from the first chapter of Ephesians; God had “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him/Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” (v.10) to include us in this plan he “chose us in him/Christ before the foundation of the world” (v.4) so that “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11 ESV)
To be secure in our inheritance we need to be centred on Jesus as the deserving heir of God accepting that by grace we share in his blessed relationship with the Father. Whenever we think we have to be in some sort of spiritual state to earn, merit or deserve the inheritance God has for us we will always become proud or discouraged (cf. Matt 25:34 ESV). Christ must always be the centre of our spiritual vision (Eph 1:18 ESV).
When God created he was excited by what was being brought to birth. The end of Proverbs chapter 8 is one of my favourite parts of the Bible; vs.29 “when he marked out the foundations of the earth. vs.30 Then I (wisdom) was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, vs.31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”.
Eden itself means “delight” and creation was an occasion of joyful expectation where God anticipated sharing the riches of his wise, good and just Fatherhood with humans as he had always shared with his Son in heaven.
The original creation story anticipates an expansion of humanity in ever widening circles across the earth under the favour of God’s fatherly hand; vs.26 “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” vs.27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. vs.28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” (Gen 1:26-28 ESV)
The destiny of Adam and Eve to inherit the world flowed from their being in the divine image, but it becomes even clearer why such a sense of destiny was stamped on the soul of Adam when he read in the genealogy of Jesus in Luke that he’s called, “the son of God” (Luke 3:38 ESV).
Adam was meant to look like his Father, represents his Father, undertake his Father’s occupation and so on.
When we read of Adam “working and keeping” the Garden (Gen 2:15 ESV) we see he knew he was called to do what he saw his Father doing; God must have taught him how to be employed (cf. John 5:19 ESV).
There could have been no doubt in the man’s mind that he would receive the inheritance of his Father because he was indisputably his son. This was a natural state of affairs as long as he was the worthy son of his Father.
The divine inheritance however wasn’t mechanical or passive, it involved a dynamic filling of all things with God’s presence and power. Adam was called to pass on the glory of what he already had as an inheritance from God and if he did so he would have grown further in the divine image and likeness. Increasing in wisdom, knowledge, justice, peace, love and so on he would have advanced in glory.
In the beginning everything was wonderful as the Father looked forward to sharing the rule of the world with sons ever growing in understanding of his will and purpose. But to fully enter into their inheritance as holy and righteous children of God the first human beings needed to be tested.
SONS NOT HEIRS
In his parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus sets in total contrast two final states.
The King says to those on his right, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world….’” and to those on his left, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:34, 41 ESV cf. 2 Pet 2:4 ESV).
The ancient serpent Satan (Rev 12:9 ESV) and his evil followers have a destiny of destruction which is hell, a place that was never intended to be an inheritance for any human beings, no one “belongs” in hell no matter how evil they may be.
Since in the Old Testament the angels are called “sons of God” the devil and his angels must be fallen sons enraged by their loss of inheritance (cf. Rev 12:12 ESV).
They know that for them there is no marriage supper to look forward to, no eternal city, no final joy, no future hope; nothing but the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev 19-22 ESV).
In abandoning their sonship with God the rebellious forces of evil have no inheritance because they have no true F/father. Hating the divine likeness they work to destroy all of the blessings that belong to God and his children wanting to rob the Lord of the joy of sharing all things with his sons and daughters.
A FALSE LEGACY
The primary inheritance which Adam and Eve had in Eden wasn’t the splendours of created things, wonderful as they were, but the Word that God had spoken to them.
This Word needed to be treasured in the heart for them to be the full grown children worthy of the divine inheritance; cf. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps 119:11 ESV).
God’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:17 ESV), was the warning of a loving Father that if you do not live like my son then you will not receive my inheritance.
When Satan appeared in Eden (Gen 3:1 ESV) he represents God’s command as the very opposite of an inheritance bequeathed by a loving Father who will give all things to his children. The devil contests that the Creator is a Father desiring a limitless inheritance to his children.
God’s purpose in allowing the devil into Eden was a great one. The intrusion of Satan into the Garden was ordained by God so that under the pressure of a temptation too great to humanly resist Adam and Eve would look to God’s Word and promise by faith alone.
Had they done so the Word of God would have dwelt in their hearts more intensely (cf. Eph 3:17 ESV) and the “eyes of the heart” of the first couple would have been open to see the vast expanse of their rich inheritance in God who created all things. Cf. “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar.” (Isa 33:17 ESV)
The Satanic word, “vs.4 “You will not surely die. vs.5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:4,5-6 ESV) was not a part of the human inheritance prepared by the Father but a seed of destruction.
For Adam and Eve to desire immortality would have pleased God (Rom 2:7 ESV), but to seek it in the way they did was fatal. They sought to enter into the realm of divinity without union with the Word, deceived into thinking that possessing for themselves the knowledge of good and evil apart from a heavenly Father could be bearable.
In discarding the Word of God they lost communion with the Word which holds all things together and gives them unity, direction and purpose (Heb 1:3 ESV). They were plunged into disorder, misdirection and purposelessness.
Instead of eternal life they inherited death from their new father the devil (John 8:44 ESV) and became his fallen children. Naked and ashamed they were stripped of the glory of legitimately inheriting the world (Rom 3:23 ESV).
It had become true for them that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 15:50 ESV). Cast out of Eden and banned from accessing the tree of life (Gen 3:22-24 ESV) Adam and Eve must have felt that their disinheritance was final.
But the Father was always working to a plan to bring his perfectly mature son to earn an inheritance much greater than anything that could have been possessed by the first children of God. This would come in stages.
God chooses a line of sons for himself to restore the promised inheritance to humanity. vs.1 “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. vs.2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. vs.3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)
In leaving his family home Abraham accepted God as his Father.
Paul interprets the call of Abraham as something far greater than possessing the land of Canaan, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (Rom 4:13 ESV).
Abraham’s offspring would inherit the world as a sign of his sonship. Ultimately, this is about Jesus the true Son of God.
When Moses is commanded to declare to Pharaoh about Israel, “ vs.22 ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, vs.23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”” (Ex 4:22-23 ESV), he was providing for his people the same inheritance that he had promised to Abraham their father.
The extraordinarily intimate bond between Israel and the Lord comes through in the covenant language of the Old Testament; they are his chosen “treasured possession”, “a people of his very own possession” (Deut 4:20 ESV) ““Israel my inheritance.”” (Isa 19:25 ESV); “For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage” (1 Ki 8:53 ESV).
Just as important is the declared reason for Israel being the inheritance of God, sheer covenant love; “vs.6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. vs.7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, vs.8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut 7:6-8 ESV).
In keeping with this sentiment God especially acts on behalf of the downtrodden poor those who have made him alone their inheritance.
The nation was meant to radiate the glory of her divine inheritance.
Israel was called to be a “light to the nations” drawing the world into the covenant inheritance.
This never happened because despite all her advantages Israel turned repeatedly to idolatry.
Such ingratitude brought great pain to the heart of God; “ vs.19 “‘I said, How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. vs.20 Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the Lord.’”” (Jer 3:19-20 ESV).
With time the prophetic Word became concentrated on the promised Messiah and son of God who will be the heir of all the promises; “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Sam 7:12-14 ESV).
This figure will not only inherit the land of Israel but the nations; vs.7 “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your father. vs.8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:7-8 ESV).
All that was lost through the sin of Adam would be restored through the triumph of Messiah.
Towards the close of the Old Testament the prophets realised that the bounds of God’s call couldn’t be limited to the world as they knew it. Hope grew of a new heavens and earth full of righteousness.
THE HEIR HAS COME
Through the coming of Jesus the New Testament opens up a perspective on sonship and inheritance beyond anything imaginable under the old covenant. Being the perfect image of God the Son of God is the heir of all creation. He is the eternal Son through whom God created the ages.
He is also the en-fleshed/incarnate Son who has revealed the Father.
And finally he is the end-times/eschatological Son who has now inherited the name that is exalted over the angels. All the promises of God are concentrated in Jesus. The introduction to Hebrews puts this in a very concentrated form.
vs.1 “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, vs.2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. vs.3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. vs.4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Heb 1:1-4 ESV)
All path of Jesus to his inheritance became publically true from the time of his baptism. vs.21 “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, vs.22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22 ESV).
In quoting his own words from Psalm 2:7 ESV to Jesus at his baptism, ““You are my Son””, the Father is personally promising the inheritance of the nations to Christ. This is at the centre of his prayers.
The gift of the Spirit from the Father is the witness to Jesus of the presence of God with him to bring in the kingdom of God with power; “if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28 ESV).
vs.34 “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. vs.35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” (John 3:34 ESV)
The Spirit without measure brings in the inheritance without measure.
Jesus must constantly be filled with the Spirit to win back the nations for God’s kingdom and to resist the attacks of the devil.
This is why immediately following his baptism he is “full of the Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV) and led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Because the Father’s voice from heaven has identified Jesus as the messianic Son of God and rightful inheritor of all things the devil’s first point of attack against Christ is his status as Son. ““If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.””” (Matt 4:3 ESV).
As he deceived Eve in Eden so he seeks to manipulate Jesus into treating the world as a rightful possession rather than a gift from his Father.
Ever mindful of the priority of the command of the Word of God Jesus readily resists the satanic lure, ““It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” ” (Matt 4:4 ESV).
Raising the stakes, vs.5 “the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,vs.6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. vs.7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”” Satan is offering Jesus the inheritance of the nations if he honours him as a father and god. vs.8 “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”” (Luke 4:5-8 ESV).
But whatever might seem to be lost as the faithful Son Jesus refuses to inherit from the devil.
Submitting to the Word of God as his delight Jesus will not be great apart from his Father.
Through obedience he remained ever-filled with the Spirit and conscious of inheriting the world, “he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said….“All things have been handed over to me by my Father…”” (Luke 10:21-22 ESV).
On the eve of his crucifixion he already knew by faith that “the Father had given all things into his hands” (John 13:3 ESV) for he alone understood that he must inherit not despite suffering but through suffering.
The rulers of the Jews believed that as custodians of the Law of Moses the inheritance of God’s people was in their hands, and so they deeply resented Jesus’ popularity with the crowds.
In response Jesus told in the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard about his coming death at the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees.
The punch line comes when he recounts, “But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’” (Mark 12:7 ESV).
The settling of the question as to who is the true heir of all God’s promises soon comes to a climax at the trial of Jesus before the Jewish High Council.
THE TRIAL OF JESUS
vs.53 “And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together…. vs.61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” vs.62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”” (Mark 14: 53, 61-62 ESV).
As soon as Jesus claims to be the Son of Man “at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” his hearers know he is identifying himself with the end time ruler of Daniel 7, “vs.13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. vs.14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. ” (Dan 7:13-14 ESV).
Jesus’ implied claim to be the heir of the world threw his interrogators into a fit of uncontrollable rage so they immediately condemned him to death; vs.63 “And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? vs.64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.” (Mark 14:63-64 ESV).
But we must not look at this trial merely in terms of flesh and blood.
Against the background of the visions of Daniel 7 the trial of Jesus is a concentrated attempt by the forces of darkness to destroy God’s plan to share the world with humanity (Dan 7:2-7 ESV; Dan 10-12).
The sentence of death passed on Jesus is an attempt to de-create “all things” (Gen 1:2 ESV) and to rob the Father of his plan to bring everything to a final joy by annihilating the Son in whom all things hold together (Heb 1:2 ESV).
The crucifixion of the Word made flesh (John 1:14 ESV) is a demonic attempt to destroy God’s pride and joy and with him the foundation of humanity’s inheritance in the world to come.
I think this interpretation of what was happening when Jesus was being tried makes sense of some of my more bizarre experiences over the years.
Occasions when various groups of people simply lied about my intentions and motives in ministry, or publicly accused me of sins that were dominant in their own lives, some stated that I had an evil spirit (Jezebel), or was a false prophet. Sudden bursts of accusing anger from civilised and educated people – at the doorsteps of the church building, in prayer meetings or in church services were surely demonically inspired.
Satan designed the cross to cut Jesus off from his claimed inheritance, but it would prove to be the means by which he entered his heritage.
In the Old Testament most serious crimes were dealt with by stoning, but when someone was deemed to be a covenant breaker they were cast out of the fellowship of Israel and hung. “vs.22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, vs.23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deut 21:21-23 ESV)
A person so killed could not pollute the inheritance of God’s people because they were separated from the family of God.
They had been formally and finally disinherited.
In the thinking of the enemies of Jesus as a crucified man he couldn’t possibly be God’s Son and heir.
So they mocked him; ““He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”” (Luke 23:35 ESV); and to all outside observation it seemed like they were correct.
When Jesus cried out from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34 ESV) the divine Word is being “made sin” for us (2 Cor 5:21 ESV), entering the outer darkness of worthlessness the place of the absence of all God’s pleasure as Father (Ezek 33:11 ESV).
Jesus enters into a hell completely cut off from his rightful inheritance in God.
All this however was part of the plan of God, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13 ESV) Paul says.
Martin Luther famously described the sacrifice of the cross like this:
“All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men, that He should pay for them with His own blood. The curse struck Him. The Law found Him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest Himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the Law judged and hanged Him for a sinner.”
In dying as an outcast despised and rejected by men (Isa 53:3 ESV) Jesus carried away in himself everything which would disqualify us from sharing the inheritance God promises (2 Cor 1:20 ESV). The sign of that this had been accomplished was the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the declaration of the end time Sonship of Jesus that he has entered into the inheritance of the nations first promised to Abraham (cf. Rom 1:4-5 ESV).
By virtue of his faithful obedience in all things as a Son to his Father Jesus has merited eternal life for himself and all who obey him.
He is the true image of his Father who has succeeded in all things where all previous sons of God had failed.
On account of his complete obedience Jesus deserves the inheritance that God had promised him as Son.
As such Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:4 ESV); “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6:4 ESV).
We must never think however that Jesus has merely recovered what Adam lost or entered into the scope of the promised inheritance known to the prophets of Israel.
As he tried to explain to his puzzled disciples who could not connect his death with his future, ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26 ESV).
When we get to the pictures of the promised eternal inheritance at the end of the book of Revelation they are filled with the glory of God and of the Lamb (Rev 21:23 ESV).
The weightiness of heaven is the love, righteousness, peace etc. that radiates from the sacrifice of the cross (Rev 5:6 ESV). This is far greater than anything that could ever have been achieved without such a sacrifice.
The writer to the Hebrews puts the same thing from a different angle; God now speaks to us through “his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:2 ESV).
And the measure of the Sonship of Jesus is his willingness to suffer the loss of everything for this Father.
After quoting from Psalm 2 about Jesus, “vs.5 “You are my Son, today I have begotten you””, the writer goes on to say, vs.8 “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. vs.9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:5, 8-9 ESV).
The perfection of Jesu’s sonship comes in his reversing the grasping sin in Eden, he recovers and increases humanity’s inheritance by willingly losing all he rightfully possessed.
The new heavens and earth which emerge at the end of the biblical story are saturated with an indestructible joy grounded in Christ’s triumphant resurrection, vs.1 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. vs.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. vs.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God. vs.4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” vs.5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.””(Rev 21:1-5 ESV).
Our eternal inheritance forever emerges in the resurrection space of joy between the Father and Son. Just as he prayed in John 17, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” (John 17:10 ESV)
HIS INHERITANCE IN US
Having an inheritance in Christ is a consistent part of the teaching of the New Testament, Paul puts this in a very elevated way, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11 ESV).
This places our inheritance within the framework of eternity and God’s plan for the whole creation. We are graciously embedded in the totality of the wisdom and work of God in all things. Even more remarkably, not only do we have an inheritance in God he has an inheritance in us.
vs.16 “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, vs.17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, vs.18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, vs.19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:16-19 ESV).
The Father’s inheritance in us is “glorious”, where “glory” means light and brilliance and conveys a sense of weightiness (kabod) and intensity.
This comes through in what Paul teaches the Colossians about vs.12 “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. vs.13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:12-13 ESV).
The saints of God, that is the Church, shine into a world darkened by sin (cf. Phil 2:15 ESV). Peter echoes this radiant picture, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, ca holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet 2:9 ESV).
As in the Old Testament it is especially the weak and downtrodden who God has chosen to be his heirs.
Jesus was anointed “to proclaim good news to the poor”, and in a way that restores the original blessing of creation testifies, ““Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”, he can summarise his own ministry with the climactic, “the poor have good news preached to them”.
The inheritance of the kingdom is for the small rather than the strong; ““Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 ESV).
The apostles echo this emphasis, vs.26 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. vs.27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; vs.28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor 1:26-28 ESV); “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5 ESV).
In the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus describes the destiny of those who ministered to “the least of these my brothers’” (Matt 25:40 ESV), which are his dispossessed followers. vs.34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. vs.35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, vs.36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” (Matt 25:34-36 ESV).
Identification with the weak and helpless is a way of life that immerses the people of God in the life of Christ himself and the inheritance which is ours in him.
In the present age, until Christ comes again, we live as “as in a foreign land…. strangers and exiles on the earth” travelling through to another destination being ready to lose all for Christ to gain all in Christ (Phil 3:8 ESV).
SONS INHERIT IN FULL
In Christ there are no degrees of inheritance, with the same Father and older brother we all share together in the same heritage.
Paul simply calls this “the inheritance“ but when it is defined it is inheriting the kingdom of God.
All nations and the whole creation under the rule of Christ as King are ours in the Lord. In dramatic language to a divided and sectarian church in Corinth Paul testifies; vs.21 “all things are yours, vs.22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, vs.23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3:21-22 ESV).
God’s inheritance is not divided but shared equally by all his children because it is based on promise and not deserved through merit. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:29 ESV). The Abrahamic promises fulfilled in Jesus are ours by the grace of God to be received by faith alone (Rom 4:13-14 ESV).
More potently, the inheritance is ours because we are all equally sons of God in the Son of God; vs.14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. vs.15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” vs.16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, vs.17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:14-17 ESV) Cf. “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4:7 ESV).
As there are no degrees of sonship, there are no degrees of inheritance.
Adam was created as a son of God in the midst of an original creation that could be corrupted, but in Jesus and by regeneration through the Spirit a new and far more glorious imperishable form of sonship has come into the world, vs.3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, vs.4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” (1 Pet 1:3-4 ESV).
This new race of sons is a part of God’s plan for a coming new creation for his family to dwell in.
That we are all equally joint heirs with Christ also follows from the equality of our justification in Jesus. Heir-ship is a natural result of justification: “He saved us, …so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7 ESV).
These realities become real to us only by faith. John Calvin says:
“The godly have a taste of this in the present life, for however often they may be oppressed by difficulty and want, yet because they partake with a peaceable conscience of those things which God created for their use, and enjoy earthly blessings from a favourable and willing Father as pledges and foretastes of eternal life, their poverty does not prevent them from acknowledging earth, sea and heaven as their right. Although the ungodly devour the riches of the world, they can call nothing their own, but rather snatch what they have by stealth, for they usurp it under the curse of God.”
SANCTIFICATION and INHERITANCE
There is an intimate association throughout scripture between inheritance and sanctification/holiness of life. The primary meaning of “holiness” is to be set apart to God.
We have seen this in the language used of the election/choosing of Israel (Ex 19:5-6 ESV; Deut 7:6-8 ESV) and of our election in Christ (Eph 1:3 ESV).
Paul makes the connection categorically, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32 ESV).
He does not mean we somehow qualify for an inheritance by leading holy lives, but God’s word of grace working in us grants us a share in the inheritance. The “Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Col 1:12 ESV).
Grace transforms us into the likeness of Jesus as the “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29 ESV). All is a gift.
A passage in Hebrews ties together the bond between sanctification, sonship and inheritance in terms of painful discipline, vs.5 “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. vs.6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” vs.7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? vs.8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.[The point being that illegitimate sons are not heirs!] vs.9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits land live? vs.10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. vs.11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:5-11 ESV)
By going on to say, “Strive … for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 ESV) the writer illuminates the reality that the holy sons are the heirs of the Holy Father.
Those believers who live an unholy lifestyle cannot carry a sense of eternal inheritance.
Yet none of this is possible however without the presence and power of the one who made possible every aspect of Jesus life and ministry, the Holy Spirit.
THE SPIRIT and POWER to INHERIT
The gift of the Holy Spirit makes real to us our sonship and the inheritance that comes from the Father of Jesus.
Before ascending into heaven Jesus described the Spirit in this way, vs.49 “behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high…. vs.4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; vs.5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Luke 24:49 ESV; Acts 1:4-5 ESV).
In his Pentecost preaching Peter also lined up this connection between the Father and the Spirit, ““Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he (Jesus) has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”” (Acts 2:33 ESV).
It is the Father who through Jesus giving us the Spirit testifies that we are his sons and so heirs; vs.6 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” vs.7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”(Gal 4:6-7 ESV).
Paul puts this directly in explaining to the Ephesians, vs.13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, vs.14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”(Eph 1:13-14 ESV).
By testifying to our sonship the Spirit makes our inheritance real, that if God the Father has given himself to us in the gift of the Spirit he will give us all things without measure, all the future blessings of the kingdom of God are ours (cf. Eph 1:3 ESV).
It is the role of the Spirit to help us to see what will be ours, “vs.9 “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— vs.10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor 2:9-10 ESV). As well as illuminating our future the Spirit gives power for mission.
Mission as Sharing the Inheritance
As the Spirit was given at his baptism for the Son’s inheriting of the nations, so Jesus’ requests the Father to give the Spirit to the Church at Pentecost for the same reason (Acts 2:33 ESV). Jesus deeply desires that men and women of all nations (Matt 28:19 ESV) share in his universal inheritance to bring honour, glory and praise to the Father. The Father’s plan is for the greatest number of people to inherit his greatest possible joy for the greatest stretch of time.
To preach the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a Spirit led encounter opening up the possibility that its hearers will have a revelation of the identity of God’s Son (Acts 17:3 ESV).
It is an invitation to join with Christ in inheriting all the good things of God. The scope of the gospel is far wider than signs, wonders, healings, personal forgiveness of sin etc.
As “the Word of the Lord grew and multiplied” (Acts 6:7 ESV; Acts 12:24 ESV) the presence of the life of Jesus was expanding into the cultures of the earth. (A blessing which is far greater than anything that could be communicated from the likeness of Adam in Eden.) But it is suffering for Christ that binds all the dimensions of inheritance together.
SUFFERING and INHERITANCE
Paul states this categorically, vs.14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. vs.15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” vs.16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, vs.17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:14-17 ESV).
This glorification will include sharing in the power of the resurrection life of Jesus (Rom 8:22-23 ESV).
Willingly suffering as sons reverses the ways of fallen humans introduced by Satan into Eden. It is conformity to “the image of his Son…the firstborn of many brothers” (Rom 8:29 ESV).
Suffering is not in itself joyful but when submitted to the crucified Lord it becomes a source of resurrection joy.
As with Christ himself suffering reveals the quality of true sonship.
The more you sacrifice for Jesus the more intense the presence of the Father’s Spirit of inheritance; “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8 ESV)
That suffering releases glory (Luke 24:26 ESV) is a theme running throughout the New Testament.
In Acts, those who seem disinherited in this world are intensified in the joy of the revelation of their inheritance in the world to come cf. vs.40 “when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. vs.41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” (Acts 5:40-41 ESV).
PAUL testifies, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col 1:24 ESV) and, “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory”(Eph 3:13 ESV) and “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 ESV).
PETER agrees, vs.13 “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. vs.14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet 4:13-14 ESV)
As Hebrews recounts, we must look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2 ESV).
PAUL’S prayer, “that…. vs.18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, vs.19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:18-19 ESV) reflects an understanding that spiritual insight comes from living a life shaped by Jesus’ death and resurrection. vs.8 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; vs.9 persecuted, but snot forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; vs.10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. vs.11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. vs.12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Cor 4:8-12 ESV).
The indestructible joy of resurrection life as a foretaste of the inheritance of the kingdom of God only comes through affliction and deliverance.
“If there were no afflictions and difficulties and troubles and pain, our fallen hearts would fall ever more deeply in love with the comforts and securities and pleasures of this world instead of falling more deeply in love with our inheritance beyond this world, namely, God himself. Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God””
After listing the hostile powers of tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword Paul can confidently declare, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:35, 37 ESV).
This theme of conquest over evil forces forging the way to the inheritance runs through the book of Revelation; “ (i) To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God….. (ii) The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels….. (iii) And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’”.
Until finally we come to the climactic promise of the Bible concerning inheritance, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 ESV).
The followers of Jesus should expect opposition to the call of God on their lives precisely because they are sons and heirs.
JESUS said, ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt 5:10 ESV),
PETER cautions, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Pet 4:12 ESV).
Knowing that “his time is short!”” we should expect the raging Satan (Rev 12:12, 17 ESV) to stir up human beings in their insecurity over inheritance to oppose us the true heirs in Christ just as Jesus himself was opposed. As this happened in the times of the New Testament through envy, jealousy and competition it must happen today.
“The concept of the believer’s inheritance highlights the dignity of the family relationship of the believer in Christ.
No higher position or greater wealth can an individual acquire than to become an heir of God through faith in Christ.”
The greatest part of our final inheritance will be God himself,
“…“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”(Rev 21:3 ESV); the God that is revealed as the Father of Jesus.
To the degree we know that we are heirs of the world everyday sins such as ambition, self-protection, stinginess, fear, anxiety, selfishness…. will melt away. Knowing that the gifts and graces of our brothers and sisters in Christ are part of our shared inheritance as God’s family no space is left for competition.
The biblical teaching on inheritance puts everything in perspective.
After telling us that suffering is a prelude to sharing Jesus’ inheritance Paul declares, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18 ESV). Let me close with a pointed illustration from the famous hymn writer John Newton.
Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 05. Oct, 2018 Location: St Marks
Author: Dr. John Yates
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