Under the Canopy of Heaven 3. The Will of Heaven

 Rev 4:1-11; Mark 14:32-42


Over the last few weeks I’ve emphasised that the heavenly world which once belonged exclusively to God has now been united to the earth in the God-man Jesus Christ (Ps 116:15 ESV).

Now by faith we “ vs.2 set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. vs.3 For we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God

Col 3:2-3

If our life is hid with Christ in God then our wills should be directed from heaven.

This is where we need much help today. Much popular preaching assumes we have the power to will whatever we choose, but our failure to choose holiness exposes this as untrue. I know I don’t have it in me to move my will into a greater godliness (cf. Rom 7:15 ESV). The will is the steering wheel of life; if God has our wills he has all of us.

P.T. Forsyth made a correct pastoral observation when he remarked, “our will is our deepest life, the thing we cling to most”, or, “our will alone is our ownest own”.

Even on their death bed some people who should know better refuse entrust to entrust their wills to Christ choosing to possess their own wills to the very last. Whatever philosophy, psychology or neurology may teach us about us about the nature and meaning of the will only a revelation of the character of the will of God can turn our wills to conform to his will.

To say the same thing from the opposite angle, a rebellious will always flows from unbelief concerning the goodness of the will of the heavenly Father (Jer 16:12 ESV).

Q: What do we know from scripture about the overarching will of God for his creation?

God’s Will

When John was taken through the open door into heaven he beheld the heavenly host around the throne of God glorying in his will, “vs.1 the twenty-four elders… vs.10 worship him who lives forever and ever… saying, vs.11Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”” (Rev 4:1, 10-11 ESV)

Heaven is where the will of God is always done; this is what makes it a place of supreme blessedness. The heavenly beings however are praising God not only for their heavenly locale but for his creation of “all things”.

They exult in the will of God not simply for the “very goodness(Gen 1:31 ESV) of his original creative acts but in all things across history.

This language echoes the praise of God in Daniel 4:35 ESV, “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?””.

Not all things on earth are good but the will of God for all things is “good and acceptable and perfect(Rom 12:2 ESV).

Our wilful disobedience is a sign that we do not believe God’s will is for our best. One of the worst decisions I ever made as a young Christian was to consciously shut off from the presence of the Lord.

This caused me great inner grief and distress for quite a long time.

When Paul speaks of, “the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will(Eph 1:11 ESV) we must accept that even in his dealings with suffering and evil God has a good will.

The question of the alignment of heaven and earth in the will of God raises sharply the problem of an evil will.

Satan’s Will

The battle between God and the devil for humanity is centred on the human will, a will designed to centre on the revelation of God’s will in his Word.

In Eden Adam and Eve were deceived into exchanging obedience to God in his Word for submission to Satan in his word (Gen 3:1-6 ESV)

This was a total choice to turn away from the God as a faithful Father (Luke 3:38 ESV) to trust in a lying father.

As Christ said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.(John 8:44 ESV).

To sin means to share in the satanic nature (Matt 13:38 ESV; 1 John 3:10 ESV).

Luther used this analogy; “the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills…(Ps. 73:22 ESV f.)If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills… the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it.

When God’s will rules our wills we are truly free, but Satan’s will brings enslavement.

When “Satan entered into Judas… Iscariot(Luke 22:3 ESV) he was rendered impotent under the power of the devil.

Paul isn’t embarrassed to use such strong language about the bondage of the will, “God may perhaps grant them (opponents of the gospel) repentance…and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.(2 Tim 2:26 ESV cf. 1 Tim 1:20 ESV cf. 1 Cor 5:5 ESV).

We were not created to have a self-standing will; we were created with the goal of being filled with the love and knowledge of God and being irresistibly moved to submit to our creator as our true end.

Failing that we will be ruled over by a “strong man” stronger than us (Matt 12:29 ESV). God said, “‘I have found in David… a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’” (Acts 13:22 ESV).

But when “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to take a census of the people of Israel(1 Chron 21:1 ESV) David sinned and judgement fell on the nation. Only Jesus defines his existence in terms of infallibly doing the will of his Father in heaven.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God


The Son of God came down from heaven and was born in order to keep God’s will and give him pleasure in a way we never could. “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your willO God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”” (Heb 10:6-7 ESV).

Complete obedience to the will of God is at the heart of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, ““My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”(John 4:34 ESV cf. John 19:30 ESV).

This line from the Lord’s Prayer is justly famous, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.(Matt 6:10 ESV).

God’s will is done perfectly in heaven because his throne is there, and the complete earthly expression of the will of the Father is the Son’s obedient words and works.

The will of Jesus is held within the will of the Father in a constant communion between heaven and earth. By “seeing” and following what his Father is willing in heaven (John 5:19 ESV) the kingdom of God breaks into earth through Jesus in an unprecedented way.

No wonder the crowds that welcomed him into Jerusalem supposed that “the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (Luke 19:11 ESV).

Being “of the earth” rather than “from heaven(John 3:31 ESV) they were grossly mistaken, mistaken because they could not see that the will of heaven was that Messiah “must” die (Mark 8:31 ESV; Luke 21:7 ESV).

The Will Of The Cross

The will of God brings together joy and suffering in a way that only makes sense through the life of Jesus. Christ was baptised into the “pleasing will” of the Father at the Jordan but at the same time this is a baptism to “fulfil all righteousness” through atoning death (Matt 3:15-17 ESV).

Only as he approaches this hour are there signs of a struggle between Jesus’ human will and the will of God; “ vs.27Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. vs.28 Father, glorify your name.”(John 12:27-28 ESV).

His struggle to will the will of God progresses until he prays in Gethsemane, ““Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”(Mark 14:36 ESV).

The “cup” stands for the wrath of God (Isa 51:17 ESV; Jer 25:15-17 ESV; Rev 14:9-10 ESV) and Jesus is recoiling at the knowledge that obedience to God’s will bring separation from the life of his Father.

This prospect was so dreadful that when Jesus says to his disciples, ““My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.(Mark 14:34 ESV) we must take this literally.

Jesus is dying in Gethsemane and needs to be helped on by “an angel from heaven(Luke 22:43 ESV).

It was impossible for the will of Jesus as a human being to say “Yes” to the impending prospect of the dereliction and darkness of the cross (Mark 15:33-34 ESV) without heavenly help of the profoundest kind.

The anguish in Christ’s heart is unimaginable to us sinners but the insights of Karl Barth are helpful, “The will of God was done as the will of Satan was done. The answer of God was identical with the action of Satan. That was the frightful thing…. What shook him (Jesus) was the coming concealment of the lordship of God under the lordship of evil1)CD IV/1, 59 p.268f..

That the Father would use evil to destroy evil was something to which Jesus had to submit and it would mean the complete obscuring of the will of heaven, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:34 ESV).

How was it possible for Jesus to embrace the humanly impossible?

This is a mystery only scripture can point to.

The will of God symbolised by the cup Jesus accepts in Gethsemane is one with the will of God praised by the angelic host in Revelation 4.

The good pleasing and perfect will of offering up his body as a living sacrifice to redeem creation (cf. Rom 12:1-2 ESV; Heb 10:5-7 ESV).

The heavenly will Jesus receives in Gethsemane is one with “with the precious blood of… a lamb without blemish or… chosen before the creation of the world(1 Pet 1:19- 20 ESV), one with “the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made(Rev 13:8 ESV).

The intelligibility and unity of heaven and earth of God and humanity is found in the agreement of the will of Jesus with the will of his “Abba, Father,(Mark 14:36 ESV) to be crucified for us.

Through the obedience of the cross (Phil 2:8 ESV) the willing of heaven and of earth are united indivisibly and eternally in Christ.

In him our earth bound human wills have been taken up into the will of God in heaven (Col 3:3 ESV).

The outworking of this in the life of the Church is both marvellous and difficult.

The Will in the Church

Since “ vs.9 God has now revealed to us the mystery of his will… which he set forth in Christ vs.10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.(Eph 1:9-10 ESV) we should be able to discern God’s reconciling will in all the circumstances of life (Col 1:20 ESV).

Whereas under the old covenant God willed our wills (Prov 21:1 ESV) through dwelling in us through the new covenant he wills in our wills.  Born “from above” our wills are being recreated according to the will of heaven (John 3:3 ESV cf. Phil 2:13 ESV).

The more powerful the will of God in us the more powerful our wills become in ever deeper communion with the heavenly Lord. This has a deeply practical outworking.

Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be/shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be/shall have been loosed in heaven.”(Matt 16:19 ESV).

Peter will pass on decisions that will have already been made in heaven (cf. Matt 18:18-20 ESV).

This possesses great authority. For example, communion with the heavenly dominion when Peter says to Sapphira, “vs.9Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” ……. vs.10 Immediately she fell down… and breathed her last.”” (Acts 5:9-10 ESV cf. 1 Cor 5:3-5 ESV).

The heavenly-earthly connection explains why the healings in Acts involve declarations rather than petitions, “vs.4 Peter directed his gaze at him…vs.6 In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”…. vs.8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk”….vs.9 And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.(e.g. Acts 3:4, 6, 8 ESV; 14:9-10 ESV).

In these examples the healings are preceded by a “stare”, where a Greek word is used that indicates a revelatory experience, an epiphany of divine power (cf. Acts 7:55 ESV).

Insight into heaven means that deeds performed on earth have the power, right and validity of the will of God in heaven.

In a way that is more real than anything in this age those who receive the presence and power of the kingdom of God are seen in the light of the End where everything in heaven and earth will be united in Christ (Eph 1:9-10 ESV cf. 1 Cor 3:21-22 ESV).

Their healing occurs not because faith influenced God’s will but by an agreement in Christ between an earthly human will and God’s will in heaven. As a church community we are always called to manifest this end-time rule of God in Christ living out the rule of the heavenly dominion.

I remember listening to Yonggi Cho recount a time when a sick person was carried into his office. He was so convicted that it was God’s will to heal them he simply told them to get up, and they did! I remember praying for someone in Argentina in a way that pronounced God’s power over them, and it happened.


Having a heaven’s eye view of the will of God assures our faith in the knowledge that God’s purposes cannot fail. Why then are we so often confused about what is the will of heaven and then are afraid to do it?  

I believe an answer is found in the teaching of Philippians 2 about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ.

It was the will of God that Jesus empty himself, die on the cross and be exalted so that the worship which the Father receives might be his also,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord(Phil 2:11 ESV cf. Isa 45:23 ESV).

This is Paul’s way of saying that the will of God praised by the heavenly host in Revelation 4 shall be realised in Christ.

He then goes on to apply this exalted theology in a way to how we should live, “vs.12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,vs.13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.(Phil 2:12-13 ESV).

God is working his will out in our lives by the same means and for the same purpose as he did in Jesus; suffering for glory, humiliation for exaltation and all for his “good pleasure” which he delights to share with us (cf. Eph 1:5, 9 ESV).

We have something more wonderful than the angelic powers ceaselessly worshiping the will of God for creating (Rev 4:11 ESV), for they can only do so only from some distance (1 Pet 1:12 ESV).

For unlike us they cannot “suffer in the flesh” as Jesus did (1 Pet 4:1 ESV) that God might be glorified in all things. 

This is our unique privilege in the will of God beyond all other creatures.

The Church as we know it today struggles to know and obey the will of God because it is put off  by the struggles and suffering that following Jesus will always bring.

This is understandable; but more fundamentally the people of God are held back because they lack a heavenly revelation that such suffering is more than worth it (2 Cor 4:17-18 ESV).

Let us ask God for an unveiling of the greatness of the heavenly realm in Christ, which is our destiny in him, in order that our hearts might be moved to a deeper and deeper obedience.

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 2nd July, 2018 | Alive@5

Author: Dr. John Yates

MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 2nd July, 2018  

References   [ + ]

1. CD IV/1, 59 p.268f.

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