Part Eleven

by A.E. Knoch

THE CROWNING CONTRAST between the glorious gospel of God's grace and the Circumcision may be expressed in the words buried, ascended, and seated. God has reached down deeper for us and has raised us higher to a more glorious and permanent position than even the twelve apostles who will share Christ's throne in the millennium. Peter will not even be the porter at heaven's gate, as is usually assumed. He will not ascend to heaven at all, for he will sit on his throne on earth, judging one of the tribes of Israel (Matt.19:28) during the thousand years. And his is a very special privilege which only the twelve apostles will share. In contrast, we, in spirit, have all been buried and have ascended and are seated together in Christ among the celestials. Only a few of the Circumcision attain to a high place in His earthly kingdom, for it is based on reward, while all who believe now ascend and sit with Him among the celestials, for it is the gift of grace.


Those who have been crucified with Christ have also been buried or entombed with Him (Rom.6:4; Col.2:12,). Figuratively, in spirit and in truth, their flesh has been consigned to the grave, where sin and the law can have no further power over them. This is directly opposed to the evangel of the Circumcision, for it is Israel after the flesh who are to rule over the nations as kings and priests in the day of Yahweh. They do not die to the law, for it is written on their hearts of flesh (Ezek.36:26,27). They do not die to sin, but are sustained by eating the fruit of the tree of life and drinking the water of life (Rev.22:1,2). God is not through with His demonstration of the futility of the flesh in their case. Not only Israel must be further tested under a perfect government, but the nations also must be put under ideal conditions to show the weakness of the flesh. Today mankind might say that it has had no chance. Everything, within and without, is against it. Then this will be reversed, especially in Israel. It is only as we see that, even under the best environment, mankind is a failure apart from God, that we realize that burial is the only fate that fits the race that sprung from Adam.

In the Circumcision evangel the Uncircumcision are given a low place indeed, altogether subordinate to the favored nation. But this is not nearly so low as that assigned to them in our gospel of grace. Then we were aliens, afar off, unclean curs in the eyes of a Jew. Even in the millennium the nations will continue to rank far below Israel. But now God deals with us as dead and buried, put beneath the soil lest we pollute the atmosphere. If a live cur is better than a dead lion, what is our worth as a dead cur? In ourselves, in God's estimate, we have sunk far below the Circumcision. If we were to reason about the matter logically, then the proper place of the believer among the nations today should be far beneath that of any other era. Let us not miss this or refuse its humiliating message, for it is the essential foundation for grace. If the evangel Paul preached were for people so much better than the Jews that they will be rewarded with heaven for their goodness, then grace is gone. Then there is no evangel at all. Our burial makes it a superlatively gracious evangel, just as our ascent to the celestials and seat in Him makes it the most glorious of all the gospel God has given.

When Christ was entombed it was the first step in His exaltation to the highest place in the universe. His crucifixion had brought Him to the deepest depth. As His mediatorial, sacrificial work was finished, nothing more was needed to justify mankind and reconcile the universe, so far as His suffering was concerned.

Indeed, in death no suffering was possible. Hence He was not hurried away into a criminal's grave, to go to corruption among the desecrated dead. Instead, a rich man gave Him his tomb, and His body was given tender care by His loving disciples. Is it not a marvel that His descent to the deepest depth on earth should fit Him for the highest heights of heaven? The same marvel is seen in our evangel. This tremendous contrast should enable us to grasp the fullness of God's grace. We miss this overwhelming favor if we confuse the two evangels. In one, a chosen nation is exalted to a promised place of supremacy on the earth. In the other, the dregs of humanity are exalted to supernal glory in the heavens, quite the reverse of what they expect or deserve.

No stranger, no uncircumcised alien, could be accorded a place in the tomb of an Israelite. Having been with Him in His crucifixion, we would be hustled off to the potter's field, and left to go to corruption among the dishonored dead, unless, indeed, our carcasses were burned in Gehenna, along with the rubbish and offal of the city. I once wondered why the priests bought a potter's field as a burial ground with the ill-gotten gain of Judas' betrayal. After living in Palestine, I have thought it likely that the field was something like the tombs of that day, or the catacombs, due to the removal of the clay deposits, and thus would provide an easy method of disposing of the carcasses of those who had no tomb of their own, and who did not belong to the favored nation.

The Field of the Potter, the cemetery for strangers, is the only proper burial place for the Uncircumcision, who could have no share in the tombs of Israel (Matt. 27:7). When I explored some of the tombs near Jerusalem I marvelled at the vast amount of toil needed to hew them out of the solid stone. It was a great disgrace for a man to be denied burial in the tombs of his fathers (1 Kings 13:22). Some of the kings were not entombed in the royal sepulchers (2 Chron.21:20; 24:25; 24:27). This is in line with the future of Israel, whose bodies will not be changed like ours, and fitted for a new sphere altogether. Like the new birth, in contrast with the new creation, their's will be more of a renewal than a complete reconstruction. This is suggested in the mode of burial. Is that why the figure changes from entombment to planting (Rom.6:4,5)?


Christ ascended to His Father soon after His rousing from the dead (John 20:17). About forty days later, He again ascended from the midst of the apostles, on the mount of Olives. The latter event is the one usually referred to as the ascension. The former has been almost forgotten, and is usually ignored. Yet this first ascension, before He was touched by human hands, should be of overwhelming interest to us in this administration of grace. The one from Olivet is altogether concerned with the coming kingdom. Is it not strange that our Lord would not allow Miriam to touch Him at that time? A week or so later He invited doubting Thomas to thrust his hand into His side. Israel is the nation that knew Him according to the flesh. He was physically of the same stock. But Paul, even though he also was related to Him by fleshly ties, repudiates them (2 Cor.5:16). Would not our Lord's refusal to allow anyone to touch Him indicate that He could not concern himself with Israel until after He had gone on high and had been crowned with His celestial honors, and invested with those greater glories which His sacrifice deserved? Among these was the Headship of the universe and of that figurative body which would be composed of all who had, in spirit, been crucified with Him, and buried with Him, and now ascended with Him before His public ascension on Olivet.

The advent of Christ's presence when He comes to set up His kingdom will take place where He ascended. As we read in the prophets, His feet stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is adjoining Jerusalem on the east (Zech.14:4), the very spot from which He ascended. I have spent much time on this sacred ridge, meditating on the marvelous scene which it has already witnessed at His ascension, and the far more glorious spectacle when He returns in the future. How fitting it is that the great King should reappear at the very point of His departure! It is a magnificent location, which can be seen from almost every part of Jerusalem, and even from beyond the Jordan on the east. Views of the whole city are usually taken from this site, as it is considerably higher and gives an unobstructed view of every part.

For many years, before I fully realized that Paul had given us a prior expectation, I used the words, "this Jesus Who is being taken up from you into heaven shall come in the same manner as you gaze upon Him going into heaven," in order to prove that Christ would return personally and visibly. But I failed to note that His coming to Olivet is to His earthly people. For us He does not come to the earth at all, but to the air. The truth for us is found in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, not in Peter's address to the Jews. Unless we had Paul's epistles to the nations, we would never have known the great truths involved in His crucifixion, His burial, and His ascension. For us Christ did not ascend publicly from the midst of His followers gathered on Olivet. He ascended as He will come, quite unknown to the world, unseen and unsuspected. At His return for us he will come back to within hail of the graves of those who, in spirit, had been buried with Him, and calls them to ascend to Him in the air, not to return and rule on earth, but to rise to heights supernal to reign with Him in realms celestial.

The uppermost thought in the mind of the disciples was the establishment of the kingdom. They asked Him, "Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" And, indeed, why was it not brought in at that time? The foundation had been laid. The great Sacrifice had been offered. The time was fulfilled. The King had been raised from the dead. But God's great demonstration of the infirmity and futility of the flesh would not be complete until this kingdom has been heralded, both in and out of the land, and rejected by the nation as a whole, under conditions such as cannot obtain in the Kingdom itself. The story of the book of Acts, like the account of the forty years in the wilderness, is a record of the failure of the flesh. Like the history of the kings of Israel, it shows how far the flesh is from the goal of God. To have restored the kingdom at that time would have made the experiment impossible. Nevertheless they are led out to the actual spot and shown the very manner in which He will return to set up the Kingdom for which they longed.

The context, the setting, everything connected with the Olivet ascension, shows that it has to do with Israel and the return of the Messiah in glory to the earth. Then it is that He will come on the clouds of heaven (Matt.24:30). True, we shall be caught up in clouds to meet Him when He comes for us, but He will not come on the clouds at that time (Thess.4:17). Our meeting will be in the air, not on the mount of Olives. The greatest difference of all is found in the fact that the disciples did not ascend. The Circumcision evangel is utterly at variance with any such action. At this previous ascension from the garden of the tomb, in spirit, He took us with Him. If we were crucified with Him and buried with Him, then we also ascended with Him before He made any physical contact with His Circumcision saints. And, in contrast to the little group of disciples gazing at Him being taken from them, He left none of us behind upon the earth, but brought us all into His heavenly haven above.


The union of Circumcision with Uncircumcision is one of the prime points of contrast between the two evangels. Proselytes were joined to Israel by a lengthy physical process. But the Circumcision who believe in this gracious era were made one with us in Christ when He was vivified, and are seated together with us in Him among the celestials (Eph.2:5,6). The great grace shown to the Circumcision under the evangel of the Uncircumcision is in striking contrast to the rejection, or tardy acceptance of the Uncircumcision who wished to join Yahweh's fleshly people.

Union, or incorporation into the nation of Israel, is primarily a matter of the flesh. Even those born into it are excluded if they have certain physical defects (Deut.23:1,2). An Ammonite or a Moabite was not allowed to enter the congregation of Yahweh until the tenth generation, because they were hostile to Israel at the exodus from Egypt, and tried to get Balaam to curse God's people. Yet an Edomite or an Egyptian and their children are shut out only to the third generation (Deut.23:3-8). The stranger who sojourns among them cannot keep the passover with them unless he is first circumcised in flesh (Ex.12:48).

Many, seem to think that "gentiles" were not excluded from Israel when they believed the Kingdom evangel, and that the heralding of the Kingdom did away with all such barriers. On the contrary, our Lord Himself made it plain that He was not commissioned except for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt.15:24). When the Canaanitish woman sought to have the demons driven out of her daughter, she actually worshiped Him, and pleaded with Him to help her. Yet He said, "It is not ideal to be taking the children's bread and be casting it to the puppies." All that He gave her were the scraps that Israel let fall under the table. Only her great faith brought the blessing she desired, despite the hindrance of the flesh. Even then she was not united to Israel, and could not enter the sanctuary in which Yahweh had his dwelling place.

But was not Cornelius admitted into the sacred circle of the Circumcision? He was a devout man, who feared God with his entire house, giving many alms and beseeching God continually. Peter, by means of a vision, was assured that he was not common or unclean. God Himself had cleansed him. Let us suppose that such a man were among us today, only, instead of a gentile, he is a Jew. Would we receive him into fellowship? Of course we would! But it is very evident that he was not accepted by the Jews, for they opposed Peter, and even after they knew that the holy spirit had been poured out upon him and his friends, after they had been baptized, and after they manifested the gift of tongues, they are not joined to the nation of Israel. The Jews concluded from his case that God gives repentance unto life to the other nations also. And why is he excluded? He was uncircumcised! He had spiritual blessings bestowed upon him, but these were not the link in the evangel of the Circumcision. He is an example of the place given to the other nations in the Kingdom. They are blessed through Israel, but are not joined to the holy nation.

So persistent is the feeling of exclusiveness among the Circumcision that it is quite prominent even today among Jewish believers. The great church organizations almost all welcome Israelites to their communion, and there is no thought of keeping them by themselves. In fact, they are often accorded an honored place, because of their physical relationship with our Lord. I have never heard of a "gentile" Christian church. But wherever numbers of Jews believe there seems to be a tendency to form a distinct organization, a "Jewish" Christian communion, with a distinct task and sometimes even with a distinct faith, in anticipation of the time of the end, after the ecclesia is gone, and the evangel of the Kingdom is once more in force.

There was considerable sentiment among believers on the continent of Europe in favor of a separate Jewish Christian organization, to work principally among their brethren according to the flesh. Later another similar movement was started in Switzerland, but the work is now centered in England. Even in the city where this is written there is a "Christian synagogue," with a radio ministry over the whole United States, especially devoted, not only to the evangelization of the Jews, but with a separate Jewish communion. I am quite sure that none of these realize that their separation is based on the flesh, and does not accord with the spiritual union which characterizes all saints in this day of transcendent grace. These modern examples should help us to grasp the vital distinction between the union of Circumcision and Uncircumcision in spirit in this era, and that in flesh in the past and in the future.

Much of the grace which characterizes God's present work, in contrast to that connected with the Kingdom to Israel is conveyed to us by the connectives TOGETHER and IN. Instead of being related to Messiah by ties of flesh, we are united to Christ by that which we have in common with Him, or by being figuratively in Him. Because these are spiritual realities, they are not hampered by the limitations of time or space. We had much in Him and with Him long before our birth. Yet the actual enjoyment of our blessings will be in a sphere for which we are not fitted as we are. He does not only act for us as our Saviour, but unites us with Him and counts us in Him in His official place and glory. These utterly transcend His physical contacts with saints in Israel.

The transcendent riches of God's grace will be displayed in the on-coming eons in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. This is not yet apparent except to the eye of faith. Physically, believers among the nations have not been seated together with believing Israelites among the celestials. We are all too conscious of our lowly and corruptible carcasses on the earth. Only by faith can we see ourselves in anticipation with immortal powerful, glorious, spiritual bodies, like that of Christ, our Saviour and Lord, seated among the celestials. There will be no real rest for us down here. Up there it would be ineffable even to stand in the presence of His majesty. Yet we shall sit at perfect ease, being conscious that not we alone are immeasurably blessed, but that our blessing will reveal the depths of God's love to an amazed universe, who will see through us what His grace can achieve, and so the worship and the acclaim and the glory will be His.

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