by David Mann

WHEN WE TAKE UP Paul's epistle to the Ephesians and read in verse three of chapter one, that "God blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials in Christ," we realize that we have come a long way from the message proclaimed by John the Baptist, our Lord, and those commissioned by Him after His resurrection.

The accompanying chart has been drawn up for the purpose of helping God's saints to see how He was unfolding His purpose relating to the celestials during the transitional period, covered by the book of Acts.

Much of the darkness that exists among God's people today is due to the religious background, that the vast majority of us have been educated in. If all believers from Abel down had been in heaven for years before Paul penned this epistle, what is new or novel about being blessed among the celestials? It is only when we see the scriptural background to this revelation, that we will be able to grasp and appreciate the grace as set forth in this marvelous epistle. The celestials are not the abode of human beings. Man is not fitted for that realm, and until Paul comes upon the scene and begins to make known the secrets revealed to him, all expectation, all destiny, whether for Israel or the nations, was confined to the earth. Blessing was from heaven, but not in it.

As we open our so-called New Testament and begin to read the different accounts, commonly called "Gospels," we are introduced to John the Baptist, who as the forerunner of our Lord came to Israel with a message of repentance in order to prepare them for the One Who was coming after him. The day of Israel's long-awaited deliverance was now at hand. The One in Whom the patriarchal promises were to be confirmed was about to appear. How will they receive Him? We today know the answer to that question, but at that time God's further dealings with the chosen nation depended upon it. When we turn to Mark's account, chapter one, verse fourteen, we find that after the giving up of John, Jesus came into Galilee, heralding the evangel of the kingdom of God, saying, "Fulfilled is the era, and near is the kingdom of God! Repent and believe in the evangel."

Fulfilled is the era. This is the era that Daniel had been told about by God's messenger, the man Gabriel, as we see in chapter nine of his prophecy, while he was still a captive, away from his native land.

Daniel and his people had been in Babylon as captives for well-nigh seventy years, because of their failure to let their land keep its sabbaths, for four hundred and ninety years, and as that period had just about expired, Daniel was looking forward to the day when once again he would sing Zion's songs in Zion. While it was true that Judah did return to their land later, yet that long-looked-for day, when Messiah would sit upon His throne, had been put away into the future, and instead of the kingdom coming at the close of their seventy years of captivity, it would take seventy sevens, or another period of four hundred and ninety years. As we read that prophecy of Daniel nine carefully, we notice that Messiah would come before the end of those seventy sevens of years, in other words, after the sixty-ninth seven, He would appear, and be cut off, and have nothing.

Here we have the key to Mark one, verse fifteen, "Fulfilled is the era." Messiah is now on the scene heralding to Israel this evangel of the nearness of the kingdom. We have only to read on in these four accounts of our Lord's ministry to see what answer Israel, in her calloused condition of heart, gave to His gracious invitation, "Hither to Me all who are toiling and laden, and I will be giving you rest." If any people were in need of rest at that time (and even yet), it was God's chosen nation. They were toiling, they were laden, but didn't know it, and instead of opening their hearts to the One Who alone could have taken their load and given them rest, they spurned His offer until He had to denounce them as a progeny of vipers. After that He cautions His disciples not to say that He is the Messiah. The door was closed.

It is at this development that we find our Lord telling His followers for the first time that He must be suffering at the hands of the leaders of the nation, the elders, the chief priests and scribes. These leaders refused to enter the door into the kingdom, which He had opened by His call to repentance, and also sought to hinder those who would. What will He do now? He closes and locks the door, and before another opportunity will be given Israel to enter the kingdom, He must go to the cross.

In spite of all the bitterness and callousness of heart that Israel showed toward Him, we find God in His mercy shedding a ray of light on this sad and deplorable scene.

Peter had just confessed, in answer to the question asked by our Lord, that He was the Messiah, Son of the Living God, and in return, Jesus told him that this was the foundation upon which He would build His future ecclesia, and that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of the heavens.

As we close the so-called gospels, and see our Lord once more alive in resurrection, we open the book of Acts, and find Him among His disciples once again. The question uppermost in their minds at this time is still the kingdom. Is it going to be restored now, seeing that Peter had been given authority to once again throw open its door to Israel? His answer to their question is neither yes nor no. It is simply, "Not yours is it to know." They must wait to see how the rulers will treat those whom He is about to send, as they a second time herald the kingdom as near.

Then once again, in the early chapters of Acts, we find the door into the kingdom thrown open to Israel, and the evangel is proclaimed in the power of the holy spirit, accompanied by gifts, which were the powerful deeds of that impending eon (Heb.6:5). How will Israel respond to His call out of the heavens (Heb.12:25)? We don't get far in that book before we discover that Israel's heart has not softened toward God and His Son. Thousands of the rank and file accept the message, but the rulers are as bitter as ever, and again their cry is, "We will not have this Man to rule over us." Away with Him, away with Him. Let Him be crucified (afresh Heb.10)!

As we trace this kingdom message through the book of Acts, we find the powers of the impending eon at work, both in blessing and cursing, but when we reach chapter nine, something startling meets our gaze. The rulers at Jerusalem have employed one man, Saul by name, to stamp out of the land this heresy, that is beginning to gain ground among the common people. They give him authority, as he is a fit man for the job. And off he goes on this errand of murder.

He is on his way to Damascus to bring to trial those who have renounced the faith of their fathers. But suddenly, at mid-day, there is a light, above the brightness of the sun, and this ringleader of that murderous gang is struck to the earth, blind. Then he hears a voice. He has never beard this voice before, and he asks, "Who art Thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting."

Yes, he had heard of that One. But that was in Jerusalem, and now He speaks from heaven! Has God forgotten Himself, has he forgotten the sufferings of His Son at the hands of such as this man Saul? Is He not going to strike him dead, seeing he has committed sin worthy of death? Saul no doubt had heard of the judgment that had fallen on a man and his wife just a short time previous, for having lied about the offering they made to further the kingdom. Such could not enjoy an allotment in this kingdom. And is this man, the foremost of sinners, to go free?

Here is Messiah's worst enemy. How is He going to treat him? Listen to His words of grace. "He is My chosen vessel." Such grace had never been heard of before. No man who meets his enemy will let him go free (1 Sam.24:19). But God is no man, and in Saul of Tarsus He finds a pattern of those He is about to deal with, not on kingdom grounds, but on the ground of grace.

On that Damascus road Saul got a glimpse of the glory of Christ, of which he was to be the herald in later years. Messiah does not wait for the tardy kingdom in order to get glory. God had already crowned Him with celestial honors, and only those whose apprehensions have been blinded by the god of this eon, fail to revel in this evangel. This man would not make a proper representative of the kingdom. He is too bad, just as Barnabas was too good to show forth this grace lavished on Saul.

God is about to begin to work differently in and through this chosen vessel, and we next see him, in Acts thirteen, severed from the other teachers by the holy spirit, and, along with Barnabas, sent on a missionary journey. This mission occupies chapters thirteen and fourteen of the Acts, and here again we find God at work, not in accord with kingdom principles, but on the ground of grace. It was shown this time to those of the nations, rather than to the sons of Israel.

In the early chapters of Acts we saw how God had once more opened the door of the kingdom to Israel, through Peter to whom Messiah had given the keys, but now we hear of God having opened another door for the nations through this chosen vessel, Paul.

At this point we might well ask the question, Had not that door of faith been open for the nations all along? Had not Peter preached faith to Cornelius? Did not the Ethiopian believe the evangel of Jesus that Philip preached? Surely they did. Then what is so startling about the nations believing through Paul, that he has to make mention of it on his return to Antioch? If we carefully compare what Peter declared to Cornelius, with Paul's sermon at Antioch in Pisidia, we will find a hint (which is lacking in Peter's message to Cornelius) of the subject that he later develops in his Roman letter, when he speaks to, and about the nations regarding their condition before God, as righteous and as justified. Both sermons mention the pardon of sins, but we can gather from the hint, in Acts 13:39, that Paul had something for the nations, apart from the kingdom. For this ministry he was chosen, and as an enemy of God and His Son. He was a pattern of those who enjoy reconciliation with God.

So now we have two open doors in Acts, and as we trace these through that book, we will detect that one is beginning to close. The kingdom expectation is gradually fading out of the picture, Peter passes from view in chapter twelve, and has a brief word to say in chapter fifteen at the conference in Jerusalem, and then is gone from that book, to appear again in the future to open the door to the kingdom through his epistles, when God once more begins to deal with Israel, to prepare them for their promised destiny on the earth. When we reach the end of that transitional period, covered by Acts, we find the door into the kingdom closed, while the door of faith to the nations, is wide open.

Paul's earlier epistles have been gradually pushing ajar that door of faith, until Israel is finally out of the picture, their religious supremacy has gone, and the nations can approach God without having to come through Israel's mediary. As we read Paul's earlier epistles in their chronological order, we discover that the world has been conciliated, that the saints to whom Paul ministered are already in spirit in the new creation. We skip the kingdom with its earthly expectation. We leave to Peter and those who believed his evangel of pardon which they will enjoy on the earth, while we of the nations who have believed, who have peace with God because of our reconciliation will be among the celestials with Him Who is our peace, along with those of Israel who have believed Paul's message in this administration of transcendent grace.

At this point it might be well to say a few words regarding the chart. During the time covered by the book of Acts, or from the Ministry of Peter and the twelve until Paul writes his Ephesian epistle, we have a readjustment from earth to heaven, and from flesh to spirit. The door that had been opened by John the Baptist and our Lord through their heralding of the nearness of the kingdom, and later had been closed by Him, when He told His disciples to say no more that He was the Messiah, and quoted the sixth of Isaiah, was once more opened by Peter in chapter two of the book of Acts, to the same people whose standing was in flesh. They were the Circumcision in flesh and as such had not learned that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing.

This truth will not be realized by them, nor by the rest of mankind, until the eons have finished their course. Then and only then will man know himself, and see how weak the flesh is. As we trace the doings of the flesh in the book of Acts, we see this great truth demonstrated time and time again. And as the flesh fades into the background, we see spirit gradually coming to the forefront in all of Paul's epistles, until we reach Ephesians, where we have believers of this administration blessed with every spiritual blessing, and that among the celestials. We are not only rid of flesh, but we have left the earth for the heavens, where Peter and those with him will never enter, being destined for a place in the kingdom on earth. Paul, in his earlier epistles, is leading up to the point where the flesh is wholly set aside during this present administration of grace. We have attained in spirit, what will be literally experienced at the consummations of the eons. We confess that those who are in the flesh cannot please God, and base no blessing upon it whatever.

When we reach the end of Acts, we have Paul quoting from the sixth of Isaiah, the solemn words which closed the kingdom door once more to Israel. The only door now open is the door of faith that God had opened to the nations through Paul in Acts 13 and 14. If a Jew today desires to come to God, he must come through this door of faith, and not one iota of work or suffering dare show its face through the portals. It is of faith that it may accord with grace.

When the present conciliation has been withdrawn, and God begins once more to deal with Israel as a nation, the flesh will again come to the front, during the two oncoming eons, but in a lesser degree, than it did in the past. In the kingdom there will be more and more of spirit, as God imparts His laws to their comprehension and inscribes them on their hearts. The door into the kingdom will once again be thrown open, the epistles of Peter, James, John, Jude and the Unveiling will then become present truth.

In our study of this installment period, covered in time by the book of Acts, we have seen that the flesh always hinders rather than helps in mankind's approach to God. In the present administration of grace, the body of the flesh has been stripped off, in the circumcision of Christ. (Col.2:11), and all worship or service acceptable to Him must be motivated by spirit.

As we meditate on the grace, the riches of grace, the glorious grace, the grace lavished upon us, as set forth in this epistle to the Ephesians, we bow before Him and worship Him, as we exclaim with that great defender of grace, Paul, "Not of works, lest anyone should be boasting" (Eph.2:9)!

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