Individual Relationships In The Kingdom Of God 

 

The parable of the unjust steward makes the point that in the Kingdom, the faithful will be given by Christ " the true riches...that which is your (very) own" (Lk. 16:12). The reward given will to some degree be totally personal. Each works out his own salvation, such as it will be (Phil. 2:12)- not in the sense of achieving it by works, but rather that the sort of spirituality we develop now will be the essential person we are in the eternity of God's Kingdom. When the Lord spoke of how the faithful will be clothed by Him in a robe (Mt. 22:11; Lk. 15:22), He is connecting with the usage of " clothing" as a symbol of the covering of righteousness which He gives, and which also represents the immortality of the Kingdom (1 Cor. 15:53,54; 2 Cor. 5:2-5). The choice of clothing as a symbol is significant; the robe covered all the body, except the face. The individuality of the believer still remains, in the eyes of Christ. What we sow in this life, we will receive in the relationships we have in the Kingdom; there will be something totally individual about our spirituality then, and it will be a reflection of our present spiritual struggles. This is Paul's point in the parable of the seed going into the ground and rising again, with a new body, but still related to the original seed which was sown. 

The parable of the pounds describes the reward of the faithful in terms of being given ten or five cities (Lk. 19:17). This idea of dividing up groups of cities was surely meant to send the mind back to the way Israel in their wilderness years were each promised their own individual cities and villages, which they later inherited. The idea of inheriting " ten cities" occurs in Josh. 15:57; 21:5,26; 1 Chron. 6:61 (all of which are in the context of the priests receiving their cities), and " five cities" in 1 Chron. 4:32. As each Israelite was promised some personal inheritance in the land, rather than some blanket reward which the while nation received, so we too have a personal reward prepared. The language of inheritance (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:4) and preparation of reward (Mt. 25:34; Jn. 14:1) in the NT is alluding to this OT background of the land being prepared by the Angels for Israel to inherit (Ex. 15:17 Heb.; 23:20; Ps. 68:9,10 Heb.) . We must be careful not to think that our promised inheritance is only eternal life; it is something being personally prepared for each of us. The language of preparation seems inappropriate if our reward is only eternal life. The husbandman produces fruit which is appropriate to his labours, and so our eternal future and being will be a reflection of our labours now (Heb. 6:7). Not that salvation depends upon our works: it is the free, gracious gift of God. But the nature of our eternity will be a reflection of our present efforts. 

We have elsewhere shown that our reward in the Kingdom will in some way be related to the work of upbuilding we have done with our brethren and sisters in this life (1). The " reward" which 1 Cor. 3:14 speaks of is the " work" we have built in God's ecclesia in this life. In agreement with this, Paul describes those he had laboured for as the reward he would receive in the Kingdom (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19). Relationships in the Kingdom of God were to be his reward. This not only demonstrates the impossibility of attaining the " reward" if we ignore the brotherhood; it also shows that the Kingdom will mean something different for each of us; the " reward" we will be given will be a reflection of our own personal labours for our brethren in ecclesial life.  

Some years later the Lord stressed the same point, when He promised the faithful that their reward in the Kingdom would be like a stone with a name written in it which nobody else knew, except themselves and their Lord, who gave it (Rev. 2:17). It has been suggested that this refers to a custom of writing a name on a stone, breaking the stone in half at random, and each friend keeping one half. The half stone would only fit exactly with the other half stone, and when the friends met in the future, they would fit the stones together as proof of their earlier relationship (2). Relationships in the Kingdom of God will be in that sense private and unenterable. Bible characters often have epithets in God’s record of them- Judas who betrayed, Jeroboam who made Israel sin. We will be given such a name / summation of our relationship with the Lord in the Kingdom. Nobody else knows / understands / appreciates this name. This is a clear statement that other believers cannot enter into the personal relationship between a man and his God. Likewise, none of us can know the name which was written on the Lord Jesus (Rev. 19:12). None of us will ever quite be able to enter into the nature of the relationship between Father and Son. If we could, He would not be our Lord. Paul possibly expresses the same idea of an unenterable relationship in 1 Cor. 2:15: " He that is spiritual discerneth all things (about God), yet he himself is discerned of no man" (AVmg.). Our real spiritual being is a " hidden man" (1 Pet. 3:4). The Spirit describes our final redemption as our " soul" and " spirit" being " saved" ; our innermost being, our essential spiritual personality, who we really are in spiritual terms, will as it were be immortalized (1 Pet. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5). This means that our spiritual development in this life is directly proportional to the type of person we will be for evermore. If, for example, we develop a generous spirit now, this is " a good foundation" for our future spiritual experience (1 Tim. 6:19). This is a stupendous conception, and the ultimate fillip to getting serious about our very personal spiritual development. Our mortal bodies will be changed to immortal, Spirit nature bodies according to the Spirit which now dwells in us (Rom. 8:11 Gk.). The attitude which we have to the Lord Jesus now will be the attitude we have to Him at the day of judgment (Mt. 7:23 cp. Lk. 6:46). He is the hidden manna; in the Kingdom we will eat Him, in the sense of having fellowship (the idea of ‘eating’) with Him who is now hidden from us in many ways (Rev. 2:17). 

Rev. 2:17 suggests that eating the hidden manna is to be paralleled with being given the stone. The context implies this will be done at the day of judgment. According to a number of commentators, a white stone was laid down by the judge as a sign of acquittal and acceptance (3). The Lord would therefore be implying that after our encounter at the judgment, there will be an ongoing relationship in the Kingdom of God between us, a locking together of stones which no-one else possesses. The white stone is also parallel to the white, stone-looking manna of the wilderness years (Ex. 16:14,23; Num. 11:7). The reward we will be given in the Kingdom will be our spiritual food, to be eaten 'daily' throughout the Kingdom. Israel were to eat on the seventh day (a type of the Kingdom) the manna which they had gathered and prepared on the sixth day. The manna is a symbol of God's word as expressed in Christ (Jn. 6). Biblically, a name refers to personality and character. The new name which no one else knows thus refers to the reward " prepared" for us individually, the new personality which we will be in the Kingdom, the room in the Father's house prepared for each of us (Jn. 14:1). This latter idea alludes to the way that there were chambers around the temple named after individuals (e.g. Ezra 10:6). We will each have our own chamber, in this figure. This new personality will be written on the manna / stone, it will be the result of our own very personal distilling of the essence of God's word. The concept of a name written on a stone sends the mind back to the way in which the names of the tribes of Israel were written on the stones of the breastplate, each reflecting a different aspect of the light of God's glory (Ex. 28:17). We will do this through our personal understanding of God's word. It is a comforting yet sobering thought that the Lord sees us as 'names'; not just as people. Biblically, the name speaks of the character. When He says He will confess us before the Father (Mt. 10:32), He means He will confess our name before God (Rev. 3:5); He knows us according to our names / characters. He speaks of ecclesial members as " names" in Rev. 3:4; He calls His own sheep by name, and they each know His voice, responding to His word individually. The call to one sheep will only be recognized by that sheep; the others won't respond (Jn. 10:3). He will take individual note of each sheep, treating them accordingly, as the shepherd leads more gently those that are with young (Is. 40:11). It seems that even now, we each have our own individual name with the Father and Son, encompassing their understanding of our essential character. It may even be that in the record of Scripture, God inspired the writers to record the names of individuals according to His judgment of them (or at least, how the faithful viewed them at the time), rather than by the names they actually went under. What mother would have named her child Nabal (fool), or Ahira (brother of evil, Num. 1:15), or 'sickness' or 'wasting' (Mahlon and Chilion)? These names were either given to them by others and the use adopted by God, or simply God in the record assigned them such names. 

The personality we will be in the Kingdom will reflect the struggles we have personally endured in this life. Relationships in the Kingdom of God will reflect these. Thus those who had consciously chosen to be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (4) are comforted that in the Kingdom they will be given a name and place in God's temple better than of children in this life (Is. 56:5). All the faithful will be given a name and place in the temple; so what especial consolation was this to those eunuchs? Surely the point is that the name (personality) they will then have will gloriously reflect the self-sacrifice and personal Biblical understanding which they went through in this life. This alone proves that the reward will be individual. The Lord's picture of men entering the Kingdom without limbs is surely making the same point (Mk. 9:47); the result of our self-sacrifice in this life will be reflected by the personality we have in the Kingdom. And there is evidence that the Man we follow will still bear in His body, throughout eternity, the marks of the crucifixion (Zech. 13:6; Rev. 5:6).  

As we face the Lord straight after the judgment experience, perhaps almost embarrassed at those marks He bears, there will be that unenterable personal bond between Him and us. Jeremiah, after a symbolic death and resurrection, went into the personal presence of the King for a private interview (Jer. 38); the Lord Jesus, it would seem, also had a private audience with the Father soon after His resurrection. Are these patterns of our experience? Israel left Egypt, passed through the baptism of the Red Sea, and then walked through the wilderness- all in enacted parable of our spiritual experience (1 Cor. 10:1). They then passed through the Jordan, and set foot in the land of promise (cp. our entry to the Kingdom at the judgment seat). But they had not been circumcised in the wilderness- possibly suggesting that the new Israel will not have cut off the flesh as they should have done in their wilderness walk. It is stressed at least five times in Joshua 5 that Joshua himself personally circumcised each of them, and then they kept the Passover. This would seem to tellingly point forward to our coming to the end of the wilderness walk of this life, and then entering into the Kingdom; to have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus (cp. Joshua), who performs the intensely personal operation of rolling back and cutting off the flesh, and then we sit down together and keep the Passover, as the Lord clearly intimated we would (Mt. 26:29).   This is how personal relationships in the Kingdom of God will be.

The idea of a personal meeting with the Father and Son is not only taught in typology. Job looked out of the tunnel of his depression and pain to the day when he would see God " for myself; and mine eyes shall behold (Him), and not another" (Job 19:27). Doubtless spurred by the insensitive prying into his private spirituality by his friends / brethren, Job seems to almost exult that he would see God for himself, in his own way, and nobody else (" and not another" ; see context) would see God in this way. David had a similar vision; he looked to the day of resurrection when he would be satisfied, when he awoke, with seeing the face of God with a good conscience (Ps. 17:15). These are the sort of pictures which should be embedded in our own private spirituality. Nobody, not even faithful brethren, can have dominion over our faith; by our own faith we stand (2 Cor. 1:24, filling in the ellipsis). Solomon exhorts his son to get wisdom, for " if thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it" (Prov. 9:12). The understanding of God we gain from His word, and the result of rejecting it, is so intensely personal. We each have a personal seal, as it were, with our own personal characteristics on it; and we set to our seal the fact that God is Truth, that He is the God of our covenant (" Truth" is a word associated throughout the OT with God's covenant relationship with men; Jn. 3:33). 

Is. 46:3,4 presents another such picture: " ...the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: and even to your old age, I am he; and even to hoar (i.e. gray) hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry [you]" . God is likening Himself to a woman who carries a child in her womb, then bears it, and then carries it as a baby, but still carries it when the child is an old man. Incidentally, this simile is proof enough that God is not somehow 'anti-women'. The God of all knowledge is aware of a fundamental psychological phenomena in all men; the fear, however passive and buried, of being without their mother; the fear of loneliness, the fear of eternal separation from the woman who bore and carried them. From the president to the happy village grandfather, this sense is there. Perhaps David appreciated this when he referred to a man weeping at his mother's funeral (not his father's) as the ultimate cameo of grieving and desolation of soul (Ps. 35:14). And yet God says that He is in some ways the eternal mother, the one who bore and carried us in babyhood, but the One who will yet carry us when we are gray headed and once again unable to walk. Yet He is also the everlasting Father, through His Son (Is. 9:6). It's a picture of exquisite beauty. Our relationship with God as the One who will never leave us is the only answer to what philosophers call 'the existential problem'; the awareness that has come to every thoughtful soul, the terror of being so alone as we get older, the dread of being without our human roots, of becoming the one to whom others (e.g. our children) look to as their background and root, whilst we ourselves have no tangible link with our past. This problem is defined by C.S. Lewis in The Inner Ring: " I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods...one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside" .  This horror of existential loneliness can only be met by our sure knowledge that we have a very personal relationship in the Kingdom of God with our Heavenly Father, who will never ever leave us, and will preserve us unto His eternal Kingdom. 

Individual Relationship: This Life

Having established that we have a personal relationship with the Father and Son and that this will be most clearly manifested in the relationships in the future Kingdom of God, we need to think about how this position came to be achieved; how all this works out here and now in the Kingdom of God in its present aspect. The entry of Israel into covenant with God was a pattern of what we undertake at baptism: " Thou hast (singular) avouched Yahweh this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes...and Yahweh hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people...that thou shouldest keep all his commandments" (Dt. 26:17,18). Notice the mutuality between God and the individual member of Israel (natural or spiritual). This is exemplified in Phinehas; he was commended for being zealous / jealous (same word) for Yahweh, who is Himself a jealous God (Num. 25:11). He shared the characteristics of God and thereby enjoyed this mutual relationship with God. Israel were to teach their children that God had personally saved them at the Red Sea. The covenant made with Israel then was made not only with the “fathers” who were then alive, but with every member of every generation of God’s people (Dt. 5:3; 6:20). David spoke of praising God for the health of His face; and then talks of how God is the source of the health of his face (Ps. 42:5,11 RV). It’s as if the glory of the invisible God rubbed upon David, as it did literally for Moses, whose faced became radiant with the glory of the Angel who spoke to him.  

There seems a purposeful ambiguity in how the process of calling upon the name of the Lord is described in the Greek text; it can mean both us calling upon ourselves His Name, and also His Name being named upon us by Him. Joel 2:32 says that all those whom the Lord calls will call on His Name, a prophecy fulfilled in baptism. In similar vein, the Lord Jesus lived, died and rose as the representative of all men; and those who know and believe this chose to respond by identifying themselves with Him in the symbolic death and resurrection of baptism, and subsequent life in Christ- they make Him their representative, as He has chosen to be theirs. They respond to His willing identification with them by living a life identified with Him. Likewise if a man truly believes in Christ, He will ‘commit himself’ unto him (Jn. 2:24)- the very same word for ‘believe in[to]’. We believe into the Lord, and He believes into us.  

Time and again the Sermon on the Mount / Plain seems to take a broad sweep in its record of the Lord’s teaching to us all; and then He suddenly focuses in on the individual. The AV brings this out well through the use of “you” (plural) and “thee” (singular): “Blessed are you poor…love your enemies…to him who strikes thee on the cheek…”. Note how many times there is this change of pronoun in Luke 6. Clearly the Lord wants us to see our collective standing before Him, and yet not to overlook the purely personal nature of His appeal to us individually. We are to be the ground that drinks in the rain of God’s word, and yet also the husbandmen who bring forth the fruit to God’s glory; and yet the ground brings forth fruit appropriate to those who have worked on it (Heb. 6:7). Does this not suggest that we each bring forth a unique and personally appropriate form of spiritual fruit?


Notes

(1) See 'The Judgment And The Quality Of Our Brethren', in James And Other Studies (London: Pioneer, 1992).

(2) Mentioned in H.A. Whittaker, Revelation: A  Biblical Approach (Greenville, SC: Honest Truth, 1976).

(3) See John Thomas, Eureka Vol. 1 (London: The Dawn Book Supply, 1959 Ed.), p.315.

(4) It seems this is the only recorded case of men consciously becoming eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. Did the Lord have these men of Hezekiah and Nehemiah's time in mind in Mt. 19:12?