When Language Becomes Inadequate
By Al Stoner
". . . whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away" (I Cor. 13:8).
The entrance of sin into the world had blighted our race of all right thinking and understanding of our "Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25). Sin caused men to be uncomfortable in the Presence of God, to have completely wrong thoughts about pleasing Him, being accepted of Him, serving Him, and even to refusing to have Him in their knowledge. Thus, in redeeming His fallen creatures back to Himself, God would not only have to "devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him" (II Sam. 14:14), but He would also have to vindicate Himself before a host of heavenly onlookers, and an assembled universe for conducting Himself in this manner. God has "set forth" the Lord Jesus Christ "to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His [that is, God's] righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26). He would demonstrate before all that it is, in fact, a righteous thing for Him to forgive sins because His Son, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world.
These are things which are made abundantly plain in the proclamation of the gospel, but for four millennia of time, the fact that men had sinned, and that God did not summarily cast them away from His Presence, was a mystery to the heavenly intelligences. It was a mystery that would forever be clarified by the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which did follow. Thus, in the time "from Adam to Moses" (Rom. 5:14), and from the giving of the law unto Christ, when God would speak to men through His Seers and Prophets, He would have to speak of that which He Himself would be doing in coming dispensations in language that men, in those early times, could comprehend. Such things as the meticulous, but shadowy descriptions of sacrifices, offerings, and priestly requirements in Exodus and Leviticus, the somewhat clearer, but yet vague language pointing to a work that God Himself was going to do to remedy the sin issue, were all leading up to the sufferings of Christ and the glory that has followed. The Prophet isaiah spoke of the blotting out of transgressions" (cf. Isa. 44:22), and Zechariah prophesied of a fountain that would be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). David, in the Psalms spoke of the blessed condition of men to whom iniquity would not be imputed (Ps. 32:1-2), and of the removal of transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Again, Isaiah spoke of God casting sins behind His back (cf. Isa. 38:17), and the Prophet Micah spoke of God casting all of our sins in the depths of the sea (cf. Mic. 7:18). In each successive dispensation, God was able to speak with increasing clarity and frequency about His Son, readying men for the entrance of the Savior into the world.
The succession and the progression of each of three dispensations (the time of no law, the time of the Law and the Prophets, the time of grace and truth) can be best expressed with the following words. "Until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Rom. 5:13). The law "was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19). "The law" became "our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (Jn. 1:17). "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by Whom also He made the worlds" (Heb. 1:1-2).
Just as the covenant of law, called in Scripture “the first covenant” (Heb. 9:1, 15, 18), prepared men for the new covenant, so the new covenant is presently readying men and women for life in the world to come. When the Prophets under the first covenant prophesied of the new covenant era that was about to dawn on them, language was often inadequate to precisely and specifically declare unto those living under the first covenant the excellencies of the new covenant in precise detail. What was experienced by those living under the first covenant proved to be an deficient frame of reference from which to speak of what would be experienced by men after “the day of Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1).
To be even more emphatic, we, that are in Christ Jesus, are presently enjoying marvelous salvational benefits, that those living in the time of “the law and the prophets” (cf. Lk. 16:16) were not able to fully comprehend. Even with the Prophets pointing to the “better thing” (Heb. 11:40) that was on the near horizon, they were not ready to understand such things as an accomplished redemption, new creatureship in Christ, being raised up to walk in heavenly places in Christ, walking in the Spirit, reckoning oneself to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God, etc. And so the Prophets often used language describing temporal blessings and benefits in abundance when pointing to the benefits of the “better thing” that was about to dawn upon them. Thus, the language of giving beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, for example, was used to point to the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ, of which we, by the grace of God, have been made partakers. In addition, the Prophets spoke of such things lions lying down with lambs, and of beating spears into pruninghooks as they pointed to the glories that even we presently are awaiting.
Similarly, those living in this time of the new and “better covenant” (Heb. 8:6), which is “established upon better promises,” are anticipating a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Pet. 3:13). Compared to those who were living under the first testament, we have been made “partakers of Christ” (Heb. 3:14), partakers of a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12), partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:4), partakers of God’s holiness (Heb. 12:10), “partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (I Pet. 4:13), “partakers of the Divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4), and partakers of God’s promise in Christ (Eph. 3:6), just to mention a few things. We are God’s husbandry and God’s building (I Cor. 3:9). We have access by faith into this grace, wherein we stand (Rom. 5:2). We are “are washed”, “sanctified”, and “justified” in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:12). We that have believed on the Name of the only begotten Son of God “belong to Christ” (Mk. 9:41). We are His sheep (Jn. 10:14), His servants (I Cor. 7:22), yea, we are His friends (Jn. 15:13-15).
All of these benefits, of which we are now partakers by the gospel, are things that would have been too glorious in nature to declare in precise detail to those living in the time of the Law and the Prophets. Language was inadequate because the people were not yet ready to comprehend these things in a way that would be of profit to them. And we, that are in Christ, are now in a similar situation by comparison with Israel of old. We, who have been raised up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ, are living in anticipation of an even far greater glory that is soon to dawn upon us and even be revealed in us (cf. Rom. 8:18). It doth not yet appear what we shall be.
Consider the following words of the Apostles describing the blessedness that will be the portion of the servants of God when Jesus comes again. “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Pet. 3:13). “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). “And as we have borne the image of the earthy (Adam), we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (Christ)” (I Cor. 15:49). “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:51-53). “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:9-10).
In all of the above declarations language is similarly inadequate to give expression to the fulness of the blessedness that is now awaiting the people of God in the world to come. But there is a distinct difference between those who, in former times, were anticipating the present age and those who are now awaiting their eternal inheritance. We, that are in Christ, now “have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23) and have been “enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come” (Heb. 6:4-5). “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1), enabling believers in Christ to taste and handle, in measure, the glories that are awaiting them. Compared with Israel of old in their expectation of Messiah we, by the grace of God, have been given a far greater conversancy with the blessedness that shall be our portion when Jesus comes again.