- Published: 22 July 2012
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There are three spheres of blessing, the earth, the heavenly city, and the position indicated in Ephesians 1, as "far above all". This aspect of truth is vital. It gathers up unto itself all that is distinctive in what is called Dispensational Truth, and we must spare no pains, nor begrudge the space needed to provide the Scriptural evidence for believing that there are "three spheres of blessing" revealed in the Scriptures.
Now because the term "sphere" does not occur in the Scriptures, is it therefore unscriptural? According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word "scriptural" is anything "based upon, derived from, or depending upon Holy Scripture". Because, therefore, an English word does not appear in Holy Scriptures, such word need not be unscriptural; it could only rightly be called unscriptural if the idea contained in the term was not based upon, derived from, or depended upon Holy Scripture. Therefore, to say regarding the use of the term "sphere", "as it is not an inspired term we have no means of fixing its force", as one who opposes this teaching affirmed, seems either to manifest ignorance of the English language or to be an effort unduly to influence the unwary. In either case the matter is no longer disputable, for the use of the term "sphere of blessing" has been proved to be both good English and Scriptural.
Our next step is to enumerate in Scriptural terms the actual "spheres of blessing" that are spoken of in the Scriptures, and then to compare and contrast them so that by trying the things that differ we may avoid confusion and keep each calling in its appointed place. Let us begin with our own calling as revealed in the epistle to the Ephesians.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).
At the moment we are not concerned with the kind of blessings here set forth, namely, "spiritual", but with the "province", "range or domain" in which these blessings naturally find their setting, and we have but to record:
(1) The sphere of blessing found in Ephesians 1:3 is defined as "in heavenly places".
Again we are not yet concerned as to whether these "heavenly places" are no higher than the firmament in which birds fly; whether they denote the starry heavens; or whether they refer to a position far above all. All that we are immediately concerned with is that a distinct "sphere" is indicated by the words "in heavenly places".
We now turn to another part of the New Testament, where we read of another sphere of blessing: "blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Once more, we are not concerned with the character of those here referred to, nor with their inheritance, but exclusively with the "sphere" of their inheritance, and we therefore record:
(2) A sphere of blessing is found in Matthew 5:5 which is defined as "the earth".
We assume, but have not yet proved, that "the earth" and "heavenly places" are two distinct spheres. Common sense says that they are distinct, but we leave the proof until later.
Here then are two spheres of blessing concerning which there is no controversy. But in addition to these two, we discover what appears to be an intermediate sphere of blessing, a sphere above "the earth", yet not "in heavenly places". For this we turn to Galatians 3:14: "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ". The question which now arises is, does this passage refer to a distinct sphere of blessing, or is the blessing of Abraham to be enjoyed in one or other of the two spheres already considered? A complete answer can only be given after careful examination, but for the sake of conciseness, we note that in this calling, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
This unity does not sound like the constitution of a kingdom, which is what is in view in Matthew 5. Rather it so resembles the later revelation of Ephesians that some have adopted the expression "all one in Christ Jesus" with the idea that it declares the Unity of the spirit of Ephesians 4. Before seeing the proofs, most, if not all, will agree that Galatians 3:14 does not refer to an inheritance on the "earth". Yet when we read on to Galatians 3:29, we are prevented from asserting that it belongs to the sphere of the Mystery made known in Ephesians, for we find it stated: "and if ye be Christ"s, then are ye Abraham"s seed, and heirs according to the promise".
So entirely contrary is it to the Scriptural teaching concerning the Mystery to make it a fulfillment of any promise to Abraham that we must hesitate to place this company, which is Abraham"s seed, "in heavenly places". We therefore search further in this epistle, and in the fourth chapter we find the following statement: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all ... now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Gal. 4:26, Gal. 4:28). "Jerusalem which is above", is neither "on the earth" nor "in heavenly places far above all principality", and as this city forms the theme of Hebrews 11:9-16 and Heb. 12:18-23, where the "heavenly country" is contrasted with the "earth", we are obliged to record a third sphere of blessing.
(3) A third sphere of blessing, differing from that of Ephesians 1:3 and that of Matthew 5:5 is recorded in the epistles to the Galatians and the Hebrews, and is associated with the heavenly Jerusalem, a sphere distinct on the one hand from the earth and its kingdom, and on the other hand from the heavenly places which are the sphere of the church of the Mystery.
We therefore set out our first conclusion.
The Three Spheres Of Blessings
(1) "The earth" (Matt. 5:5) The Kingdom
(2) "Jerusalem which is above" (Gal. 4:26) The Bride
(3) "In heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3) The Body
In the near context of Matthew 5:5, which speaks of the meek who shall inherit the earth, we learn of a kingdom which is yet to be set up on the earth: "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10). In that prophecy of His Second Coming, The Revelation, one of the titles of the Lord is: "The Prince of the Kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5). The extent of this kingdom is defined in Psalm 72:8 "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth". And again in Psalm 2:8 "Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen, Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth, Thy possession". Yet again, the prophet Zechariah says:
"He shall speak peace unto the heathen: and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth" (Zech. 9:10).
Moreover, in The Revelation we read:
"The seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15).
This kingdom on the earth will have an administrative center:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord"s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:2-3).
This is supplemented by Zechariah the prophet:
"And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain" (Zech. 14:16-17).
It will be seen by the two latter references from Isaiah and Zechariah, that not only is the city of Jerusalem represented as the capital of the kingdom, but also as the center of worship, and this is in harmony with the destiny of Israel when that nation is at length saved, for Israel is to be a kingdom of priests unto God (Rev. 1:6). They will be made so under the New Covenant and the blood of Christ in fulfillment of the original purpose of God expressed at the foot of Mount Sinai but, by reason of the weakness of the flesh, rendered impossible of accomplishment under the law (Exod. 19:6).
Inasmuch as the bulk of Scripture is taken up with the history and prophecy of this earthly people and kingdom, no attempt on our part, particularly considering the limitations of our space, can possibly do more than indicate the fact of its existence. There is, however, unanimity among most believers regarding this first, or lowest sphere of blessing, and while we shall have to return to the subject when certain of its features will be compared with those of other spheres, we now pass on to the consideration of the next sphere, having left nothing unproved or resting upon mere assumption. Therefore we feel that we can safely make this statement:
The earth will be a sphere of blessing in which there shall be set up a kingdom, over which the Lord shall be King, with Jerusalem the chosen center, and Israel a Kingdom of Priests. This we will call the First Sphere.
We now come to the second sphere; that which is associated with the heavenly Jerusalem, and it must be recorded as a fact of importance that no hint of such a sphere is to be found in the whole of the Old Testament. Yet when we study the New Testament we learn that its existence was intimately known by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For this information we turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews.
In Hebrews 11 the apostle illustrates the statement that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", by the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Coming to the example of the patriarchs, the writer pauses to add:
"By faith he (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles (tents) with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Heb. 11:9-10).
After speaking of Sarah"s faith, the apostle reverts to the subject of this city, saying:
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country ... that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:13-16).
After a further and fuller expansion of the theme of Hebrews 11:1 the apostle returns to the subject of the Heavenly City in chapter 12, but approaches it from another angle. We reserve comment upon the significance of this new angle until we have established the fact of the revelation of all three spheres, and meantime pass on to verse 22:
"But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23).
Other references to this sphere of blessing are found in The Revelation:
"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him My new name" (Rev. 3:12).
The significance of the fact that this is associated with the overcomer, together with the similar significance of the context of Hebrews 12, will be considered when we come to deal with the subject of the spheres themselves: at present we confine ourselves to establishing the fact that the Scriptures speak of such spheres:
"And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2).
"He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:10).
The testimony of Hebrews 11:16 alone is sufficient proof that this heavenly city is a separate sphere of blessing from that of the earth, and while much must yet be studied if we would appreciate its true significance, we can, without hesitation, affirm that there is full Scriptural testimony to the existence of this second sphere of blessing.
Granting that these two spheres of blessing are actual Scriptural facts, the question that now awaits an answer is: do they exhaust the teaching of Scripture on the subject? In other words, is there a third sphere of blessing distinct from both the earth and the heavenly city? We believe there is, and proceed at once to state the evidence for this belief.
The epistle to the Ephesians was written by Paul as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3:1). Israel, as a nation, had been set aside by the quoting of Isaiah 6:10, as recorded in Acts 28:26-28, and with that setting aside had of necessity gone the hope and the blessings of which they were the appointed channel. While Israel remained as a nation before God, the Gentile believer could be "blessed with faithful Abraham" (Gal. 3:9); could be associated with Israel under the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6); could entertain the hope of Israel (Rom. 15:12-13) and "partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (Rom. 11:17); but, with Israel set aside, there arose the necessity of a further revelation from God, if all was not to be plunged into confusion and end in despair. This revelation is claimed by Paul in the epistle to the Ephesians:
"If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward (Gentiles): how that by revelation He made known unto me the Mystery" (Eph. 3:2-3).
This Mystery has particular reference to the new position assigned to the Gentiles:
"That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister" (Eph. 3:6-7).
Here we have a "dispensation" which was particularly concerned with the Gentiles; a "revelation" that makes known that which was a "mystery", and that, hitherto, this mystery had been "hid in God" (Eph. 3:9). And not only was it "hid in God", but "from the ages and from generations", but now is "made manifest to His saints" (Col. 1:26).
In order that no statement shall be accepted as true that is not proved from the Scriptures, we pause to justify the remark that "the dispensation of the Mystery was revealed after the setting aside of Israel". Usually it is enough to produce the missing link in a chain, but, if the play of words may be pardoned, we have a complete chain of evidence, and that none other than the one which fettered the apostle Paul in his Roman prison.
Until the all-day conference with the leaders of the Jews which concluded with their dismissal at the quoting of Isaiah 6:9-10, there was the human possibility of the national repentance of Israel and the realization of that nation"s hope. Consequently, the apostle rightly says in Acts 28:20: "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain". When next he speaks of his bonds as his chain, the dispensation of the Mystery had been entrusted to him, and in Ephesians and Colossians, his chain is most intimately associated with the Mystery (Eph. 6:20; Col. 4:3).
While there is much more to be said concerning the unique character of this new revelation, enough has been adduced to prove beyond dispute that this dispensation of the Mystery, revealed after the setting aside of Israel, must be different from both the earthly sphere, and the new Jerusalem, and as we have seen that these latter terms represent two very distinct spheres, we are compelled to subscribe to the doctrine of three spheres of blessing, thus:
1. First Sphere The Earth Subject of Old Testament Israel dominant.
and part of New Testament.
2. Second Sphere New Jerusalem Subject only of part of Both Jew and
the New Testament. Gentile as seed
3. Third Sphere The Mystery Subject of the "prison" Gentiles especially.
One further and independent proof of the reality of these three spheres is provided by the teaching of the epistles concerning the "adoption".
The main line of attack that our teaching has had to withstand has been concerned with our interpretation of the words translated "far above all" and "heavenly places". The reader should note however that we have demonstrated the presence of three distinct spheres of blessing in the Scriptures, quite apart from these disputed terms. We have considered, a little more in detail, the characteristics of that sphere of blessing which belongs to Israel and the earth. We must now turn our attention to the next sphere, the one associated with the heavenly Jerusalem.
The two epistles that speak of the heavenly Jerusalem are Galatians and Hebrews, and we must now acquaint ourselves with their teaching.
We believe a good case can be made for the epistle to the Galatians being a "covering letter", and that the epistle to the Hebrews was an "enclosure" written, in the first case, for the Hebrews in the Churches of Galatia.
"What in reality do we find? Just this -- two epistles, or writings, in close succession, in a professedly Pauline section of the New Testament, are merely separated or divided off, the one from the other, by the words pros Hebraious "to Hebrews".
Both epistles quote Habakkuk 2:4, "The just shall live by faith" (Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), both develop the "allegory" of Sinai and Sion (Gal. 4:24-31; Heb. 12:18-24), both deal with "perfection" (Gal. 3:3, Hebrews throughout), both speak of Jerusalem which is above, both speak of the Mediator".
Another very cogent argument which supports this connection is the fact that, although circumcision is at the very heart of the Jewish problem, the apostle never speaks of it in the epistle to the Hebrews. This would be difficult to explain or to understand if Hebrews stood alone, but if "Galatians" and "Hebrews" go together, then circumcision would have been effectively dealt with in the "covering letter", leaving the way clear in Hebrews for the exhortation that it gives to go on to perfection.
The first definite indication of the "sphere of blessing" that is in view in the epistle to the Hebrews is found in Heb. 3:1, where those to whom the apostle wrote are called: "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling". This is the first of six occurrences of epouranios in Hebrews, which we give below:
"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus" (Heb. 3:1).
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost ... to renew them again unto repentance" (Heb. 6:4-6).
"Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount" (Heb. 8:5).
"It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Heb. 9:23).
"But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:16).
"But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22).
We must now examine these passages, so that our conception of what is "heavenly" shall be moulded, not by our own views, but by what is actually written.
In the first passage, we read that these Hebrews were "partakers of the heavenly calling", but whether or not this means that they were going to enjoy their inheritance in the heavenly places "where Christ sitteth" is not here stated. In the first place, however, let us note that there is the most positive testimony that the position occupied by Christ in Hebrews is identical with that of Ephesians. In Ephesians, Christ is said to have ascended "far above all heavens" (Eph. 4:10), while in Hebrews He is said to have "passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14) and "made higher than the heavens" (hupseloteros Heb. 7:26). What is never taught in Hebrews, however, is that any of the redeemed could entertain the hope of being there, "where Christ sitteth". The teaching is all in the other direction. We are reminded, for instance, that when the High Priest entered the most holy place (a type of heaven itself) he entered "alone" (Heb. 9:7). These Hebrews had certainly "tasted the heavenly gift", but they did not ascend to heaven to do so; they tasted this heavenly gift while here on earth.
It is therefore folly to point to the fact that the word epouranios occurs both in Hebrews and in Ephesians, and to deduce from this that there is nothing distinctive about the Ephesian sphere. In Hebrews it is Christ, and Christ alone, Who sits in the heavenly place. In Ephesians, the essence of the Mystery is that an elect company of the redeemed sit there potentially with Him. It is this fact that makes this new sphere of blessing unique; a fact which an indiscriminate list of the occurrences of epouranios can neither establish nor overthrow.
While Hebrews speaks of a "heavenly calling" and a "heavenly gift", we are not left in doubt as to "where" this calling is to be enjoyed. The sphere of blessing connected with the "heavenly calling" is the "heavenly country" or the "heavenly Jerusalem" which filled the vision of Abraham, and for which those who walked by faith in the Old Testament days suffered the loss of all things.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen ... These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth ... wherefore God ... hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:1, Heb. 11:13, Heb. 11:16).
This calling differs from the one that is associated with Mount Sinai. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all "before the law" (see Gal. 3:17-18), and the inclusion of Abel, Noah and Enoch shows that it is not essentially connected with the Abrahamic covenant. Moreover the inclusion of Rahab, after the law, reveals that it is of wider scope than the covenant of Sinai, and the presence of such names as Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel (Heb. 11:32) shows that after the law of Moses had been given, there were still those who reached out for this higher and heavenly sphere.
In contrast with Sinai and its terrors, we have Sion with its blessings.
"Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly, and to a church of firstborn ones, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of perfected righteous ones, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than Abel" (Heb. 12:22-24).
The reader will notice a slight departure from the A.V. here. The "general assembly" should be linked, not with the "church of the firstborn", but with the "innumerable company". The church of the firstborn is made up of "the spirits of perfected righteous ones" (Heb. 12:23), or "the spirits of righteous ones having been perfected". This "perfecting" is the key to Hebrews and is the basis of its exhortation. Either those to whom the apostle wrote would leave the things that were connected with the beginning and go on unto perfection (Heb. 6:1), or, failing to endure, would draw back unto "loss" and "waste" (Heb. 10:32-39). The word "perdition" is translated "destruction" in Philippians 3:19, and is put in contrast there, as in Hebrews, with "attaining" and a "better resurrection" (Phil. 3:11; Heb. 11:35). The word is also seen in Matthew 26:8, where it is translated "waste".
We would mention here, in passing, the important principle that, what constitutes the initial calling of one company (e.g. the Galatian converts), may also be the added "prize" of another company (e.g. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who had already received the "land" and the "nation" in their initial calling). A further example of the same principle is provided by the fact that "eternal life" which is a "gift" in Romans, is spoken of as an "award" in Matthew 25. We will not however, pursue this matter further, as it is not essential to our present purpose.
It is clear from Hebrews 11 and 12 that the sphere of blessing there in view is that of the city which will at the last come down from God out of heaven. This reference takes us to the Book of the Revelation, where we discover two things. First, that those whose blessings are found in the New Jerusalem are spoken of as the "Bride", a company that differs from the divorced Wife who will be restored at the end; and secondly, that this company are "overcomers" who have a "crown" (Rev. 3:11-12), a further parallel with the believers of Philippians 3, who attain the "prize".
We discover, therefore, that the second sphere of blessing is in the nature of a reward. It is the "heavenly" phase of the kingdom. Abraham could not have forfeited the land of promise, for it was his as an unconditional gift; but in addition to this, he received the "heavenly country", which was associated with his "perfecting". This "perfecting" of his faith is the theme of the epistle of James, which regards the offering of Isaac as the "fulfilling" of the initial act of faith whereby Abraham was justified (Jas. 2:23). James also has much to say in the first chapter about patient endurance and its perfecting work in view of the crown (Jas. 1:3-4, Jas. 1:12). The heavenly country and city are not for "righteous ones", simply, but for "perfected righteous ones", just as the "prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus" and "the out-resurrection" of Philippians 3 are for those who go on unto perfection.
If the heavenly country, for which Abraham gave up so much, differs from the land of promise in which he lived as a pilgrim, then we must obviously recognize this heavenly calling as a separate sphere. Moreover it is clear that one of the chief characteristics of this sphere is that it represents a reward for faithful obedience, as distinct from the land of promise which was quite unconditional. We have not attempted to differentiate between the covenant made with Abraham regarding the land, and the covenant made at Sinai. As both operate on the earth, they are both included in the one sphere.
The distinctive place, "where", and the time "when" the Church of the Mystery shall enjoy its blessings and was chosen in Christ by the Father, are given in Ephesians 1:3-4. We are not now concerned with the true translation of the words, "before the foundation of the world" in verse 4, but with the latter clause of verse 3:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).
As the phrase en tois epouraniois is exclusive to Ephesians, and as every other occurrence of epouranios has reference to the character of the "heavenly" thing concerned, but not the place "where" it will be enjoyed, a mere list of the occurrences of epouranios would have only the appearance of argument while lacking validity.
"In heavenly places" is the translation of the Greek words en tois epouraniois. We have seen that the word epouranios occurs six times in the epistle to the Hebrews, but there it speaks of a heavenly calling, a heavenly gift, heavenly realities, and a heavenly country or city. There can be no comparison between a "heavenly gift" that was enjoyed on earth with "the heavenly places" of Ephesians 1:3: the one refers to character, the other to a place. The occurrences of epouranios in Ephesians must be segregated, for they form a group by themselves. The phrase en tois epouraniois occurs only in Ephesians and nowhere else either in the New Testament or in the Septuagint, a note which some readers may question if they accept teaching given them without verification.
The second occurrence of the phrase is found in Ephesians 1:20-21, where we learn that this sphere is "where Christ sitteth" at the right hand of God. Whether we continue the use of the phrase "far above all" or whether we exchange it for a more limited rendering, nothing is more certain than that there can be no conceivably higher position in the whole universe than the right hand of God. Such is the height of this exaltation of Christ that the passage continues:
"Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (Eph. 1:21).
Quite apart from the words "far above", there can be no denial of the fact that there is here indicated a sphere without compare in the whole range of Scripture. To conclude the first part of our examination, we turn to Ephesians 2:6 where we have a categorical statement that there, where Christ sits, is the sphere of blessing for every member of the Church which is His Body. In these three passages (Eph. 1:3, Eph. 1:20-21; and Eph. 2:6) we have indubitable evidence of a sphere of blessing that differs entirely from anything that had hitherto been revealed.
But our task will not have been completed if we fail to take note of the attempts that have been made to discredit the teaching of the three spheres by concentrating attention upon the A.V. rendering of huperano. The words translated "far above all" in Ephesians 1:21 and Eph. 4:10 are adjuncts of the teaching we have already proved by other means, and no alteration or re-translation can make the slightest difference to the threefold distinctions we have already seen. As the word in question only occurs three times in the New Testament, it is a matter of importance to ascertain whether it occurs in the Septuagint, and if so, in what connection. Some who have gone out of there way to denounce this teaching say:
"As the adverb huperano, Over-up, appears so seldom in the later Greek Scriptures, we have given all of the occurrences in the Septuagint also".
But when we consult the Septuagint, we discover that our critics will omit the first occurrence and upon examination we further find that this first occurrence is antagonistic to their contention that huperano means position but never distance. The omitted reference is Genesis 7:20, "fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail, and the mountains were covered".
If the subject before us was the comparative value of the various manuscripts which we have to consult in seeking the original text of the Scriptures, it would be right and proper to assess the respective merits of the Vatican, the Sinaiticus, the Alexandrian, and other MSS., and at the close of the investigation we should be within our rights if we were to express a preference for one manuscript above another. But if we are investigating the usage of a particular word, and we profess to have given "all of the occurrences", then the omission of one reference, especially one that militates against our own conclusions, is serious. This first reference to huperano in the Septuagint most emphatically uses the word to express distance in cubits, whereas our critics seem almost hysterical by our retention of the A.V. rendering, "far above", calling it, among other things, a blot on the A.V. translation, and implying that so long as it remains it is impossible for the English reader to get the truth.
These words would have sounded rather empty if Genesis 7:20 had been cited, and our critic"s dictum that huperano denotes "position, never distance" looks absurd in the presence of these 15 cubits! We have more to bring forward from Genesis 7:20 in a moment, but it will be better appreciated after we have allowed our critics a little more space.
The third and last occurrence of huperano in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 9:5, which reads: "and over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat". The critic"s comment is:
"In the ark of the covenant we have the best possible illustration of the force of this word. Surely the Cherubim were not "far above" the ark".
They further suggests that probably the lower parts of the Cherubim were "below" the crown of the ark, and some get so enamored of this idea that they even goes so far as to imply huperano, in this case, may denote near rather than far, but we recall that some have already prefaced this investigation by saying:
"As few of us are sufficiently adept in either Greek or English to pass judgment upon such grammatical and idiomatic problems, we will base nothing on expert evidence", so that we need not be greatly concerned. The Scriptures themselves are the only and final appeal.
The apostle is not concerned in Hebrews 9:5 with the fact that the Cherubim and the mercy seat were made out of one piece of metal. His statement is confined to one feature, and one feature only, namely, that the Cherubim "overshadowed" (kataskiazo) the mercy seat and in so doing he is referring to Exodus 25:18-20 where we read:
"And the Cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings".
Here we have inspired usage of words and need not be experts either in Hebrew, Greek, or English, to understand the meaning of the Hebrew word here translated "on high". Maal is translated in the LXX by huperano, and so provides an infallible authority for the usage and meaning of the word. Maal occurs in such passages as "in heaven above" (Exod. 20:4); "from his shoulders and upward" (1 Sam. 9:2); "the clouds above" (Prov. 8:28). Whoever used the word huperano in Genesis 7:20 and elsewhere, had no hesitation in using it for a measurable distance, whether for the height of the water above the mountains, or the height of the wings of the overshadowing Cherubim.
We teach that "the heavens" that are in view since the six days" creation are the only heavens associated with the redeemed until the revelation of the Mystery, and that no redeemed child of God has any prospect of association with the heaven of Genesis 1:1 except the church of the Mystery chosen in Christ before the period referred to in Genesis 1:2. (See the article entitled HEAVEN). We have nothing in common with any teaching that puts the church of the One Body outside the realm of Genesis 1:1 and believe that in the original of the New Testament, two words are employed, both translated "heavenly" (ouranios and epouranios). The added word epi signifies upon or over, and refers to the heavens that are above the firmament, and beyond the limitations of the present creation (compare Gen. 1:1 with Psa. 148.4; 1 Kings 8:27; Heb. 7:26)".
As two words are used, both translated "heavenly", we are justified in attempting to discriminate, and as epi is added to ouranios, and huperano supplies the idea, we adopted the Latin equivalent of huper and have added super thus coining the word "super-heavens" for the special usage found in Ephesians 1:3, Eph. 1:20 and Eph. 2:6.
On many occasions the Scriptures speak of God "stretching out the heavens" (Psa. 104:2); "Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain"; also Isaiah 40:22; Isa. 42:5; Isa. 45:12; Isa. 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; Jer. 51:15; Zechariah 12:1 ... When we grasp the significance of the firmament, and the purpose that is carried out within its expanse, we may then see the perfect fitness of the statements of Ephesians, where in the words "the heavenly places" (epouranios a word which literally means "upon the heavens"), we are taken beyond the firmament ... Ephesians always speaks of the blessings of the One Body as being in the epouranios, the sphere above the heavens. Peter, however, does not pierce the firmament, the inheritance he speaks of is reserved "in the heavens", not in the sphere above the heavens".
In such translations as "super-heavens", "far above all heavens", "made higher than the heavens", it is evident that a sphere beyond the limitations of the heavens of Genesis 1:8 is intended. That this is our meaning let us say that to the period of the New Heavens and the New Earth belong the blessings of the Mystery. The only calling or revelation that has pierced the present temporary heaven and touched that which can be spoken of as eternal is that dispensation of the grace of God which has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the super-heavenlies far above all. This shows the unique character of the church of the One Body. It is connected both by time and place with that which begins before the present heavens were made and goes on when the present heavens are no more.
The church of the Mystery is the only link during this age between the time before sin entered and the time when sin shall be no more. All other purposes are "under the heavens", this link alone places those who are blessed under its terms "above the heavens". If these things are so, it would be very surprising if the doctrine and practice of this peculiar people were not different from all others".
Of no other company of believers is it said that their sphere of blessing is "In the super-heavenlies". The special sphere of blessing which belongs alone to the Church of the One Body is mentioned five times in this epistle, and a study of these occurrences will supply us with valuable information. First of all, we translate the word "super-heavenlies" in recognition of the presence of the little particle epi with which the word begins. It is not simply ouranios, which is the usual word, but epi-ouranios. Secondly, because the word is found in Ephesians 4:10, where "far above all heavens" is huperano panton ton ouranon, and thirdly because the information supplied by the five references demands some such translation. Passing, therefore, to the second reference, we find, in Eph. 1:20-21, that this sphere of blessing is:
(a) At the Father"s right hand.
(b) Far above all principality and power.
That this tremendous height is the destined sphere of the Church of the Mystery, Ephesians 2:6 declares. There, the believer is associated with the risen Christ, "made to sit together in the super-heavenlies in Christ Jesus". Christ the Head and the Church His Body are blessed together There.
The next two references (Eph. 3:10 and Eph. 6:12), show the super-heavenlies as the abode of principalities, powers and rulers. Be it noted that angels are not mentioned. Angels are heaven"s messengers. The Church of the One Body is blessed even above heaven"s nobility. Dominions and thrones are beneath it in its super-heavenly sphere. While epouranios is used outside Ephesians, no other company of believers is blessed In these exalted regions as their sphere. The blessings of the Church of the One Body are not only "heavenly", but "up in heaven".
Having established from the Scriptures, quite independently of the occurrences or the meaning of either epouranios or huperano, the fact that there are three distinct companies of believers who are destined to inherit blessings in three distinct spheres, we can dismiss the question as to how "far" this exalted sphere is above all others, the answer to the question makes no difference to the fact that the Scriptures speak of three different spheres. For the sake of clarity we summarize our findings.
There are blessings that are to be enjoyed on earth. Those who will occupy the central position in this sphere are Israel, and this calling is expressed in the terms of a Kingdom. Gentile nations, while blessed in this same sphere, will be subservient, for to Israel, and Israel alone, is the Kingdom, and to Israel on the earth pertains the "adoption". Israel is the firstborn among the nations.
There are other blessings that are to be enjoyed in the heavenly country and the heavenly city. These are the blessings of Abraham, and the calling is that of "The Bride" (a calling that must be kept distinct from that of the restoration of Israel, "The Wife"). Gentiles, as well as Israel, go to form this company called "The Bride", where there is neither Jew nor Greek, but where both alike are reckoned as Abraham"s seed and heirs according to the promise. Instead of nations being subservient to this company of the redeemed, it is angels who are associated with them in a subordinate position. To this company, in this sphere, pertains this particular "adoption"; they are the church of the Firstborn whose names are written in heaven.
There are, however, blessings that are neither those of Israel as a kingdom, nor of the heavenly calling of the Bride, and these are enjoyed in heavenly places where Christ sits, far above all principality and power and far above all heavens. They who enjoy them constitute neither a Kingdom nor the Bride, but are the Body of Christ and a perfect Man. While individuals of Israel who believe are not precluded, this calling is mainly Gentile, for it operates during the period of Israel"s blindness. This company also has a citizenship, but it is one which has nothing to do with the New Jerusalem; neither nations nor angels are subservient to it, but principalities and powers. To this company pertains the "adoption" associated with this sphere, and Christ, as the Firstborn from the dead, is its Head, each believer of the company forming a member of the Church which is His Body.
As this highest of all callings is the subject of a Secret that goes back before the overthrow of the world (Gen. 1:2), so it goes up beyond the "firmament that was called heaven" which spans the ages, and finds its sphere in the super-heavens; those heavens of Genesis 1:1 which remain unmoved by the ebb and flow of time, sin, death, or dispensational change.