IS THE CHURCH CALLED TO HEAVEN?
Some believe that the church which is His body is called to earth for resurrection life. I believe that it is to heavenly places that we are called. In order to come to a Scriptural understanding of this question, we will study the following topics:
FAR ABOVE ALL HEAVENS
EPH. 4:10 TELLS US THAT CHRIST IS FAR ABOVE ALL THE HEAVENS
THE CHURCH IS SEATED WHERE CHRIST IS SEATED
A CONSIDERATION OF SEVERAL PASSAGES IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS
THE CHURCH AND THE MILLENNIAL REIGN
AN EXAMINATION OF THE FIVE OCCURRENCES OF THE PHRASE “IN HEAVENLY PLACES”
APPENDIX I.: HEBREWS 9:24
FAR ABOVE ALL HEAVENS
We read in Eph. 4:10, “He that descended is the same also That ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things”. Is this ascension one of position only, as some believe, or is it one of place also? I believe the context will tell us that Christ has ascended literally to a place far above all heavens. Verse 9 reads, “Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth“. The phrase “into the lower parts of the earth” tells us where He descended and verse 10 tells us where He ascended. Logic does not permit us to say that verse 9 speaks of place and verse 10 speaks of position. Therefore, we must conclude that in contrast to where He descended, Christ ascended “far above all heavens”.
To be sure this passage does compare Christ’s position before and after His resurrection and ascension. That is to say, Christ descended into the grave; that indeed describes His humiliation. But He was raised “far above all heavens” and that does indeed describe His glorification. But Paul’s point is that because Christ was literally in the grave that proves His humiliation. And that because He was literally raised far above all heavens that proves His glorification. While it is true that this passage is concerned with Christ’s position, it is clear that the places to which He descended and ascended point to the vast difference of His position. Because Christ was literally in the “lower parts of the earth”, then He must have been raised, literally, to the highest part of creation, i.e. far above all heavens.
Heb. 4:14 is another passage, when correctly translated, tells us that Christ is seated above the heavens. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, That is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”. The Greek word translated “into” in the phrase “passed into the heavens” is “dia”. The Companion Bible Appendix 104 gives this definition of the preposition “dia”. “…it has the general sense of through, as though dividing a surface into two by an intersecting line. It includes the idea of proceeding from and passing out“.
The note in the Companion Bible on the phrase “passed into” reads, “passed into = passed through. Same word as in I Cor. 10:1 and 16:5. Cp. 7:26 and Eph. 4:10″. Let us look at these scriptures. I Cor. 10:1, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea”. I Cor. 16:5, “Now I shall come unto you when I shall pass through Macedonia…”. Heb. 4:14 which speaks of Christ having “passed through” the heavens helps us to understand the truth of Eph. 4:10 which tells us that Christ ascended through the heavens to a place far above them.
What do we know of this place referred to as “far above all heavens”? There are two passages in the Old Testament that shed some light on this place far above all heavens. The first passage is found in Gen. 1:6-8, “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven“. We have in this description a firmament, named, in verse 8, “heaven”, which divides the water under it from the waters over it. That means that there is a place over heaven which has water in or under it. This truth is substantiated by Ps. 148:4, “Praise Him ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens”. So we know that there is a literal place above the heavens and that in or under it, is water. I believe that Christ is seated “far above all heavens” in the place described in Gen. 1:1. We will discuss this belief in the sections below.
EPH. 4:10 TELLS US THAT CHRIST IS FAR ABOVE ALL THE HEAVENS
I have stated that I believe that Christ has ascended through all the heavens. Does that include the heavens of Gen. 1:1, which I believe is the dwelling place of God? The answer to that question is found in the Greek term used in Eph. 4:10, “ta panta”, i.e. “all the”. Charles Welch wrote in the Alphabetical Analysis Part 1, page 69 concerning the Greek expression “ta panta”, “the insertion of the article at once defines and narrows the expression”. That is to say, when we read in Eph. 4:10 that Christ ascended far above all the heavens, the definite article “the” narrows the heavens through which He ascended. We may conclude that the heavens through which Christ passed were the heavens that will pass away. That is to say, Christ passed through the firmament of Gen. 1:6 into the heavens of Gen. 1:1.
THE CHURCH IS SEATED WHERE CHRIST IS SEATED
We learned in the section above that Christ, when He ascended, passed through the heavens and is now seated “far above all heavens“. We read in Eph. 2:5-6, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ….. And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”.
My point is this: as we combine verse 5 which tells us that we were quickened “together” with Christ with verse 6 which tells us that we were “raised up together”, I believe we may conclude that we were not only quickened with Christ, but also raised up with Him. If we were, as this passage tells us, quickened together with Christ, and raised up together with Christ, logic demands that we were also made to sit together with Christ. In short, because we were made to sit together with Christ, and Christ is in the heavens of Gen. 1:1, so too are we in the heavens of Gen. 1:1. (The phrase “in heavenly places” will be discussed in a section below.)
Note that Eph. 2:6 is put in the past tense, “hath raised” and “made us sit”. Some believe that because while we are reading this verse it is obvious that we have not already been raised and seated with Him, that this verse should not be taken literally and therefore does not tell us that the church is called to “far above the heavens”. Let us examine that thought. There is a figure of speech being used in this verse. It is the figure of speech called “Heterosis”. The Companion Bible defines “Heterosis” as, “Exchange of one …tense …..for another”. Let us consider other scriptures that use the figure of speech, “Heterosis”.
Isaiah 53 was written hundreds of years before the coming of Christ to earth to die on the cross. But we read in verse 3, “He is despised and rejected of men”. Verse 4, “Surely He hath borne our griefs”. “Yet we did esteem Him stricken”. Verse 6, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Verse 7, “He was oppressed and was afflicted”. Verse 8, “He was taken from prison and from judgment”. Verse 9, “He made His grave with the wicked”.
Are we to believe that Christ did not bear our griefs because the figure of speech “Heterosis” is used? Or that God did not lay on Christ our iniquities because of the use of this figure of speech? The answer is so obvious as to not require an answer. The figure of speech is to assure us that these things will be accomplished.
Let us consider just two more scriptures where this figure is used. Ps. 8:5-6 uses the figure of speech “Heterosis” in reference to Christ where we read, “For Thou hast made Him a little lower than the angels. and hast crowned Him with glory and honour. Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands. Thou hast put all things under His feet”. Ps. 45:7 is also written about Christ, “Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows”. Here again, these prophecies concern Christ in His first and second coming hundreds of years before the actual events, but they are expressed in the present and past tense. If we do not take these prophecies as true just because they use a figure of speech to assure us of their fulfillment, we miss the point of why the Holy Spirit used this particular figure, and in so doing, deny ourselves of Scriptural truth.
Coming back to Eph. 2:6, we read that we “have been raised”. Does that mean that we will not literally be resurrected because this verse is in the past tense? We will be raised, figure of speech or not. That being the case, logic will not permit us to say that we will be literally raised, but not literally seated with Him. I believe therefore, that a figure of speech is used in Eph. 2:6 to assure us that what God has promised will be fulfilled, literally.
But some believe that Eph. 2:5-6 speaks of the believer’s position, rather than to his calling. Let us pursue that thought. What is the believers position? Our position is that we are “in Christ”. What does being “in Christ” mean? I believe that as we consider the definition of the Greek word translated “in” in the phrase “in Christ” we will have a good start in answering that question. That Greek word is “en”. The Companion Bible defines “en” as, “…denotes being or remaining within, with the primary idea of rest and continuance”. So the position of all believers is that we are “in Christ”, and therefore have a sense of “rest and continuance” in Him.
Let us consider other passages that speak of being in Christ.
Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.…”.
Rom. 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus”.
I Cor. 15:22, “in Christ shall all be made alive“.
II Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new”. These passages tell us of the blessings that are ours because of our position, i.e. because we are “in Christ”.
Let us come back to Eph. 2:5-6. This passage speaks of the believer being “quickened”, raised and “made to sit” together with Christ. Because Christ is far above all the heavens, and believers are made to sit together with Him, believers are, figuratively speaking, seated together with Christ far above all the heavens.
The reader will note that whereas the Greek words translated “quickened together”, “raised together” and “sit together” does not include the word “with”. I have added the word “with” because if one is, for example quickened together he must be quickened together with Someone, in this case with Christ. In other words, the word “with” is understood. With that in mind let us also consider Col. 2:13 which reads, “And you being dead in your sins….hath He quickened together with Him….”. The Greek word translated here “quickened together” is the same word as is used in Eph. 2:5. But in Col. 2:13 the word “sun” is added in the phrase “quickened together with“, so that verse reads , “hath He quickened together with Him”. The prefix to the words translated “quickened together”, “raised together” and “sit together” is “sun”. “Sun” is translated “with” 15 times, as in Mark 14:54, “And Peter followed Him from afar……. and he sat with the servants….”. It is translated “together”13 times, as in “…. and were set down together.…”. It is translated “fellow”. “same” and “joint” one time each. I believe it is clear that the basic meaning of the prefix “sun” is “with” or “together”. This makes an emphatic statement that believers will indeed be made alive (i.e. quickened) with Christ. So Col. 2:13 makes it very clear that the believer will be made alive with Christ. Surely if we are to be quickened with Christ, as we read in Col. 2:13 and in Eph. 2:5, we will also be raised and seated with Christ as we read in the very next verse, i.e. Eph. 2:6.
The NAST has a note which suggests that the ancient texts of Eph. 2:5 read, “….made us alive together in Christ”. But that does not change the fact that the Greek word translated “together” includes the idea of “with”. Nor does it change the fact that Col. 2:13 adds the word “sun”, i.e. “with”. So assuming the ancient texts are correct, Eph. 2:5 would read, “…hath quickened us together in Christ”. But again the “with” is understood because “together” implies”together with“.
What is crucial to our question of whether this passage in Eph. 2 speaks of the believer’s position or to the calling is the fact that we are quickened together with Christ. Why is that important? It is important for two reasons: 1) If this passage were speaking of position, it would have to read “we are quickened etc. in Christ”, the Greek prefix “sun” would not be used. But it says that we are quickened etc. together with Christ. 2) As discussed in the paragraphs above on Eph. 4:10, the passage in Eph. 4 does speak of Christ’s position, but that His position of humility and eventual glorification was illustrated by the fact that Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth and that he ascended far above the heavens. Therefore, we must see Christ literally going to those locations in order to appreciate Christ’s humiliation and His glorification.
The blessings recorded in Eph. 2:5-6 are given to all believers of the dispensation of the mystery because of our position, i.e. our position is that we are “in Christ”.
So Eph. 2:6 tells us that we are seated with Christ. Christ is seated “far above all heavens”. Therefore, we are seated with Him “far above all heavens“. One might object that other verses in Ephesians tell us that we are seated with Him “in heavenly places”. Is Christ in heaven or above them? As discussed in the sections above, that seeming contradiction is answered when we distinguish between the heaven of Gen. 1:1 and the heavens (firmament) of Gen. 1:6-8. The former is the dwelling place of God, the latter will pass away.
We read in Eph. 1:10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him”. The note in the Companion Bible on the phrase “gather together” reads, “to sum up (lit. “head up”). Gr. anakephalaioomai. See Rom. 13:9….”. Let us look at Rom. 13:9 which reads, “……and if there be any other commandment it is briefly comprehended.…..”. The phrase “briefly comprehended” is the translation of the same Greek word translated “gather together” in Eph. 1:10. It is clear that, as the note in the Companion Bible suggests, “sum up” or “head up” is the correct meaning of the word.
Now let us turn our attention to the fact that Eph. 1:10 tells us that Christ will head up both that which is in heaven and that which is on earth. We know that Israel, i.e. human beings, will be on earth, but who will be in heaven? Does Eph. 1:10 speak of human beings in heaven or does it speak of spiritual beings? Let us answer that question by the context.
Verse 4, “….He hath chosen us in Him….that we should be holy and without blame…..”. This refers to human beings.
Verse 5, “having predestinated us unto the adoption of children…..”. This refers to human beings.
Verse 6, “…..wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved….”. This refers to human beings.
Verse 7, “In whom we have redemption….”. This refers to human beings.
Verse 9, “Having made known unto us….”. This refers to human beings.
If all these verses in the context before verse 10 refer to human beings, obviously so too must verse 10 refer to human beings. But let us go on to the verses after verse 10.
Verse 11, “In Whom we have obtained an inheritance”. This also refers to human beings.
The point is that there will be human beings on earth and human beings in heaven and Christ will head up “both”. The human beings on earth refers, of course, to Israel, and the human beings in heaven refers to the church which is His body.
Some believe that Christ heading up all things on earth and in heaven referred to in Eph. 1:10 has already been accomplished, which would mean that Eph. 1:10 does not say that the church will be in heaven. Let us examine that thought. That suggestion assumes that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times. Let us consider that assumption.
The Greek word translated “fulness in Eph. 1:10 (“the dispensation of the fulness of times”) is “pleeroma”. It is used 17 times in the New Testament. I believe that as we look at just a few of those occurrences, we will see how the Holy Spirit would have us understand the word.
We read in Mark 8:20, “……..how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?”. This is I believe to be the basic use of the word. It is used here to indicate that the baskets had no more room for any more fragments, i.e. they were full.
The word is used in Rom. 13:10 where we read, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”. I believe that Paul’s point is that love completes the law concerning one’s neighbors.
Now let us look at a passage which speaks of the fulness of a time. Gal. 4:4 reads, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law……”. I believe Paul’s point in this verse is that when all things were completely ready for the coming of Christ to earth, God sent His Son. The key point is that all things were ready or completed.
Now let us consider the term in Eph. 1:10, “the fulness of times…..”. I believe that we may conclude that the dispensation of the fulness of times refers to a time when all God’s plans have been completed and there is nothing else that needs to be done.
So the dispensation of the fulness of times will be characterized by God having fulfilled His plans and purposes for the ages. I believe we must conclude that that dispensation is yet future (please see the paper on the dispensation of the fulness of times for further proof of that statement”). Therefore, when Paul wrote in Eph. 1:10 that Christ will head up all things both in heaven and on earth, he was speaking of a yet future time, a time when Israel will be on earth, and the church will be in heaven.
Let us consider one more passage that tells us that the church is called to heaven. We read in Phil.3:20, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word “conversation” is very helpful. That note reads, “Gr. politeuma. Only here in the NT. It occ. in the Sept. and in 2 Macc. 12:7. The seat of government of which we are citizens (Gr. polites) and of which we have both rights and responsibilities. Cp. the verb 1:27”. Let us consider Phil 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ….”. Let us also consider the note in the Companion Bible on this verse. “Exercise your citizenship or behave as citizens. Gr. politeumai. ….In all cases it means to live according to certain rules and obligations…”.
So in Phil. 3:20 Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven.
A CONSIDERATION OF SEVERAL PASSAGES IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS
I am not one to point to the use of words or phrases that are used or are not used in the prison epistles as proof of a doctrine. But I do offer this section as something to consider.
We read in Eph. 1:10 of God’s ultimate dispensational plan and purpose for the ages. That verse reads, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and are on earth; even in Him”. Only in this prison epistle do we read of God’s ultimate plan for the heavens specifically.
We read in Eph. 3:9-10, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship (the texts read “dispensation”) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ; To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”. Only here do we read of God’s witness to beings in heavenly places.
We read in Eph. 3:14-15 which reads, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”. Only here do we read of God’s “family” in heaven.
We read in Eph. 6:11-17, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. (The Greek phrase translated “in high places” is the same as is translated “in heavenly places” -see the section below.) Nowhere but here do we read of a warfare against beings in heavenly places.
My point is that the epistle to the Ephesians is written to the church which is His body and addresses several issues concerning beings in heavenly places. In my opinion, that bears consideration in the question of the calling of the church. That is to say, in my opinion, the church is intimately connected to heavenly places. Given the Scriptural reasons presented in this paper, I believe it makes perfect sense that the epistle written to a church whose calling is to heavenly places would discuss heavenly beings.
Let us add to that the point of the paper on this web-site The Apparent Contradiction In Revelation 21:1. That paper proves from Scripture that John, in Rev. 21:1, refers to the present heaven and earth as “the first”. But the present heaven and earth are the second to be created. The above mentioned paper will prove that the reason John refers to the present heaven as “the first” is because he, through the Holy Spirit, does not count the first heaven, i.e. the heaven of Gen. 1:1. The reason he does not count that heaven as the first is because it is the calling of the church, and that heaven is never mentioned, apart from Gen. 1:1, before the epistles to the church which is His body.
THE CHURCH AND THE MILLENNIAL REIGN
There is one more reason why I believe that the church is not called to be on earth. That is that there is simply no place for the church which is His body on earth during the millennial reign. Let me explain.
It is clear that all believers, including those of the dispensation of the mystery, will be resurrected at the second coming of Christ. (Please see the paper on this web-site, The Out-Resurrection And The Prize of the High Calling for the Scriptural proof of that statement.) It is clear from such passages as Ezek. 20:34-38 that only the righteous will be allowed entrance into the Land of Israel for the millennial reign of Christ. We read in verse 38, “I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel….”. And we read in the parable of the weeds that “The Son of Man will send out His angels and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father” (Matthew 13:40-43).
Note that both Ezek. 20 and Matthew 13 tell us that only the righteous will be allowed entrance into the land of Israel. And outside the land of Israel there will exist a situation which our Lord describes as “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. While all believers will be enjoying millennial blessings in the Land, outside the Land, there will be no millennial blessings for it will be inhabited by unbelievers only. That is to say, believers will live in the Land of Israel and the unbelievers will live outside the land of Israel.
My point is this: Israel and grafted in Gentile believers will be in the land, unbelievers will be outside the land. If the church is going to be on earth, where will the church be?
AN EXAMINATION OF THE FIVE OCCURRENCES OF THE PHRASE “IN HEAVENLY PLACES”
There are five occurrences of the Greek phrase “en tois epouranios” translated “in heavenly places” or “in high places”. Much has been written regarding how this Greek phrase should be translated. The difficulty comes from the fact that the noun “places” does not appear in the original Greek. I have little to no knowledge of Greek grammar, and will not comment on something about which I do not know. But, as we examine the five occurrences of the Greek phrase in question, we may see that we do not need to be Greek scholars to understand what God has for us in these passages.
Let us begin with the last occurrence, i.e. Eph. 6:12. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places“. The phrase “in high places” is the translation of the Greek “en tois epouranios”. This phrase is translated “in heavenly places” in Eph. 1:20 in describing where Christ is seated. I do not believe that Christ is seated in the same place as “spiritual wickedness“. Evidently, the translators did not believe that either, hence the translation “high places” rather than “heavenly places”. This translation is significant because “epouranios” has the basic meaning of “high”. As mentioned above, I believe that those described as “spiritual wickedness” are in the heavens that will pass away, i.e. the heavens of Gen. 1:6. Obviously, this verse does not speak of the calling of the church. Let us study the other occurrences of the phrase.
The first occurrence is in Eph. 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places“. The paper on this web-site Who Were Chosen Before The Overthrow Of The World? proves from Scripture and logic that Eph. 1:3 should read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing by heavenly things“. In other words, we are blessed by the spiritual blessings enumerated in the next several verses. So this verse does not speak of to where one is called.
The second occurrence is in Eph. 1:20, “Which (“His mighty power”-verse 19) He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places”. The phrase “His own right hand” is a figure of speech used to emphasize the truth that Christ is now in a position of power and authority. This fact does not, however detract from the truth of Eph. 4:10 which tells us that Christ is indeed in the heavens of Gen. 1:1.
The third occurrence of “en tois epouranios” is in 2:6, “And hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. Here we should understand that Christ is in the heavens of Gen. 1:1, the permanent heavens, and that is where the church is raised to sit with Him.
The fourth occurrence is in 3:10, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”. If these “principalities and powers” are the same principalities and powers of 6:12 (and there is no reason to believe that they are not), they are connected with “spiritual wickedness in high places”. Because these principalities and powers are connected to spiritual wickedness of verse 6:12, I believe that they are not in the heavens of Gen. 1:1 where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, but in the heavens of Gen. 1:6 which will pass away.
Too many assume that the phrase “en tois epouranios” always refers to the same place. It does not. In Eph. 6:12 it refers to a place wherein dwells spiritual wickedness. In Eph. 1:20 it is used in reference to where Christ is seated. Christ is God, a holy God, cannot dwell among spiritual wickedness. These verses therefore, must refer to two different places.
APPENDIX I: HEBREWS 9:24
In this paper I have presented the Scriptural evidence for my belief that Jesus Christ is “far above all the heavens” that will pass away, i.e. the heavens of Gen. 1:6. But we have in Heb. 9:24 a seeming contradiction to that assertion. “For Christ is not entered into the holy place made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into the heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us”. Some believe that the shadow of the earthly tabernacle discussed in Heb. 9 tells us that Christ is in the highest heaven of Gen. 1:6. But as we have already seen Heb. 4:14 tells us that Christ has “passed through the heavens” of Gen. 1:6. We know that there are no contradictions in the perfect Word of God, so we must search for the answer to this seeming difficulty.
Let us examine the context. Verses 1-10 of Heb. 9 describe the shadow of the heavenly things, i.e. the earthly tabernacle. Verses 7-8 speak of the holy of holies, “but into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people; the Holy Ghost thus signifying that the way into the Holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing”. Verses 11-12 explain the fulfillment of the earthly shadows, “But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves but by His own blood He entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”.
The point of this passage is that Christ fulfilled the shadow of the earthly tabernacle and the earthly blood of animals with His own blood after which sacrifice He went into the true (the heavenly) Holy of Holies. Verses 24-25 substantiate that point. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into the heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; Nor that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others”. In other words, the point of Heb. 9 is that Christ is the fulfillment of all the earthly symbols associated with sacrifice and entrance into the holy of holies.
Let us digress briefly to consider why the holy of holies was so sacred that only the high priest was allowed entrance but once a year, and only after blood was shed to assure his acceptance. We read in Heb. 9:3-4 that in the “holiest of all” was the “ark of the covenant”. We read in Ex. 25:16-17, “And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee: and thou shalt make a mercy seat …..”. In verse 21 we read, “and thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark;. Verse 22 is the key to understanding the importance of the holiest of all, wherein is the ark covered by the mercy seat, “And there I will meet with thee and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel”. The ark of the covenant, over which was placed the mercy seat, was placed in the holiest of all, and it was from there that God would commune with Israel.
God promised Israel that He would meet and commune with them from where the ark of the covenant lay. But is that where God dwells? Of course not. Solomon recognized that truth even as He dedicated the temple, as we read in II Chron. 6:18, “But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built”.
Let me enumerate the issues that have been discussed, and then I believe we will have an answer to our seeming contradiction as to where God dwells.
1) God dwells with Israel from the holiest of all.
2) Christ fulfilled the shadows of the earthly tabernacle when He gave His own blood and entered into the true, the heavenly holiest of all.
I believe that Heb.9 is telling the Hebrews of the Acts period that Christ was the true High Priest, Who, because He offered the true Sacrifice of Himself they may enter into communion with God.
Let me try to put this in perspective and compare it with the fact that we know from Heb. 4:14 and Eph. 4:10 that Christ is far above all heavens. In terms of Israel, Christ has entered into the highest of the heavens of Gen. 1:6 so that believing Israel may enter into communion with God.. But in terms of where Christ is now seated, Christ is seated far above all the temporary heavens of Gen. 1:6, He is seated in the permanent heavens of Gen. 1:1.
There is, of course no contradiction between Heb. 9:24 and Eph.. 4:14. Heb. 9 is explaining that Christ has made it possible for Israel to enter into the heavenly tabernacle so that they may have access to God, hitherto denied all but the high priest, and then only once a year. But Eph. 4:14 explains that Christ is seated far above all heavens. It is simply a question of rightly dividing the Word of truth. and considering the context.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond to this paper, please write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org