Anyone who reads the book of Acts will be struck with how simple that standard of apostolic worship was, which is forever a rule to the Christian Church. The more simple the worship is, the more spiritual it will be shown to be, when persons have nothing else to cling to in it but the…The Simplicity of Worship — Reformed Books Online
Is it acceptable to refer to Jesus as the “Man upstairs”? I didn’t think it was until I took time and seriously thought about the concept. Initially, I thought this term too shoddy to use for Jesus; however, He is properly a man, now resurrected in a powerful spiritual body and sitting on His Father’s throne. Jesus is also, of course, the eternal God who was with the Father in the beginning (Jn.1. 1-2). The most frequent term Jesus used to designate Himself while on earth was, “the Son of man.” Therefore, it is acceptable to call Jesus “the Man upstairs.” Also, there are many other symbols in the bible that picture Jesus.
When the O.T. Patriarch Jacob left Beersheva to go to Padan Aram, he stopped at Bethel for the night. God appeared to Jacob in a dream that night and reaffirmed His covenant to this ancestor of Abraham:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. (Gen. 28.12-13) NIV
The stairway was not a ladder as in some translations. Rather, it best refers to the typical stone construction of Mideast houses. Many of the larger houses featured a stairway built into the side of the house to reach the roof. A notable example is the couple in Shunem who built a shelter for Elisha in 2 Kings 4. 9-10.
In Jacob’s vision he saw angels ascending and descending on this stairwell and named the place “Bethel,” which means the house of God. He saw the Lord at the top speaking down to him. In the N.T. however, things have changed, since the Lord speaks of the angels ascending and descending upon Himself!
He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth – you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn.1.51) NET
What does this figurative picture of a stairway reveal? During the days of His flesh, Jesus indicated He was “the Door,” a similar concept indicating access to show that through Him the sheep would enter the fold: I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. (Jn.10.9) NET. Also, Jesus says He is “the Way,” an additional and related term to indicate the via to access God (Jn. 14.6).
What does it mean when the bible speaks in terms such as “in Christ”? Being “in Christ” is a spatial designation indicating a relationship of some kind. This concept can be seen in Gal. 3.26-27: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (NIV). If Christ clothes us, then we are “in Him,” in a figurative way, but nonetheless real. When we wear a suit of clothes we are in them. When Christ clothes us we are in Him. This wording of being clothed with Christ is very similar to how the Spirit of God fell upon some of the O.T. heroes, such as Samson in Judges 15.14. “The Spirit fell mightily upon him.” Also, back to Galatians 3.27, it implies the method of baptism, since sprinkling or pouring don’t adequately show enrobing as immersion.
Also, what happens to the Christian at death? 2Cor. 5. 1-10 gives the fullest description of the Christian hope:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (NIV)
Again, figurative language is deployed to describe another reality: the temporal tent we live in on earth and our “building” in heaven. This is the physical body which decays, while the building in heaven is probably The Lord Himself, since believers only receive their spiritual bodies at Christ’s Second Coming. Some who died in Christ have been waiting nearly 2000 years for their spiritual bodies and are probably those righteous men made perfect of Heb. 12.23. The usual pattern from the N.T. narratives seems to imply that spirits want to indwell bodies. Therefore, the best accommodation seems to have our soul/spirit indwell Christ’s resurrected body in heaven just after our earthly death. When a person receives Christ, they receive this whole package of blessings.
Personal testimony is not what I usually write about; it’s uncomfortable and a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, this time, I almost feel compelled, since, in another testimony to an individual who I was trying to help, I did not give God the due credit.
It was the summer and I was enjoying a walk in a new area and needed directions to a place I wanted to see. I had asked some folks for directions previously, but they were not sure about it. Then a local responded that he was heading in the same direction and would show me specifics later where his path would divert from mine.
Along the way we were discussing health strategies, since we were both exercising by walking. He said it was his lunch hour and he was spending it walking instead of eating. He was a man probably in his late twenties and a bit corpulent. He mentioned that he was also struggling with smoking, and I thought I could, by personal testimony, help him overcome this habit. I told him that, about thirty years ago, I struggled similarly. This is the point where I failed.
While normally reticent, at times I am open and disclose my heart. My desire was to help this person achieve freedom over this addiction. It was later, in my recollection of the events and what I said to him that gave me pause. I then realized a truth that previously I did not recognize: that God had showed me indirectly what I personally needed to do to defeat this specific addiction. My approach to this addiction was to pray to God to help me overcome it since my willpower and lifestyle were not helping much. There are only so many things available practically to change this habit. Well, I did change my habit and was able to leave it by substitution. What I am saying is that, in one instance, the way God led me to change, was to use my body differently. Smokers usually suffer shortness of breath and coughing, and other maladies. It seemed at this point, after much continuous prayer, He gave me a desire for an activity that strained my breath: I was swimming and holding my breath underwater. Perhaps another activity would have been as challenging for my lungs, but this one really tested me. Fairly soon, I wanted to swim better, and upon reflection, knew both consciously and unconsciously that smoking had to go. Go it did.
Back to my testimony to the man. I related to him of my long struggle with tobacco addiction, and even mentioned that I prayed to God without success. I then related to him how I had overcome smoking through adopting a competing activity. It was not immediately that I realized that God had led me indirectly to give up smoking; but when I did, I also realized I had betrayed God by saying He did not answer my prayer. Forgive me, Lord, for not giving You credit.
The focal point of generation is sameness, “after its kind.” The idea reveals sameness of essence. Some folks have gotten hung up on thinking that every moment by moment God is generating Jesus. This is not the focus at all, since this is an eternal relationship which can never change. It’s almost the same as saying that Jesus, moment by moment, is holding the universe together based upon Col. 1.17 stating as much. Rather, the bible is telling us things about God. God established relationships with His people and He wants us to know about Himself and His Son and that there is no other God. Additionally, the phrase is metaphorical. There is no similarity with human reproduction.
The edition of Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament, and other early Christian literature that I have, doesn’t list a Greek word for “alone” or “unique.” This is because the N.T. and other Christian writers didn’t have the need for this term. Of course Jesus was unique in a special way but it wasn’t expressed since other concerns were much more in the forefront. The fulfillment of O.T. types and the need for identity with humans was what was stressed in Christian literature. There was a term in common circulation in the Greek 1st century which denoted “unique” or “alone” which was monērēs; this term, however, is not found in the N.T.
Monogēnēs is the underlying Greek term denoting “only begotten.” It is the word used in the bible to describe Jesus’ relationship with the Father. The meaning of the term can be deduced from how it is used in the text. Monogēnēs is found in Jn. 1.14 in connection with what precedes. Jn.1.13 speaks about being born (generation). It lists 3 ways natural children are conceived: blood (probably-human descent), of decision, and of the husband’s will. None of these examples is true for ‘one’ born (egennēthēsan) of God. This term is speaking about regeneration since God regenerates many individuals as His children. Back to the point about monogēnēs use in v. 14, here it speaks of a single generation from the Father of the Son. However, this is not a temporal relationship. What I mean is that the relationship is eternal; it always has been and is. This is the primary meaning of “I am” (ego eimi), the term Jesus used so creatively to say, “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I am the resurrection and the life.” What Jesus was saying, I believe, is that He is forever and always existing.
Some commentators looking at the term want to render monogēnēs: “one of a kind” or “unique” but this is not correct for at least 2 reasons. First, while it may be easier to dispense with difficult concepts which challenge comprehension, I believe the bible tells humans many things about God. God brings Christians in relationship with Him as children, and therefore He will teach them things about Himself. While God does not disclose everything to us, He tells us many things: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn.15.15) NIV.
For instance, in Jn. 15.26, Jesus lets us know that the Spirit proceeds (ekporuetai) from the Father. I take this action of the Spirit as different and separate from the singular generation of the Son. A “son” is different from a “spirit,” in concept, and therefore requires a different operation of the Father in the act of proceeding. The Son was meant to be displayed while the Spirit is unseen and works internally in believers. The Son is eternally generated and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father.
Second, the reason why monogēnēs should not be translated as “unique” for Jesus, is that the early Greek-speaking Christians understood the term better than [what amounts to second guessing by] today’s non-native users of the language. The Nicene and Constantinople Creeds use the term to show the sameness of essence or substance (ousia). Whereas, uniqueness is inherent in “only born,” “only born” says more than just “unique.” The problem is that if monogēnēs is rendered “unique,” it doesn’t tell us enough.
Monērēs means “unique” or “alone” and did not enter N.T. usage, since the concept wasn’t required to describe anything by its writers. If John really wanted to stress the aspect that Jesus was unique, he could have used this term, which means exactly “one of a kind.” Yes, Jesus is unique by being singly generated by the Father, but this uniqueness is not the focus in the N.T.
While the bible is scarce in the description of heaven, it reveals the character of heaven’s inhabitants which gives us the disposition of that place. It goes without saying that heaven, compared to earth, will be a place of fulfillment, blessedness, and peace. Further, without question, God and His angels are superabundantly capable. Both these points need no argumentation. God is all wise and knowing, all powerful, everywhere, loving and severe, all holy, and more. But what is God’s nature? Students of the bible, by sifting its contents, may discover what God’s realm reflects in its attitude and disposition.
God Only Employs the Meek
Generally speaking, on earth, when people are characterized by affluence and power, they develop into controlling and arrogant individuals. It’s almost unavoidable. However, this is not the case with those in heaven, just the opposite. Of course, earthly inhabitants need regeneration and adoption before their nature resembles the heavenly disposition.
Moses, after 40 years of being brought up in the Egyptian royal household, was evidently proud and self-sufficient. His act of delivering a Hebrew by murdering the Egyptian (Ex. 2.11-14) shows reliance upon worldly methods and pride. It was only after another 40 years as a shepherd in the wilderness that Moses morphed, by God’s Spirit, into the description found in Num. 12.3: Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (NIV).
Moses was not a Warlord
God sent Moses on a rescue mission to free the oppressed Israelites. This charge to Moses did not involve any military force, but instead God’s power. By taking a nation out of probably the most advanced civilization on earth, God shows the Egyptians, and the surrounding nations, who is King and God. All these actions show the multifaceted working of God’s hand.
Moses, through Aaron, clearly was a mediator between God and the people. This shows the need for distance between the people and God. Many, if not most, Israelites, who sojourned in Egypt, were idolaters. However, they were also a cohesive people, who circumcised their males in Egypt in accordance with their ancestor Abraham; and, who hoped for deliverance and a homeland. It seems the greatest thing that this now freed nation would need to learn in their wilderness wanderings is the holiness of their God and to rely humbly upon Him like His servant Moses.
Essentially, all the rebellions and challenges against Moses’ leadership during the wilderness years can be attributed to Moses’ self-effacing style. This he learned from God. His rhetorical “who am I,” often when the Israelites leaders confronted him, was not what the people were expecting. They had never experienced such leadership. Heavenly leadership on earth looks different than typical human agitations. Moses, it would later be said, was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.
Moses was Christ Minded
Never did Moses seek a political coalition of other Israelites to lobby or contend for control. When they were really challenged, he and Aaron would fall on their face before God. He left the matter in God’s hands and waited. Through His servant Moses, God was showing Israel the need for humility.
Probably the most revealing display of Moses’ character is his reaction to God’s statement that because of Israel’s sin, God would make a nation from him. If there was ever a more selfless defense of God’s integrity, I know not any:
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ (Ex. 32.12-13) NIV
In the above account, Moses had God’s reputation in mind and argued that the Egyptians would misunderstand God’s purposes if He destroyed Israel because of the Golden Calf incident. The Egyptians already knew Israel’s God was powerful since He demonstrated His power against Egypt’s gods in the 10 Plagues. Perhaps, though, the Egyptians will conclude that Israel’s God only delivered them to single them out for destruction. Moses focused on God’s plan and promise to save and bring the people into the land instead of any self-glorious aspirations. Since this self-effacing disposition is commended in Moses, readers of scripture can conclude that the same disposition will feature in heaven.
God’s Disposition is Displayed in Jesus
God is just, capable, and will judge the wicked. This was often the message and explicit focus of O.T. scripture. However, in parts and implicit, The Prophets also speak about the promise that God will redeem humanity. Matthew quotes Isaiah:
Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope. (Mt. 12.18-21) NIV
The people of 2nd Temple Israel were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9.36). What they needed was someone to represent and to mediate for them before God. The Jewish Priesthood of the time was greedy and corrupt. The Romans appointed and thus controlled the High Priesthood. One reason Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan was to contrast Himself with the priesthood of His day. Notice, in the parable, the two who were not a neighbor to the injured: A priest and Levite (Lk. 10.31-32). The priests and Levites were to represent the people before God and to instruct the Law to them. They did neither well.
Ideally, in the Mosaic system, a human high priest could sympathize with others, since they knew of their own failures (see Heb. 5.1-3). Jesus could mediate because of His divinity. Nevertheless, what the world has always needed was love, and when Jesus arrived on the scene, He taught and healed the lost sheep from the House of Israel. This was the “Prophet like Moses”:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die. (Dt. 18.15-16)NIV
As Moses was the “meekest man on the whole earth,” the Prophet who was to come would be humble and lowly, especially in contrast to the scene at Horeb. God would reveal Himself to the people first, as a baby in a manger. Later, He would heal and teach, not strive and agitate. Jesus self-confessed His disposition, and therefore, we can know what heaven is like:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mt.11.28-30) ESV
Jesus was incarnated, not as king but as priest, and eventually, a sacrifice. Yes, Jesus is the returning King, but He is more: a merciful High Priest. Therefore, in heaven, the redeemed response will be gratitude and humility.