Psalm 16 is cited twice in the New Testament: in Acts 2.25-28 and Acts 13.35. On both occasions, the preachers made it perfectly clear that the speaker could not possibly have been David. With this in mind, we must listen, firstly, to Peter in Acts chapter 2: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day" v.29. Then, secondly, to Paul in Acts chapter 13: "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption" v.35.
Both apostles made it equally clear that the speaker in this Psalm is Christ Himself. Listen to Peter again: "For David speaketh concerning Him ... therefore being a prophet ... he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption" Acts 2.25,30,31. Listen to Paul again: "For David … saw corruption: but He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption" Acts 13.36,37.
Quite evidently then, this Psalm is one of those passages described by Peter: "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently … searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when It testified (‘testifying’ J.N.D.) beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" 1Pet.1.10,11. The Lord Jesus is the only Speaker throughout Psalm 16, where He has been called ‘The Man of Perfect Trust’. The Messianic Psalms, of which this is the second1, disclose the thoughts and motives of the Lord Jesus, and should be read in conjunction with the Gospel records. Quite obviously, this lovely Psalm records the inward thoughts of the Lord Jesus in His manhood, and this is emphasised from the very beginning.
1. The first one being Psalm 2. Psalm 8 is not Messianic in the truest sense, in that it emphasises the role of man in creation: "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands …" v.6. We know from the New Testament that man’s failure has not cancelled God’s purpose for him, and that "all things" will be "put … in subjection under his feet", but only because the perfect Man ("Jesus") has endured "the suffering of death" Heb.2.6-9.
With this in mind, there are seven things that we should notice:
His Dependence on God, vv.1,2
His Delight in the Saints, v.3
His Disassociation from Evil, v.4
His Delight in His Inheritance, vv.5,6
His Divine Instruction, v.7
His Devotion to God’s Will, v.8
His Deliverance from Death, vv.9-11.
HIS DEPENDENCE ON GOD – vv.1,2
"Preserve Me, O God: for in Thee do I put My trust. O My soul, Thou hast said unto the LORD, ‘Thou art My Lord: My goodness extendeth not to Thee’".
The fact that He employs the words "O God" v.1, emphasises His manhood. Compare Ps.22.1, "My God, My God …", and Ps.40.8, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God". Notice that the citation of Psalm 16 in Acts chapter 2 lies in a section commencing, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you" v.22. On the other hand, we must never forget that in Psalm 45, another Messianic Psalm, the Lord Jesus is Himself addressed as God: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever" v.6. This is stressed beyond all doubt (despite the denials of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’, falsely so called) in Heb.1.8: "But unto the Son He saith, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever’".
The perfect trust of the Lord Jesus is stressed throughout the Psalm: see, for example, vv.10,11 and the expressions "Thou will not … Thou wilt". Notice in Whom He trusts: "Preserve Me, O God (El, meaning ‘the Mighty One’)". (It is important to notice that El is singular). We learn from Gen.16.13 that He sees all: "Thou God (El) seest me"; and from Ps.57.2 that He performs all: "I will cry unto God (Elohim) Most High; Unto God (El) that performeth all things for me".
But what about the words "Preserve Me"? Preserve Him from what? The answer evidently lies in vv.9,10. The Lord Jesus was not preserved from death, but He was preserved in death. This is the sense of Heb.5.7, "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death (‘out of death’ J.N.D.), and was heard in that He feared (‘because of His piety’ J.N.D.)".
If the first verse emphasises the dependent Man, then the second verse emphasises the dependent Servant. The R.V. helps us here: "I have said unto the LORD (Jehovah), Thou art my Lord (Adonai – Sovereign Lord): I have no good beyond thee". Compare Ps.22.10: "I was cast upon Thee from the womb: thou art My God from My mother’s belly".
The Lord Jesus expresses here His total dependence upon God. He finds complete sufficiency in Him. Two other renderings make the point: "I have no good apart from Thee" (R.S.V.); "My welfare rests upon Thee alone" (Moffatt). The following passages will illustrate the meaning of this verse: "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father …" Jn.6.57; "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" Jn.5.19; "I can of Mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and My judgment is just; because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me" Jn.5.30; "I speak that which I have seen with My Father" Jn.8.38.
HIS DELIGHT IN THE SAINTS – v.3
"But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all My delight", or "As for the saints that are in the earth, they are the excellent, in whom is all My delight" R.V.
We should notice at least two things here. First of all, His assessment of God’s people. He calls them "the excellent". The word may be rendered ‘honourable’. (Does this recall Ps.15.4?) Secondly, His affection for God’s people. See Jn.17.9,10: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them"; "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" Eph.5.25.
HIS DISASSOCIATION FROM EVIL – v.4
"Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into My lips".
The Lord Jesus never deviated from complete devotion to God in either deed ("their drink offerings") or word ("their names"). The Old Testament drink offering accompanied other offerings (see Lev.23.13,18). Being wine, it expressed joy. But there is no joy here: "drink offerings of blood". Perhaps this is an echo of Gen.3.16, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow". If idolatry brings untold sorrow, then "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" 1Tim.4.8. Idolatry is defined in Romans chapter 1: "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator" v.25. This was exactly what Satan, a creature, desired from the Lord Jesus: "All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me" Matt.4.9. The Lord Jesus replied, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God".
HIS DELIGHT IN HIS INHERITANCE – vv.5,6
"The Lord is the portion of Mine inheritance and of My cup: Thou maintainest My lot. The lines are fallen unto Me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage".
We have heard the Lord Jesus tell us where He did not find pleasure; now He tells us where He did find pleasure.
His Delight in God
The LORD (Jehovah) was the source of His joy ("the portion of Mine inheritance") and the sustainer of His joy ("Thou maintainest My lot"). When the Lord Jesus "came unto His own [things] ... His own [people] received Him not" Jn.1.11. He had not "where to lay His head" Matt.8.20. But this in no way diminished His joy in God and in doing God’s will: see Ps.40.8. He fulfilled Ps.37.4, "Delight thyself also in the LORD". Aaron was told: "Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land ... I am thy part and thine inheritance" Num.18.20. "The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall … have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance" Deut.18.1,2. Here is the true ‘Aaron’ and the true ‘Levite’.
His Delight in God’s Blessing
"The lines are fallen unto Me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage". Compare Ps.78.55, "He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line". The Lord Jesus described His disciples as "the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me" Jn.17.6. Add the following: "that ye may know … what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" Eph.1.18. We therefore learn from Ephesians chapter 1 that, while we have an inheritance in Christ, vv.11,14, He has an inheritance in us! That’s the whole idea of "a peculiar people": a people for a possession, 1Pet.2.9.
HIS DIVINE INSTRUCTION – v.7
"I will bless the LORD, Who hath given Me counsel: My reins also instruct Me in the night seasons".
We should notice the following here. Firstly, His Divine counsel. Listen to words of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament: "The Lord GOD hath given Me the tongue of the learned …" Isa.50.4. Listen to His words in the New Testament: "For I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father which hath sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak ..." Jn.12.49,50. Secondly, His Divine response. He listened to Divine counsel, and pondered it: "My reins (heart/thoughts) also instruct Me …" In Isaiah chapter 50, the Lord Jesus speaks about listening "morning by morning" v.4; here He speaks about "the night seasons".
HIS DEVOTION TO GOD’S WILL – v.8
"I have set the LORD always before Me: because He is at My right hand, I shall not be moved".
Guidance and instruction, v.7, is accompanied by positive purpose of heart, v.8. Who else but the Lord Jesus could say: "I have set the LORD always before Me"? He said, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work" Jn.4.34. The unswerving devotion of the Lord Jesus to God assured Him of the unfailing presence of God. "Because He is at My right hand, I shall not be moved". Here are His words in the New Testament: "Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" Jn.16.32.
Now look at the connection with the verse that follows. He had honoured God in His life, and enjoyed the presence of God. Now He knew that God would honour Him in the crisis that lay ahead.
HIS DELIVERANCE FROM DEATH – vv.9-11
"Therefore My heart is glad, and My glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall rest in hope. For Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew Me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore".
We must notice the "therefore". This connects the perfect life of the Lord Jesus with His death and resurrection. The emphasis in the last three verses of the Psalm is on anticipated resurrection and ascension. Psalm 16 does not mention the sorrow of the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" Matt.26.38. It does not mention His sufferings at Calvary. V.9 is full of assurance and gladness: "Therefore My heart is glad, and My glory rejoiceth: My flesh also shall rest in hope". To quote A.G. Clarke: "heart" here means ‘soul’; "glory" means ‘spirit’; "flesh" means ‘body’.
Why such confidence in the face of death? The answer follows: "For Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption".
"Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell"
Does this mean that the Lord Jesus went to Sheol (New Testament, Hades) when He "yielded up the ghost"? One thing is perfectly clear: the Saviour went to a place of joy and peace, for He said to the thief who believed, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" Lk.23.43. That is, He went to the place described by Paul in 2Corinthians chapter 12: "caught up to the third heaven … caught up into Paradise" vv.2-4. Quite obviously, the Saviour did not go to the same place as the rich man in Luke chapter 16: "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments" v.23. To quote W.E. Vine: "Christ, at His death, having committed His spirit to the Father, went in spirit immediately into heaven itself, the dwelling place of God (the Lord’s mention of the place as Paradise must have been a great comfort to the malefactor; to the oriental mind it expressed the sum total of blessedness)."
But if this is so, how must we understand the words, "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell"? The word "leave" is very strong, and means to leave behind, to forsake, to abandon. The Psalm itself supplies the answer: "Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god … Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell". The ‘New Translation’ (J.N.D.) and R.V. render v.10 as follows: ‘For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol’. Others are, rightly, abandoned to Sheol, but not so the Lord Jesus. "The wicked shall be turned into hell (Sheol), and all the nations that forget God" Ps.9.17.
"Neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption"
Death, as well as hell, had no claim on the Lord Jesus. His death was miraculous. He died voluntarily. Because He was totally sinless – hence the expression, "Thine Holy One" – the laws of sin and death, which operate in us, never operated in Him. Compare Jn.11.39. His blessed body saw no decay or decomposition. Think about this very carefully: if the Lord Jesus had not been conceived of the Holy Spirit, His body would have decomposed. If we deny one Bible doctrine, then we must deny everything else as well.
The Lord Jesus looked confidently beyond death to resurrection and ascension. Resurrection: "Thou wilt shew Me the path of life". Ascension: "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore". To quote Psalm 110, God has said to Christ, "Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" v.1. God has "highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name" Phil.2.9. God’s "right hand" is the place of highest honour in the universe.
Although Levi the tribal head was a co-leader in infamy, Levi the tribe led the nation into the Promised Land: "When ye see the ark of the covenant … and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall … go after it" Josh.3.3. All the Israelites passing through the Jordan on dry ground foreshadows One Who is the antitype of the ark of the covenant, standing resolute until all His own are safe home to their eternal inheritance.
Following the debacle at Ai and its subsequent conquest, Joshua built an altar unto the Lord, wrote upon the stones a copy of the Law of Moses, then read all the words of the Law to all the congregation in the presence of the "priests the Levites" Josh.8.30-35. God’s Word is unchanging from generation to generation.
The Lord instructed Joshua about the division of the land to the tribes. However, "Only unto the tribe of Levi he gave none inheritance; the sacrifices of the LORD God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance" Josh.13.14. They are not disadvantaged, "the LORD God of Israel was their inheritance" Josh.13.33;18.7. If we truly understood the value of our spiritual blessings we would not be fixated with tangible possessions.
Levi foregoing a territorial possession enriched others: "unto the Levites he gave none inheritance … For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim: therefore they gave no part unto the Levites in the land, save cities to dwell in, with their suburbs …" Josh.14.3,4.
However Levi, the tribe that gave up a territorial inheritance, received cities out of the territory of the other tribes: "And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs" Josh.21.3. A total of forty-eight cities were assigned to Levi, of which six were designated "cities of refuge". Although their possession was different to that of other tribes, they did not lose out, as God is no man’s debtor. Plus they had the inestimable honour of their singular service for God, an association which should lead to gratitude.
However privilege is not always appreciated and we read of discontented and disobedientLevites in Judges chapters 17-20. Sadly those blessed with knowledge of God and His ways may sin more grievously and place others in danger.
The "young man out of Bethlehem-judah … who was a Levite" Judg.17.7, abandoned his true calling of service for God to reside with an idolater called Micah and secured a remunerated position as a ‘household priest’! The young Levite may have been as pleased with the situation as was Micah, who said, "Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest" Judg.17.13. But the Levite leaves Micah at the invitation of Danite raiders: "go with us, and be to us a father and a priest: is it better for thee to be a priest unto the house of one man, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel?" Judg.18.19. Desire for greater prospects and prestige leads the Levite to introduce idolatry to the tribe of Dan. His pernicious influence is ongoing: "And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh (‘Moses’ J.N.D.), he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. And they set them up Micah’s graven image … all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" Judg.18.30,31.
The situation deteriorates further as detailed in Judges chapters 19 and 20. Another Levite returns to Bethlehem-judah to recover his runaway concubine. Idolatry led to moral laxity, sexual violation and death. This Levite dismembered the concubine’s corpse (using skills first learned at God’s altar?), divided it into twelve parts and sent them to all the coasts of Israel, provoking civil war; the death of 85,130 men; and almost annihilating the tribe of Benjamin! Sin always has tragic, unforeseen downstream consequences.
Levites are next mentioned in 1Sam.6.15 moving the ark of the covenant, returned by the Philistines, from their new cart to the great stone of Abel. They witnessed God’s smiting the men of Beth-shemesh with instant death for their irreverent curiosity in lifting the mercy seat to look into the ark. Failure on the part of disengaged Levites about how the ark should be handled reverently led to the death of others. Remember we are our brother’s keeper!
LEVI IN THE UNITED MONARCHY
When the men of Israel came to Hebron to acknowledge David as king there were: "Of the children of Levi four thousand and six hundred. And Jehoiada was the leader of the Aaronites, and with him were three thousand and seven hundred; and Zadok, a young man mighty of valour, and of his father’s house twenty and two captains" 1Chr.12.26-28.
Lessons of history are not always learned. David consults on bringing the ark to Jerusalem: a consultation that included "priests and Levites" 1Chr.13.2,3. The death of Uzza, who touched the ark, 1Chr.13.10, is reminiscent of the fatalities at the great stone of Abel as already considered, 1Sam.6.19.
David learned from his error, stating, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites: for them hath the LORD chosen to carry the ark of God, and to minister unto Him for ever" 1Chr.15.2. There are numerous references to Levites throughout that chapter, in particular, "… sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the LORD our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought Him not after the due order" 1Chr.15.12,13. So they carry the ark upon their shoulders "as Moses commanded according to the word of the LORD" 1Chr.15.15. When all is in Scriptural order there is singing and melody led by the principal singers Heman, Asaph and Ethan, 1Chr.15.19-28. In the next chapter Levites are given specific responsibilities in relation to temple praise.
Levites are mentioned when David was fleeing Jerusalem following Absalom’s rebellion, "And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God ..." 2Sam.15.24. However, David sent them and the ark back to Jerusalem as God can well take care of His own interests, even when assailed by men like Absalom!
Genealogical details are given of the sons of Levi in 1Chronicles chapter 6. Included are details of their service: "And these are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of the LORD, after that the ark had rest. And they ministered before the dwelling place of the tabernacle of the congregation with singing, until Solomon had built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem: and then they waited on their office according to their order" 1Chr.6.31,32. Also, "… the Levites were appointed unto all manner of service of the tabernacle of the house of God" 1Chr.6.48.
In 1Chronicles chapter 9 details are given in relation to those who dwelt in Jerusalem, including of the priestly family, 1,760 "very able men for the work of the service of the house of God" 1Chr.9.13. Details are then given of Levites and the variety of their temple service: porters, keepers of the gates, keepers of the entry, porter of the door of the tabernacle, etc., operating on a rota system. Other Levites had responsibilities in relation to vessels, some for the consumables, some made ointment of the spices, some were bakers, some were "singers ... employed in that work day and night" 1Chr.9.33.Diligent Levites have a song to sing.
There is an interesting detail in relation to David’s sin in numbering the people, "But Levi and Benjamin counted he (Joab) not among them: for the king’s word was abominable to Joab" 1Chr.21.6. It is sad when a carnal person knows when a believer is making a gross mistake. In refusing to number Levi, Joab recognises that their distinctiveness and strength is spiritual, not numerical.
David, in his latter years, was exercised about orderly transition of governance. In that context we have a proper enumeration of the Levites in accordance to their work. He had thirty-eight thousand Levites aged over thirty years of age: twenty-four thousand had service in the house, six thousand were officers and judges, four thousand were porters and four thousand led the praise, 1Chr.23.3-6. The principal names of the Levitical families are then supplied. That chapter also records that the Levites are to be numbered from "twenty years old and above" with a change in their service also noted that from henceforth "… they shall no more carry the tabernacle, nor any vessels of it for the service thereof" 1Chr.23.24-27. This marks the transition from tabernacle to temple, from the temporary to the permanent. But while certain details change, their service must continue in holiness.
The division of the Levitical service into the twenty-four courses of the priesthood is detailed in 1Chronicles chapter 24. Service then, as now, is to be in shared fellowship with no one opting out of their responsibility. Various spheres of Levitical service are again detailed in 1Chronicles chapter 26: porters, gatekeepers, mighty men of valour, strong men, able men for strength for the service, wise counsellors, men over the treasures of the house of the LORD, over the treasures of the dedicated things, etc. In the service of the LORD there is always variety, responsibility and opportunity!
David giving his final instructions to the nation and to Solomon mentions continuation of Levitical service. "And, behold, the courses of the priests and the Levites, even they shall be with thee for all the service of the house of God: and there shall be with thee for all manner of workmanship every willing skilful man, for any manner of service: also the princes and all the people will be wholly at thy commandment" 1Chr.28.21.
During Solomon’s reign the temple was built in Jerusalem. It was the priests and the Levites who brought the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle of the congregation and all the holy vessels into the temple, 1Kgs.8.4; 2Chr.5.4,5. "Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren" were engaged "in praising and thanking the LORD ... saying, ‘For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever:’ that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God" 2Chr.5.12-14.
Following the dedication of the temple and evidence of Divine acceptance by fire from heaven to consume the burnt offering and sacrifices the Levites also served "with instruments of music of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because His mercy endureth for ever" 2Chr.7.6. Solomon also "appointed, according to the order of David his father, the courses of the priests to their service, and the Levites to their charges, to praise and minister before the priests, as the duty of every day required: the porters also by their courses at every gate" 2Chr.8.14,15.
Levites were expected to be diligent and dutiful. So it is for us today: "… it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" 1Cor.4.2.
"For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name ... Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" Rev.3.8,10.
Today, we are told that the ‘old-fashioned’ assembly pattern has outlived its ‘shelf-life’. The apostles’ doctrine is seen as a leftover relic of the early days of Pentecost. Some think we must adopt a more modern approach beginning with a seeker-friendly message that is inoffensive and attractive. This so-called ‘social Gospel’ will make people feel good about themselves. It moves away from the awakening call for, "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ". Since in general there is a lack of interest in the gospel, some have stated that a gospel outreach from the assembly involving a series of gospel meetings is no longer workable. They feel that we should focus on the positive aspects of the assembly testimony. This involves a more casual lifestyle and a ‘get-what-you-want’ fellowship. To ask people about the story of salvation may seem to be condemning them. If we are to see increase in the numbers at the meetings they say that people must be made to feel good about their worth and potential. They tell us we are too strict and medieval. They claim that some compromise is necessary if we are to achieve a loose fellowship of all Bible-believing Christians.
Is the apostles’ doctrine obsolete? Is conformity to this world no longer an issue? In this modern age, can we no longer practise New Testament principles in the assembly by gathering unto our Lord Jesus Christ without the camp, bearing His reproach? Is this a relic of the past?
To each of the last four churches in Revelation, the Lord walking in the midst of the lampstands mentions His coming again, Rev.2.25; 3.3; 3.11; 3.21 (where it is implied in the reference to sitting with Him in His throne). Has doctrine changed?; has the standard been lowered? What does the Lord expect to see in the testimony of an autonomous New Testament lampstand right up to the Rapture?
The church at Philadelphia was feeble but faithful, Rev.3.7-13. It was:
GOVERNED BY HIS PRECEPTS, Rev.3.7,8
Threefold Character of the Lord: "He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David." "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." He controls the entrance to communion and the exit to service. To us, the door may seem to be closing. No man has the strength to "shut" the door to the storehouses of His resources and the opportunity of testimony and missionary zeal to continue to preach the gospel.
GATHERED TO HIS PERSON, Rev.3.8
Threefold Character of the Assembly: "Thou hast a little strength", (weakness, yet strong in the Lord); "and hast kept My word" (steadfastness, adherence while under attack); "and hast not denied My name" (faithfulness, under pressure to renounce). This is encouragement to continue as an assembly gathered to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
GUARDED BY HIS PROMISE, Rev.3.9-11
Threefold Comfort to the Church: "I will make", "I will keep", "I [will] come". "I will make (second time) them to come and worship before thy feet". This would indicate the public repentance and worship of God by converts from their satanically-inspired enemies. There is power at our disposal if in dependence upon God we keep open the evangelical "door" of the gospel.
"I also will keep thee from (not "in") the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world". A clear promise of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. "Behold, I come (return)quickly: hold that fast which thou hast". Having a "little strength" it is the Lord’s desire that we hold fast that deposit of truth "which thou hast": do not change it or let it go.
GUARANTEED HIS PURPOSES, Rev.3.12
Threefold Challenge to the Faithful: Faithfulness is not a relic of the past but an incentive to the overcomer and is relevant to sharing His glory in the future. "Will I make"; "I will write"; "I will write" (second time, in A.V.). "Will I make a pillar" – having "a little strength" now, going to be a "pillar" of strength then. The verse continues, "I will write upon Him the name of My God" (Infinite Greatness); "and the name of the city of My God" (Invincible Government); "which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God" (Incomparable Grandeur); "and I will write upon him My new name" (Inherent Glory). Faithful as gathered to His "name" now in rejection; we are promised continuous unfoldings of His name, His Person, His glory and that eternally.
In My Father’s house … where I am, there ye may be also. John 14.2,3
There are few words in the English language as sweet as ‘home’; it conjures up for most of us scenes of warmth and welcome where we were loved and cared for by loving parents.
How dear the Father’s house was to the Saviour while He was here and how He longed to return to the place where His worth was recognised and His name celebrated!
His work on earth has been completed and one day while blessing His disciples on the Mount of Olives, He was parted from them and received up in glory.
He waits with deep yearnings for the moment when, at His Father’s behest, He will rise again from the throne and come to receive us to be forever with Himself.
This world is not our home; we are grateful for every comfort but how blessed it will be to ‘reach our peaceful dwelling on the strong, eternal hills’. He will not be satisfied until we are with Him in the land of fadeless day.
O the wondrous joy of dwelling
In the Father’s house above!
Every feature Christ reflecting,
And our God’s surpassing love.
I go to prepare a place for you John 14.2
As the Saviour anticipated His return to heaven, He made it clear to His own that He was not abandoning them; what He would be doing would be for them and for their blessing. He would neither forsake nor forget them and in His absence He would be preparing a place for them. He was going to make ready a place for His Bride, purchased by His blood upon the lonely tree of Golgotha.
We would be constantly and continually in His thoughts; with loving eye and longing heart He would monitor our progress through this barren waste and at the moment of His Father’s choosing would call us away to scenes of full, unmingled joy.
Never again will we be parted from Him and never again will our affections be shared with an unworthy world. He alone will fill and thrill our ransomed souls forever. ‘Then we shall be where we would be.’
The letter is written to the church in Ephesus, one of the great cities of the ancient world. Ephesus is situated in modern day Turkey. It is now in ruins. However, when this letter was written it was home to about three hundred thousand people and was the chief city in Asia. It housed the Temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The worship of Diana is a prominent feature of Luke’s account of the gospel reaching Ephesus, in Acts 19.24-41. Ephesus appears in the Acts of the Apostles, the Prison Epistles, the letters to Timothy and the Book of Revelation. As a result we have more information about the church in Ephesus than any other New Testament church. The period spanned covers about forty years, from Paul’s arrival to preach the gospel to John’s ‘letter within a letter’ in the Book of Revelation.
Ephesians was probably written at the same time as the Colossian letter. See Paper 1 for the similarities between the two letters. Hereunder is a summary of the epistle.
THE CHURCH’S PRIVILEGES
In the original letter, 1.3-14 is one long sentence. It sets out the blessings of Christians "in Christ". In order to explain the blessings of the Christian the apostle utilises terminology used to describe Israel’s blessings in the Old Testament but reworked so as to reveal the superior blessings in Christ:
Israel’s blessings were tangible and visible and were situated in Canaan, Gen.15.7; 26.3; 28.13, the "land flowing with milk and honey" Ex.3.8. The Christians’ blessings are "in heavenly places" in Christ, 1.3
God chose Israel for blessing from among the peoples of the earth, Deut.7.6. The Church was chosen for spiritual blessing in Christ, 1.4
Israel was adopted as Jehovah’s son out of the nations, Ex.4.22; Rom.9.4. Christians were predestinated to adoption as sons from eternity, 1.5
Israel was redeemed from Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb, Ex.6.6, whereas Christians were redeemed from their sin by Christ, 1.7
Israel had an earthly inheritance, Gen.15.7, whereas the Church has a heavenly inheritance, 1.14
Whereas other letters pursue arguments and answer questions, Ephesians is dominated by prayer and thanksgiving. This section opens with the words "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who …" In the sentence that follows the teaching of the apostle is found in the praise he offers. Likewise the second section, 1.15-23, is a prayer and the apostle’s teaching is in the prayer he offers. The last great praise section is 3.14-21 where again there is much to learn from the apostle’s thanksgiving.
THE CHURCH’S POWER
1.15-23 are also one long sentence. The apostle’s prayer here is that the Ephesians might appreciate the greatness of the power at their disposal. The "hope of His calling" refers to the idea that in calling the Christian (to salvation) the believer has a "hope", namely resurrection and exaltation to heaven. If God could raise Jesus from the dead, what could He do for us? The Lord Jesus is also linked to the Church in a relationship of affection as well as authority. The Lord Jesus is superior to the angels; but they are not part of the Church. Salvation is described a variety of ways:
The result of God’s choice in eternity past, 1.4
The result of being adopted by God as His child, 1.5
The status of being accepted by God because of our links with the Beloved, 1.6
Receiving redemption through the blood of Christ, 1.7
Receiving forgiveness of sins, 1.7
Being heir to a heavenly inheritance, 1.11
Based on trust, 1.13
Based on belief, 1.13
Manifested by spiritual life, 2.1
Identified with Christ in His resurrection and ascension, 2.5,6
Bestowed by grace through faith, 2.8
Receiving the promise of Christ by the gospel, 3.6
This section also contains the first reference to a distinctive feature of Ephesians, angels and spirits. The "principalities and powers" mentioned in v.21 refer to great angelic beings, see also 3.10; 6.12. The letter emphasises the malign power of the most notorious fallen angel, the devil, 2.2; 6.11, and the "heavenlies" 1.3,20; 2.6; 3.10; 6.12, a word unique to Ephesians1 and which describes a realm apart from earth where both God and angels, fallen and unfallen, reside. This emphasis may be because Ephesus was the seat of the worship of Artemis (Diana) and Paul associated the devil and evil spirits with idolatry. It may also be because there was a form of religion called Gnosticism abroad which emphasised the role of angels.
1. Though its cognates appear regularly in Scripture
THE CHURCH’S PARDON
This section, 2.1-10, is marked by the sharp contrast it draws between the state of the unsaved man and the saved man. Paul gives a ‘before and after’ for the Christian. Before, the Ephesians’ everyday life was characterised by sin, 2.2, but after salvation they were characterised by good works, 2.10. Before they lived as the world lived, 2.2, but after they lived for heaven, 2.6. Before they were controlled by Satan, 2.2, but after they were controlled by God, 2.6. Before they were "dead" 2.1, but after they were "alive" 2.5.
The section is also marked by its stress on man’s dependence on God for salvation. His works do not merit salvation, 2.8,9. The state of the religious man (like Paul) with his religious works is no better than that of the pagan man (like the Ephesians). Just as God raised Christ so He gives life to the Christian. The initiative of God is propelled by His love for us and His consequent grace and mercy. Due to His grace and mercy He forgives sin. He forgives those who respond to the gospel in faith, 2.8.
THE CHURCH’S PARTNERSHIP
2.11-22 are largely occupied with the union of Jew and Gentile. Since the audience in Ephesus was Gentile it was vital that they did not think they had become members of a Jewish sect. No, he asserts that salvation is for them as much as the Jew. While in the past the Law had made distinctions between Jew and Gentile, Christ had set aside the Law. He points out that there is no restriction on the scope of the death of Christ, 2.13. The Lord Himself preached to Gentiles and from an early stage the gospel had spread to the Gentile and Jew alike, 2.17. There is a strong hint that while the covenants had been with Israel and Judah, the blood of the New Covenant, 2.13, had a universal scope. Gentiles and Jews belonged to one kingdom, 2.19, one household, 2.19, and one temple, 2.21. Jew and Gentile were in partnership together.
Ephesians places a great deal of emphasis on the Church, as the totality of all believers and distinct from Israel. It is described as:
the body of Christ, 1.22,23; 4.12
a man, 2.15
a temple, 2.21
a bride/wife, 5.25
THE CHURCH’S PRAYER
This brings us to chapter 3. Although he does not supply any details as to when and how God spoke to him, the apostle explains that God had revealed to him that He was now working among both Jew and Gentile, 3.3. He had then specially commissioned him to preach to the Gentiles, 3.8,9. He saw this work as having a heavenly dimension, 3.11. The Ephesian epistle has wide horizons. Christ again is at the heart of God’s purposes. There are many dispensations in Scripture. The final one is the "dispensation of the fulness of the times". The Millennium is the final phase of testimony before the Eternal State, when all things are finally subdued to God and Christ.
The apostle closes this section with a prayer. His prayers are mingled with praise. He now prays for more practical matters. He desires that they might enjoy the strength which comes from the Spirit. He desires that they might demonstrate in their life the characteristics of the Lord Jesus. Above all he desires that they might have a grasp of the love of Christ.
THE CHURCH’S PRINCIPLES
Chapter 4 bridges the doctrinal and the practical. Unity is a practical truth but if it is to be realised it needs based on common principles. Jews would have understood religious unity. They believed in one God, but the Gentiles had been reared in a world of many gods and religions. The apostle sets out a doctrinal foundation for unity. Although there is a trinity, there is only one Father, one Son and one Spirit. There is one basis of salvation, not many ways to heaven. There is one baptism: although John had baptised, the Church only recognised baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. There is only one expression of testimony, the Church, and there is one doctrinal body, the faith. Unity is maintained by a diversity of gifts given by God.
THE CHURCH’S PRACTICE
From 4.17 to the end the apostle develops a series of practical points. The "old man" is what we were before we were saved, that is, our standing in Adam, Rom. 6.6; Col.3.9. Although our connection to Adam was ended on conversion we are still capable of behaving like the "old man". We should live as "new men". We are now linked with Christ and ought to live in line with His character. The Christian’s speech should be pure. He should not lie, 4.25, or tell doubtful jokes, 4.29. He should never speak angrily or haughtily, 4.31. He should not be marked by "empty talk" 5.4. Psalms and hymns should be on his lips, 5.19. As to his conduct, he should be kind, 4.32, and honest, 4.28. Immorality, 5.3, and drunkenness, 5.18, should be alien to him.
THE CHURCH’S PATTERN
This section, 5.22-6.9, closely resembles the corresponding section in Colossians. It has been called a ‘household code’ and sets out the behaviour of Christians in the home. He discusses wives, husbands, children, slaves (who were part of home life) and masters. He links the conduct of spouses with the values of the Church. Wives are to be submissive as the Church is submissive to Christ. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. This section is intensely practical and easy to understand. It presents none of the challenges to understanding seen in the earlier part of the epistle.
THE CHURCH’S POWER
Before the closing greetings, 6.21-24, Paul uses an extended metaphor. He describes a Roman soldier or gladiator and draws parallels between his weapons and armour and the armaments God has placed at the disposal of the Christian to protect him in an evil world.
Paul has become a minister, or servant, of the gospel. In 1Tim.1.11,12 he speaks of "the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry".
Paul’s Suffering for the Believers
When the risen Christ called him in Acts chapter 9 it was made clear that suffering for His name’s sake was part of that calling, Acts 9.16. Here he reveals that his sufferings were also "for you", the believers who formed the body of Christ. The word "now" in v.24 demonstrates that presently, as he was incarcerated in a prison in Rome, he rejoiced that such sufferings were his portion. It reminds us of his words in Phil.1.29: "unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake". In a unique way here Paul links his afflictions in his flesh with the afflictions of Christ Himself. Paul had been given direct revelations from the risen Christ and in the communication of these Paul was privileged to fill up the word of God. However in the accomplishment of that he was required to bear the afflictions of Christ.
Paul’s Stewardship of the Mystery
The word "dispensation" in v.25 is the word elsewhere translated "stewardship". In 1Cor.4.1 Paul writes, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God". Undoubtedly there are many mysteries revealed in the Scriptures and indeed W.E. Vine wrote a book called "The Twelve Mysteries of Scripture". These include the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of iniquity, the mystery of Israel’s blindness, the mystery of the change to the believer’s body and the mystery of the Church. This last one is the mystery here in Colossians chapter 1. In vv.26,27 three matters about the mystery are explained:
The Revelation of the Mystery
Here Paul explains what a mystery is: that "which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints". Compare with this Eph.3.9,10. So a mystery is not something unknowable and strange but truth that God has chosen to reveal to the saints.
"Ages" and "generations" are different time periods in the chronology of human history.
The Riches of the Mystery
What an expression this is: "The riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles". Amazingly, God brings the wealth and glory of heavenly blessing "among the Gentiles". He does this by making them part of the body of Christ.
The Reality of the Mystery
"Christ in you, the hope of glory". In Ephesians Christ, the Head, is above and we are linked with Him where He is. However in Colossians Christ is among the Gentiles, down here, assuring us of the reality of the hope of coming glory. This is the third time Paul refers to the hope in this chapter: "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" v.5, "the hope of the gospel" v.23 and "the hope of glory" v.27.
Paul’s Striving for the Saints
In these closing verses we are confronted with the warnings of Paul, the wisdom of Paul and the working in Paul.
These warnings and teachings will be filled out in the remainder of the epistle. The wisdom is demonstrated in his presentation of truth, so as to preserve the saints and present them full grown and mature in Christ.
All this was done according to the mighty working of God in him. In this measure and manner the apostle laboured and contended for the good of the Colossian believers.
How do we discover the treasures that are hidden in Christ? We must dig into the Word of God day by day and His glories will be revealed to us.
Remember we have the Holy Spirit to help us. The Lord Jesus said in Jn.16.14 of the Divine Spirit, "He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you."
Just as Abraham’s servant gave to Rebekah jewels of silver and jewels of gold as the tokens of his master’s wealth so the Spirit unfolds the unsearchable riches of Christ to us today, Gen.24.22,53.
How much we need to apprehend something of the Divine wisdom and knowledge available in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Treasures in Him
In chapter 2 Paul expands upon the dangers facing the Colossians because he wants them to know and be fully aware about the intentions of the false teachers.
In vv.1-3 he writes about his conflict, their comfort, their comprehension and, most importantly, about Christ!
Paul continues with the theme introduced at the end of chapter 1, as the word "striving" 1.29 is from the same root as "conflict" 2.1. A similar but more intense word is used of the Lord Jesus in Lk.22.44: "And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly". W.E. Vine says "it speaks of the inward conflict of the soul" and has its imagery taken from the athletes contending against each other in the games. This concern was for all at Colosse and Laodicea and even those Paul personally had never met.
The objective of Paul’s intense prayers was that he might encourage their hearts as a result of his drawing alongside them. He wanted them to be glued together in the unity that mutual love produces and not to allow the false teachers to divide them.
"Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding" shows that there is something blessed about having the certainty and assurance that what we understand as the truth of God is indeed the truth. If we begin to waver and have doubts about what we believe it leaves us open to all kinds of error that will potentially undermine our faith. Paul is assuring them of the richness of truth they have received, in the greatness of the gospel and the glories of the Person and work of Christ.
Christ in the Mystery
The next phrase in v.2 is changed by the Revised Version to read the "mystery of God, even Christ". A.T. Robertson says of this that "it follows that Christ is the mystery of God, no longer hidden, but manifested and meant for us to know to the fulness of our capacity".
Paul goes on to explain that "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are to be found in Him. "Treasure" is literally "a place of safe keeping", which is what He is for the fulness of Divine wisdom and knowledge. Solomon was renowned for his wisdom but "a greater than Solomon is here". Twice over in John’s Gospel we are told of the Lord, "Thou knowest all things" 16.30; 21.17, and here we have underlined the limitless expanse of infinite knowledge found in Christ!
In vv.4-7 Paul warns of the onslaught of words against them but is encouraged by the order which was evident among them and the objective of their walk in Him.
Onslaught of Words
These were words with the intention to delude and lead astray. To do this the false teachers would present plausible arguments that may sound acceptable but are entirely spurious and cannot stand the scrutiny of Scripture.
Order he Witnessed
Although Paul had never been there in person he assures the saints he is with them in spirit and this must have strengthened their resolve against their enemies. He rejoiced in the godly order among them and the firmness of their unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus.
Objective of their Walk
Paul exhorts them to walk in keeping with the fact that they had received Christ Jesus the Lord, submitting to His authority over them. Christ was their foundation and the sphere of their edification as long as they remained true and assured in the faith they had been taught. Their position in Christ and the progress being made because of their persistence in adhering to the faith, were all a means of overflowing praise and thanksgiving being offered to God.
This is an announcement that is made in many countries to warn passengers, both embarking and disembarking, of the gap between the train door and the station platform, lest they be injured. The phrase was first introduced on the London (U.K.) Underground in 1969. The gap is caused by the fact that some platforms are curved and the train carriages are straight. Also the warning is issued where the platforms and train floors are at different heights. Thus it is a problem caused by two essentially different characteristics. This happens all over the world and the message of "mind the gap" is proclaimed universally.
It may be asked, "What is the relevance of this to me?" Perhaps you have never realised that there is a tremendously wide gap between you and God and if you fall into it the consequences will be serious in the extreme. It is one thing to injure a limb; it is quite another to lose your soul.
This spiritual gap was brought into being when sin entered into the world. God had created the world in absolute perfection and He enjoyed fellowship with the man, Adam, whom He also had created. God placed one restriction upon Adam: "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" Genesis 2.17. Adam disobeyed and as a result of this, sin entered into the human race and everyone has been constituted as being under sin: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ... For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners" Romans 5.12,19. The fact that God is intrinsically holy and man is sinful means that an immense gap has come in between God and man. Sin and God cannot dwell together and there never will be a sinner in heaven.
You say, "If all are sinners then heaven is going to be bereft of residents, but we are told, in Luke 14.23, that heaven will be filled. Is this not a contradiction?" The answer is glorious. All that is required to remove the obstacle of our sin; to bridge the gap and allow us near to God, has been fully and eternally accomplished by God’s only and well beloved Son, Who died in agony hanging on the cross at Calvary, outside Jerusalem. Can this gap not be overcome by our works and religious observances? Peter preached in Acts 4.12, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" John 14.6. Again we read in Ephesians 2.8,9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." There is only One Man Who has the characteristics of those on either side of the gap, viz. God and man, and Who can bridge the gap: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" 1Timothy 2.5,6. Those who have availed of the provision He made at Calvary have no need to worry about their eternal destiny, since they have been reconciled: "... when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" Romans 5.10.
How can we avail of this provision? He Who bridges the gap has the ability to carry across every person who comes to Him for assistance and He ensures their safety. A man asked the question and received a very simple answer: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" Acts 16.30,31.
"But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil." Proverbs 1.33
Many different influences constantly vie for our ears. This is the voice of "Wisdom" crying, v.20. She appeals mainly to those foolish people who have rejected her calls, but finishes with this blessed promise for those who heed her entreaties. It is expressed positively ("shall dwell safely") and negatively ("shall be quiet from fear of evil"). Such a one is not only secure, but confident in it, free from the dread of whatever evil may be in store. We, who have hearkened to the voice of Wisdom, in obeying the gospel, are safe and secure for all eternity, and have nothing to fear. "Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" Rom.8.39.
"Nothing can touch the Word of God. Not all the powers of earth and hell, men and devils combined, can ever move the Word of God. There it stands, in its own moral glory, spite of all the assaults of the enemy, from age to age. ‘For ever, O LORD, Thy Word is settled in heaven’" (Ps.119.89)
"Thou art fairer than the children of men: Grace is poured into Thy lips". Psalm 45.2
That this Psalm is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ is confirmed by the quotation of vv.6,7 in Heb.1.8,9: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows."
Scripture does not describe His physical appearance, but we can be sure that His countenance was entirely consistent with His character. We are, however, privileged to read many of "the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" Lk.4.22.
Paul exhorts the Ephesians and the Colossians, and hence us, to seek to be like Him in our speech, to the benefit of those who hear us: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" Eph.4.29; "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man" Col.4.6.