The cross, inheritance, and the age to come
There is much talk in the church today about "inheritance". From healing and the ending of injustices to great revival and financial prosperity, what some have haphazardly or intentionally called the "inheritance" of the believer either falls far short or is completely set against the Bible's description of our inheritance. Put simply, we have mistaken our childhood $5/week 'allowance' for an opulent estate and ownership of the family business.
A day is coming when God will dwell among men on the earth again (Revelation 21:3), when there is no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). Believers will be raised from death just as Jesus was (1 Corinthians 15:20-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) and will live forever (John 3:16). The new heavens and new earth will be the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13) when all of creation is restored (Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8:18-25) by the Seed, Jesus (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 3:16) and God fulfills His promises to Israel as given to David and Abraham (2 Samuel 7, Genesis 15) through the reign of Jesus in Jerusalem as King of the whole earth. The meek and humble will live on the earth and participate with Jesus in its leadership (Genesis 15:7-8; Psalm 37; Matthew 5:5).
Our inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away (1 Peter 1:4). We are to be exceedingly joyful in this hope (Romans 5:2) when God will be supremely glorified in all things through Jesus (Colossians 1:18). God has even given us the Holy Spirit - not as the inheritance itself, but as the "family mark" and seal (just as circumcision was for the ethnic descendants of Abraham) to designate us as ones who will receive the future inheritance (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:22).
It is on this inheritance that we are told to set our hope completely (1 Peter 1:13).
It does not take a renewed mind to see that Jesus is not presently reigning in Jerusalem, even the "healed" and "blessed" still grow old and die, and history proves that "transformation" and "revival" fades as time passes. Though some of these things are important and can rightly bring significant encouragement to our hearts when we see them, we must not err in believing that they are the inheritance or reward that the Bible has promised. While our "weekly allowance" is glorious when coming from a place of complete poverty, we must hold it in its proper Biblical place in our doctrine and practice in light of the whole story of restoration (Acts 3:21), lest we become discouraged and disillusioned. There is something much more enthralling that we have been promised, and we cannot forget that we must learn how to be a good steward of our allowance before we can be entrusted to manage the business.
Jesus taught us to learn this stewardship from Him (Matthew 11:29) and to follow Him as the Good Shepherd. Until the next age when we obtain our inheritance as sons of God through faith, Jesus has characterized this age by the cross and self-denial:
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory [in context to 9:20, the glory of the promised Davidic Messiah and His everlasting kingdom based in Jerusalem], and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”
(Luke 9:23-26 NKJV - see the above links in the passage to articles on each phrase, bracketed commentary mine)
Through the forgiveness extended towards humanity on the cross, God demonstrates His mercy and longsuffering before He "rewards each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27) and comes "to judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained" (Acts 17:31). In this age of amnesty before "the harvest" where it is not externally evident who will be rewarded and who will be judged (Matthew 13:37-43), the church is called to be a visible witness of this longsuffering through enduring persecution (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 21:12; John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), embracing martyrdom and death (Matthew 24:9; Revelation 12:11), and walking righteously by denying the lusts of the flesh in light of the judgment and reward to come (Titus 2:11-15; 1 John 3:3; 2 Peter 3:14). It is only through the church "filling up in her flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24) that the wicked will have a vital witness of the supreme worth of Jesus, especially at the end of the age when the Lord allows man's sin to reach untold heights (Matthew 24:37; Revelation 17:6).
When we bring the promised judgment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous into this present evil age even in a partial way through the ending of injustices, transformation, healing, or revival, we not only set ourselves up for disillusionment but we actually undermine the call to the cross in this age. Why lay down your life daily if you've obtained your promises and you have your inheritance (or can have at least some part of it now)? Why call others to self-denial if they can be forgiven, healed, blessed, and rewarded too? Where is the church's sojourning, suffering witness of the cross to the wicked? What room is there for the selfless proclamation of Christ and Him crucified that pierces the heart of the unrepentant before they are judged and thrown into a lake of fire to perish forever? Have we made the cross the means to a moral utopia and comfortable life before we "go to heaven" instead of the path to our own death as the clearest witness of Christ and His surpassing worth? Though some may reduce these questions to a discussion of mere semantics or language, the lack of persecution in the Western church gives us a horrifying answer about the truthfulness of our condition. We are often mocked for our conservative political views and stances on social justice issues, but scarcely persecuted and certainly not martyred solely for what we say about Jesus, what He has done, and what He will do.
We will only heed Jesus' call to take up our cross and die daily to the measure we believe our inheritance is yet to come. We can then correctly interpret temporal blessings as signs of our coming inheritance and temporal judgments as signs of the judgment to come. When there is no confusion about these things, we are not prone to disillusionment if the righteous are not blessed or the wicked are not punished now. We can boldly preach repentance in temporal shaking as Jesus did (Luke 13:1-5) and "warn" (Colossians 1:28) of the coming day of the LORD, extending the mercy of the cross to the wicked. We can also keep temporal blessing from becoming central in our proclamation and leaving us wondering "how much we can have today". The only lifestyle that will not bring shame from the Father on that Day is one that daily bears a cross in humility for the joy of our inheritance set before us, just as Jesus did (Hebrews 12:2). My prayer is that you and I walk as sojourners and pilgrims (1 Peter 2:11) who do not find rest or have our portion in this age. May we be found "eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:7) and "looking for the blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) because it is only in Him that we obtain our inheritance (Ephesians 1:11).
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