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On the following Sunday, Jesus again appeared--in the upper room--St. Thomas being present. He had rebuked his brethren for being too easily convinced that they had seen Jesus, and said that he would not believe unless he felt the print of the nails and the spear wound.
Jesus appeared again in a body like that of His humiliation, with the marks of the spear and the print of the nails. He urged Thomas to be convinced, but told of still greater blessings for those who without those proofs were able to fully believe.--John 20:26-29.
The Bible tells that Jesus is no longer flesh, but a spirit being, since His resurrection. As St. Paul declares, the Church must all be changed, because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." We must all be changed that we may be spirit beings--like Him, which surely means that He is no longer flesh. He was "put to death in flesh, and quickened in spirit," writes St. Peter.--1 Peter 3:18.
Jesus appeared to His followers three times on His resurrection day, and five times more during the succeeding thirty-nine days--briefly. This was a part of the great lesson that Jesus was no longer dead, and no longer flesh--that He is "highly exalted."--Philippians 2:9; John 6:62.
Saul of Tarsus caught a glimpse of the risen, glorified Jesus, unveiled by flesh, shining above the brightness of the sun at noonday, and the brief glimpse cost him his eyesight. If Jesus had thus appeared to His disciples during the forty days after His resurrection, they would have been alarmed, bewildered, unable to comprehend the matter. St. Paul refers to his glimpse of Jesus, saying, "He was seen of me as one born before the time." His words are explained to mean that all of God's people, the Church of the First-borns, are to be born into spirit conditions by their resurrection. Thus changed they will see Messiah as He is, in His great glory. But Saul saw Him before the time.--1 John 3:2.
Pentecost, the fiftieth day, was the Jubilee day, as the fiftieth year was the Jubilee year. The fiftieth day followed a Sabbath Day cycle (7x7=49), as the Jubilee year followed a Sabbath Year cycle (7x7=49). As the antitype of the Jubilee Year will usher the world into the glorious rest in Messiah's Kingdom and in the New Covenant relationship with God, so the antitype of the Jubilee day ushered believers into a rest of faith at Pentecost. So St. Paul explains, "We who believe do enter into rest." All truly Christ's are enabled to keep a Sabbath rest of faith and trust all the time, not merely on the Seventh Day, or on the First Day. Every day to them is a rest by faith in Christ's sacrifice--a Sabbath to the soul--foreshadow of Heavenly Rest.
None could enter into this true Sabbath rest, until Jesus had opened the way. His death was necessary as man's Ransom price. His resurrection was necessary to enable Him to apply that price on our behalf. He ascended on High, there to appear in the presence of God as the Advocate for His disciples. He imputes His merit to cover their imperfections, and to make their sacrifice acceptable to God, that they may suffer with Him and be glorified with Him. For the faithful there remaineth a rest, still more complete--to be attained in their resurrection "change."--Hebrews 4:3, 9, 11.
Under Jesus' direction, the Apostles, His followers, were not to begin their work until they received the Pentecostal blessing--the Holy Spirit--the evidence of their acceptance as sons of God. The only thing they did during that time before their own acceptance, was the choosing of a successor for Judas' place; but evidently God never recognized their choice. In His own due time God brought forth St. Paul to be the twelfth Apostle--one of the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:14.) The error of supposing Apostolic Succession in the Church's bishops was a costly one. It led to many grievous errors.
Only The Twelve were specially ordained to Apostleship, to be mouthpieces of Jesus to the Church. Their decision would bind on Earth the things bound in Heaven, and loose on Earth things loosed in God's sight. Even these did not receive the Heavenly Father's sanction until Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit. Scripturally, no one is authorized to preach or teach except he has received the Spirit of God. And every one who has received that Spirit has Divine authority to preach, wholly irrespective of earthly ordinations.--Isaiah 61:1.
This we are told is the import of the prophetic words respecting Jesus the Head and the Church His Body: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, for He hath ordained Me to preach good tidings to the meek." All who have received that Divine anointing, have the Divine commission to preach the good tidings. Whoever has not received that Heavenly authority cannot be a Divine ambassador.
In fulfilment of Jesus' words, "I give unto you the Keys of the Kingdom," St. Peter symbolically used two Keys in connection with the Gospel: the first Key on the Day of Pentecost, to open the door of invitation to all Jews to become members of the Body of Christ, the Church, through begetting of the Holy Spirit. Three and a half years later he used the other Key and threw open the door to the Gentiles. Cornelius was the first Gentile admitted to membership in Christ.
Thousands of the holiest Jews by obedience to God's command came yearly to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost. Thousands thus were attracted to the Pentecostal preaching and carried their blessing and enlightenment throughout the world.
There will yet be a second Pentecostal blessing. Only the special servants and handmaids of the Lord share the first and attain the Kingdom. Under Messiah's Kingdom God's Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. They will see that of which their ancients prophesied.--Joel 2:28,29; Acts 2:16-18.
Of St. Paul, Jesus said, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My Name to the Gentiles." (Acts 9:15.)
He is first brought to our attention as one of those who consented to the death of St. Stephen. Subsequently, he went about "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord."--Acts 9:1.
When we see the power of the Truth in its transforming influence upon the human mind, we are amazed. Yet we should remember that God never coerces the free will. In St. Paul's "conversion," Jesus merely showed an honest man wherein he was wrong, and what privileges he would have in connection with a Divinely-directed course.
St. Paul became the successor of Judas. There were to be twelve Apostles of the Lamb--a crown of twelve stars on the Church's brow--and twelve foundations to the New Jerusalem, and in them were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. We are sure St. Paul's name is amongst them. This is in accord with the testimony that he was not one whit behind the very chiefest of the Apostles, and was more abundant in visions and revelations than they all. Matthias was chosen before Pentecost and was never recognized by God.
St. Paul is the most prominent amongst the Apostles, all of whom were glorious characters, especially chosen of God for His special service. Like the other Apostles, St. Paul had nothing to say respecting an eternity of torture for anybody. He declared that those ultimately found unworthy should "be punished with everlasting destruction." It is St. Paul who especially set forth that Jesus must come a second time, and then must reign until He shall have put all enemies under His feet. Through this noble mouthpiece Jesus sent us particulars of the resurrection of the just and the unjust, the "change" of the Church at Christ's Second Coming, the character of Antichrist, etc. If St. Paul's Epistles were omitted, how great would be our ignorance on many subjects!
God's Covenant with Abraham gave assurance that all the blessings God purposed for mankind would come to them through his posterity. The Jews were the natural seed of Abraham, and properly to them belonged the promises. But when all Jews possessed of the faith of Abraham had been privileged to come in with Jesus and become His joint-heirs in the Messianic Kingdom, then God through St. Peter used the second Key to the Kingdom. He threw open the door of opportunity to the Gentiles, that they might become fellow-heirs with the Jews in the Messianic Kingdom.
Three and a half years after Pentecost the angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius. He told him that now God was ready to accept his prayers and his devotion. He told him to send for St. Peter at Joppa. From him he would hear "words" necessary to be believed in order that he might be fully accepted of God and receive the Holy Spirit.
Three messengers were sent to fetch St. Peter. Meantime God prepared the Apostle. He was told that what God had cleansed he should not consider any longer unclean. St. Peter associated his dream with his visitors, and promptly went to Cornelius' home. He found Cornelius and his family devout and ready to hear. He proceeded to tell them the true story of Jesus: His death, His resurrection, the call of the Church to be His Bride class--proving their worthiness by loyalty and faithfulness even unto death.
While St. Peter was speaking, these consecrated people, drinking in the Message, fully accepted the terms of discipleship. Then God gave a manifestation of His acceptance of them by the gift of the Spirit, such as was common to all Christians at the beginning of this Age. St. Peter, astonished, then said, If these have received the Holy Spirit, who can forbid them water baptism, which is only a symbol of their consecration to be dead with Christ? Here Gentiles first began to be grafted into the "Olive Tree" of Romans 11:17.
Gradually the Gospel Message found hearing ears amongst the Gentiles, but fewer in number. The Law training of the Jews had been God's special blessing to them, preparing some of them for the Gospel. The first Church in which Gentiles seemed to predominate in numbers was at Antioch. Barnabas, Silas and others were prominent amongst the brethren there, and later St. Paul. It was at Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Many Christians wish that no other name had ever been accepted.
The Antioch Church, according to the Bible record, had very simple arrangements, similar to those practiced by Jesus and the Apostles. Forms and ceremonies had not yet entered, to crowd out the simplicity of Christ with mere forms of godliness. They met for growth in grace, knowledge, love and to assist each other in the narrow way. When fairly under way in their studies, they partook of the missionary spirit, and authorized and financed a mission which was conducted by St. Paul and Barnabas. Other missions were also conducted, as recorded in the Book of Acts.--Acts 13:1-5.
Not long after this, the terrible persecutions of Nero and Diocletian came upon the Church. These Roman Emperors found diversion and relief from ennui in the horrible tortures they inflicted upon the inoffensive followers of Jesus, whose mission in the world is merely to "do good to all men as they have opportunity, especially to the household of faith," and to prepare themselves and each other for association with their Redeemer in the coming Kingdom.--Galatians 6:10.
Why did God permit persecutions? The answer is that testings of faith and loyalty to God are as necessary to Jesus' followers as they were to Himself, and for the same reason-- to develop and crystallize character. These corresponded to Jesus' own persecution and crucifixion. Thus He explained, saying, "It was necessary that The Son of Man should suffer and enter into His glory." The Elect walk in His steps.
The little gathering of believers at Berea is famous amongst God's people by St. Paul's declaration: "They of Berea were more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things [which St. Paul preached] were true." (Acts 17:11.) They were but a little class, yet their faithfulness to God's Word caused them to be known as Berean Bible Students. The early Church met not in costly temples, nor did their elders and deacons have rich robes of office, nor did the services consist of showy display. They simply gathered as children of God, begotten of the one Holy Spirit and inspired by the One Faith once delivered to the saints. They gathered as the brethren of Jesus, that they might be under His direction and care as the only Head of the Church--as He declared, "One is your Master even Christ, and all ye are brethren." They met to study the Message of Jesus and the Apostles.
Bible students in our day have much advantage over these. We have convenient cheap Bibles, ability to read them, and good lights such as our forefathers never thought possible.
Bible students today are encouraged also when they consider that the Bible distinctly teaches that when men shall be running to and fro, and world-wide knowledge shall be increased, then the Wise Virgins, the Lord's people, will understand certain features of the Divine Plan previously kept hidden by Divine intention. They perceive that we are in this day of running to and fro by every means of conveyance, and that free schools, compulsory education, etc., are bringing the foretold increase of knowledge. These things mark the time for the wise of God's people to understand the Bible. How needful for this special light, when so many are falling away from all faith in the Bible, under the teachings of so- called Higher Criticism, which denies that the Bible is the Divinely inspired Message of God! (Daniel 12:1-10.) We should not only awake, but "put on the whole armor of God."
All Christians claim that there were erroneous doctrines taught in the past which cannot be supported in the clearer light of our Day. All rejoice in the spirit of greater amity spreading amongst Christians of various denominations-- Catholic and Protestant. How did Christianity get into such a befogged condition that followers of Jesus thought they were honoring God in torturing their fellow-men? With great unanimity, Bible students seem to be reaching the conclusion that the difficulty started in the doctrine of Apostolic Succession--the doctrine that Bishops of the Church were Apostles, inspired in the same sense as The Twelve.
Pope Pius X realizes that the people no longer regard the Bishops as inspired authority and successors to the Apostles in office. Evidently himself dissenting, he has recently commanded that Roman Catholics be instructed to study the Bible, thus to come under the influence of the teachings of the inspired Twelve Apostles. All are gradually seeing that The Twelve Apostles of the Lamb (St. Paul taking the place of Judas) are the only Divinely inspired authorities of the Church.
The Church, after the death of the Apostles, not having the conveniences of Bibles and education, looked too implicitly to their Bishops, or Pastors, and without authority accredited them with Divine inspiration similar to The Twelve. After two hundred years the mistake was partially recognized, and an attempt was made to rectify it, but in the wrong direction. It was found that the different Bishops taught widely different, contradictory doctrines. It was realized that these contradictions were not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Emperor Constantine (not baptized) called the Nicene Council of all the "Apostolic Bishops," at Nicea, A.D. 325. About one- third, 384, came. These were commanded to decide on a Creed. They wrangled for months. Then the Emperor decided and the Nicean Creed was the result. The Emperor's edict was that all not consenting to it should be exiled.
Gradually the name of Christianity spread among the peoples of Europe, without its Master's Spirit. The name "Christian" became popular. In the day of King Charlemagne, the title, "Holy Roman Empire," was established. The significance of the title is illustrated by a famous picture in the Chapter House at Florence, Italy. It shows the Emperor and the Pope seated side by side upon a throne, and descending from each by steps, the various officers of the Empire; on the Emperor's side, generals, etc., and on the Pope's side, bishops, the clergy, etc. Some claim this as a public acknowledgment of the marriage of the professed Virgin of Christ to Civil Power, in the Book of Revelation styled harlotry.--Revelation 17:1-5.
The basis of the alliance was the doctrine which then obtained, that the Second Coming of Christ as the Messiah to rule the world for a thousand years was thus fulfilled. The claims set forth were that it was the Divine intention that Christ should be represented in the earth by the Papacy, and that His government should be carried on through earthly princes. This condition of things prevailed in Europe for centuries. In the Sixteenth Century the Reformation movement sprang up. These daughters of the Church of Rome married earthly power, and started "Holy Empires" of their own.
This entire theory and its Systems received a severe blow when Napoleon Bonaparte took the Pope a prisoner to France. The spell of sacerdotal rule was broken. In September, 1870, Victor Immanuel took possession of Rome--a fatal blow.
Bible students are generally agreed that Church and State union is contrary to the spirit of the Bible, an error of the Dark Ages; that the Church of Christ is not to reign with the princes of the Earth, nor to be married to them, but to wait for her marriage till the Second Coming of her Redeemer, to be united with Him in the First Resurrection. Then she shall reign with Him forever.--Revelation 19:7;20:6.
The name Christian had become popular in Europe. Nearly everybody was recognized a Christian unless he disavowed it and claimed to be a Jew. The drowsy spell was broken by what some would term a fanatical outburst of fervor, which claimed that Christians should wage war on the Turks, Jews and others. The Crusades made their mark in history. Under the spirit of the time, thousands of the noblest of their day traveled hundreds of miles by land and sea to fight for the Cross against the Crescent. It was considered specially grievous that Jerusalem was under Moslem control, and thousands of lives and fortunes were spent in "Crusades to deliver the Holy Sepulchre from the Infidel Turk."
>From our present-day standpoint and clearer perception of things, people generally style the Crusades an outbreak of foolishness, wasted effort, manifest ignorance and bigotry. But perhaps Christians today have something equally foolish and irrational. The human mind will be active in some way. The folly of others is easier to recognize than our own.
Some day it will be owned that Christendom today is as foolish in some respects as in the days of the Crusaders. Do not the great kingdoms of earth style themselves divisions of Christendom (Christ's Kingdom)? Are they not building great Dreadnaughts that cost a fortune for every discharge of their cannons? Are they not drilling vast armies, and equipping them with costly implements of war? For what purpose? Either because they have evil designs upon the other so-called Christian nations, or that they distrust the others. How foolish this shall yet appear!
How much better it will be when the Word of God is fully accepted, and when its spirit of Justice and Love will govern the world! Then the wealth and energy wasted in Crusades, Dreadnaughts and armament will be used to the general betterment of the people. Only Messiah's Kingdom can restore man to God's image and make God's footstool glorious.