Please give yourself more than the usual time to read this one; it’s much longer than a blog post is expected to be. My apologies, I got carried away. Thank you.
I’ll state right up front that this message has nothing whatever to do with any church that lays claim to the name Bethel, unless, perhaps, it is to help toward the true understanding of that wonderful word.
I recently heard the leader of a certain church proclaim that the reason there is in his church an open heaven—I assume he meant the revelation he preaches—is because he is “a man under authority.” I knew what he had in mind—an organization he is involved in. This organization is headed up by a man who titles himself a bishop and an apostle, under whose authority this leader and others elsewhere have placed themselves.
Will we never learn? Considering that much of this leader’s teaching is with spiritual perception it is a grief of heart to hear him misconstrue why that is so. It is false teaching that for the full and unhindered release of all that God has for us so we can grow to full stature, we must be under a “covering” apostle or “covering” bishop or some other authority figure in a hierarchy. The one-man bishop system has been around for a long time in one form or another; more in vogue these days is a hierarchy with the apostle at the top and the pastor/teacher at the bottom. Beloved of the Lord, no. This teaching is more likely to hinder spiritual growth than foster it, and definitely does not provide the means for an open heaven.
At least not according to the Scriptures, if we dare go by the Scriptures.
Jesus in conversation with Nathanael told him He had seen him under a fig tree even before Philip invited him to “Come and see” for himself this Man they had just met. That astonished Nathanael; someone with that kind of eyesight had to be the Son of God, the King of Israel, and he believed on the spot. But marvel that it was, Jesus knew Nathanael had no idea what was yet in store for him and the other disciples. “Thou [thou is singular] shalt see greater things than these,” He told him.
And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you [you is plural, speaking not just of Nathanael now but of all the disciples] Hereafter ye [plural] shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (Jn. 1:51).
What a profound passage of Scripture. Jesus was saying that He Himself is the fulfillment of the ladder Jacob saw extending up into heaven from where he lay sleeping on the ground with a rock for his pillow. Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the ladder (the stairway, as some suggest) and—hold your breath—the LORD Himself standing at the top of it, and speaking to him. What a powerful vision this was to Jacob, what an eye opener: note the four beholds in the passage. “Behold, a ladder… behold, the angels of God… behold, the LORD…” who spoke to Him and said, “Behold, I am with you…” We won’t just now go into all He said; our focus is on what Jacob said when he woke up:
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:16,17).
With these words Jacob took the rock he had used for his bolster and set it up as a pillar and poured oil upon it, and, while he called the name of the place Bethel—house of God—it was the anointed stone itself that he said “shall be God’s house” (Gen. 28:2).
And so in the fullness of time we find the Rock of ages proclaiming that He the Son of man is Himself the true Bethel, He Himself the House of God, and the Gate of heaven. That is the real eye opener, isn’t it.
In my reading a while back I came across a statement concerning Christ, that as the mediator between God and man He is “the ladder of Jacob’s vision conjoining sundered heaven and earth” (E.K. Simpson quoted by F.F. Bruce in The Epistle to the Hebrews). Sundered means broken apart, violently separated. Conjoined means joined together for a mutual purpose. This lines up with what one of the commentators I read pointed out, that Nathanael, after Jesus had told him He had seen him under the fig tree, declared Him to be the Son of God, with Jesus in response calling Himself the Son of man (Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament). For He, the Christ, is at once both Son of God and Son of man.
It is in the Christ, then, that a sundered earth and Heaven—the grievous consequence ages long of Adam’s sin—are again one, and because of the conjoining, those in Christ have an open heaven, and they have it simply because they are in Him, not because they are properly submitted in some man-made authority structure. Each and every member of the body of Christ has the privilege of an open heaven simply because they are in Christ, and share His own open heaven. Heaven is open in Christ.
There are several references in the Bible to heaven being opened, but this that Jesus told His disciples they were to anticipate is unique among them, in that it speaks of heaven opened not to an individual but to a community of people, disciples great and small. “Ye shall see heaven open…” Linked to this is the occasion when Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan. At that time “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape as a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved son; In thee I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). It was the anointing of the Spirit that would empower Him as the Christ, the Anointed One, and in due time enable Him to impart His own anointing and open heaven to His disciples. For in due time—after His own Calvary baptism—He would begin His ministry of baptizing in the Holy Spirit.
It is by the Spirit baptism that believers are baptized into Christ; it is thus that they become part of Bethel; it is thus that Bethel becomes the habitation not only of God, but of His beloved family, all of whom are made partakers of the anointing and open heaven of His beloved Son. That open heaven is theirs individually, but Bethel is both an individual and a corporate reality, and the “expanse” of the open heaven in the corporate reality is far, far greater than in the individual. (Oh that we give ourselves to functioning thus!)
Just what is an open heaven?
So then, yes, Christ is the gate of Heaven, and in Him that gate is open. In vain do men strive to enter Heaven any other way. Jacob said, the gate of heaven, not a gate of heaven. Heaven is closed to all outside Christ. But Jesus was not talking about the great hereafter when He said, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open…” In fact Young’s Literal Translation has, “Henceforth ye shall see…” So Jesus was talking about the open heaven, the access and the “seeing” that was His own present reality, and which would become the heritage of all those baptized into Him after He had accomplished the Cross. In fact many translators opt for opened here: “ye shall see heaven opened.” It’s the Greek perfect tense, which more accurately would be standing open. Not just a one-time experience, but a continual state, the result of something that had happened in the past.
“…Ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” Now, what is this all about—the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man? I don’t know what this is all about, and if you have more light on it please share with me. But the role of angels in Scripture is always relative to God’s purposes in man. Is that then what we are seeing here? Angels portraying God’s purposes in man? Further to that, the word angel both in the Old Testament and the New means messenger, and can refer not only to heavenly beings but to humans. Perhaps that also is the sense here. Putting both of those ideas together, the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man reveals that those once shut out now have in Christ unhindered access to the heavenlies of God, and are carrying out His bidding.
More specifically, more wondrously, this access is to God Himself. The Father. It is an open heaven that Paul has in mind when he writes to the saints in Ephesus and elsewhere that “through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). And again, “…Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him” (Eph. 3:11,12 ASV). That is Paul’s way of speaking of an open heaven. It means an ever-open door of access to the Father unto whom we may come with boldness and access in confidence, not because we are the bold personality type, but simply because of our faith in Christ. More on this in a bit.
And so, access to the Father. That’s what an open heaven means. Just as the Son had an open heaven and knew that the Father heard Him always, those in Him enjoy that same open heaven, the assurance of audience with Him unto whom they pray. Does the word audience sound too formal? Let’s call it the fellowship of prayer—the assurance that the Father always hears their voice, and they hear His voice.
And see His face. Just as the Son saw always the face of His Father, even so those in Him have that same open heaven; they too see Father’s face, enjoy His favour, and open-armed welcome into His very Presence. That is the significance of seeing His face. This we gather from the story of how King David allowed Absalom to return from exile but forbade him to see his face. That is, he was still not in favour with the king; he was shut out from the king’s court and presence (2 Sam. 14:24). Absalom managed to get himself reinstated, but what was he after? I don’t think it was loving fellowship with his father the king. Seeing a king’s face, being in his court and presence, means position, authority, power, prestige, all of which are deadly dangerous when they become ends in themselves. Yet this is what Absalom was after, this is what motivated him—His own glory—and he would stop at nothing to get it.
Let’s read of those whose motive is right—the glory of God. Unto these the King can safely grant His own authority and power in whatever He bids them do:
…And His servants [bondslaves] shall serve Him. And they shall see His face (Rev. 22:3,4).
That is an open heaven—seeing the face of God. The word serve here is always used of priestly service. Not only are they bondslaves “bought with a Price,” who therefore have no right to themselves anymore, they are priests who have access to the very throne of God. They are “on the in with” God, they are privileged to see His face, being those of His “inner circle” round about the throne by His loving invitation and enabling grace. They have precious fellowship with one another, these priests, but they are not focused on one another. Like the cherubim of glory who, while facing one another their faces are “toward the mercy seat” (Ex. 25:20), even so the fellowship these share with one another is fellowship with God in the pursuit of a mutual purpose, the glory of God in Christ.
God’s “inner circle,” then, those who see His face, are priests. But we must forsake what springs to mind when we encounter the word priest, which has long since been redefined and bears no resemblance to the full biblical revelation. May I suggest the following definition to your thinking? A priest is one who walks in love—love for God and for others—and has lost sight of himself or herself in the process. Such a one cherishes on behalf of others a blessed a relationship with God, a holiness by reason of which they see His face.
To put that another way, the pure in heart…
…For they shall see God
When we read these words, then, are we thinking the way our Lord was thinking when He said this?
Let’s make sure we understand first that there is a seeing of God in the day of His appearing that is the ultimate reward of a faithful walk of holiness, while at the same time there is a seeing of Him that is our present privilege and provision. I must say that the dividing line between the two is not all that clear to me. Has not God always delighted in those whose faith and love pursues Him into what others say is only for tomorrow?
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14 NKJV).
Is that for tomorrow? Or for today? Or both.
And what is holiness?
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you,
To the intent He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thes. 3:12,13).
Again, to walk in love is the purest holiness—complete separation from all else, including oneself. That is the essence of the priesthood of God.
This we pursue, then, aware that even as we pursue this there is a seeing of God that is the present portion of those in Christ—in Bethel, the house of God. There is an open heaven in Bethel for those dwelling in Bethel, which is “a spiritual house, an holy priesthood” (1 Pt. 2.5). (Underscore those words: the whole house is a holy priesthood, not just a select few in it.) It is this of which we read as the prophet David opens to us the desire of his heart:
One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in His temple (Ps. 27:4).
“All the days of my life… to behold the beauty of the LORD… to enquire…” That is an open heaven. (I wonder to what extent that has dawned upon us—that the beauty of the Lord is revealed and beheld in His house.)
Seeing God, then, is our portion even now, and I’m convinced that this is the blessedness Christ spoke of in this beatitude:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8).
How then is the heart to be made pure? And how is that inner eye and ear of the soul—the conscience—to bear witness to this purity? It certainly bears witness to the sin-defiled heart; the guilty conscience cannot draw nigh God, cannot look upon God. But God has made provision to purify the heart; in fact in Christ has done so. Christ by His sacrifice has put away all sin, all guilt, has purged by His blood the defiled heart of man, something the blood of bulls and goats could never do. In the Old Covenant God had instructed Moses to sanctify Aaron and his sons by elaborate ablutions and offerings so that they could draw near Him, a holy priesthood involved in the holy things of God. If we could distil all that, all that ritual of the law, all that God instructed Moses to do in Leviticus Chapter 8, we would have what was fulfilled by Christ on Calvary and in His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. This is why Peter said that in giving the Gentiles the Holy Spirit, God accomplished what the Law in fact could never do, “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,9). That’s the way Peter put it, and I love this passage. “And God, which knoweth the hearts [literally and beautifully, the heart-knowing God] bare them witness…giving them the Holy Spirit… purifying their hearts by faith.” By faith, not by the ritual of the law. It works! Many a happy believer from that day to this has proven it to be so, the conscience bearing witness to this because of the enlightening of the Holy Spirit that it now enjoys, releasing the troubled soul from its burden of guilt. For, what Christ accomplished on the Cross—the offering for sin that purifies the heart—is in the Spirit, and so becomes the blessedness of those who receive the gift of the Spirit and draw nigh (let us learn to think as priests whenever we see those words draw nigh) “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” as the writer of Hebrews testifies along with Peter:
Let us draw nigh with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:22).
The King James Version doesn’t bring out the Greek tense very clearly here; it is the Greek perfect tense again, and would be better translated, “having had and continuing to have…” The thought is clear in the New English Translation (NET). “…Let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” We are not drawing near in order to have our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience but because it has already been sprinkled; without the heart blood-sprinkled and cleansed it is impossible to draw nigh to God.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart… (Ps. 24:3,4).
That is saying the same thing the writer of Hebrews is saying. We draw near “with a true heart,” not in order to get a true heart. Are you asking, then, along with me, when did this happen? If I am invited to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith because my heart has been sprinkled from an evil conscience and my body washed with pure water, when did this happen? May light flood our hearts and faith receive it. The blood of sprinkling was poured out at Calvary, and was preserved, reserved, in the Spirit, and became effectual—let there be full assurance of faith concerning this—the moment I received the Spirit in whom that blood of sprinkling is forever efficacious. (“Our bodies washed with pure water” is, in my view, speaking of baptism. No, not water baptism; by “pure water” he has to be speaking of the Spirit of God.)
With this provision of grace, then, those who are now a heavenly priesthood enter with boldness the Holy of holies. We lift up our eyes to the face of God. We enjoy an open heaven, and fellowship with Him in a mutual purpose.
…I am thinking in closing, and perhaps you are thinking along with me, of the “charge” Paul gave Timothy for the church at Ephesus:
And the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned… (1 Tim. 1:5 Young’s Literal Translation).
The perfect provision of God for those whom He calls to draw nigh Him and know His opened heaven in Bethel.
This is not to say that our open heaven will not at times be contested, although hopefully not neglected on our part. When being resisted we must resist the resistance, “steadfast in the faith,” we must war the good warfare of contending faith. To keep from neglect we must do our regular, our daily, spiritual maintenance lest our open heaven become clouded, dimmed; we must have absolutely nothing to do with anything the sensitive conscience detects as defiling; we must guard against temptation; if we have sinned we must go swiftly to our ready Advocate (1 Jn. 2;1,2).
Let nothing rob us, then, of our enjoyment of the open heaven—for the Lord’s own sake, and for others around us in deep need. An open heaven means open access to the throne of grace. Let us therefore come boldly unto that throne, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. As priests in a heavenly priesthood, this is our privilege. And our responsibility. Each of us being members of God’s heavenly priesthood in Bethel, in Christ, may boldly, confidently, ascend to Him who sits upon the throne for His provision on behalf of others in need, and descend again to minister to them that provision, all the riches of His glory and grace in Christ Jesus.