Category Archives: Kingdom of priests

The Open Heaven In Bethel

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.

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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.

The Oracle Of Judgment

As one of the oxen of God—a teacher of the word, I mean—it is my lot to tread out the grain. I go round and round the word-of-God threshing floor, round and round, patiently plodding along, treading out the grain—work that I find fitting to my nature and so even enjoy, though I’m guarded as to who I admit that to; some are pained at the very thought; they are relieved they are not harnessed to such menial work.

But it’s in me to do this, at the same time often feeling… Lord, is my labour in vain? It seems to fall, oh so short of the word of God that is needed in this desperate hour.

I was praying along this line a few days ago when I became aware of a gentle correction from my Lord—that the word of teaching is the portion He has given me as part of a greater work. The ox that treads out the corn isn’t seeing the finished product; that is yet to come. And will certainly come. The very reason for which the ox must do his part.

And so let me do that; let me do my teaching part, small though it be. Hopefully it will prepare the hearts of the saints for the greater word of God that I know is surely, most surely building pressure, and cannot help but soon burst forth.

Let me tell you, then, of an experience I had recently. I was happily treading out the grain. I was reading an old book a friend gave me called Word Meanings in the New Testament (Volume 3, Romans) by Ralph Earle. He made a comment regarding the word oracles in Romans 3:2, stating that this word in its plural form means “the words or utterances of God.” Earle enlarged on that, adding something about the word in its singular form:

Logion [the singular] literally means “a little word” or “a brief utterance.” By Greek writers it was used of divine oracles, since they were usually brief. In the Septuagint it was used for the breastplate of the high priest, which he must wear when seeking to find out God’s will. It is always related to the idea of God speaking.

Isn’t that fascinating?

Well… let me tread it out; hopefully then you’ll share my excitement.

We first read of the breastplate of the high priest back in Exodus Chapter 28, where it is called in most of our English translations “the breastplate of judgment.” The words come from two Hebrew words which transliterated into English are khoshen, breastplate. And mishpat, judgment.

Strong’s Concordance has this to say about khoshen.

From an unused root probably meaning to contain or sparkle; perhaps a pocket (as holding the Urim and Thummim), or rich (as containing gems), used only of the gorget of the high priest.

The word mishpat, means “right, decision of right,” according to Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzsch. Or again from Strong’s:

Properly a verdict (favorable or unfavorable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree… abstractly justice, including a particular right, or privilege…

It seems to me that the Septuagint translators (who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek around 200 BC) ought to have translated the Hebrew words khoshen and mishpat with whatever the Greek is for “pocket of judgment” or “gems of judgment,” or something like that. Why then, did they choose λογειο͂ν τῶν κρίσεωον (logeiōn tōn kriseōon) that is, oracle of judgment? There is no semantic reason why they should have translated the Hebrew khoshen with the Greek logeiōn.

Let’s see now why it’s likely that they did so.

The breastplate was a kind of purse or pouch the high priest wore upon his breast over the ephod. It wasn’t really a plate; it was intricately woven of the same fine linen material as the ephod, and folded double to form the pouch about nine inches square. The ephod itself was a garment the priests wore; it was a kind of servant’s apron uniquely proclaiming and qualifying them as servants in the priestly service of God. (This calls to mind the servant’s apron of humility Peter spoke of, 1 Pt. 5:5.) Into the breastplate the Urim and Thummim were placed. These are Hebrew plural words meaning lights and perfections. We are never told just what they were, but possessing the Urim and Thummim meant the certainty of the priest receiving a clear and specific and authoritative word from God—an oracle. And that is no doubt why the Septuagint translators chose for the breastplate the word logeiōn (which is built upon the Greek logos—word).

They are meaningful and beautiful words, then. The oracle of judgment.

Now, the oracle of Urim and Thummim was not primarily for the priest himself; he received the word on behalf of the people of God. Scripture carefully details this point; this was the purpose of the breastplate of judgment. It was for the priest on behalf of the people relative to the purposes of God. In fact, the breastplate was secured to the ephod, the priestly apron, with blue lace at its bottom edge, and gold chains from its top to two shoulder pieces that it “be not loosed from the ephod” (Ex. 28:28), demonstrating that it was not to be used for any other purpose.

The shoulder pieces were made of two onyx stones inscribed, six on each stone, with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The breastplate also had on it the names of the twelve tribes inscribed on gemstones.

And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for a memorial (Ex. 28:12).

And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually (Ex. 28:29).

And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually (Ex. 28:30).

And so the high priest with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his heart (the place of love) and on his shoulders (the place of strength) carried the judgment, the cause, of the people of God before the Lord. And was therefore assured of a clear, authoritative oracle from God. That is the very beautiful picture—and it is but a picture; this is all a highly symbolic portrayal of a powerful spiritual reality.

The reality is this (and let us meditate on those words in Exodus with this reality in mind):

We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens… (Heb. 8:1).

For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are figures of the true; but into heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us… (Heb. 9:24).

The Urim and Thummim are His.

In view of this, it’s very enlightening that the initial revelation of the preparation of the priests states that it was Aaron the high priest who was to wear the ephod and the breastplate of judgment with its Urim and Thummim. “…They shall be upon Aaron’s heart when he goeth in before the LORD.” It doesn’t appear that Aaron’s sons were fitted with ephods and breastplates of their own (Ex. 28:40, see also Lev. 8:6-14 ff), although later in the scriptural record we read of priests who wore ephods. Aaron’s sons, then, were priests only inasmuch as they were participants in Aaron’s priesthood.

The significance of this for you and me is that it is our great High priest the Lord Jesus Christ who in the throne of God wears the ephod and has on His heart the breastplate in which are the names of the people of God. It is He who has the Urim and Thummim. He is not just a king on the throne of God, He is also a priest upon that throne: He is deeply indentified with those for whom He is making continual intercession before the throne. He bears our names in His heart and upon our shoulders—I will say further, upon His hands—having made our cause His own.

And His fellow priests are vital participants in His priesthood. Yes, it is He, the Holy One, who has the Urim and Thummim, the authoritative, pure, clear word of God in power for every need of this hour. It is He, the great high priest over the house of God, who has the word of grace needed to fulfill the cause of the people of God, and He will not fail to release that word, to reveal it, to the glory of God. But just as Aaron’s sons were sanctified to be participants in his priesthood, so too we who are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, being thereby made one with our great High Priest in the heavens, are participants in His priesthood. He shares with us that same priestly burden, and provision, for the people of God (Heb. 3:1, 10:19-22).

And so, dear saints of the Lord, partakers of His heavenly calling, let us be encouraged in this hour. Let us do as we are bidden; let us continue to draw near, draw near, draw near, with a true heart in full assurance of faith, that He might commune with us the same Urim and Thummim that are upon His own heart. God has this for His beloved people in this hour. Those who draw nigh Him on behalf of others are assured of the very oracle of God shining forth in this dark and desperate hour. That—the hour that is upon us—is particularly what is on my heart. No doubt we have known this precious oracle of judgment in countless ways, yet I tell you brothers and sisters, my friends, dear saints of the Lord, there is a word-in-waiting in God, hidden in the breastplate of our beloved high priest, and though it has tarried long, it shall not fail to come forth in this desperate hour, shall not fail to burst forth with explosive power and meet the cry of our heart exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think.

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