“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God” (Rev. 9:13).
In this part of the vision, there are several very significant symbols to notice: the voice from the horns of the golden altar, the order given to the restraining messengers, the great river Euphrates, the army of horsemen, and the unrepentance of man. When the sixth angel sounded the very first thing John heard and saw was “a voice from the four horns of the golden altar” which is before, or in the presence of, God. The golden altar was seen earlier in the visions, in chapter eight. It was on this altar that the prayers of the saints, mixed with much incense, was placed, and from which they were offered unto God by the messenger (High Priest) whose place it was to minister at the golden altar. The golden altar was in the Holy Place, close to the second veil, just in front of the ark of the covenant over which the Shekinah Glory shone. We are told in Exodus 30:10 that the golden altar was “most holy unto the Lord.”
The golden altar had the blood of the sin-offering applied to the four horns, or projecting points of it, once a year for the purpose of making a ceremonial or symbolic impartation of the power of redemption into the ministry fulfilled there. The placing of the blood on the four horns indicated the world-wide efficaciousness of the power of redemption! The blood was the basis of all the service presented at that altar. Without the application of the blood, all service rendered there was unavailing. Only after the blood was applied, could the prayers of the saints be offered with the incense and ascend as a sweet-smelling fragrance to God. The altar was a prophecy, a prefiguration of Christ our High Priest by whom, and through whom, the sacrifices of our praise, worship, and prayers are offered unto the Father in heaven (Heb. 13:15).
The blood is the life of God’s Christ, for “the life is in the blood,” we are told in the book of Leviticus. Apart from the indwelling life of Christ there can be no ministry that is acceptable to God or profitable for man. John hears the voice coming not only from the altar in the presence of God, nor even from the ministry of the altar, but from the four horns of it, those parts to which the blood has been applied. The voice he heard was the voice of the Blood! It was the voice or the word out of the very Redemptive Life of Christ! Therefore, the symbolic plagues and death which come as a result of this voice cannot be, as many teach, the vindictive judgment and unrelenting wrath of God against sinful humanity. How absurd! As though the voice of the Son of God who gave His life for the world at Calvary is now commanding that mankind pay horribly for their sins! And that this voice of condemnation and wrath would come from the very altar of prayer, worship, and praise! Oh, no! This is a redemptive, life-giving, delivering, transforming voice; in keeping with the symbol it can be nothing else!
The golden altar upon which incense offerings were made signifies the ministry of prayer, worship, and praise. By the four horns of that altar the power of that spiritual ministry is signified! Horns in the scripture are always significant of power, authority, and kingship. In Habakkuk 3:4 we are told that God is seen as having “horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power.” The horns on the animals are their source and instrument of strength, power, defense, and victory (Gen. 22:13). Four is the number of that which is world-wide, universal, and all-inclusive. The fact that we have four horns here points to the truth that all power is now given to God’s Christ in the heavens and in the earth. The power of the Christ within is the power of the horns of the altar within our hearts! In this case the power lies in that which is spoken out of that realm, for John heard a voice from the four horns of the altar saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, “Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.” It is the altar itself which speaks through the four horns. The voice emanates from the spiritual ministry of prayer, worship, and praise of the altar. Furthermore, the voice out of the horns of the golden altar must be speaking just at the right time, in advance of the loosing of the “four angels.” It must now be noted that this voice is a prophetic voice proclaiming the loosing of the “four angels.” Such a voice from the four altar horns symbolizes a great cry out of the Spirit, and from God’s anointed remnant, full of strength and power, the power pictured by the “four horns.” They now pray and travail mightily in spirit, not for four literal angels in the invisible spirit realm to be released, but for a release within themselves of something which has been bound, keeping them there on the border of Babylon.
Can we not see by this that it is by the power and authority in spiritual prayer, praise, and worship that the four angels in the river Euphrates are loosed. Truly this is a spiritual work and a spiritual loosing! This truth is made so very clear in the vision John saw just prior to the sounding of the first trumpet. John was beholding spiritual realities in the form of pictures. He saw the golden altar from the tabernacle of Moses, but now it is the spiritual golden altar in the heavens of the Spirit of the Lord! The golden altar of incense in the tabernacle of old was made of wood, overlaid with pure gold. It was three feet high and one and one-half feet square. It was the tallest piece of furniture in the Holy Place and speaks of the highest act of worship possible, that of praise and prayer and priestly intercession. On top of it rested a pan-shaped vessel, called the golden censer, on which coals taken from the brazen altar in the Outer Court, were burning. There was no chimney for the smoke to escape by, so the room was full of it; the fragrance was sweeter than anything ever smelt before! But it was not the wood which gave forth such a sweet odor when under the action of fire; it was the incense which the High Priest put on those burning coals that smelled so pleasant, and which felt so refreshing to the spirits of those who ministered there. This incense was made of four sweet spices, which gave forth their fragrance by burning. Their sweetness was not known till they were submitted to the action of fire, when the odor was sent forth in the smoke.
The fire upon the altar is the energizing, quickening, transforming presence and power of God Himself who “is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). The purpose of the fire was to consume and transform every sacrifice placed upon the altar. The fire is God Himself! The golden censer represents each member of God’s elect, for the holy fire of God resides in the life of every man and woman who has been baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. What ignites real, spiritual praise, worship, and prayer is the fire of God upon the altar of God in our hearts! There is an unspeakable glory manifest in the spirit of worship and divine intercession that ascends from the fire upon the altar of the hearts of those who truly worship the Father in spirit and in truth. There is a living stream of the song of the Lord and the prophetic voice of the Lord that flows from our innermost being as we stand at the golden altar of incense and worship the Father in the Spirit and by the Spirit. This is not the religious prayers and soulical worship of the popular churches, but the ministry of a people separated unto God as a priesthood unto Him. What glory rests upon those called to be God’s royal priesthood! What power flashes from the golden altar of incense within! When the fire of God energizes and empowers the worship of His elect, even in our solitude, it comes from the altar of God out of the holy fire of His presence, and there is a divine fragrance that ascends with it! And out from the horns of the altar the voice of the Lord speaks of great and mighty things!
The prayers offered upon the altar are the effectual prayers of those saints who minister as priests in and by the spirit. Now there are multitudes of prayers that are daily offered up to God. You can go to any church and hear many prayers. People pray under all kinds of circumstances. In times of distress, trouble, and crisis, everyone prays! Not every prayer is prayed in the spirit and by the spirit! Not every prayer rises by the quickening power of the fire of God upon the altar! People often pray very casually for whatever it is they want God to do for them or for someone else. But true, spiritual, priestly prayer is as incense. It only rises by the work of the fire of God! In a number of places in scripture incense is used as the symbol of prayer. David cried, “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense” (Ps. 141:2) There in the Holy Place the High Priest burned the incense which ascended from the altar and wafted its way through the veil, permeating the presence and throne of the Lord. Oh yes, incense permeates! When the incense was burned in the Holy Place nothing could keep it out from the Most Holy Place! The incense, before it was crumbled over the live coals, was a cold, hard substance; but the fire transformed it into a spiritual essence that penetrated through the veil, under the veil, and around the veil, entering right into the presence of God and the majesty of His throne in the Holiest of all! The deep spiritual meaning of this is that when our prayers are offered by the quickening of the spirit and power of God, nothing can keep those prayers from their destination, and nothing can prevent them from being answered! There is such power in the true spiritual praise, worship, and prayer of God’s elect, that there comes forth from it in this significant hour a prophetic word of authority commanding the loosing of the “four angels” bound in the great river Euphrates, at the border of Babylon, who are four messengers, or a four-fold word that is bound or restrained at the boundary between religious Babylon and our spiritual land of inheritance in Christ.
THE EUPHRATES RIVER
“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates” (Rev. 9:13-14).
The Euphrates is mentioned twice in the Revelation — here, and in chapter sixteen, verse twelve. The epithet “great” is used in both instances: “The great river Euphrates.” The literal Euphrates river begins in the Armenian Mountains and is about 1780 miles in length, by far the longest and most important river of western Asia. It is famous in Bible history and prophecy. This region was the site of the inception of human sin; here the first lie was told, the first effort of man’s own “religious works” was performed, the first murder committed, the first grave was dug, and the first confederacy for the purpose of war was assembled. It was here the vast system of Babylonian idolatry originated. Israel’s great progenitor, Abram, came from its other side into the land of Canaan. The rivers Nile and Euphrates are prophetically designated as the southern and northern boundaries of the promised land (Gen. 15:18). The region of Euphrates was the scene of the long years in which the children of Israel dragged out the wearisome days of their Babylonian captivity.
The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah all speak to a time in history when a remnant of the people of Israel came out from their captivity beyond the Euphrates to return to the promised land of Israel and build again the city of Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. The remnant of Israel came out from Babylon. The physical captivity Israel experienced in Babylon symbolizes the spiritual captivity of the Lord’s spiritual people to the carnal church systems of man with their false doctrines and confusion. Confusion is a word that describes the mingling together of so many ideas and methods that nothing is clear. Just as Israel came out of Babylon, and therefore across the Euphrates, we too have been called of God to come out of the ignorance and bondage of man’s carnal religious systems, control, rituals, ceremonies, programs, doctrines, and confusion.
The four angels bound in the river Euphrates signify a word and a ministry that is bound at the borders of our inheritance in Christ. This word, this ministry is no longer in the full captivity of religious Babylon, but neither has it been released to enter into the full inheritance of the land of promise. Though these can no longer function within the man-made systems of religious Babylon, or the old order church systems, neither have they attained to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That this is the truth signified by these symbols no man can suspect or understand unless it has been given him to know what is meant by the great river Euphrates, and by the four “angels” bound there.
The Euphrates river bordered Babylon and was that which had to be crossed either to enter Babylon or to leave Babylon in the direction of Canaan. Sometimes it stood for Babylon itself, sometimes for the land of Canaan, but most often as a border or separation between the two. The prophet Jeremiah revealed how the Euphrates represents Babylon when he said, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labor in vain…and they shall be weary. The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah…when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah into (captivity in) Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words which are written against Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words; thou shalt say, O Lord, Thou has spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever. And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: and thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her” (Jer. 51:58-64).
The Euphrates river stands for a separation between the kingdom of Babylon and the promised land of Canaan just as the Red Sea was the border and boundary of Egypt and must be crossed before the children of Israel could begin their journey to the promised land, and just as the Jordan river flowed at Canaan’s border and had to be crossed in order for the Israelites to possess the land. Religious Babylon appears prominently in John’s visions in later chapters of the Revelation, but here we are given a view of a word and a ministry that has arisen and departed from Babylon, beginning the journey to their spiritual land and inheritance in Canaan, which is the fullness of Christ; but they have not fully entered into their inheritance, being bound or restrained at the very borders of Babylon.
That the river of Egypt, the Nile, and the river of Babylon, the Euphrates, were the divinely determined boundaries of the land of Canaan is stated plainly by the Lord when He gave Abraham the promise, “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt (the Nile) unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (Gen. 15:18). Again in Deuteronomy 1:7 we read that the children of Israel received the command: “Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto…the great river, the river Euphrates.” The same we read in Deuteronomy 11:24 and Joshua 1:4. We find that the promise was realized in a literal way in the time of Solomon, for of him we read that he ruled over all the kingdoms from the river (that is, Euphrates) unto the land of the Philistines (I Kings 4:21). A number of other passages allude to this river as the boundary of the land of promise, and therefore I find that in its spiritual sense the river Euphrates represents the ideal and real boundary line between the spiritual and heavenly kingdom of God and the carnal and earthly kingdom of religious Babylon. That is the mystery!
We will understand this great truth when we see by the spirit of wisdom and revelation that the symbolic “four angels” bound in the river Euphrates are the Lord’s elect, His firstfruits company! Not that all of us are still bound there, though some may indeed be, yet none of us can testify that we have now entered into the fullness of our inheritance in Christ! Not one of us can claim absolute perfection and maturity, nor have any of us put on bodily immortality and been manifest as sons of God, delivering creation from the bondage of corruption. We have truly received the call to sonship, we are now on our way into the full stature of the firstborn Son of God; each of us has attained to our present standing in Christ, and I do not doubt for a moment that some of us are yet bound in the great river Euphrates!
This has been a part of our experience since we first heard the cry of the Spirit to “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). This was pre-figured by Israel. They had been carried away captives into Babylon because of their departure from the ways of the Lord. When the call of God came to those in Babylon’s captivity, it was this same call, “Come out of her so that you may escape her punishment!” Oh, yes! God was about to judge Babylon, and it was time for the Lord’s people to come out from her, not only to escape the judgment, but also to enter into all the glory of their own land of inheritance. The Jews who were captives in Babylon had become so situated in this foreign land, that they became insensitive to the Spirit’s call. They had their priests and their laws, and carried on their religion as best they could right there in Babylon. Very few were tuned into God’s purpose, they cared not that God had chosen Jerusalem, that the temple was the center of His presence, nor that Zion was without a ruling king. They had mingled the word of the Lord with the superstitions and ways of Babylon, had become a reproach among the nations, and lost their purpose in God to be His chosen ones as a peculiar nation.
Only a few, a remnant, returned to the land in answer to God’s call. What happened to the remainder? They became partakers of the promises of God against Babylon! When Babylon was defeated and spoiled, those who remained with her were again put to the sword and carried further into captivity by the beast nations. There is absolutely no place of compromise! If you do not have the desire to be in the presence of God (Spirit), or in His house (temple — ye are the temple), or in His government (New Jerusalem), or as a reigning king (Zion, sonship), you will remain a captive in the spiritual Babylon. And if you have come out of Babylon, but are now bound on the borders of your true and glorious inheritance in the nature, glory, and power of God’s Christ, then hear today the voice from the four horns of the golden altar, sounding as a trumpet in the land, proclaiming, “Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates!”
Ah, this word comes prophetically from the midst of a people who are the priests of the Lord at the golden altar! There is such power in their praise, in their spiritual worship, and in their spirit-energized prayers, that it brings forth that word of authority commanding the loosing of a word and a ministry from the border of Babylon! It speaks release to the Lord’s called and chosen elect to arise and enter on in to the fullness of their inheritance as sons of the living God! In earlier days of God’s dealings we all arose to “come out,” yet there was a season when we had obeyed the Spirit’s call to come out to the best of our understanding and ability, but though we separated from our previous entanglements in the worldly church systems, and separated from many of the more glaring errors taught by them, and were in that measure separated from Babylon, yet we had not at that time received the full revelation of the high calling of God in Christ and the deep purgings, processings, and dealings necessary to bring us into our full inheritance as manifest sons of our Father. Thus, we were not yet separated unto His great sonship and kingdom purposes! We had come out as far as we could, but still had not pressed on to possess our inheritance in our new promised land! Oh, yes! It was there that we were “bound” in our word, in our vision, in our experience, in our ministry, in that great river Euphrates, at the boundary between religious Babylon and the spiritual and heavenly mount Zion! To those who stand at the boundary of their inheritance I today speak release unto a new, fresh, full word of revelation, experience, glory, and transforming power! Arise, my beloved, and possess your land promised in Christ before the foundation of the world! It is indeed wonderful!
There are some today who have come out to the border of the land and feel that we have gone far enough. Talk about the inheritance beyond the River in the hills and mountains of Canaan, in the courts of the temple of God, and the kingly splendor of mount Zion, and it is thought to be “far-out” teaching. What we have is good. Why be concerned about anything more beyond the River? Let us just camp right here at the fertile valley of the Euphrates, and seek an enlargement of what we have already received. We speak in tongues, we have gifts of the Spirit, we prophesy, we dance in the Spirit, we have beautiful singing and worship, and some healings and miracles. Why get excited about things “far-out” beyond the Euphrates? Why seek after perfection, the mind of Christ, incorruption and immortality, the glory of manifest sonship, or reigning with Christ in the kingdom and delivering creation from the bondage of corruption?
The Euphrates is also symbolic of the spiritual borderland between the world of darkness and the glories of Eden; between flesh and spirit; between half-heartedness and abandonment to God; between childishness and maturity; between carnality and spirituality; between the carnal mind and the mind of Christ; between the realm of death and the fullness of His incorruptible life. It is not enough to have revelation of the high calling of God in Christ. It is not enough to have visions of the life of sonship to God. It is not enough to see by the spirit a realm of perfection and glory where the carnal mind is exchanged for the mind of Christ and death is swallowed up of His life. Revelations and visions are not possession; and though they may be from God, they are only given to encourage us to hasten our footsteps that we may enter in! It is not enough for us to leave the world and religious Babylon and begin the journey; we must hasten on to the end, follow all the way, and finish our course even to the last step.
How many who start on the journey, settle down at the great river Euphrates! How many settle for something better than what God has called them out of, but less than what they have been called to! Ah, yes, this borderland is an alluring place, a subtle experience, a crafty and cunning temptation. It is the territory between Babylon and mount Zion where are felt the powers of both, but in the mixture neither are fully experienced. Those who abide here settle down comfortably in some “New Testament Church” order, with shepherds, worship teams, and gifts of the Spirit — and fail to GO ON! These concern themselves with the “first principles” of the doctrine of Christ, of repentance from dead works, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, a future resurrection and eternal judgment (Heb. 6:1-2), and lay these foundations again and again, refusing to leave them in order to go on to perfection!
The borderlands are a dangerous place for all who settle there. If they are not drowned in that swift and terrible river, they eventually retrace their steps and are found in the world from whence they came, for it is so very close, and so very comfortable, and there is no treacherous journey and no battle to possess it. Ah, we praise God for these borderlands, for it is needful that we pass through them, but pass we must! The vision of a distant land of beauty and fruitfulness and glory does not feed nor satisfy the one who sees it. It must be experienced! It has to be entered into, possessed! Moses did not go over into Canaan, though for forty years he bore the children of Israel as a nursing mother bears a child upon her bosom, and stood between God and His people as the mouthpiece of God. God took Moses up on the top of mount Pisgah and let him view the land, but He told Moses that he could not go over to possess it. The sight was, no doubt, beautiful to this servant of God; and yet how was he profited by the milk and honey, which flowed in the land that he beheld?
Though the vineyards were ever so green and fruitful in the promised land of Canaan, what joy could they bring to him who would never enjoy their fruits nor drink of their vintage? Though the pomegranates were large and luscious, though the olive trees were green and loaded with fruit, he would never eat of this perfect fruit nor be anointed with the pure, abundant oil. Though the sun shone brighter than he had ever seen it in Egypt, or during those forty years in the desert, where he was taught in God’s school of solitude, how did it profit him? He would never be warmed by its gracious rays! And what shall it profit us, my beloved, if we settle down in the borderland, if we allow ourselves to be bound in the great river Euphrates, in the “in part” realm of spiritual experience, in the glory of that which falls short of the promised fullness, in an old “church order” rather than the glory and the power of the new day of the kingdom of God; in the satisfaction of “blessings” and gaining an occasional victory rather than overcoming all things, even unto the last enemy, which is death; in contentment with the “indwelling” of His Spirit instead of a total TRANSFORMATION INTO HIS IMAGE!
He who writes these lines is fully aware that neither in writing them, nor yet in reading them, can I, or you, lay hold upon the fullness of Christ. It must be walked out experientially in each of our lives as we are released by the word of the Lord from that place where we have been bound in the borderland, in the great river Euphrates. We must arise then, and make the journey all the way to the heights of Zion! The apostle James put it so succinctly: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
There were some among the disciples, who were privileged to behold the glory of manifest sonship, and the glorious One who is the firstborn of this Order. Shortly before Jesus accomplished His decease, He took Peter, James, and John up into a mountain apart from the others. “And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became glistering, exceeding white; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.” Peter, in speaking afterwards of this ineffable experience wrote, “We were eye witnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father glory and honor, when there came to Him such a voice from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount” (II Pet. 1:16-17).
Though Peter, James, and John beheld the glory of Christ’s sonship and heard the voice of the Father witnessing to Him, they could not enter into that glory at that time. Before they could themselves enter into the glory of sonship to God they had a course to run, they had a ministry to fulfill, they had battles to fight, victories to win, they had a faith to keep even unto death. Only when they had done these things, could they enter into this glory, which they beheld upon the mount of transfiguration. So it is with us. How beautiful is that land of far distances! Our souls are ravished by the revelations of our high calling, which we see in spirit while upon this high elevation, caught up in the Spirit. But we must come down and hasten over the path that leads to the possession of all that we have seen, and all that God has offered us. There is no working of the adversary so treacherous as the working of deception that would make us mistake for possession the great revelations God gives of sonship and the kingdom of God and our high calling in Him!
Well did Ray Prinzing write, “The Holy Spirit imparts a revelation on how much the institutional religious system is a part of the present day Babylon, and then He whispers in your heart, ‘Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.’ So, painful as the process has been for some, we come out — to walk day by day as the Holy Spirit would lead. Yet we find that that word is not finished with its work in us — for then it must purge out all the traits of Babylon that are in us. It is one thing to be called out of Babylon, it is quite another to have all of Babylon purged out of you. BUT THE WORD WENT FORTH, He spoke it in your being, and when THE WORD HAS FINISHED ITS INWORKING, you will be free of Babylon, inside and out, because His word will not return unto Him void, it will have prospered in all that He sent it to do!
“Pre-requisite to His receiving us on any deeper level, is be ye separate! We must come out from all the unholy realms of Babylon, and no more touch that unclean thing! Coming out is a process, wrought by degrees, as He strips away the old, and prepares us for the new. Many think they have come out — perhaps they have physically, but often their mind is still in the clutches of the old traditions. So wrapped in the cocoons of creed and doctrine, there is a long process of coming out, just as there is also a long process of entering in to the new. There is a long process to where we truly worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, untainted by any of these other things. Holiness is a separation, not only from, but also unto — presenting ourselves unto the Lord, placing ourselves before Him for His sovereign disposal.
“How thankful we are that He can lead us far beyond the confines of our human comprehension, and open up to our inner man the vision of divine reality. In His own unique way He brings our thoughts and imaginations into conformity to His will and purpose. How we pray for a break-through, beyond all the barriers which have held us in limbo, in dimensions of emptiness, waiting for His time and season for full manifestation. Verily, ‘He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in…’ (Deut. 6:23). Called out of the world, called out of religious Babylon, called out of self with its own will and way, to be brought into the FELLOWSHIP OF THE SON — to partake of Him, be brought in — to be found in Him — the unlimited expanses of His love, where we might walk that path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen, bringing us into His glory. May He lift us up from the low way of religion, into the high way of His Spirit!” — end quote.
Call to remembrance here that the reason for the loosing of the four angels which are bound in the river Euphrates is that they may enter on in to their full inheritance. The inheritance was the land that stretched all the way from the world of Babylon, beyond the Euphrates river, on to the borders of the land of Egypt. While there are many beautiful spiritual types in Israel’s entrance into and possession of the promised land, the fact remains that throughout the Old Testament one reads the history of a physical people receiving natural blessings in an earthly land. In the Old Testament the Lord always referred to an earthly land. You can recall how many times from the twelfth chapter of Genesis to the end of Malachi the Lord stressed the land again and again. The land…the land…the land I promised to thy fathers; the land I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the land I promised you; I will bring you into the land; I will give you the land; I will bless you in the land. It was the land, the land, always the LAND! Yet, the whole expanse of that which God promised Abraham and his seed could not be found in that natural plane of things that he explored, for it spoke of greater things — that which is spiritual!
If we know the scriptures and have light from God, we will realize what is meant by “the land.” In the hidden language of the Spirit, the symbol of “land” has the meaning of “inheritance.” Many scriptures speak of the fact that all the inheritance of Israel was in the land! But the New Testament teaches us something deeper. Land is not the destination. Being in a sacred space does not guarantee that one will act more nobly. History is also replete with examples — the rebellious Israelites at mount Sinai, right at the very holy mount of God; the marauding, plundering, ravaging armies of the Crusades, and the suicide bombers of today — all show that you can be physically in a so-called “holy place” and still not be holy! One would think that after possessing their land the children of Israel would be ready to fulfill their destiny in God. Moments of triumph do fill the record — the lightning conquest of the land, the new capital in Jerusalem, the magnificent holy temple, and under Solomon a brief blazing empire across the Fertile Crescent. But the overall feeling of the Old Testament books is disillusionment — the judges fail, the kings fail, the priests fail, the people fail, even the temple fails. Because of these failures God flushes the people from the land He promised them. He exiles them. Then Jesus came! He came and revealed the great mystery that the “land” was merely a symbol of everything the people of Israel were longing for. He introduced the people to something higher: an understanding of the nonphysical dimensions of God, our Father who is in heaven, God who is spirit and can be worshiped only in spirit and in truth. Then with the coming of the Holy Spirit the essence of the land was transferred to a higher, spiritual plane. The question might be asked, Then why does God promise land to Abraham at the very beginning? Because God relates to man on two levels — the plane of the physical and the plane of the spiritual. As a nation, the people needed land. But in their spiritual life, they did not need land. The firstborn Son of God came into the world to reveal the great truth that physical land, political power, even a temple made with hands, are not the ends for God’s people. FELLOWSHIP AND UNION WITH GOD IS THE END! You do not need land, laws, priesthoods, rituals, or temples in order to experience and know God. In fact, those things detract from knowing union with Him! Therefore, the land is but a figure of CHRIST AS OUR ALL IN ALL!
In the Old Testament the descendants of Abraham were brought into the land, first from Egypt and the wilderness, and again from Babylon. In the New Covenant those born of the Spirit are brought into Christ. Have you truly realized that Christ is now the territory of your life? Christ is the land! The inheritance is in the land, and Christ is the land! “…that He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: IN WHOM WE HAVE OBTAINED AN INHERITANCE, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him…” (Eph. 1:10-11). So many glorious realities are oursin Christ! Time would fail me to quote the many scriptures that explore the expansiveness of our inheritance in Christ. You may feel today that you are living on this earth, compassed about, hedged in, and shut up by the myriad problems, pressures, frustrations, and limitations of this world. But you must realize that this earth, nor any part of it, including the land of Israel, Great Britain, America, or any other place, is not your real land; nothing of this world is your sphere of living! “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light…and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:12-13). The old land is but a type of Christ as everything to us! By virtue of the new birth we now have the ground to enjoy all the riches of God in Christ! God gave us this ground. It is greater than any ground in Israel, Great Britain, America, or anywhere else! We have obtained an inheritance, not in Israel, not in America, not in the earth, not even in the heavens alone; but rather IN HIM. This ground is our land and we may enter in and fully possess all its glories by faith! Isn’t it wonderful!
I deeply feel that most of the Lord’s people are still living in the old land — the “shadow” — and have discovered but little of the true land, the substance of which is Christ. What a vast difference there is between the shadow of an object and the object itself! Shadows can be beautiful, as when, for instance, a day draws toward late afternoon and the mountains cast long shadows, creating wonderful illusions, but with no substance to them. It is my conviction after sixty years of ministry that multitudes of Christians are today contenting themselves with the shadow instead of the substance.
I think we can look upon the shadow and the substance as picturing two sorts of lives lived by God’s people. There is a life, if we can indeed call it such, which is just a shadow of the real thing; things spiritual are not real to the one living in it; the whole thing reeks of the scent of the “earthiness” of the old natural land. These folk, though religious, church-going people, may even sing choruses, clap their hands, speak in tongues and prophesy, but in most aspects of their daily lives MIND EARTHLY THINGS. They preach a lot of frothy discourses concerning the abundant life, but the abundant life of which they speak is not the abundant life of Christ Himself, but mere external blessings of answered prayers, healing, health, jobs, houses, bank accounts, automobiles, clothes, and a thousand other earthly things which they imagine represent the “abundant life.” It is not the abundant life of “those who dwell in heaven” but of “those who dwell upon the earth.” All through the book of Revelation we are told what befalls those who “dwell upon the earth!” The abundant life is experienced in CHRIST THE SUBSTANCE, not in the shadow. A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth, saith the Lord. If God has favored you with temporal things, then you may accept them with thanksgiving, but do not deceive yourself by supposing that these temporal things are a sign of God’s favor or your great faith or spirituality, for such is not the case. The fleshly Israel of old enjoyed all these earthly things for which men seek, but they did not have the abundant life Jesus came to bring!
Only the Holy Spirit can make this real to us, but one of the most significant utterances ever made by the apostle Paul is found in his epistle to the Ephesians. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS IN HEAVENLY PLACES IN CHRIST” (Eph. 1:3). The source of all blessing is God who is Spirit. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). However, the blessings and benefits which make up our “inheritance in Christ” are not primarily temporal, physical, or natural blessings for the outer-earth-man. They are not mere creature comforts. Oh, no! They are spiritual blessings bestowed upon the inner-new-creation-man. These spiritual blessings are received and experienced only “in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” They are in Him and are communicated from the high and holy realm in which He dwells. These are the blessings of the life of sonship, and when you have appropriated all the blessings of this new and heavenly land which is Christ, you will be a manifest son of God. That is the richness of this land!
This glorious land is the realm of incorruption which lies beyond the power of temptation, sin, limitation, sickness, sorrow, or death. It is filled with blessings which God has covenanted with all who dwell in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, blessings of wisdom and knowledge, of joy and peace, of love and faith, of grace and glory, of righteousness and power, of the mind of Christ and the image of God. The mark of a son is when he asks most often for spiritual blessings instead of temporal blessings. One will know that he is no longer numbered among the lusty throng who “dwell upon the earth” when, in all his seeking, he seeks only and always those things which are “above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God.”
The words of the inspired apostle Paul come ringing like a trumpet through the centuries, the truth falling like dew upon the spiritual ear of each called and chosen member of God’s Christ. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). Again, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:6-7). An heirship always implies an inheritance. But there is a truth deeper and more wonderful than this! As the ocean includes the seas, the bays, the straits, which, though known by separate names, are parts of its majestic and all-embracing fullness, so is there a dimension of HIS INHERITANCE that encompasses ALL that is ours in Christ.
In the law of the Old Testament priesthood, “The Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them. I AM THY PART, and THINE INHERITANCE, among the children of Israel” (Num. 18:20). It was a very satisfactory arrangement for the pious priest. He could not own any land in Israel. But he could well dispense with the olive yards and vineyards, the cornfields and homesteads of Canaan, if he might have GOD HIMSELF as the strength of his heart, the source of his supply, and his portion forever. And the Psalmist eagerly caught at the thought, gladly surrendering all portion in this life, if only he might be “satisfied” with God (Ps. 17:15). “The LORD is the portion of MINE INHERITANCE and my cup (supply): Thou maintainest my lot. Yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps. 17:5-6).
Ah, as God’s kings and priests our inheritance is God Himself! That is the true inheritance of every son of God! Not golden harps. Not golden streets. Not walls of jasper or pearly gates. Not a cabin in the corner or a mansion over the hilltop. Not wings and a white nightgown with which to flit about over the Elysium hills of glory. There is something deeper, more inward and rapturous — the possession of God. HEIRS OF G-O-D! Not merely heirs of the things of God, but heirs of God Himself. Oh, the mystery of it! Oh, the wonder of it! Heirs of all the communicable glories of the divine nature and power. To know Him, to explore His being, to live on His fullness, to discover new tracts and continents in the “terra incognita” of Godhead, to see and share His glory, to be transformed into His image, to receive His authority and power, to be filled with His wisdom and knowledge — this is “the heritage of the sons of God.” Blessed be His wonderful name!