A Feature Article by Jack Kelley
We all love this kind of story. And as much as we’re encouraged by the experience of an ordinary person who due to personal drive and perseverance rises from humble beginnings to become a leader of business or industry, we’re especially fond of stories where an absolute nobody is plucked from the faceless crowd and instantly propelled to the pinnacle of success. Great Hollywood stories have been built upon this premise, and they’ve never failed to delight us. But by far the absolute best example of this comes from the Bible and is about you. Our story begins in the Old Testament Book of 1st Samuel with David and Jonathan.
And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:3-4)
The making of covenants was serious business because people’s lives depended them. A covenant was the strongest bond known to men, and had both business and personal applications that extended even to the descendants of the two parties involved. Here’s an example.
Some time after David and Jonathan formed their covenant relationship, Jonathan was killed by the Philistines in the Battle of Beth Shan, while David went on to become King of Israel. As I said, covenant agreements extended beyond the grave to the parties’ descendants. One day King David asked his advisers if there was anyone left of Jonathan’s family to whom he could show kindness for Jonathan’s sake.
They brought in one of Saul’s former servants who told him of a crippled boy named Mephibosheth. He was Jonathan’s son, living in a place called Lo Debar, about as far from Jerusalem as he could get. When David had become King of Israel, all of former King Saul’s family (Jonathan was Saul’s son) had fled for their lives for fear that David would take revenge on them for the way Saul had treated him. In their haste to escape, a nurse had picked up the 5 year old Mephibosheth to carry him, but she tripped and they fell hard on the stone floor, breaking his legs and crippling him for life. (2 Sam. 4:4) As he grew up his family had convinced Mephibosheth that David was responsible for his condition and still wanted to kill him.
Upon learning Mephibosheth’s whereabouts, David sent his soldiers to fetch him. When they brought him into the presence of the King, Mephibosheth, fearing for his life, bowed in submission before him. David reassured him and told him of the covenant he had with Jonathan. Then David restored to him all of his grandfather Saul’s property and gave him servants to work the land so his needs would always be met. Finally David asked him to come live in Jerusalem, and eat at the king’s table just like one of the king’s own sons. (You can read the story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Sam 9.)
Talk about rags to riches. It’s a beautiful story of kindness and forgiveness that illustrates the depth of a covenant relationship like no other, and like many Old Testament stories it’s a model of what the Lord had in store for us. Just think of David as God our Father, Jonathan as the Lord Jesus, and Mephibosheth as you and I.
The Everlasting Covenant
Long before we were born the Father and the Son entered into a covenant on our behalf. In effect, our Father said to Jesus, “Son, if you’ll die for them I’ll forgive them”
Jesus replied, “Father, if you’ll forgive them I’ll die for them.” And so the Everlasting Covenant was formed. The Bible says this happened before the foundations of Earth were laid. (1 Peter 1:20)
They had made this covenant because God knew that each time He entered into covenant with man, man would prove untrustworthy and soon break it. For example, Adam ate the forbidden fruit, Noah’s descendants refused to scatter and re-settle the Earth, the Israelites broke the commandments, and so on. The salvation of God’s children was so important to Him that no mere man could be trusted to be faithful, so God Himself had to become a man to save mankind. “You are my son,” He told Jesus, “Today I have become your Father.” (Psalm 2:7)
In the fullness of time Jesus became a man to save mankind, and stood before our Father as our covenant head.
Even though God knew we would ultimately choose Him He pursued us like an ardent lover, and at first many of us ran from Him. We’d heard the stories of His wrath and some of us had even been told that He was responsible for our infirmities and the other bad things that happened to us. They said if He ever got His hands on us He would punish us severely for our sins. Finally one day He caught us and as we trembled at His feet in fear, He reassured us and told us of the covenant He had made with His Son to forgive us. Then He restored the inheritance Satan had stolen from us, invited us to dwell with Him, to eat at the King’s table with His family, and to consider ourselves as His children.
The New Testament tells us how He accomplished this. In John 1:12-13 we’re told that because we believe in Jesus we’ve been given the authority to become children of God. Having been born once in the flesh to our earthly parents, He gave us the right to be born again in the Spirit so that He could become our Heavenly Father. He did this simply because we chose to believe in what His Son did for us. (John 3:16)
Then Romans 8:29 says that God knew in advance that we would believe in His Son, so He predestined us to be conformed to His likeness so Jesus could be the first of many brothers in the Royal Family of God. First Jesus was made like us, and soon we’ll be made like Him. (1 John 3:2)
In Galatians 4:4-7 we read that since we’ve been legally adopted into God’s family, we’re now God’s children. And that means we’re also His heirs, joint heirs with Jesus. Romans 8:16-17 confirms this.
Hebrews 2 makes the point that Jesus was temporarily made lower than the angels, becoming a man to save mankind, and afterward He was elevated to His former position and crowned with glory and honor.
Paul gave us more detail on this. Ephes 1:20-22 explains that when He was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of majesty far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given, in the present age and the one to come. All things were placed under His feet.
Astonishingly, Ephes 2:6-7 says God raised us up and seated us there too, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. The verbs in this passage are in the past perfect tense, meaning that in God’s view we’re already there.
So even though at one time we were dead in our sins, and by nature objects of God’s wrath, hopeless, helpless, worthless, and useless, He made us alive in Christ. He forgave all our sins, clothed us in robes of righteousness, seated us beside His Son in the heavenly realm and made us Kings and Priests who will reign on Earth, and co-heirs with Jesus of God’s estate.
The 24 Elders
By the way, this lends enormous credibility to our view that the 24 elders of Rev. 4 represent the Church.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Rev. 4:4)
These 24 elders confuse some people, but they shouldn’t. Their appearance gives them away. They have thrones, so they’re rulers. They surround the Throne of God where Jesus is seated, so they’re reigning with Him. They’re seated, another sign of royalty. They’re dressed in white, so they’re righteous. They’re wearing the Greek “stephanos” crown, so they’re victors, over comers. They’re called Elders, a title long associated with the Church.
Some try to explain the 24 thrones by saying that they belong to an unknown group of ruling angels. But four Biblical prophets saw the throne of God and recorded their experience. They were Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1 & 10), Daniel (Dan. 7), and John (Rev. 4). Neither Isaiah nor Ezekiel made any mention of the 24 elders indicating that they weren’t present in Old Testament times. Daniel’s vision concerned the End Times and in Dan. 7:9 he mentioned multiple thrones but didn’t add any details as to number or type of occupants. This is consistent with the fact that the Church was hidden to Old Testament prophets even in visions of the future. Only John made mention of the 24 Elders. When you put it all together you can make a pretty good case that the 24 elders represent the Church.
Jesus is seated at the right hand of majesty today, Paul wrote that we’re seated there with Him, and when John was transported to the end of the Age he saw us there, represented by the 24 Elders, after the rapture but before the end times judgments begin.
In the Book of Revelation, three groups of believers come into view. In Rev. 5:9-10 the 24 Elders are shown worshiping God and thanking Him for taking us from every tribe and language and people and nation and making us to be kings and priests who will reign on Earth. In Rev. 7:9-17 we see a great multitude in white robes who will arrive in heaven shortly before the Great Tribulation begins. They will serve God in His temple but are never called priests. Rev. 15:2-4 describes a third group of believers who have been martyred for their faith and are standing in Heaven. Rev. 20:4 indicates that this group will be resurrected to reign with Christ for 1000 years, but they are not called kings.
In support of their particular rapture view, various scholars try to identify each of these groups as the Church. But only one of them is seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, only one is called Kings and Priests, and that’s the one represented by the 24 elders. That group is the Church, and it makes our elevation from obscurity on Earth to a throne in heaven the ultimate rags to riches story.