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Last of all He was seen of me also, as of
one born before the due time.—1 Cor. 15:8 .
ST. PAUL WAS discussing the resurrection of the dead. He realized that on that great fact rested the weight of the Gospel Message. It was easy enough to prove that Jesus had died, but to an incredulous world it was difficult to prove that He had risen from the dead; and whoever could not believe that great fact could not believe the other great facts which stand or fall with it.
For instance, the Apostle presented that Jesus had left the heavenly glory and had become a Man for the purpose of meeting the demands of the Divine Law against Adam and his race, involved by him. He could show the reasonableness of this logic. He has proven that as the whole world was condemned to death through Father Adam's disobedience it was absolutely necessary for an untainted life to be sacrificed in order to meet the penalty and to secure the release of the condemned race.
The Apostle had declared that Jesus had been faithful in His ministry in fully laying down His life and that the entire matter was pleasing and acceptable to the Heavenly Father. If so, surely God would not leave His Son in death, but would raise Him from the dead. This fact the Apostle had repeatedly enunciated, showing that our Lord entered into His glory and reward and ascended up where He was before—to perfection on the spirit plane.
But all these claims fell lightly upon some of his hearers, [R5034 : page 175] who claimed that it was much more easy to believe that Jesus never died at all, but merely transmuted, than to believe that He died for our sins and rose again for our justification; hence the Apostle's frequent reference to Christ's resurrection and his insistence upon it as absolutely necessary to Christian faith, for not only would the Heavenly Father's favor toward the Lord Jesus thus be shown, but the bulk of all the holy prophecies would remain unfulfilled unless Jesus arose from the dead.
In other words, a dead Redeemer would be of no advantage; matters would be just as unfavorable for the sinners as though Jesus had never come at all. Additionally, if the resurrection of Jesus was a questionable matter, how could those who disputed that great fact acknowledge the resurrection of the Church and of the world? St. Paul emphasizes this also, declaring that "there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust," as a result of the redemptive work of Jesus—His dying for man's sins and His resurrection to glory to carry out the blessings secured by His death.
Prosecuting his argument, the Apostle marshaled the whole chain of witnesses except the women who first saw the Lord on the morning of His resurrection. He says, "He was seen of Cephas (Peter); then by the remainder of the twelve; then of above five hundred brethren at once; later, He was seen of James; then of all the Apostles," when He ascended. Then comes the text: "Last of all He was seen of me also."
There is something pathetic in this reference to his own glimpse of Jesus. It called up the period of his own bigoted persecution of the Church. It reminded him of his own responsibility in connection with the death of St. Stephen, and of the blind hatred which led him to persecute inoffensive fellow-creatures, simply because they believed that Jesus died and rose again, the very thing which he was now trying to testify to all having the hearing ear.
His memory went back to the madness which he had manifested in pursuing Christians even to Damascus, haling them to prison. Again he saw the great, blinding light from heaven, above the brightness of the noonday sun, his fall to the earth, and heard the voice speaking to him, saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" (Acts 9:1-9; 26:12-19.) Again he remembered his astonishment at learning that those whom he had persecuted were not renegade and deceived Jews, but highly esteemed and acknowledged by this Great One, a glimpse of whom felled him to the earth. Ah, that was a wonderful sight! If Messiah was so great, so glorious, so powerful, he could believe in Him, he could reverence Him.
The objection which all Jews had to Jesus, and what they considered absolute proof that He was not the Messiah, was His apparent weakness, His apparent inability to accomplish the things foretold by the Prophets. They said, It is foolish to think of a man without an army and without wealth claiming to be a king. It is still more foolish for Him to claim that He is the Messianic King, who is to be above all kings, and before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. They said, therefore, that Jesus must either be beside Himself, crazy, or else He was seeking to deceive the people and temporarily create a little commotion of popularity.
To them it seemed that when He was crucified a demonstration had been given that He was not the Messiah. [R5034 : page 176] Was not the Messiah to live forever, and was He not to reign successfully as King of kings and Lord of lords? Was it not, therefore, proven that any man whom the Jews or the Romans could crucify, could put to death, must have been an imposter? They considered the matter proven to a demonstration. The persecution of the followers of Jesus was merely with a view to stamping out a new religion, which, it was feared, would do harm to Israel in that it would call in question the hopes of Israel respecting a coming King and His Kingdom. Thus Saul of Tarsus had felt himself fully justified in persecuting all of that way of thinking—for "the good of the cause," as so many persecutors have said.
The honesty of Saul of Tarsus led him to be just as honest after he got his eyes of understanding open as he had previously been with them closed. It took him a little while to get the proper focus; then he saw and could explain to others the necessity for the death of Jesus and how it was typified in the sacrifices of the Law and how the Divinely arranged Plan had made this great sacrifice in order thereby to more fully show forth the Divine Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power.
Now he saw, not only the need for Jesus to come in the flesh and to give Himself a ransom-price for all, but he saw equally the necessity for His resurrection, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, that He might be a fully qualified Ruler and Savior—not only to save His people from the Romans, the Assyrians, and from all other human enemies, but also to save them from Satan, from sin, from sickness, from sorrow, from death. Ah, now he saw how great Messiah must be in order to meet the necessities of the case!
The matter changed immediately in his mind; instead of a human Savior and Messiah and an earthly King, God had prepared a Heavenly One, partaker of the divine nature, glorious, far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named. Now he saw that the sufferings of Jesus had a twofold value. First, they were necessary for man's release from the death sentence, and, secondly, they were necessary as a demonstration of the loyalty of Jesus. Now he saw that God, in preparing to bring many sons to glory, determined first to prove the loyalty of Him whom He had invited to become the Captain of our Salvation, and that this was done by the arrangement which necessitated Jesus' death.
The climax of the argument was reached when he found that God not only had raised up Jesus from the dead, but that additionally he had bestowed upon Him the glory, honor and immortality of the divine nature, of which Saul had a demonstration or proof in the blinding flash of light which felled him to the earth, and in the voice which said to him alone, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest."
We like to think that, as we were once blinded to many of the precious truths of God's Word, so it is with many others whose eyes of understanding have not yet opened. We like to think of St. Paul's experiences, his sincerity, even to hatred and persecution, and then his loyalty, even to stripes and imprisonment and death. We like to think of him as exemplifying possibly a large class of the opposers of the Truth.
We like to hope that all they will need to bring them into line with God's arrangements and to make them loyal servants of righteousness will be the great light which will shine forth resplendently very soon, when the due time shall come for Messiah to take to Himself His great power and reign—when His elect Bride shall have been completed and glorified with Him. We like to remember the words of the Lord through the Prophet respecting that glorious Epoch: "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb sing"—in that day.
Where would Saul of Tarsus have ended his career if the great Redeemer had not interposed for his help? And how poorly we would have fared and how little of the Light Divine would we have seen if Divine providence had not helped us in various ways? And so with the world. It is beyond our power to give the hearing ear or the seeing eye. This is the work of the Great Physician, and His day for healing and blessing and uplifting the world we perceive to be nigh, even at the door.
Ah, yes! Now we can see that the little opening of the eyes and unstopping of the ears and healing of the lame accomplished at our Lord's first advent merely foreshadowed His coming glory and much greater work. Now we can see a reason why so many of His mighty works were done on the Sabbath days—because they were all prophetic, as the Sabbath days themselves were prophecies of the great Thousand-Year Sabbath of Messiah's glorious reign, during which all of humanity who will may enter into His rest—rest from sin and from Satan and from everything that would hinder them from a full return to the Heavenly Father's love and favor and to everlasting life.
Now we see that the great work of that thousand-year Sabbath will be the healing of the morally lame and the giving of sight and hearing to the minds now blinded and deaf under the evil influences of the great Adversary—"the god of this world [who] hath blinded the minds of them that believe not."—2 Corinthians 4:4.
Many have remarked at the peculiarity of St. Paul's statement that he saw the Lord as one prematurely born. But, if at first the statement was dark and puzzling, now it is luminous and enlightening. His thought is this: the time for giving ocular demonstrations of the Lord's resurrection had gone by; the next manifestation of Him is to be to His saints, and after that to the world. Thus we read: "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is"—made like Him by our resurrection change from the human conditions to the spirit conditions; yea, to the divine plane.
Strictly speaking, then, the experiences of Saul of Tarsus were out of the ordinary. No one else than he alone, not even the saintly, were to see the Lord before their resurrection change, in the end of this Age. When, therefore, he saw Jesus, he saw Him before the time—more than eighteen centuries before the time. Moreover, he saw Him as one born before the time—as one resurrected before the time. We are to have in mind the Scriptural use of this word born—that the Church must all be begotten of the Holy Spirit in order to experience the resurrection birth.
Thus, concerning our Redeemer's resurrection, we read: "He was the First-born from the dead"; and again, "He was the First-born of many brethren." So the hope of all of God's people is that the begetting of the Holy Spirit in the present time will be followed by the resurrection birth, which St. Paul describes in this same chapter, saying, "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it [R5035 : page 177] is sown an animal body, it is raised a spirit body."—I Cor. 15:43.
With these things before our mental eye we see the meaning of the Apostle in the words: "He was seen of me, also, as of one born before the time." He was not thus seen by the other Apostles. They saw Him merely as He appeared—sometimes in one form of body and with appropriate clothing, at other times in another form, and with diverse clothing. He appeared and disappeared, but they did not see Him, the New Creature; they saw merely the various forms in which He appeared. But St. Paul saw the Lord more nearly as all the saints shall see Him when they shall be born from the dead by the glorious resurrection change.
One great difference between the effect of what Saul saw and what the entire glorious Church will see in the resurrection is that Saul's eyesight was injured by the sight; besides, he saw nothing very distinctly—merely a blinding light, which the voice explained to be the appearance or manifestation of Jesus. Far more precious will be the experiences of the Church. Before beholding Him who is declared to be "the express image of the Father's person," "whom no man hath seen nor can see, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto"—before this, we shall have been changed, glorified. This will enable us to see Him as He is, for the glory of the Church will be like to the glory of her Lord, and superior to the glory of the angels.
While heavenly glory does not consist exclusively of brightness, nevertheless the Scriptures everywhere seem to associate bright-shining with the heavenly ones, and would imply that the higher the station and rank the brighter will be the sheen, the glory. Thus the glory of the Heavenly Father is represented as being so great that few could endure it; and angels and seraphim are represented as veiling their faces before the Divine glory, which so greatly transcends their own.
It should not, therefore, surprise us that the Scriptures everywhere represent that our Lord Jesus and the Church, "made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), will have a great honor and brightness, far above that of angels and all others except that of the Heavenly Father. As the Lord Jesus was able to veil the glories of His person and to appear as a man after His resurrection, so undoubtedly He could do as respects the world, during the thousand years of His Messianic Reign.
And, similarly, it would be possible for the Church to appear as men with the glory veiled. It might appear at first as though this was what was signified through the Mosaic type when Moses, representing Messiah in glory, came down from the mountain, his face radiant, but veiled for the sake of the people. Our thought, however, is that Jesus and the Church will never thus appear in the flesh as angels have done in the past, but that on the contrary the Ancient Worthies, perfected on the human plane, will be their agents and representatives in all communications with mankind. Thus, "the Law shall go forth from Mount Zion (the Spirit Kingdom), and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (the earthly Kingdom), to every nation, people, kindred and tongue, that all may be blest if they will and attain everlasting life.