When Jesus was asked if there were few who would be saved his answer in Luke 13:24 makes it obvious that that is the case: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
Multitudes are putting forth a religious effort of some kind believing that they can thereby be acceptable to God. Paul spoke in Rom. 10:2-3 of his fellow Jews: “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
If the fear of God is the beginning of spiritual knowledge and a work of separation and preparation is a necessary part of the foundation, then the new birth is the door. Only after we pass through that door do we begin to see God’s Kingdom as it truly is — and even then, seeing is a process.
This is why Jesus stressed the need of those who professed belief to become disciples — learners — thereby coming into possession of truth that would make them free. John 8:31-32. In reality many of them were children of the devil (John 8:44).
John said this of Jesus in John 1:11-13: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
This truth is greatly misunderstood in our day. The modern concept of “receiving Christ” as praying a little prayer to Jesus in the sky to invite Him into one’s heart fits in well with the easy-believism that has filled churches with lost men and women who know nothing of the new birth. Make no mistake, however — there is no new birth unless Christ, by the Spirit, takes up both residence and possession of our hearts.
The tragedy in our day is that most religious conversion has nothing to do with Christ, but is an empty form devoid of spiritual reality. It has a form of godliness but denies (or resists) the power thereof. II Tim. 3:5.
The focus in John 1:12 is on obtaining the “power” or right or privilege of becoming a son of God. A “right” is a legal privilege that is granted by rightful authority.
God Himself is the only true authority in the universe and only that which flows from Him and is in accord with His Sovereign will constitutes rightful authority.
This great God has placed all authority into the hands of His Son, Jesus Christ, who said, “All power” (authority) “is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Matt. 28:18. The relationship is such that what the Son does perfectly represents and is fully backed up by the Father. Reject Christ and you reject God. It’s that simple.
Phil. 2:9-11 says, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
No one can bypass the Son and get to God. John 14:6. He alone has the commission from the Father to establish a kingdom that will last forever. Isaiah 9:7 says, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
Daniel 7:13-14 says, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
The Jews’ religion of Jesus’ day had long since degenerated into a dead form, full of tradition that made of none effect the word of God. Matt. 15:3-9.
Although they could trace their roots to God’s revelation through Moses, any authority God might have exercised over them had been long rejected. Their religion was firmly in their own hands. Authority was vested in the Sanhedrin, a high council of 71 members consisting of chief priests, elders and teachers of the law.
Over the centuries, religious leaders had attempted, without inspiration, to interpret and apply the law of Moses to different situations, resulting in a great body of tradition. When a question arose, they resorted, not to the law itself, sincerely desiring to be guided in their understanding by God, but to their traditional interpretations. It was a lot like a modern judge who searches out a legal precedent established by some prior case and then makes his decision accordingly.
There existed among the Jews more than one brand (or denomination!) of religion. They had their conservative, bible-believing fundamentalists — the Pharisees. Paul grew up as a Pharisee. Their focus — though badly corrupted by tradition — was on scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law. If someone deviated in the least from their concept of observing the law he was in trouble. Matt. 15:1-2.
Another sect was the Sadducees (Acts 23:7-8), the “liberals” of their day, who didn’t believe in the supernatural or life after death but focused their attention on social and political issues.
Another sect, though not mentioned in the Bible, were the Essenes, who mostly lived apart from Jewish society as a whole in very secretive communes. Their traditions involved a very strict code of conduct, perhaps cult-like in their concept of observing the law. Few married and their membership depended mostly on new converts.
Of course there were the political zealots who were mainly concerned with throwing off the shackles of Rome by any means possible.
It’s not difficult to relate these religious variations to similar groups and religious types throughout history, including the present day.
Although they varied among themselves, one thing they shared in common was that they despised and rejected any authority that truly represented God. In Luke 20:2, the Jewish leaders wanted to know by what authority Jesus did the things he did. Their question led to the parable of the vineyard (verses 9-18). Jesus perfectly pictured the actions of the custodians of Jewish religion over the centuries in consistently rejecting anyone sent of God.
Hear the ringing indictment of Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:51-53: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”
Hear also the words of Jesus in Matt. 23:37-38: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Notice that Jesus said, “How often would I have gathered ....” Christ was the One who spoke to Abraham, who raised up Moses, who led the Israelites to Canaan, who anointed and sent the prophets. He was the Rock that followed them in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:4). Now present among them in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, He was about to be crucified.
Spiritual blindness had resulted in the Jewish leaders rejecting the authority of Christ and bringing judgment upon themselves and their followers. I Thess. 2:14-16.
Christ has the authority of God. It is not for Him to bow to us; it is for us to bow to Him. He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
In one sense the Jewish leaders recognized the need for authority in religion but the authority in their religion was firmly in human hands. When Saul set out for Damascus he had letters from the council authorizing him to stamp out the new heresy. Their authority was used at every opportunity to oppose God’s authority manifest in the anointing .
We’re speaking of receiving Christ. Jesus said in John 13:20, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Here Jesus describes a chain of authority that reaches all the way to God’s throne.
It is evident here that “receiving Christ” was not some mystical thing but rather was a matter of receiving a fellow human being as an authorized representative of God, sent to proclaim His words. Peter, because it was revealed to him, saw Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” (Matt. 16:16) and he recognized that Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Paul wrote to the Galatians referring to the time when he came to them with the gospel and said, “ye ... received me as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ.” Gal. 4:14. “Angel” means messenger. Obviously they had received Paul, yet not just as Paul, but as one sent by God to officially represent Jesus Christ. Did they thereby receive Christ? Yes!
It was exactly the same as if Jesus of Nazareth Himself had come to them and they had received Him as God’s messenger. The Word of reconciliation had been committed to Paul (II Cor. 5:18-20).
At the end of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem he said, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Coming in His name means having His authority, officially representing Him. This is easily illustrated by the way earthly nations conduct their affairs. Nations are represented by ambassadors, who have authority to speak for their respective nations. In addition there are other officials in the embassy or perhaps in a consulate who have various levels of authority under the ambassador. To despise the ambassador is to despise the nation he represents.
Suppose for a moment that there is a nation called Paradise that is ruled over by a king. Suppose also that you have a great desire to go there. How would you proceed?
You might — in great presumption — simply travel to Paradise and seek to enter without a visa — the proper authorization. If you did, it is certain that you would be turned away. You would be like the man who came to the wedding without the proper wedding garment in Matt. 22:11-14.
You might take the attitude, “I’ll deal only with the King.” How far would you get with that approach? You would in reality be rejecting the King’s authority which has been given to embassy officials to help those desiring to go to his country.
Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 10:16, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” It’s not a good idea to hastily reject a ministry: how do you know God hasn’t sent him? Reject one sent by Christ and you reject Christ and, in turn, God Himself.
The King of Paradise has a way he conducts business. If you want to go there, it is absolutely necessary that you bow to his authority even in the matter of obtaining a visa to come.
You could, of course, attempt to bypass all authority and enter Paradise illegally. In John 10:9 Jesus referred to himself as the door to the sheepfold of salvation. In verse 1 of that chapter he said, “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”
The key phrase there is “some other way.” Of course there is no other way that will avail, but multitudes in spiritual blindness have sought to enter the kingdom of God some other way than by seeing and hearing and bowing to Christ’s authority given to those He has sent.
If you want to go to Paradise you must go to the embassy or to a consulate and do what they tell you to. They would assign a certain official to your case and he alone would represent the entire Kingdom of Paradise so far as you’re concerned.
There might be other officials with similar authority assigned to other cases but you would have to submit your case to the one assigned to you. You couldn’t say, “I don’t particularly like this man,” and go off down the hall in search of an official more to your liking. It’s not your choice.
If you wish to go to Paradise you must submit yourself to the authority of the King and do things his way, even down to the matter of who in particular is to represent him to you. If you cannot submit yourself to the King in a small matter such as this, why should he expect you to recognize his authority in any other matter? Should he fling open the gates of Paradise and fill his kingdom with rebels?
Ananias was specifically assigned to the case of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:10-18). Saul didn’t have the option of picking “the church of his choice” or the minister that suited his personal taste. Had he rejected Ananias he would have been rejecting the Christ who had sent him.
Cornelius had been prepared by God for salvation and was doing all he knew to do. However, when it came time for him to be born into God’s kingdom, he was told that Peter had been assigned to his case (Acts 10:1-6).
The Ethiopian Eunuch had a ready heart and was reading the scriptures with a desire to understand yet it was necessary for the Lord to specifically send Philip to help him (Acts 8:26-40).
If any of these matters were in our hands then God would be bowing down to us and submitting Himself to our authority. Coming to God is not a matter of compromise and negotiation but of an unconditional surrender.
Do you see the picture? In order to obtain the visa (the power to become a son of God) you must recognize (receive) the official who represents the king.
The authority of God is expressed by the anointing. The word “Christ” means “anointed.” Had the Jews been listening, Jesus told them on more than one occasion where his authority came from. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
He was in Nazareth where he had grown up. He was in the synagogue reading from the old testament, something he had obviously done many times before. Though he was the Son of God, yet his reading of the scriptures had never before provoked any unusual reaction. This time was very different. Something had happened to him since the last time he had attended their synagogue.
For 30 years Jesus had been waiting on his Father for the time for his ministry to begin. He knew he needed God’s Spirit to be with him if he were to accomplish the Father’s purpose in sending him to earth. He had emptied himself and was a man, powerless to do the work of God in himself (Phil. 2:7-8, John 5:19, 30).
When the time came, God had an anointed servant in the earth named John the Baptist. Jesus came and submitted himself to God’s authority expressed through John and was baptized. As he came up out of the water the anointing came upon him like a dove as the Father testified from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11.
Jesus was then led into the wilderness for 40 days of testing and trial during which he overcame physical weakness as well as the direct assault of the devil through temptation.
It was shortly after this that his visit to the synagogue in Nazareth took place. Although these people had known Jesus for most of his life and although he had read the scriptures many times before, this time there was a major difference — this time he spoke with divine authority. His words had such a powerful effect that these good religious people were ready to kill him (Lk. 4:28-29).
They fit the description in Isaiah 29:13 of people who drew near to God with their lips but whose hearts were far from Him. Words — even the scriptures themselves — had no real effect upon them. It took the anointing to expose the true condition of their hearts.
Heb. 4:12 says, “For the word of God is quick,” (living) “and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
One thing Jesus said was most telling: “... he hath anointed me to preach the gospel ...” (Lk. 4:18). I wonder why Jesus hadn’t tried to preach the gospel before! Think about it! In spite of the fact that he was the virgin-born Son of God and was both knowledgeable and sincere, he lived the life of an obscure carpenter till his baptism! I wonder why Jesus instructed the disciples to “tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” Luke 24:49. Could it be that the anointing is necessary in order to preach the gospel?
Hebrews 5:4 sets forth a principle of ministry: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Paul posed the question, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Rom. 10:15. Do you suppose that being sent by a denomination is the same thing as being sent by Christ?
There is a great difference between having Christ’s authority to do a thing and trying to do it without that authority. In Acts 19 there was a chief priest among the Jews names Sceva. He had seven sons who evidently had observed Paul’s authority over evil spirits through the Name of Jesus and thought they would use his method. Before the man with the evil spirit beat them up and chased them away the spirit said to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” Acts 19:15. It certainly wasn’t Paul’s method that enabled him to succeed. Devils recognize and fear those who have authority from Christ.
Men who undertake to preach the gospel without Christ’s anointing are no more effective than were the seven sons of Sceva. Their followers may appear religious but they are not citizens of God’s kingdom.
Back to the kingdom of Paradise. Suppose that, along with the handful of genuine officials able to grant visas, other men begin to think that it would be a good thing to recruit people to go to Paradise. They might even be sons and grandsons of men who have had real authority, yet they themselves have never been properly commissioned.
In process of time imagine that many groups arise each claiming to have a special arrangement with the King to grant visas. These groups develop conflicting ideas about Paradise and the proper procedure for going there. Nevertheless they zealously plunge ahead giving out official-looking documents right and left, competing with one another for followers.
It becomes very confusing for anyone desiring to go to Paradise. For every official giving out genuine visas, there are many more giving out counterfeit ones, yet, how does one tell the difference?
Do you see, at least in a small measure, where we are at in religion today? Many groups can point back to someone who was genuinely anointed of God. Yet, what they have today bears little resemblance to their beginning. What has happened is that men have learned the words and methods and have employed them without the anointing. The will and leadership of men — often inspired by religious spirits — have been substituted for the active practical leadership of Christ, the Head. Christ has been reduced to a mere figurehead with no real authority or influence over what is done in His Name. The only possible result is Babylon — confusion. Such religious “houses” wind up the same way the Jews’ did — desolate.
There is a principle that seems to be overlooked by almost everyone. In I Cor. 13:9 Paul said, “... we prophesy in part.” There are two reasons for this. One is expressed in Prov. 4:18, “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” In other words, the revelation of truth is progressive.
Just because we have the Bible doesn’t mean we have all the truth at our disposal. The truth contained in the written word must be “opened” or revealed by Christ if we are to understand it and benefit. All the study in the world will not take the place of Christ opening the book and ministering living anointed truth suited to the time and need.
Daniel, as great a man of God as he was, was told to shut up the words and seal the book till the time of the end. Daniel 12:4.
The ministry many look back to didn’t have all of the truth. In the first place it wasn’t time for some things to be revealed. In the second place only Christ has the authority to “open the book” (Rev. 5:1-5) and His use of that authority is governed by the time and by the particular ministry in question. Not every ministry is the same. This is the second reason why we “prophesy in part.”
There may be a particular need in a certain place and a certain time. Christ may send a particular ministry with a special anointing to meet that need. They may give out some things they receive from Christ by revelation pertinent to the need, yet give out other things received by tradition. Whole denominations have sprung from the partial understanding of a genuine ministry from Christ.
In time all that is left of the genuine truth that was revealed is nothing more than a shell, devoid of life and power. What really holds sway is a great mountain of tradition that arises. Satan has nothing to fear from such religion. In truth it serves his purposes quite well. Multitudes of its followers are deluded that they have a “visa to Paradise” when, in reality, they are bound for the lake of fire. At best there may be a tiny remnant of those who, by God’s grace have genuinely encountered Christ in the anointing and have come to know Him.
Another thing that adds to the religious confusion is the multitude of independent souls who are deluded into thinking they have a direct line to the King and don’t need anyone else. They gather such information as is available from books and personal contacts and experiences and throw it into a pot with their own ideas and desires and cook up their own private brand of religion.
Their belief that they are in personal contact with the King effectively keeps them from recognizing and receiving anyone the King has truly sent. They draw up their own visa in accordance with what they believe are the King’s instructions and desires.
In reality our world is filled with wicked spirits whose job it is to impersonate the King and delude souls who do not from their hearts desire to submit to the authority of the King and do things His way.
In this natural illustration it is easy to see how multitudes, including would-be officials, could turn up at the gate of Paradise expecting to gain entrance only to be turned away. Matt. 7:21-23.