In a recent Torah section, Moses exhorts Israel to go in and take possession of the Land, their inheritance (Deuteronomy 1:8). Hundreds of years before this exhortation, God had promised the Land to Abraham and to his descendants. Now, Israel stood on the east bank of the Jordan River, prepared to enter the Land. God had given the Land of Israel to the People of Israel, but as we see in the Biblical account, they would have to “take” it by force. When we first consider the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it seems like the Land would be presented to their descendants on a silver platter. The actual experience was different. Israel would need to struggle to receive their inheritance and, once they possessed it, they would have to continue to struggle to keep it.
As we consider the history of God, Israel and the Land, we conclude that God’s purpose for His people was and is for them to live as a model nation in His Land (Biblical God, Biblical Land, Biblical lifestyle). By doing so, they constitute a living testimony of the existence of God and become a source of revelation of His being to the nations of the world. As Israel has been faithful to God’s calling, God promises to make them a holy nation high above all other nations for praise, fame and honor (Deuteronomy 26:19). This is the most basic purpose of Israel.
What then is their inheritance? Israel is a “holy” nation, distinguished from all other nations. They have been given a unique, historical land in which to live with its own history extending back at least 4,000 years. That Land is the spiritual heart of all mankind. Indeed, I maintain that the Land of Israel is like Heaven’s front porch. Jacob, for instance, called the area in the central highlands of Israel, the “Gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Israel is the “cross-over” area between Heaven and Earth. The People of Israel have been called to be stewards of this gateway.
What was true in 1400 BC/BCE, when the People of Israel were entering the Land of Israel, is just as true in 2017. Back then, Joshua and the elders of Israel made a huge error when they made a treaty with the people of Gibeon. As a result, God judged Israel by leaving the people of Canaan in the land. They were “thorns in Israel’s side” throughout the Biblical era. Today the Canaanites are still in the land and challenge Israel at every step. The Israelis are divided. Some want to continue making compromises with the Palestinians. Others are Biblically oriented and want to “possess” the Land in a manner like the days of the first conquest. I believe that those who support a Biblical position are gaining strength and will ultimately prevail. I believe this is necessary for the Redemption to be completed. Whatever the case, Israelis struggle every day without ceasing to survive.
Local Churches Also Have an Inheritance
In the Biblical light of the struggle that Israel faces, what can we conclude concerning Christians? Is there a similar “promised land” for Christians? If so, what is it and how can we possess it? To get at this question, we must understand the most basic purpose of the Church. When I speak of “the Church” I am speaking of a local congregation of believers. I am not speaking of Christianity as a whole or a “universal Church.” (Actually, there is no Biblical justification for a global, non-national entity of Christianity.) The local church was always intended to be a special sub-group of Israel. The concept of a visible, non-national Church that rivals Israel as God’s people is unscriptural.
When individuals are gathered together into a local congregation, their most basic purpose is to manifest the body of Messiah Jesus. Jesus is the head of the body (Colossians 1:18). Jesus declared that when He gathered even as few as two or three individuals in one place, He would be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). Jesus and the assembly of believers become a living temple for God (Ephesians 2:19-22). The fact that this is a spiritual or mystical phenomenon does not make it any less real. Wherever this “local body of believers” is realized, the ministry of Jesus occurs: occurs just as it is recorded in the Gospels. Just as Israel’s most basic purpose is for the revelation and sanctification of “The Name”, the same should be accomplished for Jesus through the local church.
If this is the purpose of the local body of believers, then what is our inheritance? Our most basic inheritance is intimacy with God, both now and in the age to come. This inheritance is much like the inheritance of the Levites of ancient Israel. They did not receive an inheritance in the land; their inheritance was the Lord, i.e., their closeness to God (Deuteronomy 10:9). John, in the book of “The Revelation”, recorded a vision of the New Jerusalem coming down from the New Heaven and identified that city as the “wife” of the Lamb. There are many songs about walking about on the streets of gold in the city, but, in truth, we are the city. This is our inheritance.
Like Israel, Local Congregations Must Struggle to Inherit Their Inheritance
As with Israel, we must struggle to receive our inheritance. Jesus said concerning the Kingdom of God that “violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12b). This statement always seemed to me like a contradiction of the principles of the kingdom until I realized that my inheritance must be “received” in the same way that Israel’s inheritance must be received.
Now the real point to this article is that the vast majority of Christians simply aren’t interested in this struggle. Christianity provides them with as much of God that they want. They receive imputed sanctification by their participation in “church” now and have the promise of a blessed existence after death. Otherwise, they are enabled to go about life as they please.
On the other hand, real participation in a body of believers requires that individual believers lay down every aspect of life in his surrender to Jesus. To follow Jesus, one must take up one’s cross and follow Him. This means that a believer must, firstly, be filled with the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus and, secondly, obey Him in all aspects of life, including occupational ambitions, hobbies, where to live, how to make a living, what to do with any accumulated wealth and even relationship with family. The most important aspect of Jesus’ Lordship is determining what body of believers one is to function in. As with every question, this answer must be established in faith. These issues must be resolved as one becomes a real follower of Jesus in order to become a fruitful disciple.
Now, let us consider the struggle. The real earnest struggle is experienced in the body of believers. Satan will oppose every step. Jesus’ Lordship in the body is most readily approached in real, spiritual worship in the Holy Spirit. Real worship involves humility on the part of the believer, praise to the Lord and ultimately intimate interaction with God. Such worship is rare. Since Jesus is the King of Israel, the body must move to identify with the nation of Israel. Satan hates this and will violently oppose it. Finally, the body will need to determine by faith what their specific assignment is. Paul declared that the “righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Roman 1:17). Body worship in “spirit and in truth”, identity with Israel and a righteous faith assignment define the path for an effective body of believers. The struggle will be tough but the rewards are before us.