THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST

by D. M. Panton



Chapter Thirteen

THE FIRST RESURRECTION

Once again the Scriptures - which summon the believer to the Crown, as insistently as the unbeliever to the Cross - present this dual truth with crystal clearness. Paul opens one little masterpiece of revelation (Phil. 3:4-15) with a supreme hopelessness. What is it? The one man who came nearest to reaching God through his own goodness proved to be the chief of sinners. Ponder Paul’s incomparable assets: no soul, before or since, ever held up to the face of God a hand filled with such exquisite pearls. Circumcised - stamped as God’s from infancy; of the stock of Israel - with a blood-right to salvation; of the tribe of Benjamin - a tribe which never broke away; a Hebrew of Hebrews - a full- blooded Jew to the furthest generation back; a Pharisee - intensely orthodox; persecuting the church - on fire for God’s Law; in the Law blameless - obedient in jot and tittle. No man ever came so near to winning life through what he was and what he did. "If any other man" - of any age, or race, or clime - "thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more": Paul towers over all legalists forever. But a sudden and awful discovery blasted his prospects. "I was alive [in my own eyes] apart from law once: but when the commandment ["thou shalt not lust"] came [home to my conscience], sin revived [sprang again into life], and I died [saw myself a dead man]; and the commandment, which was [in God’s design] unto life, this I found to be [in fact] unto death" (Rom. 7:9,10). "If any man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more": but what had his inward vision revealed ? - a corpse before God. With Paul’s failure, the whole world lapses into hopeless despair.

There next appears a supreme righteousness. Whose? Not Paul’s; for he had discovered, with Isaiah, that "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). He now discovers that what he could not do, Christ did; that what he could not be, Christ was; and that Christ had done it, and been it, in order to take his place (2 Cor. 5:21). He instantly drops his own righteousness, and seizes Christ’s: he exchanges his own pearls for one priceless, flawless gem. "I do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own,...but that [righteousness] which is through faith in Christ." Paul never afterwards doubts his salvation (Rom. 8:38): for Christ has kept the Law, not with head, hands, and feet only, but with heart also (Ps. 40.8): and this righteousness is now Paul’s (Rom. 5:19). The supreme hopelessness is replaced by a supreme salvation.

There yet remains a supreme uncertainty. Here are startling words. "Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: ... but I press on." Not apprehended what? "If by any means I may attain unto the [select] resurrection from [among] the dead." "It is most evident that Paul had some special resurrection in view, even the first: and to share in that he was straining every nerve" (J. MacNeil). Press on to what? "Towards the goal unto the prize of the high calling." "If " - conditional; "by any means " - hazardous...may attain unto" - hypothetical - " the out-resurrection " - selective - " that which is from among the dead " - exclusive; it would be difficult to cram a text with more uncertainty than Paul does here. In the words of Bishop Ellicott: - " As the context suggests, the first resurrection ; any reference here to a merely ethical resurrection is wholly out of the question." That Paul is speaking of bodily resurrection is clear from the closing verse of this very chapter...we wait for a Saviour who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory." Every passage that refers to resurrection FROM the dead (Mark 9:10, Luke 20:35, Rom. 1:4, Rev. 20:4) refers to physical resurrection. "Of his resurrection at the end of the world, when all without exception will surely be raised, he could have no possible doubt. What sense then can this passage have, if it represents him as labouring and suffering merely in order to attain to a resurrection, and as holding this up to view as unattainable unless he should arrive at a high degree of Christian perfection? On the other hand, let us suppose a first resurrection to be appointed as a special reward of high attainments in Christian virtue[23], and all seems to be plain and easy.

Of a resurrection in a figurative sense, i.e. of regeneration, Paul cannot be speaking; for he had already attained to that on the plain of Damascus" (Moses Stuart). Salvation can never be insecure: the Prize can never be assumed until it is won. Why?

  1. Because it is a prize. If the prize be given on faith without works, it is no more a prize. “Know ye not that they which run in a race all run, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run, that ye may attain" (1 Cor. 9:24).
  2. No splendor of past service can guarantee immunity from backsliding. None so renounced, so suffered, so served as Paul: yet he assumes no prize.
  3. False doctrines which rob God of His glory will rob us of ours: therefore "let no man rob you of your prize" (Col. 2:18).
  4. Fleshly sins also disqualify. Therefore "I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected [for the crown]" (1 Cor. 9:24-27). The insecurity of the chief of apostles binds insecurity of reward forever on the Church of God. "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend"[24] : that is, the apprehension is indissoluble linked with the perfection.

All therefore culminates in a supreme effort. "This one thing I do." Is this for Paul only? "Let US therefore" - for he is our inspired example - "as many as be perfect, be thus minded." "SEEK ye FIRST the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33) is our Lord’s word to disciples already in the kingdom in mystery. How?

  1. "Forgetting the things which are behind." The immeasurable value of the prize may be computed by the immense sacrifices necessary to obtain it. "The Kingdom of Heaven has no entrance fee, but its subscription is - all that a man hath." Its cost is a crucified world. "Blessed is the man to whom the world, with all her rags of honour, is crucified, and who holds her to be worth no more than a thief on the gallows." Nothing makes the other world more real, or more blessed, than the renunciation of this.
  2. "Stretching forward to the things that are before." It is a racer, as Professor Eadie says, in his agony of struggle and hope: every muscle is strained, every vein starting; the chest heaves, and the big drops gather on the brow; the body is bent forward, as if the racer all but touched the goal. "Let us therefore labor to enter into that Rest, that none [no disciple] fall after the same example of disobedience" (Heb. 4:11).
  3. "This one thing I do." All his missionary ardor, all his thirst for souls, all his toil for the churches, are bent before this overmastering passion of his soul; because the running-tracks for the prize God has laid through these channels of holy service; and today’s toil is the measure of tomorrow’s glory. "The First Resurrection is a reward for obedience rendered after the acceptance of salvation, and Paul knew not the standard which God had fixed in His own purpose" (G. H. Pember). "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and MEN OF VIOLENCE take it by force" (Matt. 11:12).
  4. It is a calling "upward," therefore it is God who is calling. "Walk worthily of God, who is calling you into His own kingdom and glory" (1Thess. 2:12)[25]. God is calling us from all earthly glories up to the Throne: "that ye may be COUNTED WORTHY of the Kingdom of God, for which also ye suffer" (2 Thess. 1:5). The Cross is ours forever: when we have been approved, we receive the Crown (Jas. 1:12). We honor God in proportion as we covet His immeasurable rewards. The apostle not only renounces, he forgets; he not only advances, he presses; he not only gazes, he stretches; he not only does it, but he does it only. "LET US, THEREFORE, AS MANY AS BE PERFECT, BE THUS MINDED." "Oh, that the thought, the hope of millennial blessedness may animate me to perfect holiness in the fear of God, that I may be accounted worthy to escape the terrible judgments which will make way for that happy state of things, and that I may have part in the first resurrection! " (Fletcher of Madeley). For "blessed AND HOLY is he that hath part in the first resurrection: THEY LIVED, AND REIGNED WITH CHRIST A THOUSAND YEARS" (Rev. 20:4,6)[26].




Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ


[23] On the First Resurrection Dean Alford says: - “Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole church for 300 years, understood the ‘first resurrection’ in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity complacently casting aside the most cogent instance which primitive antiquity presents.” From such cases as Lazarus, who died again, it is certain the act of resurrection is distinct from its state: so our Lord identifies the First Resurrection with the Age to Come, - “they that are accounted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from among the dead” (Luke 20:35). The act of resurrection to appear before the Bema is thus distinct from participation in the First Resurrection or the Millennial Age. It was for a share in a resurrection not temporary – a state, not an act – that ancient martyrs refused life. “Women received their dead by a resurrection” – a temporary resurrection: “and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might receive a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35, Matt. 10:39). It is not that Paul assumes his own death, for it was not until his final hours that God revealed to him his martyrdom (2 Tim. 4:6); but it is his aspiration, whether living or dead, to attain to the state of the risen in that Kingdom which can only be entered by incorruption (1 Cor. 15:50). So baptism, commanded for the Kingdom (John 3:5), pictures the seed-bed out of which Christ’s fellow-plants will spring (Rom. 6:5) in His resurrection, the First: none unbaptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1) ever entered Canaan, though most so baptized failed after baptism. Tertullian (as Dr. Seiss reminds us, The Last Times, p. 242) testifies that in his day, the era immediately following on the Apostles, it was the custom for Christians to pray that they might have part in the First Resurrection.

[24] Unfaltering obedience, however, and a close walk with God, can produce “assurance of hope,” even as Paul in his last hours knew by revelation that he had won the Prize (2 Tim. 4:8). “Having therefore boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near in full assurance of FAITH” (Heb. 10:19). Our eternal life, based on the covering blood of the Atonement, is as sure as God. But a vast vista opens up beyond. “Show the same diligence unto the full assurance of HOPE even to the end: that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:11). I am not to hope that I am saved, but to believe it: on the contrary, I am not to believe that I have won the prize, but to hope that I shall win it. For only “the end” can reveal how I have run. But the more battles won, and the more mileage covered, the more we can mature to the full assurance of hope. “WE ARE WELL ABLE TO OVERCOME” (Num. 13:30).

[25] Paul’s distinction between the Will and the Codicil corroborates his contrast between the Gift and the Prize. “Heirs of God indeed” (μέν) – no condition, save regeneration: “but (δέ) joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer” – “in case we suffer as He did” (Olshausen); “provided that” we suffer (Alford) – “with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). (Si autem filii, et heredes: heredes quidem Dei, coherdes autem Christi: si tamen compatimur, ut et conglorificemur: Vulgate). Both heirships involve eternal life: but the Codicil, which bequeaths joint-heirship with Messiah in His Millennial Reign, and bequeaths it on the same condition on which our Lord receives it (Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:9; Isa. 53:12), antedates the Will by a thousand years: it is “the reward of the inheritance” (Col. 3:24), a legacy which entitles to an “abundant entrance” into the Eternal Kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11). Both heirships are in the Will; both heirships are offered to all; both Will and Codicil depend for their validity on the death of the Testator; but without the fulfillment of its condition the Codicil is inoperative. “The suffering with Him must imply a pain due to our union” (Moule): “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12); the Will is the unconditional bequest of free grace, the Codicil is a glory conditioned on identity of experience with Christ.

[26] See also the thirteeneth Present Day Paper, The First Resurrection (2d., Thynne).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)