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Among The Celestials

THE Word of God opens with a significant division of the universe into two distinct spheres--the heavens and the earth. Apart from a special purpose in this distinction and a desire to emphasize the celestial sphere, the natural introduction would have embraced all in one term and we would have read of the creation of the universe as a whole. As the account of creation proceeds, we soon see that it is practically confined to the earth. The sun, moon and stars are mentioned, but only as they are related to the main theme of the passage.

Throughout subsequent revelation, apart from occasional glimpses, such as the celestial session at the commencement of the book of Job, the Scriptures to the Circumcision are concerned with the earth. Only as celestial beings visit, or Satan and his hosts invade, the lower sphere, are we apprized of their existence. Prophets and apostles are all concerned with the restoration of the earth and anticipate a place in the millennial kingdom and the new creation. None of them hint at a celestial destiny; they know nothing of "going to heaven." David did not and will not ascend above, but will have his allotment in the land (Acts 2:24).

The blessings promised to the earth are, to a large degree, physical and soulish. The climate will be made comfortable and salubrious, the soil will be fertile, so that the vine, the fig, and the olive will flourish and food will be plentiful. Disease will be banished and death almost unknown. The land will be allotted to the saints of the Circumcision and Israel will rule the nations for God and bring them to God. They will be a kingdom of priests. No blessing will come to the nations direct. All will flow through redeemed Israel.

Inasmuch as the rendering "among the celestials" is different from that usually given, it behooves us to examine the evidence on which it is based. The Authorized Version has "heavenly" places, which Newberry changes to "heavenlies" in the margin. There is nothing to indicate that places are intended. The gender is usually given as neuter, but both the article and the adjective have this form in the masculine as well. It may refer to celestial people as readily as to celestial places, so far as the grammar of the Greek is concerned.

In Greek a single connective, en, does duty for in and among. As a rule it should be rendered in with the singular and among with the plural. The Authorized Version recognizes this by rendering it among quite frequently in such phrases "among the people" (Matt.4:23, etc.), and "among the soldiers" (Acts 12: 18), for the essential meaning of in and among is the same. The difference is entirely a matter of usage.

I suppose that all translators are agreed that ouranios, the adjective of ouranos, heaven, is correctly rendered heavenly. Four times it is applied to God as the heavenly Father (Matt.6:14,26,32; 15:13), once to the heavenly host at the birth of our Lord (Luke 2:15), and once to Peter's housetop vision (Acts 26:19). This evidence is sufficient to prove that "heavenly" or even "heavenly places" is inadequate in our text, for there the word has the prefix ep- (ON-) before it. What can be meant by the ON-heavenlies?

In three contexts ON-heavenly is set in contrast to ON- earthly (John 3:12; 1 Cor.15:40; Phil.2:10). It is evident that, in every case, that which is ON-earthly is actually on the earth, so that the prefix may be taken literally, and means terrestrial, as it is rendered in the fifteenth of first Corinthians. So, likewise, ON-heavenly may be taken quite literally, as that which is on the heavenly bodies. There is no English word with this precise thought, so the best we can do is to use celestial in this sense. In the singular it is little more than an alternative for heavenly, but in its plural form it comes very close to the meaning and usage of the Greek.

Our blessings, then, are indeed in heavenly places, but far more than that, they are among celestial beings, that is, those who are on the heavenly bodies as we are on the earth. This is most suggestive, for the highest blessing does not consist in being in a place, however glorious it may be, but rather in a position of beneficence toward others. Our blessings among the celestials will correspond with the exalted opening strain of this epistle. We will be blessed because we will bless. We do not look for languorous luxury or magnificent "mansions," but to be the means of making others happy.

If, then, our blessings do not consist in a selfish enjoyment of our riches in Christ, but in dispensing our wealth to others among the celestials, we are confronted with a consideration of the problem which science seeks in vain to solve, that is, the habitability of the planets of the solar system, or, indeed, of any of the stellar systems which are scattered over the heavens. Science is limited to the sphere of human sensation. It seeks physical evidence of the existence of beings in the heavens. It cannot, and perhaps never will be able to prove, even with the aid of the most successful means of magnifying man's natural powers, that there is any form of life existing in the vast reaches of cosmic space.

Reverent students of the Scriptures are quick to question the teachings of science, especially when its tenets seem to conflict with the Bible. So many of the theories of science, such as evolution, chaos, the geological ages, uniformitarianism, which rejects the great cataclysmic crises of the disruption and the deluge, which have disturbed the earth's crust, clash with God's word, that it should lead us to be careful in accepting anything not in close accord with what is written in the Scriptures of truth.

But not all science is theory. Not all is false. Not all is contrary to God's revelation. The practical benefits derived from it during the past century give evidence that man is actually becoming acquainted with the physical universe. Indeed, more progress has been made in the realm of nature than in the investigation of Scripture. Let us not reject anything simply because it is called science. Above all, let us make sure what the Scriptures actually teach before proclaiming their conflict with the knowledge of nature.

Many different cosmological theories have been presented to me for confirmation from the Scriptures, and I have examined the evidence presented with much care. Perhaps I shall make it the subject of a separate treatise when my investigations in Hebrew are complete. Meanwhile, I can only state my present conviction that God is "Hanging the earth on nothingness" (Job 26:7). This is the only explanation which needs no further elucidation. It is more scientific than anything science has to offer. It corresponds with every test which our senses can apply. It is the only cosmology which seems to harmonize with the celestial destiny set before us. Heaven is not a small enclosure, shut off from all else. It includes the whole universe, apart from the earth.

Due to their great distance from the earth not much is surely known of conditions on the planets. Even the moon, which is comparatively near, presents problems no savant has yet solved. It seems devoid of any atmosphere, and presents the appearance of a barren, sterile waste, which could not support life such as we are acquainted with. Even a small telescope will enable a searcher to study the surface of the moon, its phases, its eclipses, and determine for himself the form of the nearer planets, especially Venus and Saturn. It is a great satisfaction to see these things with our own eyes, for we know Him Who made them, and do not wish to take the word of His enemies concerning His works.

Mars, the most approachable of the planet, has long been the center of controversy on this point. Being almost devoid of obscuring clouds, its surface has been closely watched for evidence of life and change. It seems to have certain markings or "canals" which have been eagerly seized as evidence of artificial labor. Seasonal variations on its surface have been observed. Altogether, it presents the nearest approach to terrestrial conditions of any of the celestial spheres, so far as we are aware.

Venus, if it were not constantly covered with clouds, might present conditions more favorable than Mars, but no one has ever observed its surface. Besides, it seems to rotate on its axis in precisely the same period as it takes to revolve about the sun, so that one side is continuous day and the other unending night. This probably gives rise to an extremely hot, moist climate on one half, and a cold, cloudy, dismal dungeon on the other, fit to be the prison house of sinning messengers. Not only is the sunlight never known, but even the light of the stars is excluded from the stygian darkness. Venus is not a fit abode for mankind, we may be sure.

Saturn, with his encircling rings, and giant Jupiter's mighty mass would exert so ponderous a pull on men such as we are that we could hardly lift our feet from the ground if there is such a solid surface on these planets. Though much further than we are from the sun, it is possible that they themselves are radiant to some degree, and thus supplement the warmth received from their far-off luminary. But, even so, there is little reason to believe that we could exist on either of these, the greatest of the planets.

Of the other major planets, Mercury is supposed to be too hot, it is so close to the sun, and Uranus and Neptune too cold, they are so far away.

Thus the scientist reasons. But how illogical is his method! If it be a question of human beings, with their present limitations, they cannot even live on all parts of the earth itself. A few intrepid spirits may ascend Mount Everest but they will not make their home there. Some may dive a few fathoms below the surface of the sea, but humankind cannot exist where there is no atmosphere. Humanity is a prisoner on the surface of the earth. A few miles up, or a few feet down are bars which he cannot break. Excessive heat or cold, lack of air, water or food restrict him to the favored spots of his own habitation.

It is not in the least likely that mankind, as at present constituted, could live anywhere else in the universe. But God is not limited in His creation to the making of men. Even on earth we have a vast variety of forms of animal life very different from man, though they also are flesh. Birds can fly in the air and fishes can live in the depths of the sea. Why cannot God create for each sphere a creature suited to its environment? We have His definite statement that there are bodies celestial as well as terrestrial, and that these are different (1 Cor.15:40,41).

Judging from the few celestial beings who have come to visit us, the difference between a celestial and a terrestrial body consists largely in the lack of the very limitations which confine us to the earth. How can a messenger or angel, such as Gabriel, fly across the void of interstellar space without being able to overcome the force of gravitation? The larger planets or still larger stars could easily be peopled by creatures not in the least hampered by weight which would glue us to their surface.

The same is true of temperature. Few human beings could long endure exposure to the chill of an Arctic or Antarctic winter. But we are told that there is nothing else so severe as the cold of interstellar space. How could these celestial visitors withstand this, to us, unendurable frigidity? They have celestial bodies, which are like the stars, to which they are often compared. They are independent reservoirs of light and heat and power. We are absolutely dependent on the sun for life and all its factors. They are diminutive suns themselves, and do not need its ministrations.

Again, how could a human being survive the absence of all those elements which sustain his bodily frame, such as air, water and food? At present we could not. But it is not at all impossible that celestial bodies could dispense with the essentials. They are only a form of that power or energy which comes to us from the sun. So the ultimate source of physical life and activity is not the earth, but the sun, whose rays pervade the whole solar system. Even if a celestial body is dependent on the sun as ours is, it is not difficult to imagine that power could be absorbed directly, instead of through the ingestion of physical substance as at present.

Among the interesting physical experiments of our lamented brother, V. Gelesnoff, was one by means of which he managed to extract electrical energy directly from sunlight. It was, in effect, an electric battery, consisting of certain chemicals, which could be charged by merely exposing it to sunshine. Though it was never developed for practical use, it illustrates the point before us. There exist, in all parts of the solar system, and probably in all the universe, sufficient stores of power for the use of any body equipped to utilize it.

But it is by no means proven that the power of celestial bodies is dependent on the sun or stars. Within the last few years science has discovered an unbelievable amount of energy stored up in the most elementary form of matter, which has been called the "electron." Our present sources of power are physical and chemical. This seems to be electrical. If this energy could be made available it would supply all the power needed to transform us all into celestial beings capable of overcoming all the forces of gravitation and able to endure any extreme of temperature and sustain life without the air or the products of the soil. The power is already provided. All that is needed is a body so changed that it can utilize it.

The greatest and grandest exhibition of the powers of a celestial body is seen in the ascension of Christ. More than that, it shows how a human body, once weary with a few hours' walk (John 4:6), once hungry for a few figs (Matt.21:18), once too weak to carry the cross to Golgotha (Luke 23:26), can be gloriously changed as to rise without effort from the earth to vanish in the sky, and, to all appearances, leave behind it every opportunity of nourishment or repose. Cannot such a body be at home in any part of God's universe?

We may conclude then, that both nature and revelation demand the presence of celestial creatures and that these are to be found on the heavenly bodies which gleam above us in the vault of heaven. Furthermore, though now we are tied to earth, weak, inglorious vassals of the ground, wearing the image of the soilish, we shall wear the image of the celestial, and, with bodies changed, we shall rise to meet our Lord in the air, and henceforth be released from the thralldom of earth to wend our way at will among the starry hosts.

Once we realize that the universe is not a barren waste, created only to afford material for human speculation, but was formed to be inhabited by creatures made by God for His own glory, there is much we would like to know about them. Are there many or few? What are they like? Why are we not given a complete account of them in the Scriptures? These and many other questions press for answers.

It is evident that very little, indeed, is said concerning the celestials in the Scriptures. There are several good reasons which suggest themselves. First, there is our innate inability to understand what is not human. The language of mankind is not a fit vehicle for celestial things. Our Lord gave voice to this in His interview with Nicodemus. "If I tell you of the terrestrial and you are not believing, how shall you be believing if I should be telling you of the celestial?" This is often exemplified by those who seek to define the earth's relation to the heavens by earth-born phraseology. They do not realize its inadequacy.

It is not God's plan at present that we should know much of the affairs of the celestials, but rather that they should learn the lessons of His dealings with us. The earth is the stage on which the tragedy of the eons is enacted. No other place can claim a Golgotha. No other sphere has sunk so low in sin or has received such rich grants of grace. The apostle claims that he is a gazing stock, not only to men, but to messengers (1 Cor.4:9). Peter tells us that they are yearning to peer into the salvation of the Circumcision. Paul makes it evident that the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials are even now aware of the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:10).

The fact that most of the celestial beings who have visited the earth are called messengers has led to the idea that all of the celestial host are "angels." They are only the couriers between the earth and the heavens. Those who were gazing at Paul certainly brought him no message, so we may rest assured that their message was about Paul, and was delivered to those who sent them. It seems as though the heavenly hosts took a livelier interest in Paul and his experiences than did his fellow men on earth.

The significance of human events is better known in the heavens than on the earth. Until the heavenly host apprized the shepherds, men paid no heed to the birth of the Saviour. Such prophecies as are found in Daniel were mostly communicated through the medium of messengers. The "messenger of Jehovah" was the regular channel through which He sent word to His people.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we may learn quite a little concerning messengers or "angels," and their superhuman powers. Often they appear in the form of men and do nothing out of the ordinary. At other times they are invisible, or manifest themselves in miraculous ways. A quaint and curious example comes before us at the time of Israel's wilderness journey. Balaam is confronted by the messenger of Jehovah in invisible form, but so real and substantial was his sword and the arm that wielded it, that he assured Balaam if his ass had not interfered, he would have slain him (Numbers 22).

Matter is not necessarily visible to human eyes. Many hard substances not only transmit light, but are so nearly invisible to creatures such as we are that they deceive us. Many a bird has lost its life by flying full force against a pane of glass. Even living creatures, as some jellyfish, are practically invisible, especially in water. Celestial messengers are normally invisible to human eyes. Elisha was guarded by an invisible army which appeared as fire to the opened eyes of his servant. But transparent substances have not the power of becoming opaque at will. Another illustration will show this.

We may not be able to explain this invisibility, but even our present restricted knowledge of nature supplies evidence as to its possibility and may even give a clue as to the manner in which it may be accomplished. We may learn a lesson from the propeller of an aeroplane. When at rest or turning slowly it is easily seen, but as it flies faster and faster the eye refuses to follow. When in flight the propellers can seldom be discerned; they move too swiftly for human sight. The same is true of the spokes of a fast moving automobile. Even photographs sometimes show a racing car running with spokeless rims. The same effect is produced by excessively rapid vibration.

It takes power, speed, to elude the human eye. This is probably the secret of angelic invisibility. They can apply the power they possess to their bodily frames in such a way as to become unseen at will. Our Lord's resurrection body possessed this power. To become seen He did not need to "materialize," as some have suggested, for He had the same body which had suffered death. He did not vanish by going away or dematerializing, but by simply becoming unapparent to them (Luke 24:31). He was there, but invisible to the human eye.

The messenger of Jehovah did another wonderful thing when he came to Manoah and his wife (Judges 13:19,20). He ascended in the flame of the alter, thus demonstrating his defiance of the force of gravitation and his ability to bear with extremes of temperature which would end the life of one such as we are now. The same is evident in the army that hovered about Elisha, for their chariots were of fire.

To be told that our blessings are among the celestials without any previous preparation would invite incredulity and skepticism, as the idea of the resurrection did in Corinth (1 Cor.15:35). In answering the question, "With what body are they coming?" the apostle prepares us for the heavenly destiny now revealed. He does not content himself with making the resurrection body incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual, but insists on a still greater change than these words suggest. It will no longer be soilish, but celestial. It is no longer to be a terrestrial body. We are to wear the image of the celestial (1 Cor.15:39-52). This much he made known to the Corinthians long before the secret of Ephesians was revealed.

Even earlier in his ministry he wrote to the Thessalonians in a similar strain. The Lord's descent from heaven for us will not bring Him down to earth. That will occur later when He comes to the Circumcision. He will call us up to meet Him in the air (1 Thess.4:16-18). And, henceforth we are to be with Him thus. Such an ascent demands a body with powers far superior to that which we now have. It practically involves the possession of a celestial frame such as the Circumcision will never enjoy.

With these two premises--that we shall receive a celestial body in the resurrection, and shall rise to meet the Lord and always be with Him--we might easily reason out the celestial destiny which accords with the revelation of the mystery. Of what use would celestial bodies be on the earth? And surely the Lord Himself, since He does not even come down to earth to receive us, is not coming to set us back on the earth after a brief sojourn in the air, for the earth is about to be the scene of awful judgments from which His presence rescues us.

Since we have such a destiny it is natural that we should wish to learn as much as possible of the celestial beings and even gain all the information we can concerning the heavenly bodies. For this we are largely dependent on the telescope. For the former we have recourse to a microscopic examination of the Scriptures.

As we are to rule in the celestial realms, they are introduced to us in terms which describe various forms of government. There are sovereignties, authorities, powers, and dominions (Eph.1:21). In this regard the celestial realms are like the earth. The same terms can be applied to both. Government so highly specialized as these words indicate, assures us of the presence of rational, intelligent, yet insubordinate creatures, with a capacity for the enjoyment of God, but evidently not sufficiently acquainted with Him to be left without creature restraint.

Like those of earth, the celestial rule and influence is apportioned to various grades. The highest are called sovereignties. These are first rate powers or empires. The term "principality," if taken in its literal sense of principal, would be a good English equivalent, but it is now used of small or subordinate princedoms. Thus, Wales is a principality, but great Britain is a sovereign power. The sovereignty is the highest form of celestial government.

The celestial domains, like those of earth, are divided into lesser jurisdictions. The authorities at the head of these dependencies possess delegated power similar to the governor of a British province. Pilate is an apt, example of such power exercised in behalf of Caesar.

The companion terms, power and dominion, seem to be close synonyms of the first pair, sovereignty and authority. Power, or ability to enforce its will, is characteristic of sovereign states, so that they are frequently called "powers." The word for dominion is similarly related to authority. It comes from a root meaning SANCTION. So that an authority is such, not because of its power, but because it has the sanction of its superior sovereignty.

These celestial beings must never be confused with the messengers or "angels." It is certainly a crude conception of heaven which peoples it with nothing but messengers. Earthly courts have their couriers, to keep them in contact with distant realms. But no one ever imagines that whole kingdoms are composed of couriers because one has come on a visit. The fact that a celestial visits the earth in itself constitutes him an "angel." No other would be sent.

No one would presume to tell us the number of the stars. Only a very few, comparatively, are visible to the unaided eye. Even the observer at the most powerful telescope sees only a small fraction of those known to exist. The photographic lens reveals millions invisible to human gaze. But it is most wholesome to know that their number is so vast, for the great God Who made them all is greatly magnified by His handiwork.

Neither can anyone presume to take a census of the starry realm. But enough is told us to show that their number is beyond all human computation. We are given a hint as to the number of messengers. In the Revelation (5:10) we are told that ten thousands of ten thousands and thousands of thousands surround the throne. There are evidently more than a hundred million of them, as many, perhaps, as the whole population of the United States. Each one could readily represent the same number of celestials, so that there may easily be billions on billions in the celestial spheres. Let it suffice us to know that we are not to be the channel of blessing to a few angels, but to numbers of celestials so vast that, even if we knew the figures, they would be beyond our mental comprehension.

Let us revel in our privileges and prospect. The heavens are higher than the earth and we are highest in the heavens. The lowest in this celestial exaltation would not exchange with John should he be granted the seat at the right hand of Christ in the kingdom. Messengers, whose majesty and might would make us quail and quake at present, will be beneath our sway in the celestial realms. The highest dignitaries in the universe will gladly bow before the members of Christ's body, which will have the place supreme, not only in rule, but in the dispensation of God's favor and in the reconciliation of the celestial hosts to Him. We who were last have become first. Such is the potency of grace!

by A.E. Knoch




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