We have been considering the mysteries of Christ’s coming. In the last message we saw that that coming of Christ is a spiritual experience that every son of God is called to apprehend within. Contrary to the popular teaching of the “second coming”, the return of Christ is not as a man of flesh. Dear saint, do not suppose that He will come riding through the sky. The truth is, He has already come to dwell in His saints and He will continue to come in greater measure until the full stature of Christ is manifested in His sons (Rom. 8:19).
I am reminded of a popular preacher who once shared of his heavenly visitation. As he relayed his experience, he came to his encounter with the Lord Jesus and described Him saying: “Jesus is between five-eleven and six foot one…His hair was white…”. At the time I heard it, I was delighted. For then, I was a child, I understood as a child and I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things including all the false images of Jesus Christ that had occupied the walls of my mind.
During His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself through a physical body. Thus, He declared: “a body You have prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5). But we should carefully consider what the purpose of this body was? First, the body which Jesus inhabited was to manifest the Father in the physical world. This body enabled Him to express the invisible realities of the kingdom on the earth.
Secondly, the body which Jesus inhabited was to serve as a sacrifice offering to carry forth the redemptive plan of God. The writer of the Hebrews states: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). But having served its purpose, the mortal body of flesh which He inhabited is no more. For in no way did God intend this body to be idolized or worshiped, just as God never intended for Moses to worship the burning bush or for Israel to worship the cloud. It is a great tragedy to relate to Christ as an image of human flesh.
The reality is, Jesus Christ is no longer confined to an entity of a flesh body or to a physical location. He has ascended far above all the heavens (Eph. 4:10). Ascending “far above” speaks not of location but authority. Heaven has nothing that is physical or material attached to it, for it is not a geographic or astral location to which we can go. Heaven is the invisible, omnipresent realm where God is experienced in the spirit. And any image that men have of Jesus Christ in physical form in a physical heaven is but an imagination of the flesh.
Sadly, like most saints, I looked to such an image for most of my life. When I closed my eyes to pray or worship, I related to an image of a Jesus with human features in a heaven somewhere. That part of man that is earthly and carnal is so fixated on visible shapes and forms that it limits God to an entity and location. How often have we heard ministers say that God is invisible, Jesus is physically seated at the right hand of God in heaven and that the Holy Spirit is on earth? This is a great distortion of the deity. These are false idol-images and concepts of God that have to be cast off. Whenever you look to the physical there will be division and fragmentation. This is the spirit of idolatry; it rejects union and oneness. Consider the words of Jesus: “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Joh. 14:20).
I am reminded of a trip I once took to Istanbul where I visited two major religious sites: Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. As the guide walked us through the Muslim and Christian sites located side by side, he mentioned with a sense of pride that the Blue Mosque, unlike the Christian place of worship (Hagia Sophia), had no images. Images were forbidden in Islam. But I couldn’t help but wonder what gave those Christian clerics license to cover their walls and ceiling with images.
Going back in history, Israel had a fixation with images and forms. Thus, God often spoke to them through intangible things like the cloud and fire knowing they would form images of the things He would use to reveal Himself. Thus, God instructed Moses: “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female” (Deu. 4:15-16).
To those who would not heed this counsel, it would prove to be a test as 2000 years ago, God manifested Himself in a human flesh with form. And religion took this body and made out of it an image in the likeness of God. However, unlike adulterous Israel, the contemporary church has erected an image that remains engraved in the mind – an image of a physical Jesus in heaven. But to whom will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? (Isa. 40:18)
Idolatry is often associated with making an actual object and bowing to it. Israel, time and again struggled with such idols. For them, it was carved images. Of course, no one would expect the saints to bow to physical idols. However, is there a difference between a physical image and a mental one? Jesus said: “whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The outward act of adultery is no different than the act committed in the heart. The same is true of any image or copy we have of the Lord that we worship or pray to. It is spiritual fornication.
Did God not say: “Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is IN HEAVEN above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4)? Man driven by his flesh nature has always had a tendency to designate a form to spiritual realities. But physical eyes cannot see, human ears cannot hear, nor can the natural mind comprehend the deep and unsearchable things of God. The earthly ministry of Jesus is testament to this. Many saw Him with physical eyes but only a few believed. We can only grasp the things of God as He reveals it to us through His Spirit. Thus, He calls us to turn inward to the Spirit of Truth who teaches, comparing SPIRITUAL THINGS with SPIRITUAL (1 Cor. 2:10). Indeed the words that He speaks are spirit and life and the flesh profits nothing.
Of course, God has intended that spiritual realities in the heavenly be exemplified and pre-figured by the physical creation in the natural world. Paul affirms: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). Various symbols and figures have also been used to communicate certain truths about the Lord. For instance, the lamb is a symbol used to represent the Lord’s humility and gentleness. Yet He is also the lion of the tribe of Judah signifying His might and strength. He is also represented as the vine, the sun, lightning, shepherd, cornerstone, day star, fire, foundation, head of the body, husband, living bread, living stone, physician, rock, scepter, seed, door and so on.
But bear in mind that all these are but representations or shadows that point to spiritual realities about our Lord. They serve as a reflection or a portrait. But they are not God nor are they the projection of His life and essence. Consider a photo of a person. We often look at pictures and refer to it as the person. But in actuality the picture is not the person. It is only an image; a depiction of the person’s certain physical appearance captured at a particular period in time. It is in fact not real, for one cannot commune with the person through their photo. Thus, the picture itself is a dead artifact. It is a false image because it does not embody the animated life of the person. This is why God forbade images. All are but shadows that cannot impart the life found in the Spirit.
Notice that physical representations are helpful to a point. When Paul wrote of the invisible attributes of God being visible in the natural, he was speaking to ungodly and unrighteous men who could not comprehend spiritual things. However, God desires His mature sons to move on from the shadows to the substance of the Spirit. For it is there that we lay hold of His divine life. He calls us to turn from the visible to the invisible, from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from the temporal to the eternal, from the lower life to the higher life.
Beloved, let it be forever settled in your hearts that there is no true reality in any of the things that are seen by your external eyes. Our true reality is none another than the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, He is the reality of everything, for “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Joh. 1:3). For a long time, we have been deceived into believing that the physical form is the reality. Beloved, even our body is not the reality of what we are, for we were created as spirit in the image of God. So why do you wait for a physical Jesus? Look no longer at the things which are seen, for the physical is a lower realm. But rather look to the reality of His appearing in the inward man of your spirit, for He is there in all His glory.