“It is Finished” at the Cross
On the cross at Calvary, Christ said,
. . . “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30b)
The obvious question is: “What is finished?”
To a great many throughout Christendom the answer is that Jesus was referring to the suffering and sacrifice of His physical life prior to and upon the cross, which He endured for all mankind. Indeed, He did experience great physical suffering prior to and upon the cross for and by others, but that was not what He referenced when He declared “It is finished.”
If Christ was only speaking of the physical aspect of His dilemma, He would then be no different than multitudes throughout history that have suffered and died at the hands of others, for others. Indeed, it could be argued that down through the corridors of time many have experienced more pain, torture, and cruelty in their path to an involuntary death.
So the physical aspect surrounding Christ’s crucifixion, although significant, was not the critical feature of it; and, was definitely not that which was declared “finished” by Him near its end. In fact, that part of it (i.e., that which was connected to temporal/physical life) came to an end subsequent to His remarks.
This being the case, it is sad that many — in fact the majority — within Christendom, when speaking of the crucifixion, are only aware of the physical aspect of it. Sadly, they believe Christ’s physical suffering surrounding the cross is what the crucifixion is all about; that His physical suffering was in fact the purpose for Christ’s coming in human form to earth. When they say it is Christ who died for man in order to procure salvation for all, they most always refer to His physical death. Yet, they are so completely wrong!
It is clear that Christ did in fact die for mankind:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10)
It is true that there are many passages of Scripture referencing the “blood of Christ” as that which has provided man the avenue back to God, e.g., Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:14, 20; Hebrews 9:12-14; 10:19; 1 Peter 1:2, 18, 19; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5, etc.), but what the student of the Word needs to understand is that such expressions are God’s way of referring to death — the passage of life.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:22)
To focus on Christ’s physical death is to miss the purpose of His coming in the form of human flesh entirely. His physical death, as was the case with the various substitutionary animal deaths in the Old Testament, foreshadowed (type to antitype) a more substantial truth, which was the purpose for His coming.
The Purpose of Christ’s Coming
Jesus Christ came in the flesh because of the condition of man. To be exact, He came to make certain that anyone “by choice” could be able to escape this “condition.”
The question then is: “What was and continues today, the condition of man?”
In the “beginning” God created man to have dominion over (rule) the earth.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
God created man (Adam) in a specific fashion, with a spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23), after the triune image of Himself. Upon his creation, Adam was given a specific mission, to have dominion over (rule) the earth and its creatures.
Regarding this mission, God took a rib from Adam and made a “helper comparable to him,” whom he called “woman” and later named “Eve.” She was taken out of man, and speaking of her he declared she was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” So that when she was presented to man, he was then complete (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-24; 3:20).
Both man and woman were to rule together, forming an unchangeable principle established by God. Man could not rule alone; rather, he could only rule as a complete being. This principle of union and rulership was a type that would later be born out in the antitype of Christ and His bride (a discussion for a later time).
But circumstances, initiated by Satan, led Eve and Adam down the path of sin, which then placed man — this complete being — into a “fallen state,” one in which he was spiritually separated from his Creator.
(Scripture declares that the “wages of sin is death,” a state of being indicating “separation from life.” When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, he surely died, but his death (separation) was not physical; it was spiritual—he was separated from God, a condition that has been passed on to his ancestry throughout all of history [Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12, 17, 21; James 1:15].)
Because of this the Creator then took measures to keep man from eating the “tree of life,” which would have placed man in a perpetual fallen state of sin, spiritually separated from God.
(A discussion of the “tree of life” and its purpose as pertains to man will be presented at the end of this document.)
Man’s condition at this time, which continued down through history, passed on through the blood of every progenitor, was one in which he was “dead in trespasses and sins,” destined to be eternally separated from God (Romans 5:12, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13).
In his fallen state, man was (is) incapable of overcoming this condition — incapable of doing anything to satisfy God so that he may be forgiven and brought back into spiritual unity with his Creator. Because of this, and this alone, Jesus Christ came to execute a substitutionary sacrifice for man that would satisfy God (appease His wrath regarding sin) and bring man back into a spiritual relationship (unity) with His Creator.
That which was “Finished” on the Cross
That which was “finished” on the cross of Calvary was that substitutionary sacrifice for man that would satisfied God and made it possible for anyone to reestablish a personal, spiritual relationship with God the Father, the Creator. It was a sacrifice, which only the Son of God could perform. But it was not His physical death that accomplished this objective; although, such (His physical death) pictured it.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all. (Isiah 53:6)
Who [Christ] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree [the cross], that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.
(1 Peter 2:24)
. . . He [Christ] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us . . . . (Galatians 3:13a)
For He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
On the cross, in line with His purpose for coming, Christ in the flesh took upon Himself the sin (all the sins) of man and, in some mysterious way (God only knows) became that sin in order that God’s judgment (punishment) could be administered for and to it. This Christ did for and in the place of man, so that anyone who might accept His sacrifice “by faith” could become the “righteousness of God” in Christ.
This most merciful and gracious gift (sacrifice) by Jesus Christ for man took place over a period of time in which God the Father forsook (deserted, separated Himself from) His Son, indicated by the darkening of the earth, and which placed Christ in such agony over the separation that He cried out to His father in obvious pain.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
(Matthew 27:45, 46; cf. Mark 15:33, 34)
But the good news for man is that in that limited period of time in which God the Son was separated from God the Father, a period that would take man an eternity to match, came to an end, which was exactly what Christ referred to when He declared, “It is finished.”
And because God the Father is now satisfied with and over the sacrifice of His Son for all of man’s sin, man may now by faith — and faith alone in Christ alone — be spiritually united back to his Creator.
A Past, Completed Action
The eternal salvation of man, a total grace-gift by God to man, is solely based on a past, completed action by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. It cannot be added to by God or man; it cannot be altered in any way. It can only be accepted by faith (believed, trusted, relied upon), a voluntary act (decision of the will) by man. And once the decision of faith is made, it can never be reversed by man or taken back by God.
Possibly, it cannot be expressed more clearly than what Arlen L. Chitwood stated in the Foreword of his book, Salvation by Grace through Faith, which follows:
The message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God is given in very simple terms in Scripture. In fact, it is so simple that man often misses it. And any person, missing the one true message given by the infinite God and drawing from his own finite wisdom and knowledge, invariably — he can’t help but so do — ends up with a corrupted salvation message.
The salvation message, that which makes salvation possible for fallen man, is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3:
. . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
The one key thought in the salvation message is death and shed blood (e.g., Genesis 3:21; 22:8, 13), which is what God requires (Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22). And the one key word in the salvation message is believe (e.g., John 1:12; 3:15, 16), which is also what God requires (John 3:18).
The Lamb has died, His blood has been shed, and all that is left — all that can possibly be left — for man to do is simply believe that which has already been done on his behalf.
Eternal salvation is by grace (that which God is able to do completely apart from human merit) through faith (through believing on God’s Son [Ephesians 2:8, 9]), and it is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ (John 19:30). Nothing that man has done, is presently doing, or will ever do can have anything to do with his eternal destiny. Man can do no more than receive by faith that which has already been done on his behalf.
This is why Scripture states:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . . (Acts 16:31)
This statement is in response to a question in the preceding verse,
Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (v. 30)
And, within another frame of reference, the response to this question could only be, “Nothing!” This would have to be the response simply because there is not one single thing left for unsaved man to do (nor could he do anything if something were left, for, he is spiritually dead and incapable of acting in the spiritual realm [Ephesians 2:1, 5]).
It is of interest to note that the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, and the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” only appear together in one place in the entire Bible. Scripture is filled with information concerning redemption, but Acts 16:30, 31 is the only place, from Genesis to Revelation, where the question concerning eternal salvation is asked and answered in so many words.
Thus, within a completely biblical framework, if the question in Acts 16:30 is asked, there can be only one answer: “Believe . . . .” Man’s ideas, thoughts, comments are of no moment. God has spoken, and that’s the end of the matter.
John 3:16 is often called “the gospel in a nutshell” by individuals seeking to draw attention to the overall salvation message stated in its simplest form in Scripture. God, because of His love for fallen man — created in His image, after His likeness, for a purpose (Genesis 1:26-28) — “gave His only begotten Son [1 Corinthians 15:3], that whosoever believes in Him [Acts 16:31] will not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Everything, in its entirety, to procure man’s salvation was done by Christ. It had to be accomplished by Christ, for the one being redeemed was “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), totally incapable of acting on his own behalf.
Christ is the one who died, Christ is the one who performed the work to procure man’s salvation, and God is satisfied with His Son’s finished work.
When Christ cried out from the cross in “a loud voice” near the ninth hour, “It is finished” (Luke 23:46; John 19:30), He used one word in the Greek text — tetelestai — that could be better translated, “It has been finished.” Tetelestai is a perfect tense usage of teleo, which means “to bring to an end,” “to complete.” And the perfect tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of that action extending into and existing during present time in a finished state.
All of the work surrounding man’s redemption that Christ had come to perform had, at that point in time, been completed. This was the announcement that Christ made, in “a loud voice”; and, because of that which was involved in the announcement, there was then no longer any need for Him to continue His sufferings on the cross. Thus, immediately after He cried out, “It has been finished,” He “gave up His spirit [lit., ‘He breathed out’ (He expired, willingly relinquishing His life)]” (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
The work of Christ at Calvary, from the point He cried out, “It has been finished,” has existed in exactly the same finished state in which He proclaimed it to exist at that time. It has existed as a work completed in past time that extends into present time (in a finished state) and which will extend into all the ages comprising eternity ahead (in the same finished state).
Nothing can ever be added, and nothing can ever be taken away. That is to say, nothing can ever change relative to Christ’s finished work at Calvary.
That’s the way God’s procurement of man’s salvation had to occur. Once Christ’s work had been finished, that’s the way His work had to always continue to exist — in a finished state — throughout both time and eternity.
Because of Christ’s finished work, salvation is extended to man “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1); and apart from Christ’s finished work, there is no salvation.
He that believes on Him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already [lit., ‘has already been condemned’ (a perfect tense)], because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
It is utterly impossible — and foolish to even consider — that finite man, “dead in trespasses and sins,” could add one thing to or take one thing from the finished work of the infinite God through His Son. All man can possibly do is simply receive, through believing on the Son, that which has already been done on his behalf.
Although the bases of salvation for man rests exclusively in that which Christ “finished” on the cross, the reader should understand that application of God’s comprehensive redemption program for man is multi-faceted. This is not to say that once a person makes a faith-decision in Christ for his eternal future he must do something additional in order to secure it, because he doesn’t. A faith decision in Christ will assuredly secure one’s eternal destiny. So how is God’s redemptive program multi-faceted?
Prior to the beginning of the eternal ages there will be a thousand years involving Christians who will either (1) be alongside Christ as His bride ruling over the earth; or (2) be apart from Him in a darkness outside of the light during the Messianic Era. And although one’s eternal life will be secured by the “finished” work of Christ, a Christian’s participation or non-participation in the Millennial Reign of Christ will have been based on the results of a Christian’s record at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10, 12).
To adequately understand God’s comprehensive, multi-faceted redemptive plan for man, the reader is advised to read Salvation of the Soul by Arlen L. Chitwood, which may be accessed in its entirety at www.bibleone.net.
The following is included as per the parenthetical statement pertaining to the “tree of life” on page 3.
The Tree of Life
(Taken from The Bride in Genesis by Arlen L. Chitwood)
And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden . . . .(Genesis 2:9a)
He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
The tree of life first comes into view in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis. This tree was one of numerous trees in the garden in Eden of which Adam was commanded to eat (Genesis 2:9, 16). Adam had been created for the specific purpose of assuming the rulership over the earth, and the fruit of the tree of life was a provision for Adam as he exercised this rule.
An evident connection between man’s rule and his partaking of the tree of life can be seen by noting the appearance of this tree in the book of Genesis when man was in a position to rule, the absence of this tree during the entire period when man is not in a position to rule, and the reappearance of this tree in the book of Revelation when man will once again be brought back into a position to rule (cf. Genesis 1:26-28; Revelation 2:26, 27). The period during which man has been banned from eating of the tree of life began following Adam’s fall, resulting in his disqualification to rule; and it will end following the issues of the judgment seat, at which time man will once again find himself in a position to rule.
But an issue beyond the thought of regality in connection with the tree of life came into view following the fall. Adam, following the fall, was driven from the garden to prevent his partaking of the tree of life for another purpose. Adam could not be permitted to eat of this tree in a fallen condition, for had such occurred he would have lived forever in that fallen-state. Thus, not only did God in His grace and mercy remove Adam from the garden, but “cherubim” and “a flaming sword that turned every way,” were placed at “the east of the garden . . . to guard the way to the tree of life [to prevent fallen man from reentering the garden and partaking of this tree]” (Genesis 3:22-24).
Studying Genesis 3:22-24 apart from the context and related Scripture could lead one to believe that the purpose for the tree of life was to provide perpetuity of life for Adam in his unfallen state. However, such could not have been the case at all. “Death” did not enter into the picture until after Adam’s sin, at which time he was barred from the tree of life. Adam had lived in an undying state prior to his sin, as he continued to live in an antithetical dying state following his sin; and to say that the tree of life was given to Adam in his unfallen state to provide perpetuity of life, preventing death, cannot be correct (even though it could have provided such perpetuity following the fall).
In Revelation 2:7, partaking of the tree of life has been promised to the overcomers from among those already possessing eternal life. Consequently, in this passage, the tree of life can have nothing whatsoever to do with perpetuity of life; and it is the same in the Genesis account when man was first brought upon the scene to rule and to reign.
The tree of life in both Genesis chapters two and three and Revelation chapter two appears in a different setting entirely. The tree of life reserved for Christians is associated peculiarly with a provision for those who will rule and reign as co-heirs with Christ; and viewing Adam’s position in the Genesis account — created to rule and reign, in possession of life, with the fruit of the tree of life at his disposal — the same would hold true. This would have to hold true, for that seen relative to the tree of life in Revelation chapter two is drawn from that which was first seen relative to this tree in Genesis chapters two and three. The fruit of the tree of life was in the past (seen in the book of Genesis) and will be in the future (seen in the book of Revelation) a provision for the rulers in the kingdom. This is an evident fact that must be recognized.
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding;
For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver and her gain than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her. (Proverbs 3:13-18)
Following the introduction to “the tree of life” in the opening chapters of Genesis, there are only four references to this tree throughout Scripture until one arrives at Revelation 2:7. Solomon used the expression, “a tree of life,” four times in the book of Proverbs (3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4); and it is within this revelation given through Solomon that one finds the connection between the “tree of life” in the books of Genesis and Revelation. And through putting all of this together, the reason then becomes apparent why this tree, with its fruit, was among the trees provided for Adam and Eve to eat in their unfallen state, and why fruit from this tree is being reserved for overcoming Christians to partake of during the Messianic Era.
(Then, there is also a connection between this tree and the complete restoration of the nations of the earth beyond the Messianic Era, with all of mankind realizing the purpose for man’s creation in the beginning [Revelation 22:2].)
In the first of these four passages, wisdom and understanding are said to be “a tree of life.” Viewing this in the light of the wisdom and understanding possessed by Solomon as he ruled over Israel is the association provided by Scripture to correctly understand one facet of the tree of life. Solomon possessed wisdom and understanding as he ruled; and Christians must, in like manner, possess wisdom and understanding as they rule, as would have been necessary for Adam had he ruled.
1) Solomon Properly Equipped
Shortly after Solomon ascended the throne following the death of David, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give thee.” Solomon, recognizing that he was but as a “little child” in understanding the affairs of state within the kingdom over which he ruled asked for wisdom and knowledge. Solomon asked God for the ability to judge the people of Israel in equity, justice, and righteousness.
Such a request pleased the Lord, and Solomon was granted not only “wisdom and knowledge” but also “riches, and wealth, and honor.” His ability to rule, his material wealth, and the respect that he commanded — all coming from the hand of the Lord — would later be shown to exceed that of any king upon the face of the earth (1 Kings 3:5-15; 2 Chronicles 1:7-17).
Solomon’s ability to judge among his people in a unique manner through the wisdom and knowledge that the Lord had bestowed began to be displayed through a decision that he rendered concerning two women and a child. These two women dwelled alone in the same house, and both had given birth to sons, one three days before the other. The son born last died one night because his mother lay upon him; and as the other mother slept with her son at her side, the mother of the dead child took the living child from his mother’s side and placed the dead child in its stead. However, upon awakening, the mother now in possession of the dead child realized that the child was not hers and found that her child was still alive and being claimed by the other mother. Not being able to resolve the matter between themselves, their case was brought before Solomon.
Solomon was told what had allegedly occurred; and as he listened to both women claiming the living child, he was unable to ascertain which one of the two was the true mother. He then called for a sword and commanded that the child be divided into two parts, giving half to each woman. Solomon, in his wisdom, knew that the true mother would be revealed through the actions that each woman would take when they heard his decision.
And this is exactly what occurred. The true mother pleaded for the child’s life, telling Solomon to not harm the child but to give him to the other woman. The other woman, whose child had died, on the other hand, insisted that the child be divided. Solomon then knew which of the two was telling the truth, and the child was returned to his true mother (1 Kings 3:16-27).
Solomon’s wisdom in this matter spread throughout all Israel, and the people “feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.” Not only did God give Solomon wisdom to judge in all matters, but Solomon possessed wisdom of such a nature that it spread throughout the entire known world. His wisdom “excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men . . . and his fame was in all nations round about . . . and there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 3:28; 4:29-34). The queen of Sheba came “to prove him with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1ff), and in the end stated,
It was a true report that I heard in my own land of your acts and of your wisdom.
Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and my eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: your wisdom and prosperity exceeds the fame of which I heard.
(1 Kings 10:6b, 7)
2) Christians Properly Equipped
The wisdom and understanding that Solomon possessed as he ruled in the kingdom of Israel (associated with “a tree of life”) provides the central reason why the tree of life is found in association with Adam’s rule in Genesis and with the Christians’ rule yet future.
The fruit of this tree would have provided (for Adam) and will provide (for Christians) the necessary wisdom and understanding to govern in equity, justice, and righteousness.
God’s bestowal of wisdom, understanding, riches, wealth, and honor upon Solomon typifies that which He will bestow upon overcoming Christians during the coming age. Through the fruit of the tree of life, God will provide the necessary wisdom and understanding to rule in the kingdom; through being co-heirs with God’s Son, Christians will come into possession of unlimited riches and wealth, for all the Father’s possessions will belong to the Son; and in these positions, Christians will realize a status of honor and glory befitting those elevated to such noble rank (Genesis 24:10, 36, 53; John 16:13-15; 1 Peter 1:9-11; 4:12, 13; Revelation 4:11; 5:12).
The tree of life in Eden was a literal tree with literal fruit, as will be the tree of life in the New Jerusalem following the millennium (Revelation 22:2). However, there is cause to believe that the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God, reserved for Christians during the millennium, may possibly not be a literal tree as such. There is a sense in which Christ Himself is the Tree of Life, a Tree upon which Christians presently feed and will feed in the future. Note the third overcomers’ promise for example (Revelation 2:17). The Israelites fed upon literal manna in the wilderness, but Christ is the Manna upon which Christians feed. Christ is “the bread of life”; and we “eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood.” Through this process, we acquire that wisdom that comes from above; or, as Scripture states, “Christ is made [‘has become’] to us wisdom. . .” (John 6:48-58; 1 Corinthians 1:30; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:9, 28).
Christ is the Living Word that came down from heaven; and feeding upon the Living Word is accomplished through feeding upon the inseparable Written Word. In Christ are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3); and feeding upon Him, through the Written Word, allows us to develop and grow, becoming more and more like Him through acquiring this wisdom and knowledge.
Wisdom and knowledge acquired during the present time though is not for the purpose of equipping Christians to rule and reign. We are living during the time Christ is in heaven, with the present existing kingdom under the dominion and control of Satan. Wisdom and knowledge presently being acquired is for the sole purpose of equipping Christians to carry on the Lord’s business during His time of absence.
Wisdom and knowledge of a nature that will equip Christians to rule and reign will be acquired only from the “tree of life” in the midst of the paradise of God. If this is a reference to Christ Himself, such a feeding upon Christ can only refer to something that is not available today but reserved for the overcomers during the coming age. Christians allowed to partake of the “tree of life” in that day will, through partaking of this tree, be properly equipped for carrying on the Lord’s business following His return when He is revealed as “King of kings, and Lord of lords”; and Christians carrying on His business then will do so through reigning as co-heirs with Him.
Fruit of the Righteous
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.
The second mention of the “tree of life” in the book of Proverbs is in connection with righteousness and soul winning. This is the identical connection one will find in the New Testament when studying the Christians' association with the tree of life.
The “righteous” in Proverbs 11:30 are the ones who will be allowed to partake of the “tree of life.” With respect to Christians, such righteousness cannot be looked upon as synonymous with the imputed righteousness of Christ, for every Christian possesses this righteousness. But, as is plainly revealed in Revelation 2:7, not every Christian will be allowed to partake of the “tree of life.” The righteousness in this verse can only have to do with “the righteous acts of the saints,” which form the wedding garment. The “righteous” are those Christians who will be properly clothed at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation l9:7-9, ASV). These are the Christians who will comprise the Church consisting of firstborn sons (Hebrews 12:23) and subsequently enter into the kingdom in positions of power and authority with Christ (Matthew 24:45-47; cf. vv. 48-51).
“Soul winning” in the New Testament is largely misunderstood in Christian circles today. The common terminology, which is not correct at all, is to equate “soul winning” with carrying the message of salvation by grace to the unsaved. In fact, equating “soul winning” with the message of salvation by grace serves only to obscure both issues, leaving one hopelessly mired in a sea of misinterpretation. “Soul winning” is one thing, and proclaiming the message of salvation by grace is another. The former has to do with the saved, and the latter has to do with the unsaved. The messages involved in both issues MUST be kept separate and distinct, which necessitates Christians understanding proper distinctions in these two realms.
Salvation by grace, carried to the unsaved, is the presentation of the simple gospel message. The unsaved are to be told “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2; 15:3). Christ has paid the penalty for sin. The work of redemption has been accomplished on man’s behalf, and God is satisfied. Provision has been made for unredeemed man to be saved through receiving that which Christ has done on his behalf. And he does this through simply believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).
Redeemed man, on the other hand, is to hear an entirely different message. He is to be taught the reason for his salvation. He is to be told that Christ has gone away “to receive for Himself a kingdom”; he is to be told that during the time of his Lord’s absence he is to be busy with the talents and pounds that the Lord delivered to and left in charge of His servants (Christians); he is to be told that a day of reckoning is coming; he is to be told that the Lord will return to judge His servants on the basis of their faithfulness in carrying out His business during His time of absence; and he is to be told that the outcome of this judgment will determine every Christians’ position in the coming kingdom (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). It is within this overall message to the saved that one finds the salvation of the soul taught in Scripture, not within the message of salvation by grace, proclaimed to the unsaved.
“Soul winning” has to do with winning those who are already saved to a life of faithfulness to the Lord. “Soul winning” is winning one’s life. This involves winning Christians to be occupied with the Lord’s business during His time of absence, anticipating His return. And more specifically, this involves winning Christians to be occupied in this manner with that portion of the Lord’s business delivered to them personally.
Illustrated in the parables of the talents and the pounds, one servant was responsible only for bringing forth an increase in the talents or the pounds that had been placed in his possession, not in those that had been placed in another servant’s possession. Issues and determinations resulting from the judgment seat will be based strictly on the evaluation of works performed by Christians in complete keeping with that set forth in these two parables.
Direct references to the salvation of the soul are found in New Testament passages such as Matthew 16:24-27; Hebrews 10:38, 39; James 1:21; 5:19, 20; 1 Peter 1:9-11 and are always spoken of in a future sense within a context dealing with those who are already saved. Soul winning is associated with the righteous acts of the saints, with overcoming, and with one day being extended the privilege of partaking of the “tree of life.” This is the reason that “soul winning” is found within a context of this nature in Proverbs 11:30. It is the wise who win souls (lives).
And they that are wise will shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)
Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)
The third mention of the “tree of life” in the book of Proverbs is in connection with hope that is realized. There is no “tree of life” as long as one’s hope is deferred. Only when “the desire comes [hope is realized]” does the “tree of life” come into view.
This thought from the book of Proverbs is in perfect accord with the Christians’ present hope in the light of the two previous references to the “tree of life” in this book. Christians have been “begotten” from above to a “living hope” through the “resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Christ lives, and Christians will live with Him. But this fact is not the object of one’s hope. Hope is described as “living” because of resurrection, but hope itself lies in things beyond resurrection. These things are revealed as an “inheritance” and a “salvation” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
“Hope,” “inheritance,” and “salvation” are inseparably linked in Scripture. It is only because we are saved (passive, salvation of the spirit) that we can possess a “hope.” And the hope that Christians possess looks ahead to the reception of an inheritance within a salvation (future, salvation of the soul) to be revealed.
The “blessed hope” in Titus 2:13 is one of the more familiar passages written to Christians in this respect. This hope is often said to be the return of Christ, but that’s not what this or any other passage in the New Testament dealing with the Christians’ hope teaches at all. Hope, as in Titus 2:13, is associated with the “appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (ASV). The construction of the Greek text actually makes hope synonymous with the appearing of this glory. Christians are the ones who possess this hope, as they are the ones who will be partakers of Christ’s glory when it is revealed. In this respect, participation in the coming glory of Christ will be the realization of one’s present hope, for one cannot be separated from the other.
Christians realizing their present hope, and the overcomers in Revelation 2:7 who will be allowed to partake of the “tree of life,” are one and the same. This is the reason Proverbs 13:12 teaches that hope realized is a “tree of life.” Those Christians one day coming into a realization of their present hope will be the ones who constitute the rulers in the kingdom, the ones allowed to partake of the “tree of life” to equip them for service in their respective capacities in the kingdom.
A Wholesome Tongue
A wholesome ['tranquil'] tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
The epistle of James in the New Testament forms the commentary for the fourth and last mention of the “tree of life” in the book of Proverbs, demonstrating a number of things about the use of the tongue and showing the connection between Proverbs 15:4 and the three previous references to the “tree of life” in this book. James is an epistle dealing strictly with the salvation of the soul, providing certain indispensable information necessary for a proper understanding of this all-important subject. The “tree of life,” on the other hand, is reserved for those Christians realizing the salvation of their souls; and a proper understanding of the “tree of life” is integrally related to a proper understanding of this salvation.
James mentions the tongue in chapter one (vv. 26, 27) and then goes into a lengthy discourse in chapter three concerning this small member of the body and what it is capable of doing (vv. 1ff):
The tongue . . . boasts great things . . . is a fire, a world of iniquity . . . it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell [gehenna] . . . no man can tame the tongue; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (3:5-8)
A Christian’s spirituality can be seen through the control of his tongue, for the tongue can be properly controlled only through the use of that wisdom and knowledge that comes from above (James 3:13-18). This thought from the epistle of James takes one back to Proverbs 3:13-18, where wisdom and knowledge are associated with the “tree of life.” And it is in this same respect that “a wholesome tongue” also finds its association with the “tree of life.” A wholesome (tranquil) tongue results from the proper use of divinely imparted wisdom and knowledge.
Man’s rule over the earth must wait for the time when Revelation 2:7 will be brought to pass. He that “overcomes” will realize the salvation of his soul (life), realize that blessed hope, come into possession of the required wisdom and knowledge necessary to rule as a co-regent with Christ in the kingdom, and be shown to have a wholesome tongue [a tranquil tongue] in this rule.
This is what Scripture teaches concerning the presence of the “tree of life” in Eden, the absence of the tree of life in the world today, and the coming inheritance of the saints, when Christians will be allowed to partake of “the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).