Search for the Bride
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Seeing the Kingdom
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:1-3).
There is a dual thread of truth surrounding Christ’s ministry and His redemptive work running throughout John’s gospel. John presents Christ as the One Who would suffer and die, and John also presents Christ as the One Who would rule and reign. And salvation — as seen in John’s gospel, or anywhere else in Scripture — is connected with both spheres of Christ’s ministry and work. The entire scope of salvation is not only connected with the death of the firstborn in Egypt (the death of the Firstborn in the world [Exodus 12]), but it is also connected with a deliverance from Egypt, with another land in view (a deliverance from the world, with another land in view [Exodus 14ff]).
There is salvation past (salvation that man presently possesses, the salvation of the spirit), and there is salvation present and future (salvation that man has yet to possess, the salvation of the soul). John’s gospel, as any other book in Scripture (Old or New Testament), begins with the former and moves to the latter. And, also as any other book in Scripture (Old or New Testament), the emphasis in John’s gospel is always on the latter.
Salvation by grace through faith is seen over and over as one moves through John’s gospel. But salvation by grace through faith is always seen in John’s gospel, as elsewhere in Scripture, as the beginning point in God’s overall redemptive purpose surrounding fallen man. That would be to say, salvation by grace through faith is not seen as an end in itself but as a means to an end.
As stated in John 3:3, “. . . unless one is born again [‘born from above’], he cannot see the kingdom of God [not see heaven, but see the kingdom of God].” However, entrance into the kingdom of God (v. 5) is another matter entirely; and, as Jesus goes on to state, entrance into the kingdom involves things subsequent to the birth from above. The birth from above (the salvation of the spirit [v. 3]) places one in a position where he can realize that dealt with in verse five (the salvation of the soul, which will allow one to enter into the kingdom).
(Note the way matters are presented in John 3:3, 5, which is true throughout other parts of John’s gospel as well. Both the birth from above [v. 3] and things subsequent to the birth from above [v. 5] are dealt with in relation to the kingdom, which has to do with Christ’s coming rule over the earth upon which man presently resides.
The thought of “heaven” is in view only in relation to the kingdom. It is “the kingdom of the heavens” [also called “the kingdom of God” numerous times in Scripture (ref. Part 4 of this series)]. It is the rule of the heavens over the earth, i.e., a rule from a heavenly sphere [the heavens associated with the earth] over the earth.)
A person has been saved (past aspect of salvation, the salvation of the spirit) for a purpose; and that same person is presently being saved and has the prospect of one day seeing the present aspect of salvation brought to fruition (present and future aspects of salvation, the salvation of the soul) for exactly the same purpose as seen in the past aspect of salvation.
Thus, salvation, in any one of its three aspects (past, present, or future), is for a purpose, which has to do with the coming kingdom. This is the way in which the gospel of John begins (1:29, 36, 49-51), continues (3:3-5; 4:40-50; 5:5-9; 6:3-14; 9:1-14; 11:4-7; 13:8-10; 18:36, 37), and ends (19:16-19; 20:30, 31). There is no such thing, in John’s gospel or anywhere else in Scripture, as salvation being effected apart from regality in relation to the earth being in view (i.e., apart from a rule over the earth being in view).
(Further, salvation associated with regality, which has to do with the earth, is dealt with in Scripture centrally in relation to one age — the Messianic Era, lasting 1,000 years [seen numerous times in Scripture, particularly in John’s gospel, as occurring on the seventh day, the earth’s coming Sabbath (the seventh millennium dating from Adam)]. At times, the ages beyond are in view, though not necessarily relative to salvation per se [e.g., in Luke 1:33, “forever” should literally be translated, “with respect to the ages”; or in Revelation 1:6, “forever and ever” should be translated, “with respect to the ages of the ages”].
But the central thrust of that to which Scripture points is not upon the ages. Rather, it is upon one age — the Messianic Era. This central thrust of Scripture was set at the very beginning of Scripture, within a septenary structure established in the opening verses of Genesis [1:1-2:3] — a day of rest following six days of restorative work, pointing to a 1,000-year period of rest following 6,000 years of redemptive work. These opening verses set the pattern for the way in which God would structure all subsequent revelation. And the whole of Scripture, structured in this manner, must be understood accordingly.
Salvation by grace through faith [salvation of the spirit], though it relates not only to the Messianic Era but to all the ages beyond, is really dealt with in Scripture in a more restrictive sense. It is dealt with in Scripture exactly the same way Scripture deals with the whole of the matter surrounding salvation, whether dealing with past, present, or future aspects of salvation.
Scripture, in accord with the septenary pattern set at the beginning, focuses issues relating to salvation [or anything else in Scripture] on the Messianic Era, the coming Sabbath of rest awaiting the people of God [Hebrews 4:1-9]. Scripture deals very sparingly with issues beyond the Messianic Era; and, accordingly, Scripture deals with the salvation issue — whether past, present, or future aspects of salvation — exactly the same way. Scripture deals very sparingly with salvation in relation to the ages beyond the Messianic Era [eternity], though the salvation that man presently possesses extends into and covers all of these ages.
The preceding is why the thought of an age or why the Greek word for age can be used in the New Testament in connection with man’s presently possessed eternal salvation. And this is really the case throughout Scripture, not only in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well, for neither the Hebrew text of the Old Testament nor the Greek text of the New Testament contains a word for “eternal.” Both use words that have to do with a long period of time or with an age, but not with eternity [Heb., olam; Gk., aion or aionios].
The salvation of the soul [having to do with present and future aspects of salvation] is another matter though. The salvation of the soul has to do with the Messianic Era alone, not with the ages beyond. Thus, unlike the salvation of the spirit, the whole of the matter is covered when Scripture relates the salvation of the soul to the Messianic Era. Issues surrounding the salvation of the soul, unlike those surrounding the salvation of the spirit, do not extend beyond the scope of time seen in the septenary structure of Scripture.)
Man was created in the beginning to rule and to reign (Genesis 1:26-28). But, through Satan’s deception (through the deception of the incumbent ruler, whom man was created to replace), man fell from the position in which he had been created. And in this fallen state man found himself in a position wherein he could not realize the purpose for his creation.
But God provided redemption for His fallen creature. And the redemption that God provided can only have, for its ultimate goal, man being placed back in the position for which he had been created in the beginning. Thus, the whole of the matter surrounding salvation in Scripture (salvation past, present, and future) is seen relating centrally to that future time when man will be placed back in the position for which he was created in the beginning.
The fall was with a view to removing man from this position; and, accordingly, redemption (the whole of the matter — past, present, and future) can only be with a view to placing man back in this position (something that can be clearly seen in Scripture when viewing the whole of God’s redemptive plans and purposes). Thus, regality forms the crux of the entire matter surrounding both man’s fall and God’s subsequently provided redemption for fallen man.
The first part of John chapter three (mainly the first eighteen verses) would show the entire scope of salvation — past, present, and future — along with the reason for salvation, about as well as any place in Scripture. This part of the chapter recounts an event peculiar to John’s gospel. It deals with a prominent Pharisee coming to Jesus by night, who raised an issue about the supernatural signs being manifested in the presence of those in Israel and that which the Pharisees knew about Jesus because of these signs. And Jesus responded to the issue that Nicodemus raised in a manner probably quite different than the response Nicodemus may have expected.
Nicodemus was a “ruler” (in the religious sphere) among the Jewish people (v. 1). He was a highly recognized teacher of the Scriptures in Israel (v. 10 [“master” should be translated “teacher,” and the word is articular in the Greek text, indicating that Nicodemus was a well-known, acknowledged teacher among the Jewish people]).
Nicodemus’ prominence among those in Israel is probably what caused him to approach Christ under the cover of darkness, though that is not specifically stated. The Pharisees — by far the most prominent religious sect in Israel at that time, the ones who, by their very numbers, controlled the religious life of the people — sought to counter Christ at every turn in His ministry. And for a prominent leader among them to go to Christ in the manner in which Nicodemus approached Christ — with a positive inquiry rather than with negative statements and accusations — would not have set well at all with the vast majority of the Pharisees.
Nicodemus, coming to Jesus, immediately acknowledged something about the Pharisees that condemned their actions in toto. Nicodemus acknowledged that the Pharisees knew Jesus had to be “a teacher come from God.” And they knew this because of the supernatural signs that Jesus was manifesting in the presence of the Jewish people. The Pharisees knew that no one could perform these signs “except God is with him” (v. 2).
And, because of these signs, the Pharisees even possessed a more specific knowledge of Jesus’ identity than Nicodemus admitted. They knew exactly Who Jesus was. They knew that He was the Heir of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-45); and this is the reason that they opposed Him at every turn, resulting in His rejection by the Jewish people and ending with the Jewish people crying for and succeeding in bringing about His crucifixion.
(The Pharisees could only have known Jesus’ identity through two related means: 1) that which the Old Testament revealed about the signs being manifested, and 2) that which the Old Testament revealed about the signs of the times. The Old Testament relates the “signs” being manifested to the theocracy [ref. the next section in this chapter], and the Old Testament clearly revealed that it was time for Messiah to appear [e.g., Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy].
Israel’s religious leaders believed on the one hand [they knew, from the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus’ identity (the only possible way they could have known His identity)], yet they exhibited unbelief on the other hand [they were unfaithful relative to that which they knew (“faith” and “believe” are the same word in the Greek text — one is a noun, and the other a verb)].
The Pharisees believed Moses and the Prophets on the one hand [knowing Christ’s identity through that which was revealed in the Old Testament, but this belief was expressed through unbelief on the other [the Pharisees following Christ about the country, seeking to counter the signs being manifested, and seeking to bring about unbelief on the part of the people]. And the actions of the Pharisees, in the face of that which they knew, made matters even worse, not only for them but for the entire nation [cf. Matthew 16:1-5; 23:1-39; John 5:39-47; James 4:17].)
Signs in Christ’s Ministry
John’s gospel is structured completely different than the three synoptic gospels. John, throughout the first eleven chapters of his gospel, centers that which he reveals about Christ’s ministry to Israel around seven signs; and Christ’s resurrection in chapter twenty forms an eighth sign (cf. Matthew 12:38-40), which is followed by a statement having to do with these signs, also peculiar to John’s gospel.
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30, 31).
Also, immediately following the seventh sign in John’s gospel (the resurrection of Lazarus [chapter 11]), the remainder of the book is taken up with events occurring during the six days leading into events surrounding Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. And these events, for the most part, are not only peculiar to John’s gospel but completely different in their focus. Events covering this same period of time in the three synoptic gospels center around Israel. But events in John’s gospel have to do with Christ’s closing instructions for and prayer on behalf of His disciples.
Thus, there are two main sections forming John’s gospel. On the one hand there are the signs, which have to do with Israel; and, on the other hand, there are Christ’s extensive dealings with His disciples immediately preceding His crucifixion. And the latter have to do with events during the present dispensation, following Israel being set aside.
In John chapter three, the focus is on signs. It was because of the signs being manifested that Nicodemus had come to Christ. From the signs being manifested, the Pharisees were able to ascertain Christ’s identity. And, being able to do this, the Pharisees were apparently also fully aware that these signs pointed out ahead to the kingdom. The signs were being manifested for those in Israel, for it is the Jew who requires a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22); and the signs in the Old Testament Scriptures had to do with the theocracy. This is what Israel’s religious leaders should have known and apparently did know.
(The manifestation of signs in the Old Testament — first under Moses and Joshua, and later under Elijah and Elisha — had to do with a manifestation of supernatural powers for the Jewish people in relation to the theocracy. This is the manner in which signs are introduced in Scripture; and being introduced after this fashion, forming a First-Mention Principle, this is the manner in which they must continue in Scripture.
Signs are for the Jew, and they point to things having to do with the Jewish people in relation to the theocracy. God must be dealing with Israel in relation to the theocracy for signs to exist. This is the manner in which Scripture sets the matter forth, and this is what must be kept in mind when viewing the signs in John’s gospel, or signs anywhere else in Scripture [ref. the author’s book, FROM ACTS TO THE EPISTLES, Chapter 1].)
“Signs” are often thought of in connection with “wonders” and “miracles,” and these three words are used together five places in the New Testament (Acts 2:22; 6:8; Romans 15:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Hebrews 2:4). Among the three words, “sign” (Gk., semeion) is the main word. The other two words (“wonder” and “miracle”) relate something about the sign.
The word “wonder” (Gk., teras) has to do with something extra-ordinary, something outside the scope of a normal sequence of events. The word is used sixteen times in the New Testament and is always used in a verse where semeion (sign) appears. Teras describes the semeion. That is, the sign is something extra-ordinary; and, in this case, the sign is something emanating from God, not from man.
The word “miracle” is a translation of the Greek word dunamis, which means “power.” In this respect, “miracle” is more of a description of dunamis than a translation of the word. Dunamis further (beyond teras) associates the manifested semeion with a power beyond man’s capability. Dunamis, in this respect, refers to the sign as a manifestation of supernatural power.
Thus, a sign (a semeion) is something out of the ordinary (teras) in which there is a manifestation of supernatural power (dunamis). Signs were being manifested in the presence of those in Israel, pointing to different facets of God’s work among the Jewish people in relation to the kingdom (described by “wonders” and “miracles”).
The Beginning Point
That which the Old Testament reveals about signs and that which the Pharisees knew about Christ through the signs that He was performing formed the basis for Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night. Jesus’ response to Nicodemus though was very similar to His response to an unbelieving group of Pharisees following a sign being manifested in their midst in Matthew chapter twelve (v. 22). These Pharisees, not believing the sign being manifested (rejecting the sign, not exercising faith [though undoubtedly knowing far more about the sign and the person manifesting the sign than they were willing to admit]), asked for another sign (v. 38). And Jesus, calling attention to their unbelief (“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign”), told them that no sign would be given (to them, because of their unbelief) but “the sign of the prophet Jonah” (vv. 39, 40).
Jesus knew that which lay ahead because of the unbelief that had been exhibited by Israel’s religious leaders. And, apparently because of this, He reacted in a similar manner when Nicodemus (a ruler and leading teacher among the Pharisees) approached Him with a statement about His identity and the signs being manifested. Nicodemus, though approaching Christ in a manner quite different than that seen among his peers, was dealt with in a manner similar to that seen in Christ’s dealings with the unbelieving Pharisees in Matthew chapter twelve.
Christ began with the basics surrounding salvation by grace, reflecting on a work that He was about to perform at Calvary (v. 3). And Christ dealt with the same matter through a type later in His conversation (not that of Jonah as seen in Matthew 12 but that of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness [vv. 14-16]).
1) The Birth from Above
Christ responded to Nicodemus’ statement by first calling attention to the birth from above. He dropped back to the beginning point and, through the course of the entire conversation, covered the whole panorama of salvation — past, present, and future. The emphasis though, in line with the way in which He is seen dealing with the Pharisees in Matthew chapter twelve (because of that which they had done), was on events surrounding the Cross and the birth from above.
It was the cross that lay immediately ahead, and suffering must always precede reigning in Scripture (Luke 24:25-27). And also, in complete keeping with the septenary manner in which Scripture is structured, the whole panorama of salvation in Jesus conversation with Nicodemus, beginning with salvation by grace, is dealt with in relation to the kingdom (vv. 3, 5).
This is the manner in which teachings surrounding salvation by grace are introduced in Scripture. They are always introduced first, for this, of necessity, is the first issue at hand. And teachings surrounding salvation by grace are introduced in this fashion with a revealed goal in view, which is always the same — the kingdom.
This is the way Scripture begins. Activity surrounding the work of the triune Godhead in ruined (fallen) man’s restoration is introduced (foreshadowed) through the events occurring on the first day of God’s restoration of the ruined material creation in Genesis 1:2b-5. And this is the manner in which teachings surrounding salvation by grace continue beyond that revealed in Genesis 1:2b-5 as well.
Subsequent teachings build upon and shed additional light upon that introduced in the foundational material. These additional teachings can be seen, for example, in events surrounding Adam’s act following Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3), events surrounding Cain slaying Abel (Genesis 4), events surrounding Abraham offering his son (Genesis 22), or events surrounding the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12).
And all these subsequent teachings are presented within the same framework as the matter is first introduced in the opening verses of Genesis — with a goal in view.
a) The Spirit of God Moved…
The earth was created perfect in the beginning. It was created as a part of God’s universal kingdom; and a ruling angel (Satan, in his unfallen state, along with subordinate angels) was given the scepter and placed over the earth (Isaiah 45:18; Ezekiel 28:14).
But when Satan moved outside the regal bounds that God had set and sought to exalt his throne (extend his rule), God reduced his kingdom (the earth, a province in the kingdom of God) to a ruin (Genesis 1:2a; Isaiah 14:12-14). And God’s work surrounding restoring the earth and subsequently creating man had to do with restoring a part of His kingdom and with placing a new ruler over this restored domain.
Everything surrounding that revealed in Genesis chapter one has regal implications. The creation (as a province in God’s universal kingdom), the ruin (resulting from the incumbent ruler seeking to exalt his throne), the restoration (with a view to order once again existing in this province), man’s creation (to rule the province in the stead of Satan), and God resting on the seventh day (pointing to a seventh-day rest, the Messianic Era), all have regal implications.
The creation, ruin, and subsequent restoration of the earth in Genesis chapter one — though comprising an actual historical account of the earth, angels, and man — is fraught with spiritual significance and meaning. It is highly typical in nature, and it forms the foundation upon which the whole of subsequent Scripture rests.
Note again something that cannot be overemphasized. Everything in this opening section of Scripture has regal implications — the earth’s creation, ruin, and restoration; man’s creation; God resting on the seventh day. There is nothing here that is not regal in nature.
Genesis 1:1-2:3, set at the very beginning of Scripture, provides the foundational framework upon which all subsequent Scripture rests (reference the author’s book, THE STUDY OF SCRIPTURE, Chapters 2-4). And this section of Scripture, providing this foundational material, not only provides details concerning how God would later restore ruined man — a subsequent ruined creation — but it also provides details concerning the purpose for man’s restoration. Man’s restoration is with a view to the seventh day, the Messianic Era.
And something else that cannot be overemphasized at this foundational point in Scripture is the fact that the whole of the matter does not move beyond the seventh day. The goal for all that is foreshadowed through events set forth in this foundational material is seen realized on the seventh day. And this is the way in which the remainder of Scripture is structured as well.
Genesis 1:1-2:3 sets forth once and for all exactly how God goes about restoring a ruined creation. The pattern, the mold, is set at this point and can never change. And the restoration of the ruined creation is with a view to a completed restoration and a seventh day — something else set forth at this point, which can never change as well.
The first act of the triune Godhead in the restoration of the earth in the first chapter of Genesis was the movement of the Spirit. “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (v. 2b). This, in turn, was followed by God speaking, light coming into existence, and God dividing between the light and the darkness (vv. 3-5).
This marked the beginning point in God’s restoration of the ruined material creation, with a view to subsequent restorative work. And all of this was with a view to a restored kingdom with a new order of rulers — the man and the woman — and a seventh-day rest.
This, as well, shows the beginning point in God’s restoration of a subsequent ruined creation — man, following the fall. In effecting man’s restoration, the Spirit of God would move, God would speak, light would come into existence, and God would divide between the light and the darkness. That is, in complete accord with subsequent revelation bearing on the subject, the Spirit of God would breathe life into the one who had no life, effecting the birth from above (cf. Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37:1-10). And the individual, through this means, would pass “from death unto life” (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1, 5).
Synonymous with this, in the foundational material, God spoke, light came into existence, and God divided between the light and the darkness. That is, as this pertains to fallen man, God would divide between the new man and the old man, between that which was spiritual and that which was soulical (Hebrews 4:12).
Then note one thing. God’s restorative work on the first day in the first chapter of Genesis had just as much to do with the goal in view as His restorative work on any one of the other five days. All of this restorative work had to follow a certain order, and that performed on the first day was of such a nature that it had to occur first, else the other restorative work could not occur.
And it is the same in man’s restoration. The birth from above must occur first. The man must pass “from death unto life” — be made alive spiritually — before God can deal with him relative to other restorative work (in this case, the salvation of his soul, with the body as well, yet to be redeemed). In order for the subsequent restorative work to be brought to pass, man must first possess spiritual life.
But, in complete accord with that set forth in Genesis chapter one, the birth from above (past aspect of salvation) has just as much to do with the goal in view as the salvation of the soul (present and future aspects of salvation) has to do with this goal.
The different facets of salvation, together comprising the whole of the matter, are inseparably linked and have to do with the same goal, which is to be realized on the seventh day.
b) Genesis 3, 4, 22; Exodus 12
In Genesis chapter three, Adam’s act of partaking of the forbidden fruit was both redemptive and regal in nature. A part of his very being was in a fallen state, and he could not now eat of the tree of life as a complete being (the tree that would have provided the wisdom and knowledge to rule and to reign [reference the Appendix in the reprint edition of the author’s book, THE BRIDE IN GENESIS]).
Adam’s act in this respect can be clearly seen by comparing type and antitype. Christ found His bride in a fallen state and was made sin for exactly the same purpose as seen through Adam partaking of sin in the type (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Revelation 2:7 [set at the very first of the seven overcomers’ promises in Revelation 2, 3]).
And so it is with Cain slaying Abel in Genesis chapter four, Abraham offering his son in Genesis chapter twenty-two, or the death of the firstborn in Exodus chapter twelve.
The account of Cain slaying Abel deals with Israel in the antitype and points to that time when Israel will be restored (during the Messianic Era). The account of Abraham offering Isaac ends at exactly the same point in the overall type — with Abraham’s remarriage in chapter twenty-five, pointing to that future day when Israel will be restored. And the death of the firstborn in Exodus chapter twelve was with a goal in view — the Israelites under Moses ultimately entering into a land set before them, within a theocracy.
2) NOT SOMETHING NEW
The birth from above, as often taught, is not something peculiar to the present dispensation. This can not only be plainly seen from the text itself (Christ’s reaction to Nicodemus, in a past dispensation, not understanding things about the new birth), but it can also be plainly seen from the fact that the means of salvation, set forth at the very beginning, never changes (the Spirit breaths life into the one having no life, effecting the birth from above).
And this new birth is always seen as having a purpose and a goal. The purpose is to place fallen man in a position where he can realize the salvation of his soul, and the goal of the entire matter is centered on events surrounding the Messianic Era.
These things have been set forth at the very beginning of Scripture and can never change.