By Charles H. Welch
Ton Hagion or ‘Heaven itself’. It is not the intention of this
article to treat with all the occurrences of the Greek word hagios, or to
attempt an exposition of the doctrine of Sanctification -- the object before
us in this analysis is limited to the subject of Dispensational Truth. The
following study with the omission of twelve lines, is reprinted from the
article contributed by the present writer to Things to Come in April 1910,
and the comment which follows entitled ‘Editor’s Note’ was written by Dr.
Bullinger himself. Many readers, we felt, would appreciate this insertion,
it being a milestone as it were on the road that under grace was leading to
the recovery of much blessed truth. The present volume is being written in
the year 1955, consequently forty-five years of the most intensive study have
intervened, and have but confirmed the interpretation here presented to the
Ton Hagion or ‘Heaven Itself’
As the subject of the present article largely depends upon the use and nature of a Greek word -- it may be as well just to give, very simply, a word of explanation, so that all may be able intelligently to follow the argument. The Greek language is very exact, far more so than English; and one of its many characteristics is that the number, gender and case of a word or words are as a rule easily distinguished. We say ‘as a rule’ for the following discussion arises out of one of the exceptions. The word for ‘the saint’, or ‘the holy one’ (masculine nominative) differs from ‘the Holy One’ (feminine nominative), and again from the neuter nominative of the same word. The genitive masculine differs from the nominative masculine as from the genitive feminine. The genitive neuter, however, is identical with the genitive masculine, and the sense of the sentence must decide the gender.
When we turn to the plural we find that in the genitive, the masculine, feminine and neuter are all alike; ‘of the saints’, or ‘of the separated ones’ in the Greek is ton hagion, whether the reference be to men, women or things. Consequently, when we read in the A.V. ‘of the saints’, we must remember that it is the context which must decide for us, whether the word means men, women or things.
With these facts before us let us consider some passages of Scripture. We will first turn to Hebrews 9:23,24. We have in these two verses a common figure of speech in Scripture, namely, ‘the plural of majesty’. The ‘better sacrifices’ of verse 23 is the scriptural manner of emphasizing the ‘Infinitely Better Sacrifice’. Likewise the ‘Holy Places’ of verse 24, really means ‘The Most Holy Place’. A glance back in the chapter will confirm this. Verses 7 to 14 have, as their theme, the typical teaching of the Day of Atonement. Verse 6 tells us that the priest went every day into the first tabernacle accomplishing the service of God; but verse 7 says that into the second, which is the Most Holy Place, the high priest went alone, once every year, and then not without blood.
Verse 8 continues ‘The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the Holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing’. An earthly priesthood and a dispensation of ordinances ‘signified’ that the Holiest of all had not been entered or made open. The Holiest of all is now open -- open to believers from Jew and Gentile (Heb. 10:19; Eph. 2:18) -- consequently, the first tabernacle and that which it typified has passed away. To speak of the ‘priesthood of believers’ for the ‘present time’ is a dispensational mistake. Hebrews 9:24 is setting forth the great antitype of the Day of Atonement. The ‘Most Holy Place’, ‘made with hands’, was a type of the true or real ‘Holiest of all’, which Scripture declares to be ‘Heaven itself’.
We are now in a position to go further with our studies. Let us then turn to a passage in Ephesians chapter 2:19: ‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but Fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God’. The words rendered ‘with the saints’, are the words we first considered (ton hagion) -- and which consequently may mean ‘saints’ or ‘holy things’ or ‘places’. The translators of the Bible decided upon the meaning ‘saints’. Let us examine the context. Verses 19 to 22 speak of a building. We have the ‘foundation’, ‘the Chief Corner Stone’, ‘the whole building’, ‘a holy temple’, ‘a habitation of God’. This contextual reference to a building lends its weight in favour of the rendering we have suggested -- ‘Fellowcitizens of The Most Holy Place’ or ‘Heaven itself’. This teaching exactly coincides with that of Philippians 3:20, ‘Our citizenship (conversation) exists (as a fact) in Heaven’. The word, in Ephesians 2:19, ‘fellowcitizens’ is sumpolitai. The word in Philippians 3:20, ‘conversation’ or ‘citizenship’ is politeuma; both words are derived from polis a city.
Hebrews 9 taught us that ‘the Most Holy Place’ was ‘Heaven itself’; Philippians 3:20 tells us that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’, and Ephesians 2:19 yields its testimony -- that the believing Gentile, equally with the believing Jew, during this dispensation of the grace of God, is a fellowcitizen of Heaven Itself, and that this involves direct ‘access’ unto God, seeing that ‘Heaven Itself’, so far as the believer’s portion is concerned, is ‘the Holiest of All’.
Let us now turn to another passage in Ephesians 4:12, ‘For the perfecting of the saints’. Again the context must decide whether the words (ton hagion), ‘of the saints’, refer to persons, or whether here again, we have another reference to the ‘Most Holy Place’. The preceding verses speak of the work of Christ and quote from the sixty-eighth Psalm. We have already seen that the fellowship, and the dispensation of the Mystery formed no part of the Old Testament revelation. How is it then that in this chapter we have a quotation from Psalm 68:18, ‘Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men ... and He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints’, etc. (Eph. 4:8-12). The passage in the Psalm reads thus: ‘Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them’.
When on earth, the Lord Jesus appointed twelve, whom He named apostles. One of them, Judas, fell from this position, and Matthias was chosen in his stead. That Matthias was God’s man, before being discovered by the casting of the lot in Acts 1:26, may be gathered from the statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5. The Lord Jesus, after resurrection and before Ascension, was seen by ‘the twelve’ -- hence seen by Matthias -- who was afterwards appointed by Peter and numbered with the others. Ephesians 4 tells us of apostles given after that the Lord had ascended. This plainly cannot refer to those already chosen and appointed. We know, however, that there was another set of apostles, quite distinct from the Twelve, of whom are prominent, Paul and Barnabas. Apostles, prophets, and teachers are referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:28, and apostles and prophets in Ephesians 2:20. Psalm 68:18 tells us that such were given to the ‘rebellious also’, in order that God might have a dwelling place.
The new order of apostles -- notably exemplified in the ministry of the apostle Paul, had a ministry which largely resulted from the disobedience and ‘rebellion’ of the people of Israel. We have before pointed out, that there was a work of preparation going on, in the ministry of Paul and others with him, that was destined to blossom and bear fruit after the defection and rebellion of Israel. Silently yet surely, God was preparing for the new dispensation, and Ephesians 4:8-12, refers to that transitional period. God was still going to find a dwelling, even though He permitted Rome to destroy Jerusalem. He was gathering the material for a spiritual Temple, from among the believers of Jews and Gentiles.
We are told that in the building of the temple by Solomon, not a sound of a hammer was heard; and so also, in the preparation of this new dwelling place, everything was done silently. Ephesians 2:19-22 tells us about the Foundation, Corner Stone, and building of this new habitation of God.
Ephesians 4:12 tells us of the preparation for its transference from earth to heaven. The word translated ‘perfecting’ in Ephesians 4:12 is a word which means ‘to mend’, as a net, ‘to re-set’, as a fractured limb (Matt. 4:21; Gal. 6:1), and can be rendered ‘re-adjust’ or ‘put together again’. In most cases there is the mental addition ‘after a fracture, a breach, etc.’. Acts 28:25-27 records such a fracture or breach, when an end came to Israel as a nation for a time. But as we have seen, God was not taken by surprise; He had been preparing beforehand, through the ministry of a special number of apostles and prophets, the material for a dwelling place. Already, in 2 Corinthians 6:16 they were told ‘Ye are the temple of the Living God’, and it was this work that was going steadily on. If we read, for ton hagion, ‘The most holy place’, instead of ‘saints’ in Ephesians 4:12 thus, ‘For the re-adjusting of the most holy place’ we shall find that this is just what was taking place.
The ‘Most holy place’ was transferred from earth, to heaven itself; and the truth connected therewith was first published by the apostle in Ephesians, in the phrase ‘in Heavenly places in Christ’.
The Body of Christ depends upon no earthly manifestation of unity. All such organized expression has long since passed away. But there is a sphere, beyond the reach of man, yea Heaven itself, where the Lord has built His Temple, the materials of which are the believers of this dispensation, whose privilege it is to ‘set their affections on things above’. This Temple necessarily needed ‘re-adjusting’, upon the setting aside of the one nation among whom God dwelt on earth. Exactly when this began we may not be able to say, but we know that there came a time, even before the death of the Lord Jesus, when He could say ‘Your house is left unto you desolate’ (Matt. 23:38). Further, Ephesians 2:15,16 definitely declares that the One Body, potentially, was formed at Calvary -- although its manifestation was deferred until the setting aside of Israel, as recorded in Acts 28. Those believers who desire to remain in the transitional period would seem to prefer a life of continual household removal and reconstruction; for that is what was going on during the period of the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.
One more passage, and we must bring this section to a close. Colossians 1:12. This passage (like those in Ephesians) seems to refer to the same thing, and should be translated ‘Partakers of the inheritance of the Most Holy Place in the Light’.
‘Fellow-partakers and fellow-heirs’: such are the terms of the new dispensation. How can it be? How can I, a sinner of the Gentiles, ever be fitted for such an inheritance? God has seen to it. ‘Giving thanks unto the Father, Who Hath Made Us Sufficient’. God has seen to it. ‘In the Body of His Flesh through death to present you Holy and Unblameable and Unreproveable in His Sight’. The Father chose us that we should be ‘Holy and Without Blame before Him’ (Eph. 1:4). This wondrous blessedness was to be ‘in the Heavenly places (or Most holy place), in Christ’.
Just as we have found that the work of the Father and Son fitted the believer for the inheritance of the Most Holy Place, so again, by reading Ephesians 1:4 and Ephesians 5:25-27, we shall see that the whole of the work of Grace is performed for us by God. ‘Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it ... that He might present it to Himself ... Holy and Without Blemish’.
Thus we find that there is perfect harmony between the characteristics of this dispensation. It is the dispensation of Grace; it is the dispensation of the Spirit; it is the dispensation of a Most Holy Place in Christ. The flesh never could do anything for God, and, in this dispensation it is entirely set aside -- not even an ordinance is allowed -- in order that God might be All in All.
The believer who has entered the Holiest of All, has left behind the laver, and the table of shewbread, and the ordinances which answer to these.
Before him are the types, the Ark, the Mercy Seat, and the High Priest. He asks for nothing more, and the Lord directs him to nothing more.
Oh, let us, who have entered into ‘The Holiest’ by the blood of Jesus -- oh, let us stay there -- let us not run away from His Presence, in order to join with others in the types and shadows and carnal ordinances, which were only imposed during the time of the earthly priesthood and first Tabernacle (Heb. 9:8,9). Enoch, after his ‘translation’, did not return to earth or mix again with the things from which he had been so miraculously severed. Shall we, then, who have been ‘translated’ into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son, shall we still ‘set our affection’ on ‘earthly things’, and be subject to ordinances which have been nailed to the Cross of Christ? We commend the prayerful study of the connection between Colossians 2:9-22, and the argument of Colossians 3:1-4, which is based upon it.
The present dispensation, more than any that has preceded it, shuts the
believer up to Christ. All else vanishes. Like John, in Revelation 21:22,
we shall see in this the anticipation of the New Creation, ‘No temple
therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it’. We
may be cast out of the ‘fellowships’ of earth -- we may be excommunicated
from many an assembly -- but none can touch our citizenship which is ‘in
Heaven’, none can hinder us from attending our place of worship There.
Editor’s Note (Dr. E. W. Bullinger)