A. Many Brothers of the Firstborn

In the past two messages we considered the blessings of sonship. In this message we shall see that the heirs are conformed for glorification. To what are the heirs conformed? To the image of Christ, God’s firstborn Son (Heb. 1:5-6). Christ is God’s firstborn Son, and the believers are the many sons of God (Heb. 2:10). As God’s firstborn Son, Christ is the model, example, pattern, and prototype for all His brothers, the many sons of God, who will be conformed to His image. This conformation is for the coming glorification. We should not expect to be glorified without firstly growing in life and being conformed to the image of God’s Son. If we expect to be glorified without being conformed, we will be disappointed. The glorification to come depends on our conformation to the image of the Son of God. Thus, glorification depends upon our growth in life.

Once again I use the illustration of a carnation seed. The seed is sown into the ground and sprouts: this is regeneration. Then the carnation grows: this is the growth in life, the stage of transformation. Eventually the carnation plant grows to the point of blossoming: this is transfiguration and glorification. The stage of the blossoming of the carnation plant is the stage of its glorification. If while the carnation plant is in the sprout stage it expects without growing to blossom and to be glorified, the time of blossoming will never come. If you do not grow in life, yet await the time of blossoming, the time of glorification, you are a dreamer. Nevertheless, this is exactly the situation among many Christians today.

Recently, I had dinner with some Christian friends who are very familiar with the outward world situation. They told us that a great many Christians are interested in two main aspects of prophecy: the rapture and the signs relating to the Lord’s coming. However, if we expect to be raptured without growing in life, we are dreamers, for rapture is actually our transfiguration and glorification. No carnation seed can grow from a sprout to a blossom overnight. Imagine that a carnation sprout dreamed that overnight it grew from the sprout stage to the blossom stage. This may occur in a dream, but not in real life, for such an unusual development is absolutely against the law of life. According to the law of life, a carnation plant must grow gradually until it reaches maturity. Then and only then will a blossom appear. Likewise, we must grow gradually until we arrive at a full grown man (Eph. 4:13, Gk.). Once we reach the stage of blossoming, we are ready to be transfigured and glorified. Thus, glorification with transfiguration is possible only after we have reached maturity.

We may also use the illustration of graduating from college. Suppose a college freshman dreams that he completes his education in one night and that he will graduate the next morning. That is merely a dream. In reality, he should not expect to graduate until he has completed four years of study. After he has finished all of his courses and passed all of his examinations, he will be approved for graduation. Graduation never comes suddenly.

Many Christians live in a dream. Although many Christians have expected to be taken to the air, eventually they all passed into the earth. During the last century and a half there have been many peculiar predictions regarding the coming of the Lord. Many so-called teachers of prophecy even dared to fix the date when the Lord would descend to the air. However, the years passed and nothing happened. Every prediction failed to materialize.

I was saved as a teen-ager a few years after the end of World War I. I loved to read the Bible and to know its truths. Therefore, although I was a student with little money, I tried to buy spiritual books. Many of those who taught and wrote about prophecy offered a number of predictions, most of which were shattered by the start of World War II; none were fulfilled. D. M. Panton, a great teacher of the Bible, published a paper entitled Dawn. In the mid-1930’s he printed an article which included two photographs, one of Caesar Nero and the other of Mussolini. D. M. Panton said, “Look at these pictures. See how much they resemble one another. Mussolini must be the antichrist.” After we came to know about this article, I said in one of the church meetings, “Dear saints, Mr. Panton has published an article telling us that Mussolini is the antichrist. If this is the case, certainly the Lord is coming soon, and we will be raptured. Brothers, deep in my spirit I do know one principle—that the rapture is the issue of maturity. In the New Testament the rapture is likened to a harvest, and a harvest is possible only after the crop has matured and ripened. If the crop is not ripe, but is still tender and green, how can the harvest come? It is impossible. Brothers and sisters, look at the situation among the Lord’s people today. Look at the crop. Is it ripe? Do you believe that according to the present stage of the growth of the crop the harvest is imminent? It is impossible. Look at the field—nowhere is there any real growth. Although there are thousands of genuine Christians everywhere on the earth as a result of two centuries of evangelization, of missionaries going out to the uttermost parts of the earth with the gospel, there is still very little growth. Where is the real growth in life? There is hardly any growth and no maturity. How then can we expect to have the harvest? I dare to say that the harvest will not come until the crop is ripe.” I spoke this word nearly forty years ago; however, the rapture has not yet happened. Mussolini was killed and buried, and no Christian has seen the antichrist.

We should not approach prophecy in the peculiar way of prediction. Many writers have done this and every one of them has been put to shame. We must realize that glorification with transfiguration depends upon our growing in life until we reach maturity. If we want to be glorified, we must grow, for glorification comes as the issue of maturity. When we enter into maturity, that maturity will issue in glorification. Glorification will not come as an accident, as an overnight occurrence; it is the result of growth in life. Brothers and sisters, we need to grow. As God’s crop we need to ripen until the time of harvest, the time of our transfiguration and glorification.