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In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 11

One more illustration of this kind must suffice. When His disciples asked Christ, “Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?” He answered them, “Elias is come already,” and we are told,

“Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:10-13).

That is one of the passages which Theosophists appeal to in support of their belief in reincarnation, and if our Lord’s words are to he taken at their face value, then we should have to admit that they lend some color at least to that theory. Like the Dispensationalists of our day, the scribes were great sticklers for the letter of Scripture, and insisted that the Divine promise,

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5)

meant just what it said. Here is certainly another case in point where the interpreter is needed, carefully to compare Scripture with Scripture and bring out the spiritual purport of them. That John the Baptist was not the actual person of the Tishbite is quite clear from his own blank denial, for when he was asked, “Art thou Elias?” he expressly declared, “I am not” (John 1:21). The question therefore remains, What did our Lord signify when He said of His forerunner “Elias is come already”?

That Christ was uttering a profound truth, one which could be apprehended only by spiritual and Divinely enlightened souls, when He declared that John the Baptist was Elijah, is very evident from His words to the apostles in Matthew 11:13, 14,

“For all the prophets and the law were prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it [or “him”], this is Elias, which was for to come.”

Those words also contained an indirect rebuke of their carnal beliefs and sentiments respecting the expected kingdom of the Messiah: His added, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (v. 15) confirms what we have just pointed out, for that call was never made except when something difficult for the natural man to understand was in view. John the Baptist was rejected by Israel’s leaders. Herod had beheaded him, and Christ declared that He too should “suffer” (Matthew 17:12), and that was something which ill accorded with their views. A suffering Messiah, whose herald had been murdered, was difficult to harmonize with the teaching of the scribes concerning Malachi 4:5; yet there is nothing in that verse which should stumble us today, for our Lord has made its meaning quite clear.

In addition to the elucidation of Malachi 4:5, furnished above, it should be pointed out that the key passage which opens the mystery is Luke 1:17, where it was announced that John should go before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elias”—language which manifestly signifies that he was not a reincarnation of the Tishbite. The essential oneness of the two men in their character and work rendered the history of the earlier one a prophecy of the other. The latter appeared at a time when conditions were much the same as those which characterized the state of Israel in the days of Ahab. The resemblances between the two men are many and marked. John was essentially a preacher of repentance. He was a man of great austerity, garbed similarly to the prophet of Gilead. Real trial was made of his fidelity also by the hatred and persecution of the ungodly, but he was zealous for the Lord, both in reproving sin in high places and in seeking to bring about a reformation of his nation. Both his mission and his disposition were Elijah-like in character.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 10

There is another class of passages, somewhat different from those noticed above, which needs to be considered under this head of the spiritual import of verses in the Word. These may be suitably introduced by a statement in Revelation 11:8,

“And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”

As might well be expected, even by those who have only a comparatively slight acquaintance with the numerous works on the Apocalypse, with their manifold interpretations, commentators differ widely in their explanations of this verse. We do not propose to add to their number by attempting to identify the “two witnesses” or to determine if the “great city” where they are slain is to be understood literally or symbolically, nor whether the reference be to some place or some thing in the past, the present, or the future, for such speculations possess no practical value, offering not the slightest aid in fighting the good fight of faith. It is sufficient for our present purpose simply to call the reader’s attention to the words we have italicized, and to point out how that clause establishes once more the principle of exegesis which we are here illustrating.

By saying that the “great city” of Revelation 11:8, is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, the Holy Spirit intimates that it is characterized by the same evils which Scripture teaches us to associate with those places, that the filthiness of Sodom and the harshness of Egypt, in embittering the lives of God’s people of old, marked the scene where the two witnesses testified for God and were slain for their fidelity. It is probable that the language of Revelation 11:8, contains a designed allusion to Ezekiel 16:44-59, where repeated mention is made of a mystical Sodom. “Mystical” we say, for when the Lord declared, “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters” (v. 53), and the question be asked whether there will yet be a restoring of the historical Sodom and the other cities of the plain, that is but to carnalize what is to be understood spiritually (by literalizing what is figurative), and would be to transfer the subject there spoken of from the moral government of God toward men, for the merely natural reign of the Divine providential arrangements respecting the material world.

When the Lord said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

“Thou art thy mother’s daughter, that lotheth her husband and her children.. your mother was an Hittite, and your father an Amorite” (Ezekiel 16:45),

He was charging them with being guilty of the same abominations that marked the original dwellers in Palestine, who at a very early date apostatized from God, being among the first idolators after the great deluge.

“As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (16:48, 49). God spoke thus to the backslidden and corrupt Jewish nation because she trod the polluted way and imitated the sins of the ancient city of ill fame.

To designate the covenant people “Sodom,” because the state and manners of the one were identical with the other’s, was one of the most solemn and impressive ways that could be taken to describe their inveterate depravity and vile character. Clear, then, it is that “Hittite,” “Amorite” and “Sodom” in those verses are no more to be taken literally than is “David” in Ezekiel 34:23, or “Balaam” and “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:14, 20.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 9

Now as Christ announced the oneness which He would produce between the angels and His people by an allusion to Jacob’s vision, so He referred to paradise as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), and His apostle spoke of the new covenant (prefigured by Sarah) as

“Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26)

and the New Testament saints as “the circumcision” (Philippians 3:3). In like manner (to return to Hebrews 12:22), when he said “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God” he referred to the spiritual “Sion,” or that blessed and glorious state into which believers have been called by the Gospel. That language looks back, of course, to the Old Testament, where (according to the different spellings in the Hebrew and Creek) it is called “Zion,” and which represented or exemplified the highest revelation of Divine grace in Old Testament times. It was the place of God’s habitation (Psalm 76:2). It was the object of God’s special love, and the birthplace of His elect:

“The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God…. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her” (Psalm 87:2, 3, 5).

Salvation and all blessings proceed therefrom (Psalm 128:5; 134:3).

Zion was not only the site of the temple, but the seat from which David reigned and ruled over the kingdom of Israel, issuing his laws and extending the power of his government over the whole of the holy land. As such it adumbrated the Messiah’s kingdom. It is (in fulfillment of the Father’s promise) to the celestial Zion that the Lord Jesus has been exalted (Psalm 2:6, and cf. Hebrews 2:9), and there He sways His scepter over the hearts of His people. Zion is where the spiritual David is enthroned, and whence “the rod of His strength” goes out, not only in bringing His redeemed into willing subjection, but by ruling “in the midst of His enemies” (Psalm 60:2; Isaiah 2:3). Thus, in saying to believers of the Gospel, “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God,” the Holy Spirit assures them that they have been given a personal interest in all the goodly things said of Sion anywhere in the Scriptures: that the spiritual content of those good things belongs to the New Testament saints particularly, that they have access to the spiritual throne of the antitypical David—the throne of grace. Since

“all the promises of God in Him [Christ] are yea, and in Him Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20),

then those in Christ have a right and title to all the glorious things spoken of Zion in the Old Testament. Compare Joshua 1:5, and Hebrews 13:5, 6, for an illustration of this principle.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 8

Thus, when Christ announced the free intercourse which now exists between heaven and earth, and which His redemptive work was to produce, He described it in words taken from Jacob’s vision:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51).

Very remarkable and full was that statement, containing much more within it than has been discerned by the majority of expositors. It not only declared that there was to be restored a blessed intercourse between the holy spirits of the upper world and the saints while here in the lower one, but it also revealed the foundation on which that intercourse rests, furnishing the key to such passages as Acts 12:7, and Hebrews 1:14. It is to be carefully noted that Christ here referred to Himself as “the Son of man,” a title which uniformly alludes to His self-abasement as the last Adam, or to some of the consequences of His obedience unto death.

As the result of Christ’s atoning death, a new and living way has been opened into the very presence of God, blood-washed sinners having the title to draw near unto Him in full assurance of faith. But John 1:51, teaches something more than that the Redeemer is the uniting link between heaven and earth, the alone Mediator between God and men, namely that one of the precious fruits of His atoning work is the restoration of that long-forfeited intercourse between men and angels. As Christ broke down the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles by His death upon the cross, having thereby slain the enmity which was between them, so He has also made an end of the estrangement which sin had caused between holy angels and men: they are brought together as the two branches of one family, gathered and united under one Head (Ephesians 1:10). By the blood of His cross, Christ has reconciled all things in heaven and in earth (Colossians 1:20), uniting them together in one happy fellowship, and for that reason did an angel say unto John,

“I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10).

Thus John 1:51, teaches us that Christ is the Medium of a spiritual communion between the inhabitants of earth nd heaven, the Maintainer of their fellowship.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 7

1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-4, furnishes another illustration of what we are here treating; to wit, the spiritual content of many passages in God’s Word. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” As a matter of fact, historically, Divinely recorded, they partook of material food and drank of water which flowed from a literal rock; yet three times over the apostle declared that the same were spiritual. In so doing Paul was not merely intimating that there was a close analogy between God’s dealings with the Hebrews of old and with His saints today: rather was he insisting that the wilderness experiences of Israel after the flesh adumbrated the soul experiences of Israel after the spirit. It is not only that the Divine institutions under Judaism possessed a symbolical and typical significance, but that Christians enter into the spiritual substance of which they were but the shadows. Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), our high priest (Hebrews 4:14). In Him we are spiritually circumcised (Colossians 2:11).

“But ye are come unto mount Sion” (Hebrews 12:22)

is also to be understood spiritually, and not literally. That should be quite obvious, yet, because of the gross and carnal ideas of modern Dispensationalists, there is need for us to labor the point. That is one of the many passages where the blessings and privileges of the new covenant are expressed in language taken from the old, the antitype being presented under the phraseology of the type.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 6

Psalm 89 supplies us with a further illustration of the principle we are here treating, and a very striking and important one it is. Historically it looks back to what is recorded in 2 Samuel 7:4-17, namely, the covenant which the Lord made with David; yet none with anointed eyes can read that Psalm without quickly perceiving that a greater than the son of Jesse is there in view, namely his Savior. In the light of Isaiah 42:1,

“I have made a covenant with My Chosen, I have sworn unto David My Servant” (Psalm 89:3),

it is quite clear that the spiritual reference is to that covenant of grace which God made with the Mediator before the foundation of the world; compare “Then thou spakest in vision to Thy Holy One” (v. 19). This is further confirmed in what immediately follow: “Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations” (v. 4), which is not true of the historical David. As Spurgeon remarked, “David must always have a seed, and truly this is fulfilled in Jesus beyond his hopes. What a seed David has in the multitude which have sprung from Him who was both his Son and his Lord! The Son of David is the great Progenitor, the last Adam, the everlasting Father; He sees His seed, and in them beholds of the travail of His soul. David’s dynasty never decays, but on the contrary, is evermore consolidated by the great Architect of heaven and earth. Jesus is a King as well as a Progenitor, and His throne is ever being built up.” As we read through this Psalm, verse after verse obliges us to look beyond the literal to the spiritual, until the climax is reached in verse 27, where God says of the antitypical David, “I will make Him My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.”

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

In not a few instances the Scriptures possess both a literal and a mystical force: Example 5

The eighth Psalm supplies us with another example of a passage of Scripture having a double purport a natural and also a spiritual. The principal scope of that psalm, as its opening and closing verses show, is to magnify the Creator—by extolling the wondrous works of His hands. As David beheld the beauties and marvels of the heavens, he had such a sense of his own nothingness that he exclaimed, “What is man [enosh—frail, puny man], that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man [a diminution of “man”], that Thou visitest him?” Then his wonderment deepened as he went on to say, “For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet.” Therein we behold both the sovereignty and the abounding grace of God, in so highly elevating one so lowly. This filled the Psalmist with amazement and awe, that God should have placed all mundane creatures in subjection unto man rather than unto angels (Genesis 1:28). Therein we behold the goodness of God to mankind, and the high favor conferred upon them. But that by no means exhausts the scope and sense of those verses.

Psalm 8:4-6, is quoted by the apostle in Hebrews 2:6-8, where he was proving from Scripture the immeasurable superiority of Christ over angels. He was indeed for a little while (during the season of His humiliation) made lower than they, but after He had triumphantly concluded the work given Him to do, God exalted Him far above them. Thus, what was spoken indefinitely of “man” by David, Paul makes a definite and spiritual application of unto Christ, for after saying “we see not yet all things put under Him,” he at once added “but we see Jesus,” which signifies that we see accomplished in Him the terms of that ancient oracle. All room for doubt on that score is removed by Paul’s next words, “who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.” That Psalm 8 is a Messianic one is further seen by the passages cited from it in Matthew 21:16; 1 Corinthians 15:27, which unquestionably applies to the Lord Jesus. The language used by David, then, was far more than a natural outburst of admiration of God’s works in creation, namely a spiritual ecstasy as he was granted an insight into the mystery of grace, the kingdom of Christ, and the love of the Father unto the person of the Mediator.

But the ravishment of David’s spirit was excited by something more than what has just been pointed out: the “man” whom he contemplated was the “new man,” the “perfect man” of Ephesians 2:15, and 4:13—that spiritual Man of which Christ is the Head. David’s utterance had respect, ultimately, not only unto Christ personal, but unto Christ mystical, for the Redeemer shares with His redeemed the spoils of His victory and admits them to a participation in His reward. They are His “joint-heirs” (Romans 8:17), and it is their glorification which Psalm 8:5, 6, had in final view. Even now the angels are in a position of subordination to them (Hebrews 1:14) and in a coming day the redeemed shall be “crowned with glory and honor.” “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne” (Revelation 3:21, and cf. 21:7). The exaltation of Christ is the guarantee of the Christian’s, for He entered heaven as the firstfruits—the earnest of the coming harvest. Oh, what a prospect is there here for faith to lay hold of and hope to enjoy now! If it were more real to us, if we were more engaged in looking away from the present to the future, we should be filled with wonderment and praise, and the petty trials and troubles of this life would affect us much less than they do.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures