Are the Jewish Epistles for the Body of Christ?

by Jerry Shugart

A Twofold Revelation of Imminency

Now let us put the two verses which we have been examining together:

"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:8-9).

Here we see a double revelation of imminency in regard to the coming of the Lord. In these two verses the Apostle James employs a literary device, specifically a figure of speech called Pleonasm, which is defined in the following way:

"When what is said is, immediately after, put in another or opposite way to make it impossible for the sense to be missed" (The Companion Bible, Appendix 6: "Figures of Speech," [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1990] 12).

The sense which cannot be missed is the fact that the phrase "The Judge is standing at the door" reinforces the idea that the coming of the Lord is "near" in time and both verses speak of an imminent coming of the Lord Jesus. In The Scofield Reference Bible we read that "the Biblical term 'at hand' or 'near' is never a positive affirmation that the person or thing said to be at hand will immediately appear, but only that person or thing has the quality of imminency" (note at Matthew 4:17).

Since there is a two fold revelation concerning the imminency of the coming of the Lord Jesus we can know for certain that those who first received the Hebrew epistles were expecting to be raptured so therefore they were members of the Body of Christ.

The Imminent Coming of the Lord in the Hebrew Epistles; Part II

The following passage from the book of Hebrews demonstrates that the Jewish believers were expecting an "imminent" return of the Lord Jesus:

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look (apekdechomai) for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb.9:28).

Here the Greek word apekdechomai is used and it means "to expect, wait or look for" (The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, 37).

If the "appearing" of the Lord Jesus could not happen until certain prophesised events occured (such as the tribuation and the signs in the sky) then it is evident that before those events happened no one would be looking for that appearance, much less eagerly looking for that appearance:

apekdechomai: "To await eagerly or expectantly for some future event...to look forward eagerly, to await expectantly " (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains; Volume 2, ed. Louw and Nida, 296).

The present leadership of the Berean Bible Society teach that the appearance of the Lord Jesus which those who received the book of Hebrews were eagerly awaiting is the following one:

"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place...For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be...and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Mt.24:15,21,30).

It is evident that those who received the book of Hebrews would not be looking for the Lord "expectantly" if the Lord's appearance spoken of at Hebrews 9:28 is one which must be preceded by the setting up of the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation. They would not be "expecting" Him to appear until those events had already happened so it is impossible that they would be "looking" for Him to appear and it would also be impossible for them to be "waiting expectantly" for His appearance if the appearance in view is the one described at Matthew 24:30.

The only coming of the Lord which they would be looking for expectantly is the one described by Paul here:

"For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for (apekdechomai) the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil.3:20-21).

The folks at StudyLight.org have the following to say about the Greek word apekdechomai:

"The word occurs in Philippians 3:20 where it is translated 'look for' (KJV) or 'eagerly wait' (NKJV, NASB), indicating the intense feeling of imminency characteristic of those in the first century who were actively watching for the coming of the Lord from glory."

That is exactly the same Greek word used by the author of Hebrews in the verse under discussion:

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look (apekdechomai) for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb.9:28).

The Greek word apekdechomai is used six times in the NT (Ro.8:23,25, 1 Cor.1:7, Gal.5:5, Phil.3:20, Heb.9:28) and in every single instance it is used in connection with the Lord Jesus' coming at the rapture. Common sense dictates that the author of Hebrews would not be urging anyone to be looking for the appearance of the Lord Jesus with an attitude of eager expectancy unless that appearance could happen at any moment.

Cornelius Stam, the founder of the Berean Bible Society, had the following to say about the doctrine found in the book of Hebrews:

"Further, if the Hebrew believers were meant to go on in their 'kingdom' calling and program, and were 'not' to become partakers of the higher blessings of the dispensation of grace, as some teach, then neither Paul, nor anyone else would have been in the will of God in writing such an epistle to them as that which we are now considering" (Stam, The Epistle to the Hebrews [Stevens Point, WI: Worzalla Publishing Co., 1991], 34).

Glorious Bodies Like the Lord's Glorious Body

Now let us look again at the verse from the Hebrew epistles which I quoted earlier:

"Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn.3:2).

Those words of John speak of the "appearance" of the Lord Jesus and at that time he says that "we shall be like Him." That is the same "appearance" which Paul refers to here:

"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col.3:4).

Those in the Body of Christ will "appear with Him in glory" because they will put on a new, glorious body just like the Lord's glorious body:

"For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our lowly body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil.3:20-21).

In the following passage from another Hebrew epistle Peter is speaking of the exact same thing:

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed...And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Pet.5:1,4).

Now let us look again at the words of John in regard to the Lord's appearance:

"Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 Jn.3:2-3).

John refers to the things which will happen at the Lord Jesus' "appearance" as a "hope." That is exactly what Paul speaks of here:

"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).

J.C. O'Hair wrote the following in regard to the previously quoted passage from John's first epistle and the "blessed hope":

"In the First Epistle of John the believer is exhorted not to be ashamed before Him at His coming (parousia)presence) when He shall appear (phaneroo) shining). I John 2:28. 'When He shall appear (phaneroo), we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is'. I John 3:2. This was the blessed hope of the believers to whom John wrote" (O'Hair, That Day, What Day?, A New Premillennialism)