THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS OF THE EARLY CHURCH

Today, there are many individuals within the congregations of God who either want a leadership position or are already in a leadership position, but seriously underestimate the enormity of the responsibility of leading the  people of God in their quest for immortal life.

Although everyone who was called to the eldership in the early church was called to serve the Father's elect children, not all of them had the same authority, functions, responsibility, or gift of the spirit. Moreover, not all of them were called to serve as spiritual leaders within the congregations of God.

When  the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus and listed the various functions, responsibilities, and gifts of the spirit, he clearly defined the functions and responsibilities of those charged to minister within the congregations on a daily basis:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.  And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.  Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?  Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I to you a more excellent way" (1.Cor.12:27-31 KJV).

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love" (Eph.4;11-16 KJV).

A Serious Responsibility

Those who were called to be spiritual leaders  within the congregations of the early church had a uniquely different responsibility from others within the eldership.  Not all men are suited for this type of work, because it takes a person of exceptional patience, gentleness, kindness, self-sacrifice, wisdom, spiritual understanding, and dedication to serve the people of God in this capacity.

Paul cautions those who had been given the responsibility of a congregational elder to be very careful about how they fulfilled their responsibility to serve the Father's children:

Take heed, therefore to yourselves, and to  all the  flock, over which the holy spirit has made you overseers [' superintendent' or 'official in charge'], to  feed the church of God, which he [Jesus] has purchased with  his blood.  For I know that after I leave, grievous wolves [evil people] will come among you, that will not spare the flock. Also among you  shall men arise, speaking perverse things, in order to  draw away disciples after themselves. . .I have shown you all things, and that you ought to work to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, when he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:28-30, 35 Para.).

The following is a list of the subjects pertaining to the spiritual leadership and organizational structure of the of God's Church that will be  reviewed in this section in order to gain insight into the attitudes and  responsibilities that each of the elect should have during this age of the church:

QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ELDER

All men who were called to the eldership of the early church had to meet high personal and spiritual standards in order to qualify for this office of service. And they all were called to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ in some capacity. However, those who were called to be congregational elders and those who taught spiritual truths were held to the highest standard of accountability. Consequently, they  received the greater condemnation and judgement for failure to properly execute their responsibilities. See Jms.3:1; Heb.13:7.

"If a man desires the office of a bishop [pastor], he desires a good work. For a bishop must be blameless [have unimpeachable virtue],  the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not  greedily looking  for monetary gain;  but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;  One that rules his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (If he cannot rule his own house, how can he rule the church of God?) . . . not a novice . . . moreover, he must have a good report of those outside of the church" (1.Tim.3:1-7).

"The servant [elder] of the Lord must not strive; but must be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, and in meekness instructs those that oppose themselves; as if God will give them repentance to acknowledge the truth" (2.Tim.2:24-25 Para.)

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1.Cor.4:1-2 KJV).

"For a bishop [pastor] must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate" (Titus 1:7 KJV).   See also Titus 2:15.

These are just a few of the  qualifications that had to be manifested before a man could be ordained as the spiritual leader of a congregation. These qualifying attitudes and behaviors also had to be maintained during his pastoral function.  The responsibility for maintaining the congregational elder's integrity was not only his but also the congregations,  because within  the body of Christ everyone must work together for the common good.

ATTITUDE TOWARD SERVICE

Although everyone who is called of the Father to become a first-born son of his new creation is expected to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ, those called to be  spiritual leaders must have a special dedication to serving their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Without question, the responsibility  of the congregational elder within the early church was one of the most demanding, time consuming, and stressful functions within the eldership. Moreover, because of the opportunity of service and personal accomplishment, spiritual leadership had the potential to be an exceptionally gratifying and joyful experience.

Christ's Example of Service

"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  But he that is a hired hand, and not the shepherd, who doesn't own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters them.  The hired hand flees, because he is a hired hand, and doesn't care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and am known by  my sheep. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn.10:11-15 Para.).

Jesus set the example for spiritual leaders to follow as they serve the Father's  elect children. Jesus' dedication to the salvation of humanity was total; he held nothing back. He even  set aside his immortality as the Creator God to become a human being, and he allowed himself to be unjustly put to death in order to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.

In verses 11-15 of John 10, Jesus speaks of himself a good shepherd, not one who is just hired to do a job. This is an important point, because Jesus reveals that those who serve the Father's elect have a vested interest in the people they serve. In reality, all of the elect are part of the Family of God; therefore, any person placed in a position of a guardian or a teacher of their brothers and sisters in the faith must be more responsible for their charge than a hired servant whose interest is only temporary.

"But Jesus called the twelve disciples to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt.20:25-28 Para.).

"Don't  be called masters: for one is your Master,—that is Christ.  But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matt.23:10-12 Para.). See also 1.Cor.1:21-24.

The spiritual leaders of the elect were not to be dictatorial and overbearing as they governed and served the church; they were to be individuals  who led by example as they assisted and guided those in their care toward spiritual perfection.

1.Peter 5:1-9

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder [co-elder], and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:  Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not because you are forced to, but willingly; and not for the sake of money, but because you have a willingness to serve" (vs.1-2 Para.).

At the time Peter wrote this, there were attitudinal problems developing among some of the elders who regarded the eldership as a burden or just a regular job, rather than an opportunity to serve their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. However, Peter reminds the congregational elder of the reason that they were called to serve the elect as spiritual leaders. He reminds them to respect the opinions and suggestions of those who have served for a long time and serve in humility, because they will receive their reward for service at the proper time:

"Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away. Likewise, you younger [younger spiritually], submit yourselves to the elder.  Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:" (vs.3-6 KJV).

THE ELDER'S RIGHT TO GOVERN

The New Testament shows that the spiritual leaders of the early church had broad discretionary authority and power with which to govern, guide, and serve those under their care and protection. Some today  feel that a spiritual leader is only to serve as  a teacher, preacher, or in some physical capacity without the power or authority to enforce or take any corrective action upon those who are disobedient to the faith. Others feel that Jesus Christ authorized spiritual leaders to have absolute power and authority over the elect in every aspect of their lives.

Neither of these two extreme views of authority and power are correct.  However, elders of the early church did have the authority to protect and reprimand  the elect when it was necessary (See Acts 5:1-10; 8:9-24; 1.Cor.5:1-5). After being reprimanded by the spiritual leadership, it was the responsibility of the individual(s) within the church to respond in a positive way.  Today, it is the responsibility of all the elect to protect and defend the faith and the faithful, because the church is one body. All the elect have a responsibility to work to benefit the spiritual body as a whole (See 1.Cor.12:1-31; 2.Cor.2:3-10).  Nevertheless, no one can work out another person's salvation (Phil 2:12), or force another person into the Kingdom of God. Therefore, those whom Jesus selected as spiritual leaders were not given the authority to control every aspect of the lives of those under their care.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul fulfills his responsibility as a spiritual leader when he passed judgment and sentence upon an offending brother in Christ:

"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that has so done this deed.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [by his authorization], when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1.Cor 5:1-5 Para.).

The expression "in the name of our Lord Jesus" is used to show that Paul had the authority from Jesus Christ to pass judgement concerning this matter.  This plainly shows that Paul had the authority to make a binding decision concerning a spiritual matter and that this authority and responsibility was not just meant for Peter as some believe.

1 Timothy 1:18-20 Paraphrased

"This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme."

Here, Paul used his authority as an apostle and elder to instruct and inform Timothy and the church of his decision concerning two men who had violated their sacred calling. Paul had the authority and power to remove these men from the congregation and give them over to Satan for punishment. This action against Hymenaeus and Alexander clearly shows that the elders of the early church had the authority and power to remove individuals from the congregations when it was necessary.

From the following scriptures, it is evident that the elders of the early church  had the authority and power to govern the church and remove and  punish those who were unruly or causing trouble within the congregations:

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.  For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; . . . For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.  But you, brethren, be not weary in well-doing.  And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (2.Thes.3:6-14 KJV).

"These things speak, and encourage, and censure with all authority. . ." (Titus 2:15 Para.).

"Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power [authority] which  the Lord has given me to edification, and not to destruction" (2.Cor.13:10 KJV).  

"But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat.  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within?  But them that are without God judge.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1.Cor.5:11-13 KJV).  

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them" (Rom.16:17 KJV).

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us" (2.Thes.3:6 KJV).  

Authority and power are not given to those who serve the elect as spiritual leaders so that they can be glorified in the eyes of the elect and be served by them instead of being the servants. This authority is given so that the spiritual leadership is able to serve the elect more efficiently and effectively.

STEWARDS OF GOD'S MYSTERIES

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor.4:1-2  KJV).

The elders of the early church understood that they were  Christ's servants and stewards of God's sacred truth who were  charged with the responsibility of teaching and preserving the pure Word of God. The same condition should exist today among all of the elect of God, especially among any who claim to be spiritual leaders of God's people.

Teach  Sound Doctrine

2.Timothy 4:1, 3-4 KJV

"I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick [those who are alive] and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove [reprimand], rebuke [censure], exhort [encourage] with all longsuffering and doctrine. . . For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables" (vs.1,3-4).

Some people can only endure in the way of truth for a short time before they begin to give in to their own lustful ways which are the opposite of God's ways. In order to placate their consciences, they search out those who will tell them what they want to hear instead of reprimanding them for the error of their ways. It is sad, but  many whom the Father has called to salvation walk this path to eternal destruction in the Lake of Fire:

"But speak you the things which become sound doctrine; That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience.  The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.  Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.  In all things showing yourself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing no corruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you" (Titus 2:1-8 KJV).

"This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1.Tim.1:18-20 Para.).

Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus about the teaching of sound doctrine and his warning about elders who go astray and those who are false ministers is very important today. Today, there are many who claim to teach the truth of God to God's elect, but they actually teach false doctrine and lead people astray. There are also many who teach for financial gain instead of teaching the things that will reprimand and correct the sinner.

In order for a person to know if the spiritual leader  who is serving them is teaching truth, a person must carefully study what is being taught. The warnings to six of the prophetic churches in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation are examples of spiritual leaders and the people they lead not fulfilling their responsibilities pertaining to true doctrine.

Doctrine and the Elect of God

God the Father and Jesus Christ reveal truth to all of the elect who strive to grow in spiritual truth and knowledge.  However, what is a person's responsibility concerning  new truth?  Does one have the right to decide what is and is not truth? Yes! Each person has the right to determine what they believe is truth.  However, just because a person decides something is truth, does not make it so.

Did the elders or non-elders of the early church have any authorization from God to establish doctrine on their own, or was it their duty to be in subjection to the decisions of the authorities who are charged with such matters? Acts chapter 15 reveals that all must be subject to the constituted spiritual authority   and to one another in matters concerning doctrine.

Although it is true that God gave the eldership of the early church the responsibility and accountability to decide doctrinal  matters (1.Cor. 4:1), he reveals truth concerning doctrine to all his children who truly seek his will in their lives.

During the existence of the early church, those who thought they had new understanding concerning God's word or a question concerning the validity of a doctrine had the responsibility to submit this new understanding or doctrinal question to those in the leadership positions for their review. Moreover, they had to be willing to abide by the decision of the spiritual leaders as to the merit of any new doctrinal understanding.

One of the major responsibilities of the spiritual leaders of the early church was  the stewardship of God's word and the teaching of the truth. Additionally they were responsible for maintaining doctrinal integrity. The examples in the Book of Acts clearly show the process that was sanctioned by Jesus Christ for the resolution of doctrinal disagreements. See also Pro.11:14.

"Obey  them [the elders]  that have the rule [authority] over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls [your spiritual life], as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb.13:17 KJV).

The spiritual leaders of the early church had the authorization and accountability to watch over the salvation of God's people. One should keep  in  mind that these elders were responsible and accountable to the Father and Jesus Christ to carefully watch over the elect's eternal salvation. Therefore, one of the major concerns of any spiritual leader should be the maintaining of doctrinal integrity and making sure that heresies do not creep into the body of Christ.

ELDER'S ACCOUNTABILITY

Among the many problems that Paul had to reprimand the Corinthians about was a sectarian attitude that some had toward the ministry.  Paul reprimanded them for focusing on the different personalities within the ministry instead of focusing on God the Father and Jesus Christ and more important spiritual issues. Within this reprimand is a serious warning for spiritual leaders to perform their responsibility correctly and a serious warning to the elect to avoid sectarianism because of the disastrous impact it can have on everyone in the Body of Christ.

1.Corinthians 3:1-15 KJV

"For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men? For one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (vs.3-6).

Here, Paul addresses the core issue which was causing strife and division among them and he shows where their primary focus should have been directed.

"For we are all laborers together with God: you are God's husbandry, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon.  But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. . . Now if any man [an elder] build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble.  Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (vs.9-10; 12-13).

The elders were cautioned to be extremely careful about how they performed the work that they were called to do within the congregations of God, because how they conducted their ministry affected those under their care as well as their reward at the return of Christ.

"If any man's [elder's] work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's [elder's] work shall be burned [doesn't stand up through trials], he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire [trial]" (vs.14-15).

There are rewards for being a good steward of God's word and for being a good shepherd to God's people;  however, there is an enormous amount of accountability for how one performs their responsibilities as a spiritual leader of God's people, because people's salvation is at stake.  Paul says that if a  man makes an irreversible mistake in  shepherding God's people, he will suffer some loss of reward  in the Kingdom, but he will still obtain salvation if he remains faithful to his calling.

Notice the warning that  Paul and James gave concerning the greater accountability and judgment that is upon those who were congregational elders:  

"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jms.3:1 KJV).

"Obey them [the elders]  that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves:  for they watch for your souls [your spiritual life], as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb.13:17 KJV).

Everyone who is called to salvation during the gospel age will stand before Jesus Christ to give account for themselves; however, those who are called to serve congregations will also be held accountable for how they discharge their responsibility toward those they were called to serve.  This is a very heavy responsibility that is given to those who serve the congregations, and it should not be lightly dismissed by those who serve and those who are served, because everyone is held accountable.

AUTHORITY TO HEAL THE SICK

Historically, there have been two distinct categories of physical healing that those placed in positions of spiritual leadership within the early church have authority to perform: healing within the church and healing outside the church. It is important to understand the distinction between the  process of anointing with oil and praying for the sick by the elders and the process of restoring health to a person outside of the congregations of God,  because there were two different purposes being served by each process. Healing inside the church was for the benefit of the elect of God, but healing outside the church  was an act of mercy and compassion as well as proclaiming the Father's good news message about his Son and his coming kingdom.

Within the Congregations

"Is any sick among you?  let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him" (Jms.5:14-15 KJV).

Here is a specific set of instructions to God's elect within the early church who were in need of restoration to health. The following had to be done by both the sick member of the congregation and the elder:

1. It was the responsibility of the one who needed healing to call the elders for anointing and prayer. Although it was not specifically noted, it can be inferred that the call for the elders was made in the case of serious or life threatening illness.

2. The elders had to anoint the person with oil and pray the prayer of faith over them. It is clear that when they used this authorization  the elders had to clearly state to the Father that they were coming to him to claim the promise he had made to heal the individual through this process. Moreover, they had to clearly state that it was through the authority that resides in Jesus Christ that they were coming before him to claim this promise.  

3. These instructions show that the elders of the early church had been authorized by Jesus Christ to intercede on the behalf of the elect of God to claim a promise from God. When the instructions were followed the sick person would be healed, because the  promise was unconditional. If the anointed person was not healed, the following might have been true:

The elect of God who were ill were instructed to call for the elders of the church when they had a major sickness that needed attention. The elders were instructed to anoint the person with oil and pray for their healing. When the men who were truly  elders did this for one of the elect, that person was healed, which was a major proof that the elder was authorized to be  a spiritual leader by  Jesus Christ.

It should be understood that the process of anointing with oil and praying for the sick had nothing to do with the gift of healing that was used in the process of evangelism. This method of healing by the eldership was only to be performed for those who were of the elect of God (See our study about using the name and authority of  Jesus Christ).

Anointing and Healing Today, 1998 A.D.

The instruction given by James concerning the anointing with oil for the healing of illness within the early church raises some major questions concerning the spiritual leadership of God's people today, because it is obvious that no such authority exists today. In fact, no such authority has existed for many centuries among the spiritual leaders of God's people. This is not to say that such an authorization will not be manifested at some point in the future, because Jesus clearly says,  "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; . . . they shall lay hands upon the sick, and they shall recover" (Mk.16:17-18 KJV).

The anointing with oil as James instructed depends upon the following two things:

1. There must be spiritual leaders within the congregations of God who are authorized by Jesus Christ to anoint and heal the sick.

2. An oil must exist that is to be used in the anointing process.  Because we are not told what kind of oil the eldership of the early church used to anoint, we can only assume that the oil was a special mixture such as the oils used for sacred purposes under the first agreement with national Israel.

Because  these two things must exist in order for the instructions of James to be carried out and  there is no indication that this method of healing will again be authorized, it seems presumptuous to anoint with oil for healing today, especially when people are not healed each and every time that the anointing is performed.

This does not mean that God the Father will not intervene to heal people who cry out to him. There have been and will continue to be many people who are healed by the power of God as individual acts of mercy.

As with many other things concerning the spiritual leadership that will exist during the last several years before Christ's return, the scriptures are silent as to the process by which the elect of God will be healed of illness during this time. However, if it is to be as it was during the early church, it will be revealed to those who will be authorized to perform such healing.

THE MELCHIZEDEC PRIESTHOOD

Many teach that, after Jesus became the High Priest in heaven, (after the order of Melchizedec), he assumed the function of the Aaronic priesthood and made those who were to minister to his Father's elect children a part of this priestly order. Others believe that after Jesus' resurrection, the authority and responsibility for shepherding God's people passed from the Levitical priesthood to the apostles and then to the eldership. Because of these beliefs,  most professing Christian ministers assume that they have the right to accept tithes from those under their authority.

Although these beliefs may seem to have some merit, there was no transfer of authority and responsibility from the Levitical  priesthood to the elders of the congregations of God. Moreover, the elders of the early church were not a part of the priestly order of Melchizedec. The spiritual leaders of the congregations of God have a distinctly different purpose and responsibility in the plan of God for the salvation of humanity. Furthermore, there are a number of false assumptions that have been made by biblical scholars, quasi-Christians, and spiritual leaders of the elect that need to be  dealt with in order to clearly understand the authority of those who will serve the elect as spiritual leaders during the end of the age.

It is clear that Jesus Christ is now of the priestly order of Melchizedec (Heb.6:20; 7:1-28), so many assume that the ministers of Christ are also ordained to this priestly order; however, this is a false assumption. The scriptures clearly show that it is only Christ who is of this order. Nowhere in the New Testament is there even the slightest hint that those  who minister to the elect of God during the gospel age of salvation are ordained into the Melchizedec priesthood.

Hebrews 5:1-10 KJV

 "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.  And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins"  (vs.1-3).

Those of the Levitical priesthood were imperfect and they had to have a sacrifice made for their own sins, which is the first clue to understanding why the spiritual leaders of the congregations of God are not of the Melchizedec order of priests. They cannot be of this order because they do not have the authority to offer gifts and sacrifices for others. This is also one of the reasons why the authority of the Levitical priesthood was not transferred to the spiritual leaders of the congregations of God.

"And no man takes this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.  So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said to him, You are my Son, today have I begotten you.  As he said also in another place, You are a   priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec" (vs.4-6; Psa.110:4).  

Just as the Creator God (Jesus Christ) called Aaron to the  priesthood,  God the Father personally chose and ordained Jesus Christ to the priestly order of Melchizedec. Search the Bible  from the beginning to the end  and you will find only one person of human origin who was ordained to the priestly order of  Melchizedec; that person is Christ.

"Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him that is able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him;   Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedec" (vs.7-10). 

"Where Jesus entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedec" (Heb.6:20 Para.).  

Although the elect of God are a royal priesthood (1.Pet.2:9), they are not at this time part of the priestly order of Melchizedec. It is only Jesus Christ who is of the order of Melchizedec. It should be evident that the spiritual leaders within the church during the gospel age of salvation have a completely different ministry from Jesus Christ who ministers to the Father's elect children as a high priest. Moreover, they have a different ministry from the Levitical priesthood who will minister to physical Israel.

Melchizedec, a Superior Priesthood

The writer to the Hebrews explains why the  Melchizedec priesthood is far superior to the Levitical priesthood, which is evidenced by the fact that the Levites symbolically paid tithes to Melchizedec through  Abraham:

"For truly they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they came out of the loins of Abraham: But he [Melchizedec] whose descent is not counted from them [the Levites] received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him [Abraham] that had the promises. And without any contradiction, the lesser is blessed by the better. And here, men that die [the Levites], receive tithes; but there, he [Melchizedec] of whom it is witnessed that he lives [an eternal being]. And as I may say, Levi also, who received tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he [Levi] was still in the loins of his father [Abraham] when Melchizedec met him" (Heb.7:5-10).

Verses 5-10, clearly show the distinction between the Levitical priesthood and the priestly order of Melchizedec. The Levitical priesthood is a physical priesthood, which is inferior to the order of Melchizedec, which is a spiritual priesthood:

"But this man [Jesus Christ], because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood" (Heb.7:24 KJV).

Verse 24 is extremely important because some who minister within the congregations of God believe that this scripture proves that they are of the Melchizedec order of  priests by virtue of being in a leadership position.

A more literal translation of the phrase 'an unchangeable  priesthood' is 'a priesthood which passes not from one to another.' If the Melchizedec priesthood cannot be transferred from one to another and it is an order of priests that must be entered into, men who believe that they are of the priestly order of Melchizedec are mistaken, because the scriptures clearly show that so far, Jesus Christ is the only human who has entered into this order of priests.

The message of Hebrews 7, is that now we have a perfect high priest who sprang out of Judah (not Levi) who is able to bridge the gap between mankind and God the Father and allow mankind to come into his presence.

A Perfect High Priest

Hebrews 7:11-16 KJV

"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?  For  the priesthood  being  changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (vs.11-12).

Verse 12 is often  used in an attempt to substantiate the claim that  today's spiritual leaders have the authority collect tithes from God's people, because the priesthood is now changed. But, this is not what this text actually says. Verse 12 concerns the law that regulated who may officiate as the high priest of the nation of Israel.  Only a man who is of the tribe of Levi and of the bloodline of Aaron can become a high priest of national Israel.  This law has never been changed. The prophet Ezekiel says that after Christ's return, decedents of Aaron will still officiate as high priests.  The law that has been changed is the law that governs how one can access God the Father. Before Jesus Christ, no human could access God the Father. But now this law is changed. Now,  through Jesus Christ who is descended from the tribe of Judah, the Father's children can come into his presence. See our studies about the various covenants and God the Father's good news message.

Under the first agreement with national Israel, the high priest acted as a bridge between God and his people. Because the high priest himself was guilty of sin and under the death penalty, he was also in need of a perfect sacrifice and a perfect high priest to act as an intermediary between  himself and God:

"For he of whom these things are spoken pertains to another tribe, of which  no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord  sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.  And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedec there arises another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life" (vs.13-16).

Because of the imperfection of  both the sacrifices and the high priest of Israel, no human could pass beyond the Creator God into the presence of God the Father. This  was not possible, because the Father dwells in heaven, and any human who is allowed to come into his presence must be totally sinless, holy, and righteous. No human could qualify or had the authority to go before him before the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Before the advent of Christ, all people were sinners and under the death penalty for the violation of the Father's law. Therefore, in order to solve this problem, a new  spiritual high priest had to be ordained after the  Melchizedec order of priests which is a sinless spiritual priesthood. See Gen.14:18; Psa.110:4.

Hebrews 7:11-16 shows a change in the conditions of the first agreement with national Israel. This change allows  the elect of God during the gospel age of salvation to go directly before God the Father without going to a physical priest and having him speak to God on their behalf, which was done under the first agreement with ancient Israel:

"Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God. . . He sets aside the first to establish the second. . . Day by day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb.10:5-12 NIV).

Jesus Christ is now the high priest who sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. And because of his sacrifice and the new agreement, there is now  a new life-giving way to gain access to the very presence of God the Father:

"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God" (Heb.10:19-21 KJV).

"But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better agreement, which was established upon better promises" (Heb.8:6 KJV).

Our High Priest

Jesus Christ now holds an extremely important position, which is vital to our salvation. He is our high priest. It is because he lives that he is able to be our high priest and intercede on our behalf before the Father:

"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin"  (Heb.4:14-15 KJV). See also Heb.2:14-18; 9:7-28.

Jesus Christ is now a spiritual  high priest after the order of Melchizedec, which is a higher order of priests than the Aaronic priesthood, because it is a spiritual order of priests. Jesus Christ did not replace the physical Aaronic order of high priests; he is above the Aaronic priesthood. Aaron's descendants through Zadok will still be high priests during Christ's reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, when he rules the earth from Jerusalem after his return. See Ezekiel chapters 40-48.

From what is said in the scriptures about the order of Melchizedec, it should be obvious that no one who serves the elect under Jesus Christ is a part of the order of Melchizedec. Moreover, none of those who serve Jesus Christ as his ministers are a spiritual priest or a spiritual  high priest in heaven. Only Jesus Christ is in heaven serving the elect as their high priest before God the Father.

Those who serve the elect of God serve them in a much different capacity than the Aaronic priesthood served ancient Israel and in a much different way than Jesus Christ now serves the elect.

The Changing of the Covenant

What many fail to understand about the New Covenant, which Jesus established at his death and resurrection, is that it pertains to two distinctly different peoples.  It is a covenant with the physical people of national Israel that will be implemented after Christ's return as King of kings, and it is a covenant with those whom the Father calls to be his elect children during the gospel age of salvation. It is the portion of the covenant that concerns  the Father's elect children that is the better covenant spoken of by the writer to the Hebrews.

The covenant with national Israel still contains provisions for a physical high priest and priesthood, whereas the covenant with the Father's elect children contains a provision for a spiritual high priest only (Jesus Christ); no physical priesthood can intercede on their behalf to the Father.

The writer to the Hebrews explains the cancellation of the first covenant with national Israel and the establishment of a new agreement with national Israel and the Father's elect children of his new creation. See our study about the sons of the new creation.

Hebrews 8:6-9, 13

"But now has he [Jesus Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he said,  Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says he Lord (vs.6-9 Para.).

Because national Israel did not keep the agreement  that their ancestors made with the Creator God at Mount Sinai, God has canceled it and made another that is far superior.

"In that he said, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (v13 Para.).

The first agreement that the Creator God (Jesus Christ) made with national Israel was ready to vanish and it did vanish with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.. The first covenant that God made with national Israel is no longer valid, because it has been replaced with a new agreement that will be formalized after  Christ's return and the gathering of national Israel. See our studies about the various resurrections and covenants.

The biblical fact is that the spiritual leaders who serve the Father's elect children  during the gospel age of salvation are a separate and distinct ministry from the Melchizedec ministry of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Levitical Priesthood to national Israel, because they are separated and ordained for a distinctly different  purpose.

PETER AND THE KEYS OF HEAVEN

The Catholic Church, other quasi-Christian religions, and some true Christians  cite Matthew 16:18-19 as their authority to rule the people of God and determine doctrine. A misunderstanding of the intent and purpose of what Jesus actually said to Peter concerning the keys of heaven has led to the false assumption that men are given the discretionary  power to change and manipulate the laws of God as they desire.

On many occasions this misunderstanding has been very troubling and burdensome to the elect of God. Many have suffered much injustice at the hands of their spiritual leaders, because of a misapplication of the authority that Jesus gave to Peter, the other apostles, and the eldership to make doctrinal decisions while ministering to the congregations of God.  Were the keys given to Peter only, or to all of the apostles and elders throughout the ages?  What are the 'keys' to the Kingdom of Heaven?

In order to understand Jesus' statement about the keys to heaven, the context in which this statement was made and to whom it was actually made must be understood.

In Matthew's account of Jesus' statement about the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, all of the statements that Jesus makes and the questions he asks during this event are addressed to all of the disciples, not to Peter only.

Matthew 16:13-20 Paraphrased

"And coming into Caesarea of Philipi, Jesus questioned his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I am, the son of man?" (v13).

"And they said, Some say that you are John the Baptist; and others say that you are Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And he said to them, But whom do you say that I am?" (vs.14-15).

"Simon Peter answered, and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v16).

In response to Peter's correct answer, Jesus says,

"You are blessed Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven revealed it to you" (v17).

This is where most people go astray in seeking to understand to whom Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Just because Jesus directs his next statement to Peter, does not necessarily mean that what he says later is also directed only to him.

"And I say  to you, That you are Peter [a  pebble], and upon this rock [a large craggy outcropping of rock] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (v18).

It is a mistake to believe that Jesus was going to build his church on Peter. The language clearly shows that the foundation upon which Jesus would build his church was the truth concerning  who he was, why he came to earth, and what he taught.

"And I will give the keys of  the kingdom of heaven to you: and whatever you will bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in heaven: and whatever you may  loose on earth shall be loosed, having  been already loosed in heaven" (19).

There is absolutely nothing in the language structure of verse 19 to show that Jesus only  directed this statement to Peter. Jesus' very next statement seems to show that he addressed all of the disciples.

"Then he warned his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was the Christ" (v20).

Acts chapter 15 clearly shows that James, not Peter, was the one who presided over the council of elders in Jerusalem and that all the elders were involved in the  decision making process when establishing doctrine. Acts 15 also shows that it was James, not Peter, who had the authority to make the final decision concerning matters set before the council of elders in Jerusalem. Moreover, both secular history and the Bible clearly show that Peter did not occupy a position as the overseer of the church, and the Bible clearly shows that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ.

The Keys

Some people believe that the keys of Matthew 16:19 are symbolic of a  badge of power or authority, and that the individual or the group that  possesses these keys is authorized to lock and unlock, bind and  loose things; therefore it is important to understand exactly what these keys symbolize.

It  is clear that Jesus Christ is the keeper of the keys pertaining to the House of David (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7) and the keys that control the abode of the dead and death itself (Rev.1:18). Moreover, he is the one who sends forth the angel with a key to open the abyss in order to punish humanity  just before he comes to conquer the earth (Rev.9:1; 20:1). These facts make it clear that other things that Jesus says about keys should be considered important to the understanding of what unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven to humanity.

In a conversation with the teachers of  Jewish traditions and God's law Jesus explains what the keys are that unlock the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Luke 11:46-52 Paraphrased

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you burden men with burdens that are hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (v46).

The burdens that the lawyers placed upon the Jews were the Jewish traditions and erroneous interpretations of God's law. These false teaching that were enforced upon the Jews not only made their physical life difficult but also made the worship of God a burden rather than the joyous experience that obedience to God  was intended to be. Because of their arrogance and self-importance they did nothing to lighten this heavy burden that they and their fathers before them had placed upon the people.

"Woe to you! Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So you bear witness and consent to the works of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs" (vs.47-48).

The prophets were sent by  the Creator God with two primary messages: The first was a call to repentance and a return to the true teachings of God, and the second message was prophetic for future generations. These prophets who brought these messages were killed by the chosen people, because the people were unwilling to obey God:

"And because of this, the wisdom of God said, I will send prophets and apostles to them, and they will kill and drive out some of them, that the blood of all the prophets poured out from the foundation of the world may be required from this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of  Zechariah who perished between the altar and the House. Yes, I say to you, it will be required from this generation" (vs.49-51).

Although his chosen people continued to rebel against him, God continued to send messengers to call his people to repent and return to him and his ways.  However, the people and their spiritual leaders continued to reject God's messengers and their message. This is why the people and their spiritual leaders did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and why  they did not understand the message that he brought from the Father. Moreover, because they  rejected and murdered God's messengers, that generation will be held accountable for the death of these righteous men.

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you took the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you kept out others from entering" (52).

Verse 52 reveals the thing that allows one access to the pathway that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. These spiritual leaders had  hidden the key of knowledge. They were afraid of the truth of God so they suppressed it. They did  not use this knowledge to enter into the good graces of God and kept others from the only truth that would have set them free from their bondage to sin.

Jesus gave his disciples the keys to unlock the pathway and door to the Kingdom of Heaven. These keys are the things that comprise the body of  knowledge concerning Jesus Christ and the message that he brought from his Father that show the way to obtain eternal life.

How did Peter know that Jesus was the Messiah?  And how does anyone the Father calls to salvation know who his Son truly is?  Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, because the Father had revealed this knowledge to him. Likewise, those called to salvation today know Christ, because the Father reveals him  to them (Jn.6:44,65).

The Mystery of Christ

"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to me toward you: how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I wrote before in a few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit" (Eph.3:1-5).

The knowledge and understanding of the mysteries surrounding Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the Father are but the beginning of one's walk with God. After repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the holy spirit, one must continue to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding. Clearly, knowledge and understanding  are the keys that were given to all the apostles to pass on to those to whom they ministered  in their day. It is these keys that they caused to be recorded for our day.

Beware of False Apostles

Since the early years of the church, many men have attempted to appropriate to themselves the office of apostle, and many have claimed to be the chief apostle over the Church of God. However, the word of God shows all of these men to be liars and deceivers as wolves among the sheep who devour the unsuspecting, the ill informed, and the naive:

"For  such  are false apostles, deceitful  workers,  transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself  is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it  is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers  of  righteousness; whose end shall be  according  to  their works" (2.Cor.11:13-15 KJV). See also Deut.13:1-5; Jer.23:21-22; Rev. 2:9; 3:9.

The apostles of the early church have no successors; theirs was a unique office for a unique time with a unique reward for their faithful service.  The biblical record and secular history clearly show that Peter was not the chief apostle and that he was only one of the original 12 apostles and an elder among many elders:

"I encourage the elders among you, because I am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, exercise oversight not because you have to, but do it willingly, and not for money, but of a ready mind: Neither serve as  masters over those under your care, but be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd comes, you will receive a crown of glory. Likewise you that are younger, be submissive to those who are older. Yes each one of you should be subject to the other, being clothed with humility: for God resists the proud and gives favor to the humble" (1.Pet.5:1-5 KJV Para.).  

Paul who was the last apostle ordained by Jesus Christ also understood that Jesus Christ was the only chief apostle over the church:

"That we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about by  every  wind of doctrine, by the slight of  men,  and  cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth  in love, May grow up into him in all things, which is  the head, even Christ" (Eph.4:14-15 KJV).

"For  the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head  of the church" (Eph.5:23 KJV).

Jesus Christ is the only chief apostle over the Church of God. All true spiritual leaders who have been sent from Christ to serve their brothers and sisters in the faith understand this truth and understand what Jesus means when he says:

"You  know  that the princes of the Gentiles  exercise  dominion [lord  it over] over them, and they that are great  exercise  authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant: Even as  the son  of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister,  and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt.20:25-28 KJV ).    

True  ministers of Jesus must be the helpers and protectors  of  the elect; they are only servants among servants. See Jn.21:15-17; 2.Cor.1:24; Heb.13:17.

One Body, One Spirit, and One Faith

"There  is one body, and one spirit, even as  you are  called  in one  hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and  in you all" (Eph.4:4-6).

"And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some  evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;, For the perfecting of  the Saints,  for  the work of the ministry, for the edifying of  the body  of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of faith,  and  of the knowledge of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-13 KJV). See also Eph.1:22-23; 1.Cor.12:1-3.

Although it is true that there is only one collective body of Christ in existence today, one's spiritual associations will impact one's life, either for the better or the worse; therefore, it is extremely important for anyone who is  truly  seeking to obey God the Father and Jesus Christ and grow toward spiritual maturity to take charge of their own spiritual welfare and diligently seek to associate with people who are truly moving forward spiritually.  

SUMMARY

In this age of the church the main problem that the elect have concerning spiritual leaders is determining who is or who is not sent from Jesus Christ to lead the church. Once the problem of who is truly sent from God is solved, we will be in much the same situation as those of the early church in respect to true spiritual leaders. Then, it is possible to seek to please and serve the Father and Jesus Christ until we all come into the unity of the Faith that was once delivered.

Know and Respect Those Who Lead the Church

"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and reprimand you; and esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake.  And be at peace among yourselves" (1.Thes 5:12-13 KJV).

Sometimes what is not said is just as important as what is said.  Here, Paul exhorts the church to develop a close relationship with their spiritual leaders. If this were not a problem, why would Paul mention it?  It is essential for members of a congregation to truly know those who lead them in order for there to be trust, harmony of purpose, and spiritual growth. The mention of being at peace is also an indication that there was a problem, which was causing disunity and turmoil within the congregation. It seems likely that Paul's instruction for the congregation to get to know their spiritual leaders and highly esteem them is the solution to this congregation's particular problem.

Look to the Example

Paul tells the brethren to follow the spiritual leaders who are serving them and look to their example of faith and conduct, because these men  set the right example of  Christian behavior. However, he warns the brethren not to follow blindly.

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit [ yield] yourselves to them: for they are men standing guard over your spiritual well-being, and God will judge them on how well they do this, therefore, obey that they may rule you  with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb 13:17). See Heb.13:24.

The context of Hebrews 13:17 clearly shows that the elect had to listen to and heed the counsel, reprimands, and instruction of the elders, because they were in their positions of leadership to benefit those whom the Father called to salvation.

Those Who Rule Well

"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (1.Tim.5:17 KJV).

One who rules well benefits all who are ruled. Ruling well is an extremely difficult thing to do, because people have differing needs, desires, and personalities. When one considers all of the various aspects of rulership, one who rules well is truly deserving of respect and honor.

Honoring those who labor in truth and doctrine is not only important to the one laboring, but also to those who benefit from this labor. The prophet Hosea was inspired to record, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hos.4:6). Having a good knowledge and understanding of God the Father and Jesus Christ  and the things that have been written for our benefit is of tremendous importance in working out one's salvation. Without knowledge and understanding, one cannot make informed  decisions. Therefore, those who labor diligently to research and teach the word and doctrine of God to the elect should be given the respect and honor due to them for their important service.

In Isaiah 22:15-23

In Isaiah 22:15-23 is a message about Jerusalem and Judah. In Matthew 16 Jesus was  quoting from this passage of Isaiah when he spoke of giving authorization to the apostles.    

"The Lord Almighty told me to go to Shebna, the manager of the royal household, and say to him" (v15).

Here, we see he was told to go to the manager of the royal household. In doing so, he  is going as one who has the authorization to manage the royal household.

"Who do you think you are?  What right do you have to carve a tomb for yourself out of the rocky hillside? You may be important, but the Lord will pick you up and throw you away. He will pick you up like a ball and throw you into a much larger country.  You will die there beside the chariots you were so proud of.  You are a disgrace to your master's household. The Lord will remove you from office and bring you  down from your high position" (vs.16-19).

Notice that he is to be removed from this high position of authority.

"The Lord said to Shebna,  When that happens, I will send for my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah" (v20).

When this happens, Shebna will be replaced by Eliakim.

"I will put your official robe and belt on him and  give him all the authority you have had.  He will be like a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah" (v21).

Eliakim will receive the official robe and belt and God will give to Eliakim all the authority Shebna had. Here, we see a passing of authority from one man to the next and that Eliakim will be like a father to Jerusalem and Judah.

"I will give him complete authority under the king, the descendant of David" (v22).

He will have the keys of office––what he opens, no one will shut, and what he shuts, no one will open.  He will have authority under the king, the descendant of David. (Note: The word "complete" is not in the original Hebrew. God gives no man complete authority.)  Eliakim will have the keys of office.  What he (Eliakim) opens, no one shuts and what he shuts, no one opens.  God will fasten him (Eliakim) firmly in place like a peg and he will be a source of honor to his whole family.

This is also the  same authorization that Christ said he gave to Peter:

"And I [Christ, the King of Israel] will give to you  [Peter, and in essence the eldership] the keys or authorization to loose and to bind, to lock and unlock" (Matt.16:19).

The footnote in the Scofield Bible says that the word "key" is a badge of power or authority.  Those possessing the keys, whether an individual or a group of individuals, were authorized to lock or unlock or to bind or loose.

What does this passage reveal to us?  Does it clarify the point Christ was bringing out in Matthew 16?

Notice the prophetic importance of Isaiah 22:22:

"I will give him [Peter and the elders] authorization and responsibility under the King [Christ, King of spiritual Israel] a descendant of David.  He [Peter and the eldership] will have the key to the royal household [access to Christ the King]. Through Christ guidance, proper decisions can be made.  What he [Peter and the eldership] opens, no man will shut, and what he shuts, no man will open" (v22).

"I [God] will fasten him [Eliakim i.e. the eldership] firmly in place, like a peg" (v23)

In Matthew 16:18 we see Christ saying the gates of hell will not prevail against his people.  To a great degree this is because of the responsibility that Christ gave the elders to keep the elect reminded of the truth of God.

When one looks to the Word of God, it is very clear who Christ was authorizing to carry out his work––to evangelize the world, to feed the flock of God, to guard against heresy (false teaching and false prophets), and to keep his truth pure and unadulterated.

From these passages in Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16, it is clear that Christ established a group of men that he would work through to keep his teachings pure and feed his sheep spiritual food, a group of men who  were also authorized (i.e. given the responsibility and accountability) to make binding decisions in his name and based on his Word.

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (vs.7-9 KJV).

Here, we see an extremely serious warning to both the elders and non-elders. Although Satan and other evil spirits are constantly seeking to destroy all of  the elect, they have specifically targeted the spiritual leadership, because a leaderless people are more easily conquered.

By B.L Cocherell, file b8w4