Are the Jewish Epistles for the Body of Christ?

by Jerry Shugart

Introduction

For many years the giants of Mid Acts dispensationalism, including Sir Robert Anderson, J.C. O'Hair and Cornelius Stam, taught that the doctrine contained in the Jewish epistles (Hebrews thrugh Jude) applies to the Body of Christ.

In fact, J.C. O'Hair wanted nothing to do with the teaching that the epistles of Peter and James are not for this age, as witnessed by his words here:

"Peter and James and ten other apostles are going to sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:27 and 28). But I do not agree with Christians who say that the twelve apostles were not members of the Body of Christ...I make no such foolish statement...that these Epistles of Peter and James are not for this age...I use 1 Peter 3:18 in preaching the gospel of grace as frequently as I use any other verse" [emphais mine] (O'Hair, The Accuser of the Brethren and the Brethren Concerning Bullingerism).

Today the leaders of The Berean Bible Society have abandoned the teaching of the giants of Mid Acts Dispensationalism on this subject and teach that the Twelve Apostles were not members of the Body of Christ. Pastor Paul Sadler, the President of the Berean Bible Society, states his position in regard to the Hebrew epistles in the following way:

"Brethren, just as we turn to Paul's Gentile epistles today for our doctrine and walk, the future Tribulation saints will turn to the Hebrew Epistles for timely instructions during the coming day of the Lord" [emphasis added] (Sadler, "The Life and Letters of the Apostle Peter; Part II," The Berean Searchlight, February, 2000, 10).

This study will examine the Scriptures in order to determine just exactly how the Hebrew epistles fit.

The Imminent Coming of the Lord in the Hebrew Epistles

Pastor Sadler says the following about the events which will happen when the Lord Jesus returns at the rapture:

"According to Paul's gospel the Rapture is 'imminent,' that is, it could take place at any moment. There are no signs, times, or seasons that will precede this glorious event" [emphasis mine] (Sadler, "The Present Obsession With the Anti-Christ," The Berean Searchlight, June, 1999, 7).

The teaching that the rapture is "imminent" is supported by the following passage:

"For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body...The Lord is at hand (eggus)" (Phil.3:20-21;4:5).

The Greek word eggus means "of times imminent and soon to come to pass" (Thayer's Greek English Lexicon).

The Lord's Coming is Near

In the Hebrew epistles we see a passage which describes the time when the Jewish believers will be made like the Lord Jesus, and that is exactly what will happen at the rapture:

"Beloved, now are we the sons 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).

Now let us look at another verse from the Hebrew epistles where the same coming of the Lord is described as being near:

"You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near" (James 5:8; NIV).

The Greek word translated "is near" at James 5:8 is eggizo and in this verse that word means "to be imminent" (A Greek English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940], 467).

In an article found on the "Pre-Trib Research Center" web site Dr. Renald E. Showers writes:

"In light of James' statements C. Leslie Mitton wrote, 'James clearly believed, as others of his time did, that the coming of Christ was imminent.' On the basis of James' statements we can conclude that Christ's coming was imminent in New Testament times and continues to be so today, and that this fact should make a difference in the way Christians live" [emphasis added] (Showers, The Imminent Coming of Christ).

In an article on the Scofield Prophecy Studies web site Dr. Mal Couch, the founder and president of the Tyndale Theological Seminary, writes the following commentary on James 5:8:

"IS AT HAND. ('egizo') This is actually two words put together, en= in and hand. This is a verb here used with the Perfect Active Indicative. It should read: 'The coming of the Lord has come right up to the present, and 'is in the hand,' thus certain and sure to take place.' (As the figure of speech: 'A bird in hand'). It is getting closer but it has not arrived, it is absolutely certain to take place. It is 'in the vicinity, close by.' Liddell & Scott translate this 'to be imminent, to bring near, bring up to, to be at the point of, approximate'" (Couch, Greek Exegesis of the Rapture Passages, James 5:7-8; 9b).

Next, let us look at the verse which immediately follows James 5:8:

"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; NIV).

The words "the Judge is standing at the door" certainly speak of the fact that the coming of the Judge is "is near" and it certainly has the quality of imminency. The phrase can be defined in the same way the Greek word eggizo is defined by Dr. Mal Couch. We can say with full confidence that the Judge "is getting closer but it has not arrived, it is absolutely certain to take place. It is 'in the vicinity, close by."

The Greek word translated "Judge" at James 5:9 is krites and it is found in Paul's epistles here:

"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge (krites), shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim.4:8).

Cornelius Stam, the founder of the Berean Bible Society, wrote the following commentary on 2 Timothy 4:8:

"That crown will be given, he says, not to him alone, but to 'all them also that love His appearing.' The coming of Christ, and meeting Him in a resurrected body filled his vision. He had truly 'loved' 'that day,' even though it meant that he would stand before 'the judgment day of Christ' " [emphasis mine] (Stam, Commentary on The Pastoral Epistles of Paul the Apostle [Chicago: Berean Bible Society, 1983], 219-220).

So everything said at James 5:8-9 declares in no uncertain terms that an "imminent" coming is in view, the same one described here by Pastor Paul Sadler:

"According to Paul's gospel the Rapture is "imminent," that is, it could take place at any moment. There are no signs, times, or seasons that will precede this glorious event" [emphasis mine] (Sadler, "The Present Obsession With the Anti-Christ," The Berean Searchlight, June, 1999, 7).

At the time when James wrote his epistle the following events, which will usher in the coming of the Lord Jesus to earth, had not yet happened:

"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).

Since the minimum amount of time which will elapse from the setting up of the "abomination of desolation" until the "Son of Man coming in the clouds" is three and one half years it is inconceivable that James words in regard to the Judge "standeth before the door" are in regard to Matthew 24:30. It could not be said, at the time when James wrote his epistle, that the time when the Judge will stand at the door is 'in the vicinity, close by."

That would be like saying that my best friend is now in England studying and he will be there for three years but nonetheless he is standing at my door! If there was ever a case of nightmare exegesis it is the teaching that James 5:8-9 is in regard to the coming of the Son of Man described at Matthew 24:30. But that is exactly what the present leaders of the Berean Bible Society teach. Those leaders must deny that James is speaking of an imminent coming of the Lord Jesus because they know that the only imminent coming is the rapture and only those in the Body of Christ will be raised then. Pastor Paul Sadler writes:

"The 'secret' resurrection that will take place at the Rapture should never be confused with the 'first' resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ. Those who rightly divide the Word of truth now see that only the members of the Body of Christ will be raised at the Rapture" [emphasis mine] (Sadler, Exploring the Unsearchable Riches of Christ [Stephens Point, WI: Worzalla Publishing Co., 1993], 167).

Since only members of the Body of Christ will be raised at the rapture we can know, beyond any doubt, that those who originally received the Hebrew epistles were members of the Body of Christ. In the first century, as well as today, there is only one coming of the Lord Jesus which can be described as being "imminent" and that is His coming which will happen at the rapture.