We now stand before the task of inquiring into the meaning of the threefold qualification of this inheritance in heaven.
Of his inheritance, kept in heaven, Peter tells us, that it is: incorruptible, undefilable and that it fades not away.
Concerning each of these elements just a word.
In general we should notice, that this description of the “inheritance” is in negative terms. The description tells us what this inheritance is not. There is a good reason for this negative description. The reason is that it is only by means of this negative description that we can form a concrete conception of the inheritance. The revelation of God comes to us in our present woe and hopelessness to bring us the glad tidings concerning this heavenly inheritance. It appeals to our present experience of corruption, defilement and that which fades away, and then points toward the inheritance and says: be comforted, the inheritance has nothing of this pain and disappointment of death and hell. Let your tears be wiped away. Presently this all shall be no more. Beautiful terms these negative terms! The former things shall be no more! Hallelujah!
We also believe that these three negative terms are exhaustive of all the present woe that is ours in this present life. This means that each term should be studied as to its scope and implication. We should do this not simply for the sake of “word study”, but that we may drink richly from the cup of comfort, and reach out in hope and expectation to that which will be free from our present misery.
Let us attend to these terms in order as they are given in the text.
First we call attention to the term: incorruptible. The term corruption (phthartos) is indicative of corruption in the physical world of plants, animals and men. Everywhere corruption reigns as king. All things are subject to the bondage of corruption.. Plants grow in beauty according to their nature; soon however they die and corruption and disintegration sets in. Even while they live we must fight the corruption of blight, sickness and death in the plant world. It is subject to the bondage of corruption. So too sickness and death reign in the animal world; the veterinarian has an abundance of works. Be he ever so learned in his field he cannot prevent the Tankage Company from the sad duty of claiming the dead and corruptible carcasses of the very animals he attempted to save from death. And with man it is not different. We too are corruptible from the cradle to the grave. Always we must fight corruption. The food we eat, the air we breathe is all contaminated with corruption. This life in its totality is nothing but a continual death. Soon we too are ill, corruption and death waste our frame till we bow to the grave; we give our last breath, and we are no more. If we are strong we live threescore years and ten, and if very strong fourscore years, yet these years are labor and sorrow; under God’s wrath we are troubled and flee away; His heavy hand has bowed us to the grave.
The glad tidings of the resurrection stands in the midst of this reality and says: the inheritance that is ours hath conquered corruption. It is in its very nature such that God’s heavy hand no longer bows us to the grave. We lift up our weary heads and exalt: O, death where is thy sting, O, grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Death is swallowed up in life!
Secondly, we call attention to the term: undefilable. The term in the Greek for “defilable” comes from the verb meaning to stain, to dye with another color. Hence, it comes to mean to defile, pollute, sully, contaminate. In the Old Testament it refers to all ceremonial and spiritual defilement; the defilement of the conscience by sin and guilt. In Jude 1:8 we read of those who defile the flesh, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, while in Titus 1:15 we see that the term “defiled” is contrasted with that which is “pure” and “clean”. In the latter passage mention is made of having a defiled conscience and mind; to these latter nothing is pure. In James 1:27 we read about the pure and undefiled worship as this is evidenced in visiting widows and orphans in their afflictions.
It is evident that this “defilement” is ethical in nature. It is the defilement of sin and guilt. Also this defilement of sin and guilt brings us to the grave under the wrath of God.
In this inheritance in Christ in heavenly places this is no more. For the glad tidings is that “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as white as wool”. There shall be no sin nor iniquity on all God’s holy mountain. The pure shall dwell there, those who overcome in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus was delivered for our offences, and he was raised for our justification. O, death! where is thy sting?
Then too, finally, there is the term: Fadeth not away. This is the metaphor that shows that there in this “inheritance” no one shall have a miserable end. We shall not be like the rose that is beautiful in its blooming but most pitiful when withered. Ah, such is life apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our justification.
But we have a life of hope that does not bow before death and corruption, we are not defiled by sin, but are virgins pure. Nor is ours a miserable end, but we shall sore upwards on eagle’s wings in the strength of our God.
Great and glorious is this inheritance of God in the saints! It only waits the time when it shall fully be uncovered before the wondrous gaze of all the redeemed, when Jesus Christ the Son shall be revealed in glory.
But that is not the entire extent of God’s work in this great hope that is ours.
There is more.
Not only is this heavenly inheritance awaiting us, and kept so for us, so that no one can ever take it away from us, but it is also part of God’s wondrous grace that we persevere in the living hope unto which we have been reborn!
Says Peter “(ye) who are kept in the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed . . . .”
Concerning this divine work and activity of keeping us; concerning this certainty that we shall never wax faint and fall by the wayside, we would make a few remarks.
First of all, we would call attention to the fact, that what Peter here states very briefly and compactly, he later works out in more detail. Fact is, that this entire epistle is the very Word of truth through which God keeps His church, the Pilgrims and the Strangers, ever reaching out in hope for the final blessedness. Hence, we must not treat this brief statement as an aphorism (a brief, incomplete thought to be analyzed by itself) but we must rather treat it as a compact statement, which Peter himself interprets for us, and is also interpreted by many representative, classic passages in holy writ.
Peter tells us here, that it is in God’s power that we are kept; that it is through faith that we are kept. The question is, therefore, what we are to understand by this powerful keeping of God, and how this is done by God through faith.
Let us try to understand this.
The term “kept” in our text is the translation of a beautiful word in the Greek language. It is indeed a “word picture”! The first element in this word picture is that the word in the Greek makes us think not of keeping meat from spoiling in a “deep-freeze”, but it is a term which portrays to us soldiers keeping a city. It is a military term. It is the translation (the English: kept) of the present passive participle of the verb phourein—to garrison. It pictures us the soldiers on the watch, standing as sentinels. This term is literally thus employed by Paul in, where he speaks of the city of Damascus as having been garrisoned shut against him. The king would keep Paul in Damascus.
Now this is here applied to God Almighty, as he keeps us. In picturing us this keeping of God Almighty as the warrior, Peter employs the imagery of Scripture. For surely God keeps a constant vigil over Israel, His people dispersed abroad as strangers and pilgrims. This watchful care, this keeping of Israel is uninterrupted. God never slumbers, nor does He sleep. Wherefore the Holy Spirit employs the present participle. It pictures this sentinel activity as continuous action.
Of this faithful keeping God’s Church always and again makes a theme on their festal days and in the battle fray. In the most picturesque language Moses sings of this at the Red Sea when he says: “This is my God I will praise Him, My father’s God and I will exalt Him. Jehovah is a Man of war: Jehovah is His name!. Surely if such be our God, we do well to try to understand this sentinel activity of God a bit better. D.V. the next time, then.