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First Corinthians The Epistle of Sanctification - Book 2

An in-depth commentary/study on chapters 7 through 11 of First Corinthians.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 23

Separation of Powers

In 1 Cor. 10:16-21, Paul began his comments on the meaning of Communion. But before finishing, he interrupted his study in order to teach about the advisability of eating food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 10:22-33). Fellowship, or Communion, with idols brings a person under the authority of those idols.

Since veils represent submission to authority, Paul then felt it necessary to discuss the origin, use, and misuse of authority in the church. The implication is that Communion in the church, if partaken in a spirit of faction, where men are covered by men, rather than by Christ Himself, hardly differs from eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul was concerned that the spirit of faction, or denominationalism, could make them just another denomination of Christian idol worship.

Paul’s concern was expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:21,

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

In other words, Communion that is partaken in submission to men who lead various factions might easily become an idolatrous act without the people’s knowledge. Of course, since most people have been taught that to submit to Christ, one must submit to Christ’s men (i.e., church leaders), it is difficult for them to discern the state of their own hearts. Virtually all of them believe that they are submitting to Christ, but whether they have a direct or indirect relationship with Him is seldom discussed or discerned.

The link, then, between Paul’s lengthy diversion about authority and veils ends with Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 11:18, 19,

18 For in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you. 20 Therefore

What follows is Paul’s continuation of the theme of Communion, which had been interrupted earlier. Paul’s logic is that since there are factions, “therefore” we must understand Communion, so that we do not partake of it “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:26). Communion is fellowship (implying unity), whereas the spirit of faction is division, where believers follow men of their own choosing, rather than Christ.

In a word, partaking of Communion under a denominational spirit that involves submission to men is partaking of Communion unworthily and is the equivalent of eating at “the table of demons.” This issue, Paul says, has been set before us “in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

To be “approved” is the opposite of being “disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27) as an overcomer. Therefore, we might conclude that the spirit of faction, or submission to men, is a disqualifier. Overcomers are in submission to Christ first and foremost—and to men only insofar as they imitate Christ.

Old Testament Patterns

Paul knew that “there must also be factions.” He knew this, because he understood the Scriptures that prophesied of this. He knew the types and shadows in the Old Testament foreshadowing the rise of factions and forced submission to men.

First, there is the story of Moses, whom the people sent up the Mount, saying (in effect), “We do not want to hear God for ourselves. A direct relationship with God would burn our flesh. We want to maintain an indirect relationship with God. We want to submit to Moses, not to God.”

Later, the people demanded a king, and God said to Samuel, “they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Again, their hearts were exposed, and it is evident that they were “disqualified” as overcomers.

Still later, the people revolted against King David and followed the faction led by Absalom, who usurped the throne from the anointed king (2 Sam. 15:13). David was a type of Christ, and Absalom was a type of antichrist. The teaching that men must submit to men, right or wrong, is of the spirit of antichrist, for it usurps authority never given to men, but only to Jesus Christ. Hence, the people who followed Absalom represented those who were disqualified, while those who followed David when he escaped from Jerusalem represent the overcomers.

The Story of Eli

Perhaps the most important revelation of the idea of submission to men is seen in the story of Eli, the rebellious high priest. Absalom and Saul were types of antichrist in the political arena, but Eli was a type of antichrist in the priesthood. Any time a man has legitimate authority which he then misuses, expecting men to obey him rather than God, he is an antichrist usurper. Eli knew the problem and even warned his sons, but when they refused to repent, Eli refused to remove them from the priesthood (1 Sam. 2:22-25). So he was disqualified as an overcomer, even though he was a legitimate high priest.

God then sent “a man of God” (i.e., a prophet) with a message. 1 Sam. 2:27, 28 says,

27 Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father [Levi] when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? 28 And did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel?’”

This prophet reminded Eli of the origins of the priesthood and how God called Levi out of all the tribes to minister before Him. He then asked Eli in the next verse, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering? This is a Hebrew idiom for “why do you show disrespect for the sacrifices and offerings?”

Then the prophet tells Eli in 1 Samuel 2:30,

30 “Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house [Levi] and the house of your father [Phinehas] should walk before Me forever’; but now the Lord declares, ‘Far be it from Me—for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed.’”

The prophet was speaking of two houses: Levi and Phinehas. Levi had been given the priesthood in a general sense, but Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, had been given the promise more specifically in Num. 25:10-13,

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel, in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual[olam] priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’”

Eli was in the lineage of Phinehas, which had ministered in the tabernacle up to that time. Eli was the sixth generation from Aaron and the fourth generation from Phinehas. Phinehas had been promised “a perpetual priesthood,” but the word translated “perpetual” is olam, which means a hidden, obscure, indefinite, or unknown period of time.

In other words, his priesthood was conditional, not unconditional. It was not necessarily to last forever. If olam had meant “forever,” then God never could have replaced his line, regardless of their corruption. But yet his line was replaced by Zadok in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 2:27, 35). This proves the meaning of olam and shows that the NASB mistranslated the word as “perpetual.” The KJV translates it ‘everlasting.” It should have been rendered “indefinite” time.

The prophecy of this man of God has been fulfilled on two levels. First, the lineage of Phinehas was replaced by Zadok in the time of Solomon. But this was merely another line of the Aaronic priesthood—that is, the priesthood of Levi. A greater fulfillment was yet to occur when the entire priesthood was taken from Levi and given to the Melchizedek Order, of which Jesus Christ was the high priest.

The man of God made it clear to Eli that both Levi and Phinehas were to be replaced. The prophecy was to “your house [Levi] and the house of your father [Phinehas].” Zadok, who took the priesthood in the early days of Solomon’s reign, was in turn a prophetic type of Melchizedek (Melchi-Zadok, “King of Righteousness”). Zadok’s significance is seen in Ezekiel 44:10 and 15, where the prophet discusses the difference between the idolatrous priests (Eli’s sons) and the sons of Zadok. Zadok represents the overcomers; the sons of Eli are the disqualified ones.

In Rev. 20:6 the resurrected overcomers are said to be “priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” Priests who reign are Melchizedek priests, for this Order reunites the scepter with the priesthood, which had been separated by Jacob long ago.

Getting back to the story of Eli, the man of God said in 1 Sam. 2:31 (KJV),

31 Behold the days come that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house.

This was not to be taken literally (physically), because there is no evidence that Eli’s arm was ever cut off. But the prophet was speaking spiritually. High priests were required to have all of their body parts in order to be eligible for the priesthood (Lev. 21:17-21). Physical defects disqualified Levitical priests; spiritual defects disqualify potential Melchizedek priests.

Eli’s “arm” was cut off, because an arm represents authority. To lose his arm indicated that Eli’s misuse of priestly authority had caused God to remove a portion of priestly authority from him and from the priesthood in general. That “arm” was the prophetic authority, which used to reside in the priesthood before God set up a separate office of prophet, beginning with Samuel.

The unnamed man of God then told Eli in 1 Samuel 2:35, 36,

35 But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed [Messiah] always. 36 And it shall come about that everyone who is left in your house shall come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread, and say, “Please assign me to one of the priest’s offices so that I may eat a piece of bread.”

Eli’s line was to be replaced. Eli’s line did not end with his death and the death of his two corrupt sons, Hophni and Phinehas. It ended nearly a century later in the time of Solomon. So Zadok was the “faithful priest” on one level. However, we may also view Samuel himself as the first “faithful priest,” for he ministered as a judge, a prophet, and a priest after the death of Eli and into the reign of Saul.

The “arm” of authority that was removed from the corrupt priesthood was the authority of the prophet. So Acts 3:24 speaks of “all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward.” Abraham and Moses were called prophets, but Samuel was the start of something unique. The prophetic “arm” was to be taken from the priesthood and given to a separate office of prophet, beginning with Samuel.

Eli has coveted his arm ever since the days of Samuel and has tried to get it back by subordinating the prophetic office back under the priests (or clergy, pastors, etc.) once again.

In the end, however, the prophecy is about Christ and the overcomers who have replaced Levi in the priesthood. Meanwhile, the idolatrous priests, those disqualified as overcomers, are the topic of verse 36. They will be demoted, as Ezekiel 44:10-14 says. Their ministry will be limited to the outer court, where the non-Aaronic Levites ministered in the Old Testament times.

The Church Application

The church in the wilderness lasted forty years under Moses. Saul’s reign lasted forty years. Eli’s priesthood lasted forty years. All of these speak of the forty Jubilees of the church in the Age of Pentecost. There are many lessons to be learned by seeing these types and shadows. The lesson of Eli shows that the priesthood during the Pentecostal Age is an Eli priesthood which has been disqualified on account of its corruption.

These priests of Eli demand that believers submit to men, for (like Eli) they think that their “sons” will enjoy an everlasting or perpetual priesthood. But they misunderstand Scripture and do not know that they have been disqualified for their immoral behavior.

These denominational leaders demand submission to men, not realizing that their arms have been cut off. An arm is a symbol of authority. They do not realize that God has cut off their authority, so they have convinced people that they are still qualified to reign with Christ—or rather, to usurp His authority.

In their political role, in which denominational leaders fancy themselves as having dominion over the nations, they act as King Saul, who was also disqualified for rebellion.

Because of a corrupt priesthood, God took away their prophetic office and created a separate class of ministers, training them Himself, and putting them directly under His authority, so that they would not be answerable to the priesthood. Since that time, priests and prophets have clashed, and the priests have demanded that prophets submit to their own authority.

If prophets submit to men, rather than to God, they become church prophets or the king’s prophets or the prophets of other men, and they lose their standing as God’s prophets.

In the New Testament, then, we find the office of the prophet listed as one of the five-fold ministry in Eph. 4:11. Each of these offices ought to be in submission to Christ first, and to the others secondarily. The denominational spirit, however, works hard to erode the authority of each ministry when it functions under Christ. The old corrupt priesthood still wants its arm(s) back, for it seeks to control all of these ministries under the headship of men.

That is what disqualifies the church as a whole. Yet those who overcome that evil spirit may well be seen as overcomers.