The Day of Pentecost, originally called the feast of firstfruits, pictures the Church as the first to be begotten and born as children of God during the Church age. Pentecost also pictures Christ marrying His Church, which is to help Him rule the world.
Imagine the resplendent ceremony that will take place at the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7). About to become her Husband’s glory (i Cor. 11:7), this graceful “lady,” comprised of the resurrected saints, is arrayed in fine white linen, interwoven and trimmed with the finest gold, “the gold of Ophir” (Rev. 19:8; Ps. 45:6-9, 13).
Through manifold trials and tribulations, God has adorned the bride with the finest of character and has given her the greatest honor any created beings will ever receive—to be married to Christ!
After Christ returns and weds His bride, billions of people will eventually be invited into God’s family. Those who repent and obey will be the children in God’s family. But they will never attain the same level of greatness offered to the firstfruits bride!
A question that often arises as we consider the coming marriage of the Lamb is, what is the main difference in the bride’s preparation over that of her offspring? Why is she offered such an incredible reward?
The answer is that the bride had to face Satan the devil—full of fury and wrath—and overcome him even as her Husband had to! In other words, she had to endure fiery trials in order to qualify for her esteemed position as the wife of Jesus Christ!
During the Millennial rule of Christ and His bride on Earth, which is to follow the marriage supper, the devil and his demon cohorts will be bound for 1,000 years (ii Pet. 2:4), awaiting ultimate judgment (Jude 6; i Cor. 6:3).
Though the humans living on Earth during the Millennium will still have free moral agency—and the option to sin if they so choose—their lives will be, in the main, much less difficult without Satan and the demons around. Choosing God’s way will take much less effort than is required in this age, with the evil “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) constantly bombarding people’s minds with evil thoughts!
Character of Gold
From the foundation of this present evil world, which began with the sins of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, mankind in general has been cut off from God’s way of life. As such, Christ’s bride—whom He began grooming from the time of righteous Abel and the patriarchs of the Old Testament, culminating in the sanctification, preservation and calling of thousands during this Church age (since a.d. 31)—started out with a mind hostile to her Husband (Rom. 8:7).
On Pentecost in Old Testament times, two “wave loaves” (Lev. 23:17, 20) were offered to God—one loaf representing those called out of the world prior to Christ’s first coming, and the other loaf, the New Testament Church—together making up the firstfruits. Those converted today are part of that New Testament Church, symbolized by one of those wave loaves. But what is truly important is that those wave loaves were baked with leaven—a type of sin! (see v. 17).
There’s no doubt about it—we are prone to sin. But we must overcome our sins and become perfect (Matt. 5:48). It is truly amazing that God and Christ are able to purify the seemingly worthless, ore-like character of the elect saints and transform their minds into a state of perfection like that of the purest and finest gold—the “gold of Ophir.”
How could such a mind-boggling change occur?
The key to this incredible transformation of character is found in Mystery of the Ages: “Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability in such separate entity to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way—to yield to be conquered by God—to determine, even against temptation or self-desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. It comes by yielding to God to instill His law (God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills.
“Actually, this perfect character comes only from God, as instilled within the entity of His creation, upon voluntary acquiescence, even after severe trial and test.”
In short, it is through a unique process that God is able to develop pure character in His Son’s bride. This process—which results in the very elect saints ultimately voluntarily submitting wholeheartedly to God and His loving family government—involves, as Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, the bride yielding “even after severe trial and test”!
Only a miraculous process of purification could produce such results.
Process of Purification
As we pointed out lastissue (see “Being Purified as Gold,” March/April 2003), there are several steps in the process of character refinement. In order to produce holy righteous character in the bride of Christ, first the stubborn, dross-like thoughts and attitudes of rebellion must be completely crushed. Next, the shattered ore must be washed by the Refiner. Finally, it must endure calcination—heating to a high temperature in order to drive off volatile matter and to effect lasting changes.
Each step in this three-part process requires action on the part of the ore: yielding to the Refiner.
The first step involves the initial breaking of our will that must occur before conversion, as well as the ongoing use of prayer and fasting to remain humble before God.
The second step begins with baptism, and then requires daily Bible study for guidance, inspiration and correction—allowing the Refiner to cleanse our putrid attitudes and thoughts “with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).
The final step is the one we least desire to experience: The ore, in the hands of our loving Refiner, must be placed into the fiery furnace and be melted and skimmed again and again to extract and discard as much dross as possible.
This article will examine this third and final step in the process of purification—that which involves the furnace of severe trials and tests so essential to the bride’s character development.
God has offered us a seemingly incomprehensible reward in His Kingdom. But we must understand that while God freely offers us salvation—the gift of eternal life—based on certain conditions, He does not dole out the highest of positions in His Kingdom without our sustained and effective efforts in overcoming. In other words, He rewards each person according to individual works, or deeds (Matt 16:27).
Herbert W. Armstrong, God’s end-time Elijah who restored all things (Matt. 17:10-11), understood that the glorious positions of authority offered to Christ’s bride would not come without numerous trials, tests, difficulties and struggles first.
Notice what he wrote in the October 1957 Good News , in “An Open Letter to Our Newly Begotten Brethren Recently Baptized”: “You have entered upon a new life—a life of great happiness and joy—a life to continue forever—yet, in this present evil world it will not be an easy life.
“As a matter of fact you have left behind the ‘easy way’—the popular, broad road that leads to destruction. You have passed the crossroads and turned off onto the narrow, rutty, bumpy, rocky and hard and difficult road which very few people in this world ever are willing to enter—but which leads to success, to usefulness, to happiness, joy and eternal life.
“It leads to rewards—not of idleness and ease, but to usefulness and service and accomplishment and success—so great that I know your mind can’t possibly grasp it, now. But you’ll have to pay the price! …
“You will meet many afflictions—trials, tests, troubles—even more than before. But, if you trust in Him, the Eternal will deliver you out of them all (Ps. 34:19). All who will live godly in Jesus Christ shall suffer persecution (ii Tim. 3:12).
“But why? Because God has called you to surrender your life to Him—to give your life into His hands—that He may transform you into a perfect, holy, righteous character. God is Creator! And now, with your consent, according to your own free will, you have placed yourself in His hands to change you—to create out of you the supreme masterpiece of all His Creation!”
How simple and plain is the truth of God! All of God’s begotten—those who have been selected to become the bride of Christ—must face the furnace in order to come to the purity of the gold of Ophir and in order to become the bride of Christ.
Notice: “[I]f so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). And further, “[W]hosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Acts 14:22 states that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” What’s more, we read in ii Timothy 3:12 that “all that will live godly in Jesus Christ shall suffer persecution.”
These are the costs that we should have counted before going under the waters of baptism and committing to the New Covenant. So says God’s Word!
At baptism, we were to consider the bride-level reward and acknowledge the great costs necessary to attain it. We made a covenant with God to walk this straight, narrow and rocky road. We chose to place ourselves into the Refiner’s hands, knowing that there would be no turning back (Luke 9:62).
In summary, fiery trials are necessary for our bride-level rewards as firstfruits!
The Elijah’s Example
There are numerous examples in biblical history of those who successfully endured trials and have attained the promises of salvation and great rewards in God’s soon-coming Kingdom. But even in recent times, we have one outstanding example of a man who learned to handle, and benefit from, severe fiery trials: Herbert W. Armstrong. Here is a man who many of the readers of this magazine knew or personally met when he was alive. Many others have come to know him vicariously through his numerous writings, and especially his autobiography.
In volume one of his Autobiography , Mr. Armstrong explained how God placed him in the “furnace” of a financial trial that lasted nearly three decades: “I had been humbled! Oh yes! And still, I know now that had God allowed me to have prospered financially at that stage of spiritual experience, self-pride once more would have seized me and the humility would have fled! The lessons so far received by all this chastening would have been lost! I was to have to suffer much more—and my family to suffer it with me! The material blessings were withheld 28 years! …
“Yet, had God brought me merely to this agonizing experience of conversion, and then restored me to economic ease and prosperity, I probably would have reverted back to the same goals and ways. The old cocky self-confidence probably would have returned. I probably would not have endured as a Christian. So God not only brought me low. He kept me that way for 28 long years!”
Mr. Armstrong had a weakness that God wanted removed before he was to be used to begin the Philadelphia era of God’s work—and be in a position to manage an annual income of some $200 million. Not many of us today have faced extreme, humbling poverty such as this—at least not for 28 years!
Looking back on his life after being forced to endure poverty for so many of his adult years, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Not only was there much more truth to be discovered and dug out of God’s spiritual gold mine—the Holy Bible—but there was much character to be developed through hard, cruel experience, the dearest teacher of all.
“I should not have thought so at the time—but God knew that I needed much more humbling—much more chastening at the hands of God!” (ibid.).
What a wonderful attitude!
How do you feel when you face a fiery trial—a severe financial hardship or any other trial? How do you react when the trial isn’t a direct result of your own mistakes? Do you try to circumvent it—or do you rather take a step back and examine the situation to determine what lesson God may be trying to teach you?
We must never forget that the lessons we learn through weathering the stormy trials in our life will determine our eventual reward in the Kingdom.
Think about it: What if Mr. Armstrong had found a way to avoid his 28-year financial trial? What if he, by himself, had found a way to earn a fantastic wage again? What if he had simply taken out a large loan, or received a financial windfall of some sort?
Mr. Armstrong answered these questions by stating, “I probably would not have endured as a Christian.” He knew his weaknesses and faults ran deep. He recognized that he needed the Refiner to remove that dross from his life!
Mr. Armstrong knew that had he not been placed in God’s furnace to have imperfections removed from his character, he would likely have failed utterly. And what a tragedy that would have been. Yet, because he accepted these fiery trials, Mr. Armstrong was able to do a magnificent work for God.
Mr. Armstrong faced numerous other fiery trials in his lifetime. So did his wife, Loma. In the mid-1960s, she was struck with a severe, life-threatening illness. She was dying because of an intestinal blockage. It was evident to Mr. Armstrong at that time that God was getting the attention of the entire Church. Almighty God Himself was causing a far-reaching fiery trial! He was putting the whole Church into the furnace!
Rather than becoming upset and resentful toward God because of his wife’s deteriorating health condition, Mr. Armstrong was spiritually astute enough to perceive that the whole Church—the betrothed bride of Christ—was beginning to lose sight of its incredible future reward. Satan had taken a foothold. The Church had become spiritually ill! Many of the members had backslid into a Laodicean, lukewarm, spiritually lethargic, rotten condition!
In a letter to members of the Church of God dated March 2, 1967, Mr. Armstrong explained that God used the suffering of Mrs. Armstrong to reawaken the Church as a whole. He wrote, “When news of this reawakening reaches her, she smiles, and says that if God has granted that she could have been used by Him as a means by which God has stirred up His Church to its pitiful, shameful, spiritual lassitude, she is glad.”
What an incredible attitude Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong had in the midst of that trial! Even in her most severe personal suffering, Mrs. Armstrong was glad that the entire Church was the beneficiary of her trial. You can see that her focus was clearly not on herself, but on the will of God the Father being done in her life. She knew she was in the Refiner’s furnace, and He was removing dross from her and helping her to be more perfectly submitted to His will.
Your Own Trials
Does it really matter how we handle our fiery trials? All too often we don’t answer this question candidly. Carnally we want an easy out or a quick fix to our woes. When we’re faced with fiery trials, much of the time we just try to find a way to physically put out the flames—or altogether escape the furnace—even if it means compromising with God’s law or undermining our faith!
This is a wrong course of action!
God the Father—our Refiner—has a reason for everything He does. He is intimately aware of the development and grooming of His Son’s bride. He is keenly attentive to the actions and attitudes of each member of the body. There is a purpose for our fiery trials!
If, when staring an extreme trial in the face, we find ourselves embarking on a dubious course of action designed to circumvent our sufferings, we should immediately stop!
Rather than trying to remedy the effect of the trial at hand, we should look for the cause. We should pause and reflect on why we were called into God’s truth in the first place. Get the big picture: Remember, beside being called to support God’s work, we are called to develop and build God’s perfect, holy and righteous character. That refinement cannot be accomplished without calcining— much heat and fire!
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could have avoided their furnace. All they had to do was compromise. But history records that they did not attempt to circumvent that trial. Had they done so, they would have sinned and robbed themselves of a powerful opportunity to grow and to receive a higher reward. Not only that, they would have robbed Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon (and even Christ’s disciples today, who can glean much from their example) of the opportunity to know who the real God is. Those would have been enormous losses!
Our example in handling trials can have long-reaching effects on others. Certainly this was the case with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And such was the case with Mr. Armstrong. The history of his life, and the truths God revealed through him, will eventually affect all humanity, as it comes to learn the history of the Church of God in the Philadelphia era—and as the masses begin to be exposed not only to the Bible itself, but also to Mr. Armstrong’s writings, in the World Tomorrow.
As we struggle and strain, as did Mr. Armstrong, as well as many other faithful saints in times past, to eventually come “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), we need to consider how important our trials—our trips into the furnace—really are. They not only develop us, but oftentimes they can help develop others too. Our actions and reactions ought not be taken lightly!
If we in the true Church of God are to become the helpmeet of the King of kings and the Lord of lords who will reign over all things, then we must consider deeply just how important our trials are.
God groomed Mr. Armstrong to fulfill a certain position in the Kingdom of God. In submitting to his fiery trials and letting God remove his dross, Mr. Armstrong qualified for an undoubtedly lofty position in God’s government.
It is no different for us. Our Husband, who is awaiting our arrival with enormous anticipation, is preparing a position for each one of us (John 14:2-3). He is also putting us through a very personal refining process to groom us for our position. It is vital that we submit ourselves to the Refiner in each step of refinement, even in that fiery, final step, the furnace.
No matter who or what is the cause of the trial, keep this verse firmly in mind: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
What an inspiring verse! Notice, God says “all things.” That includes suffering through no fault of your own.
Notice though, this is applied to those who “love God.” The implication is, no matter what is happening in your life, whether blessings or trials, there must be total submission and surrender to God. That is the key to enduring fiery trials and obtaining perfect holy righteous character. You must keep God’s laws in order to truly show Him the love He deserves (i John 5:3).
Eventually, if we obediently follow God and keep the vision of His future Kingdom in the forefront of our minds, we will be removed from God’s furnace as pure as the gold of Ophir!
The Ultimate Example
Jesus’s life was full of trips into the furnace. In fact, He died in the fiery furnace! No example can top that!
The Apostle Paul tells us to look to Christ’s example for how to handle trials: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
Throughout His life, and especially while being crucified, Jesus was acutely focused on the joy beyond His temporary existence as a human being. He was focused on the work His heavenly Father was doing. He was focused on becoming the firstborn Son of God. He was focused on paving the way for the rest of the family—making it possible for them to make it. He knew His success would mean He could one day have a bride, spiritually adorned in white linen and the gold of Ophir and then produce billions of children. He understood that “all things work together for good,” and He never lost sight of God’s ultimate vision. That is how He was able to endure so much, and at the same time accomplish so much.
Pentecost is a holy day of rejoicing. In the not-too-distant future, Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of the living God, will wed a bride specially prepared for Him! And this was all made possible because Christ endured the furnace of fiery trials and qualified to be the ultimate Husband for all eternity!
The question remains: Will we be there in the marriage of all marriages? Or will our impure character keep us from obtaining that spectacular reward?
Throughout each day of each month, year after year, we must remember that God will permit—and sometimes even directly cause—dire situations in our life in order to drive us to Him for help and deliverance. He wants us to learn the lessons of faith and patient endurance. He wants you to know that only He can deliver you from the furnace.
God wants us to know that, when we are in the furnace, He is right there with us, even as He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in their fiery crisis (Dan. 3:25). God has promised to deliver us from every trial—if we obey and trust Him (Ps. 34:17, 19).
Part of the lesson of Pentecost is learning to fully and unconditionally surrender to God and His perfect way so He can place His perfect holy righteous character in us.
Next time you are headed into the furnace of a fiery trial, never forget what your Refiner is working to accomplish in you. He wants you, through much trial and tribulation, to become as pure as the gold of Ophir—that extremely valuable gold that will symbolically adorn the bride of Christ at the marriage of the Lamb. Realize that the Father chose you and me—despite our imperfections and character flaws—to overcome and be groomed to help Christ for all eternity. He wants to help you to attain the highest possible reward.
Embrace the furnace of life which develops and purifies our character. Look to the example of your Husband-to-be. Realize that you can do all things through Him. Resist sin all the way to the end (Matt. 24:13) so you can become that beautiful bride of Christ adorned in the purest of gold, the gold of Ophir!