Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away,reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 KJV)
When God called Abraham and Sarah, he promised that he would bless them with land and descendants, and that he would bless the world through them. Throughout the Old Testament, you will find God’s people describing the land of promise simply as “the inheritance.” The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua use “inheritance” language to describe the allocation of the land Canaan among the tribes of Israel. The inheritance is a good land, flowing with milk and honey, where God’s people will be able to find rest and live at peace. Furthermore, the people of Israel are God’s own inheritance. The book of Psalms and the writings of the prophets similarly describe both the land and the people of Israel in terms of an inheritance.
The New Testament authors, too, were fond of the word “inherit” and “inheritance.” Instead of a particular plot of land at the end of eastern end of the Mediterranean, God’s people are said to inherit the kingdom of God, the life of the ages or salvation.
In both the Old and New Testaments, inheritance is a concept connected with God’s covenants, first with Abraham, and then through Jesus. Just as God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants, so God promises the kingdom to those who belong to Christ Jesus.
The promise of the kingdom is built on the foundation of the promise of the land. God apportioned the land to the tribes of Israel so that they could live on it in peace with their neighbors, enjoy its bounty and live within the framework of God’s covenant under God’s righteous rule and protection. The kingdom of God is a similar concept. In the kingdom, God’s people – which now includes all who put their faith in Christ – live in peace and wholeness under Christ’s reign, enjoying the goodness of God’s new creation. When Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land,” he was looking using language rooted in God’s promises to Abraham, Moses and the prophets.
The difference between the two inheritances, Peter says, is that our covenant inheritance in Christ is incorruptible, undefiled and unfading. In Greek, this is a series of three negative adjectives that all begin with the prefix “a,” meaning “not.”
The word that the KJV translates as “incorruptible” is more commonly translated as “imperishable” in modern translations. I think the root conveys the sense of decay, rot or waste, and not merely ceasing to exist. It’s what happens to a corpse after death. The Greek version of Psalm 16 uses the word in that way, and the Book of Acts has Peter quoting it in his speech on the day of Pentecost. Peter explains it this way:
Seeing what was to come, [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.Acts 2: 31
We use the word “perishable” in that sense when we speak of perishables at the grocery – meat or vegetables that need to be refrigerated to keep them from spoiling. Similarly, that which is “unfading” doesn’t wither away like a flower after its season.
The incorruptible and unfading nature of the kingdom is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection, which is the first fruits of the general resurrection of the dead that will take place at Christ’s parousia. As a result of Christ’s resurrection,
… we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-54
While the hope of personal resurrection appeals to me, the hope of an imperishable and unfading kingdom appeals to me even more.
Genesis said that God created the world and saw that it was good. We, too, see the inherent goodness and beauty in the world. If we didn’t the world’s brokenness wouldn’t matter so much. Who cares if a cheap trinket that a salesman handed you at a trade fair breaks after you get it home. You didn’t pay for it. You have no use for it. It’s not worth anything. But we don’t see life’s best gifts as cheap trinkets. Beauty, wonder, love, knowledge, creativity, achievement, community: these are truly good gifts. Creation offers pleasures that matter.
The tragedy of human existence lies in the distance between what life can be and what life too often is. Human evil, ignorance and indifference diminish us. Nature itself is both friend and foe. Death, disease and decay hang like the sword of Damocles above our heads. To see the beauty and goodness of creation so easily snuffed out is both tragic and terrifying. The world is broken and its brokenness makes me weep. I long for a world that does not decay, a world in which the goodness of creation does not fade away.
Our inheritance in Christ is incorruptible and unfading. It is also undefiled. God’s people can defile their inheritance when they live outside the framework of the covenant. Israel’s own covenant unfaithfulness was the greatest threat to the security of its inheritance.
And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. (Leviticus 18:28)
The nature of defilement has changed since Jesus established a new covenant with his blood, but the principle still applies. We all have the potential to turn a perfect world into a living hell through our own sins and ignorance.
Apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I have no place in the kingdom. In his grace he not only forgives my sins, he makes me a new person. He writes his laws on my heart and puts in own spirit within me. You might not always see the new me; the old man is not quite dead yet. I believe God’s promise, though, that he will not let me or anyone else muck up the new world he has prepared for us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ indeed.