In 1 Corinthians 4:9 the believers are symbolized by the unusual figure of a spectacle, a public gazingstock: “God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as doomed to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” In the New Testament all the overcoming believers, not only the apostles, are likened to such a spectacle, such a gazingstock for the public.
In 1 Corinthians 4:9 Paul uses the phrase “last of all.” This expression, commonly understood at the time, refers to the last part of the performance in the Roman amphitheater. According to ancient custom, when the criminals fought with wild animals in the amphitheater for the entertainment of the populace, the criminals, who were regarded as nothing, the lowest of people, were exhibited last of all. The last act, the last show, was that of condemned criminals fighting with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people. The phrase “last of all” refers to this. In verse 9 Paul uses this expression metaphorically to convey the thought that God had set forth the apostles, and all the overcoming believers, last of all, as if they were the lowest criminals condemned to death, to be entertainment for the people. The apostles, therefore, considered themselves criminals doomed to death before the world.
Paul also says in 4:9 that the apostles had become “a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” The Greek word rendered “spectacle” is the word for theater. It refers to a show, a display, made in a theatrical way as entertainment. This also is a metaphor, referring to fights between criminals and wild beasts in the amphitheater.
The apostles became a spectacle to the world, seen not only by men but also by angels. Both men on earth and angels in the air were watching the exhibition of the apostles. Hence, they were a spectacle to the whole universe. This is related to their becoming “the offscouring of the world” and “the scum of all things” (v. 13).
The metaphors in 4:9 present a vivid picture of the situation of the apostles and the overcoming believers they were criminals condemned to fight with wild beasts for people’s entertainment. Today this is also our destiny in the sight of man. However, in the sight of God our destiny is to enjoy Christ. We who enjoy Christ have become as criminals in the sight of man for their enjoyment. But in the sight of God Christ is our destiny for our enjoyment. While others mock us and ridicule us for their entertainment, we are enjoying Christ. This shows that we have two destinies. Our destiny in the sight of God is to have Christ for our enjoyment. Our destiny in the sight of men is to be regarded as criminals condemned to death for others’ entertainment. If we are faithful to the Lord, as Paul was, this will be our destiny before men. We shall be set forth last of all, and we shall be made a spectacle both to angels and to men.
Hebrews 10:33a speaks of our “being made a spectacle both in reproaches and in afflictions.” This is to become a show exposed to the public, a gazingstock.
Hebrews 10:33b speaks of the apostles and the overcoming believers “having become partakers with those who experienced the same.” On the one hand, we are made a spectacle; on the other hand, we become partakers with those who have experienced the same thing. Many of the overcoming ones in the Old Testament had the experience of being a spectacle. Now the apostles and the overcoming believers are partakers with them, being the continuation of such a gazingstock. Therefore, we are a spectacle to the world. We in the Lord’s recovery should be like the apostles—criminals doomed to death and a spectacle both to angels and to men. We should give others the impression that we are as criminals condemned to death and a spectacle to the whole universe.
(Conclusion of the New Testament, The (Msgs. 099-113), Chapter 12, by Witness Lee)