The "Church" began on the day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection (Acts 2:1) and started with the Jews at Jerusalem. The Lord spoke to His disciples concerning its future formation:
Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God. 17And
Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh
and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I
will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt
bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven."
(Matthew 16:16-19 KJV)
There is a great heresy in Christendom concerning this passage. Specifically, that Jesus was telling Peter that he was the rock upon which the Church would be built. That private interpretation is based upon appeal to the wording of this passage:
"And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called
Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone."
(John 1:42 KJV)
That presumption is inaccurate. The rightly-divided Holy Bible defines the true interpretation of who the "rock" is that Jesus is speaking about:
"And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that
Rock was Christ."
(1 Corinthians 10:4 KJV)
In other words, the Church is built on the rock of truth (Luke 6:48) that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). He (Jesus, the Son of God) is the rock upon which the true Church is founded. It is a Scriptural fact that stands in contrast to the spirit of antichrist (1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:3 & 2 John 7) and, as such, differentiates the true Church from false Churches.
The Church did not begin before Pentecost. Although the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus was saved by his faith in Jesus and was given Jesus’ promise to be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43), the man died before the Lord’s resurrection and, therefore, could not be a part of the spiritual body of Christ (Romans 12:5). Likewise, John the Baptist was not part of the Lord’s body. Although he was holy and declared by Jesus a person even greater than all previous prophets…
"For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the
kingdom of God is greater than he."
(Luke 7:28 KJV)
… even John the Baptist was less than the least born-again believer in the spiritual body of Christ, His Church.
It should be noted that there is a clear distinction to be observed between the terms "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Kingdom of God" within the Holy Bible. The "Kingdom of Heaven" always doctrinally refers to the political kingdom (see: Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 5:3, 5:19 & John 18:36) and the "Kingdom of God" always doctrinally refers to God within us, the hope of glory (Luke 17:20-21) and ONLY within the context of the one-thousand-year reign of the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20) are the terms interchangeable when encountered in the four Gospel accounts (see: Luke 13:29 & Matthew 8:11).
There is also a distinction necessary concerning the meaning of the word "Church" in this discussion. In the New Testament, the Greek word for "Church" (ἐκκλησία) is defined in Strong’s as:
"a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both):—assembly, church. feminine noun"
Although the term is mostly used as a direct reference to a local Christian congregation, there are instances in the King James Bible where the word is applied in a non-Christian context of a congregation (Acts 7:38), but still a reference to a congregation gathered by the Lord under the Law, in that single instance. Also, in Acts 19:39 the English word ‘churches’ is used, but the context in that instance is not to a Christian congregation but to a pagan temple (the Greek word in that instance is also different- ἱερόσυλος).
But the "Church" also has a Biblical meaning other than an earthly congregation. In Ephesians 5:25-32 it speaks about the entire spiritual body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, not just those assembled locally (Colossians 4:15), but in the context of the spiritual ‘body’ of the Lord Jesus Christ in all places and all times of post-resurrection history (See also: Colossians 1:18 & 1:24).
In the book of Acts, the Church that began within a purely Jewish setting propagates from Jerusalem and begins encompassing both Jews and Gentiles. And as it grows, its Jewish charter membership begins to be enlightened of the working and ways of the Holy Spirit under the New Testament dispensation of Grace (Acts 2:38, 8:14-15, 10:44). After the Jewish nation rejects Jesus as the Messiah at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), the Holy Ghost calls the Jewish Pharisee Saul of Tarsus (Paul) to take the Gospel message to the Gentiles (Acts 9), although his initial ministry was also to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
The fact that the Lord’s Church is part of His body is driven home by what He said to Saul on the road to Damascus. After the stoning of Stephan, Saul maliciously attacked the human membership of the Churches, far and wide, in his religious zeal. And when the Lord blinded Saul on that certain road that faithful day, the Lord said:
"And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou
(Acts 9:4 KJV)
The attack on the Church was spoken by the Holy Ghost as an attack on Him.
From those beginnings, the Church has propagated across the Earth and the historical ages through the witness of those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, by oral testimony, tradition and the preserved written word of God, wherever the Holy Ghost has led.
Contrary to the teachings of Replacement Theology, the Church and Israel are not the same and the Church has not replaced Israel in God’s dealings with man. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in clear warnings and clarifications to the Churches (Romans 11:25 & Romans 16:25). Unlike Israel, past present or future, the Church is a called-out body of born-again believers in Jesus Christ, composed of both Gentiles and Jews, who are collectively the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:9) and are baptized into the Spirit of God (Revelation 22:17).
The purpose of the Church (both as individual believers and local congregations of believers) is to serve the Lord while in this world. Period. Collectively speaking, the Church (the Bride) is composed of all saved believers, past, present and future. It is a spiritual body. But the individual believers have fellowship and shared purpose in the institution of the local physical Churches which are composed of baptized and born-again believers in given localities where the Lord leads.
The purpose of the local Church is not to save the world, but to hold forth the words of life so that those in the world might be saved. The Church does not serve the world but is in service to the Lord while in this world. The Church does not rule the world but is here to have a righteous influence on the rulers of this world. The Church is not here to fight the world but to witness to the world. The Church should not imitate the world or isolate itself from the world. Its purpose is to love God, praise God, serve God, offer prayer to God and uphold the word of God and the hope of eternal life to the inhabitants of a spiritually dead and perishing world.
The local Church is a local Embassy of the "Kingdom of God" to a lost and dying world and its members are Ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ to the unsaved subjects of this present evil world (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Church is not on Earth to establish the "Kingdom of Heaven" or be ambassadors from it, because the "Kingdom of Heaven" is a political Kingdom (albeit a holy and righteous one) that will not be established on the Earth until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and reigns as the King of Kings in Jerusalem. We will be a part of it when it happens, but establishing it is not in the Church’s Job Description.
Our current work is to evangelize, instruct, discipline believers, provide fellowship and spiritual support to fellow believers and, when necessary, physical support. The job of the Church is to be a restraining and enlightening force within this present evil world. Christ is the head of the Church, not man, and all matters of faith and conduct are prescribed in the word of God according to the will of God and the working of the Holy Spirit.
As a local body of believers (the Bride), the Church is under headship to the Lord Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom). The Church is likened to the branches of a vine, with God as the true vine, and can bring forth fruit only by residing in the vine. Its members are sheep under the loving care of the good Shepard and a Kingdom of Priests serving the great High-Priest of our profession. In a local setting, the Church is governed by Pastors and Deacons whose qualifications for office are dictated by the written word. It follows the Bible’s prescribed ordinances of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper as memorial observances to the faith. The business and administration of the Church is financed by its membership, not by the political State in which it is situated. The Old Testament Law and commandment of the "tithe" (Numbers 18:26) is not a Biblically prescribed ordinance or membership duty of the Lord’s Church. However, we are directed to give monetary support with willing hearts and minds, as the Lord has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Church leaders must govern by the Bible’s guidance and must provide spiritually-based discipline where mandated by the Bible, when warranted.
The destiny of the Church from its beginning, until it is called out of the world at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, remains the same: The Bride meets her Bridegroom in the air at the ‘Rapture’ of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), she is examined and rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ, she is wedded to her Beloved the Lamb at the marriage service and seated with her Beloved at the marriage supper. She then reigns with the anointed King of Kings (Daniel 9:24) during the one-thousand-year Millennium in the earthly Jerusalem. Following that she will be with her Beloved for all eternity in the New Jerusalem, on the "new heaven and earth" (Revelation 21:1) and shine forth the glory of Christ for evermore.
In the Jewish religion, yearly rituals and observances performed in accordance with the Law of Moses (i.e. Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Pentecost and Sukkot), are but shadows of great spiritual truths. The observance of the weekly sabbath, a sign between the Hebrew people and God (Exodus 31:13), testifies to the world concerning the coming seventh-day rest of God, which is a shadow of the future one-thousand-year reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if the Jews do not personally know Him who they corporately rejected at His first coming, they have remained faithful to the Laws and the Prophets, by the letter and not the Spirit, across the historical ages. By the will of God, the Hebrew people are a living witnesses to God’s word.
In respect to the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride, there is a beautiful similitude that can be seen today in the Jewish wedding ceremony. On the Sabbath day following the wedding, the Bride is celebrated as the "Queen of the Sabbath" with much rejoicing and traditional pomp. Although the spiritual truths behind this Jewish ceremonial tradition may be obscure to those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or the doctrine of His Church, that Jewish traditional practice is yet another testimony of the preservation of God’s truth, albeit in an obscure and symbolic form, and it is yet another example of how God gives illumination.
In respect to the Lord’s Church, she too can be seen and understood by the unspoken things seen within the Lords creation (Psalm 19:1). As the Lord (the Bridegroom) is likened by the Psalmist to the sun in the day sky (Psalm 19:4-6), the Bride is likened to the moon in the night sky. She was taken out of the Earth (geologically speaking), is dead in respect to physical life and is high above the Earth in a heavenly place, she has no light of her own to give, but reflects the glorious light of the sun upon the Earth in the night seasons.
"Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the
moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
(Song of Solomon 6:10 KJV)
And, although the light of the moon waxes and wanes on a monthly cycle, it is a story that repeats every day and night in the sky above.
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