The King, the Kingdom, and the Church
Barry and Helen Setterfield, September, 2016
In the Bible we are introduced to the idea of a Messiah and a Kingdom. We need to ask
Our first introduction to Him is in a promise God made not to Adam and Eve after the first sin, but to Satan himself! The offspring of the woman would crush his head and he would strike at the heel of this offspring. This was said in the presence of Adam and Eve, but it was said to Satan.
Because of the fact that the interpreters/translators of the Bible added some words when Cain was born, we miss the meaning of what Eve said. Without the added words, she stated that "I have gotten a man-child, Jehovah." Not "with the help of" -- but Jehovah, the Lord Himself. This was, indeed her offspring and she was the only woman alive. She clearly knew that the only Person who could crush Satan was God Himself, and thus the Messiah, the Promised One, had to be God Himself in the flesh. Her mistake is understandable.
We know extremely little about the more than 2000 years between the giving of that promise and the flood of Noah. We know from Genesis 6:9 that Noah was a righteous man and he walked with God. We know from 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Over and over in Psalms, David refers to God as the Righteous one. In 1 John 2:1, Christ is referred to as the Righteous One. Philippians 1:11 states that righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. The evidence from these passages and many more indicate that Noah was preaching about the Promise of God regarding a Savior, a Messiah.
The first completed book of the Bible was Job's book. He was the nephew of Peleg, and lived during the time when the Atlantic Rift was forming, dividing the continents. The catastrophes associated with that massive earth movement which went on for perhaps about 200 years, are mentioned in passing a number of times in Job. Did Job know about the Promise? Here are his words from Job19:25-27: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes -- I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" Again the Redeemer is identified as God Himself, and Job was very aware that not only was there life after death, but that he would have a new body in which he would see God, his Redeemer.
In Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that his seed would include the Messiah. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises David that the Messiah will come from his line. It is in this passage that the promise includes a kingdom "and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever."
Almost 500 years later the Israelites were captives in Babylon. Daniel had risen to prominence in the king's court and it was at this time some of the most famous prophecies regarding the coming Messiah were given through Daniel. The angel Gabriel, speaking to Daniel, states that the Anointed One would be a ruler. But he also says that after the Anointed One is cut off, the temple will be destroyed. By whom? By the PEOPLE of a ruler who is to come. Titus may have been a Roman, but the people under his command were from the Middle East, areas now known as Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The destruction of the Temple was in 70 AD. The Messiah had to come before that. Did Jesus come as a ruler? Not initially. There is an interesting part of the prophecy in Daniel 9:24. "Seventy weeks have been determined on your people and upon the holy city, for sin to be ended and to seal up transgressions and to blot out the iniquities and to make atonement for iniquities, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and the prophet and to anoint the most holy." This quote is taken from the ancient Alexandrian LXX, and so we find an extra phrase "to make atonement for iniquities." Although not often understood, this prophecy points to two comings of the Anointed One: the first being to seal up transgressions and blot out and atone for iniquities; the second to bring in everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy." The first half was accomplished on the Cross. Daniel 9:26 also states that the Anointed One will be killed, but not for himself (many interpretations have "and will have nothing," or "will have no one." The use of language in the Hebrew culture allows for any of these meanings).
So this coming King would be God Himself, the Anointed One, the Redeemer, and a King. David was told His kingdom would be eternal.
The prophet Micah (5:2) said this ruler would be born in Bethlehem and whose origins were from "ancient times" or "eternity."
Born in Bethlehem, before the destruction of the Temple and city in 70 AD, killed, but not for himself -- only one person qualifies: Jesus the Christ (the Anointed One), whom John the Baptist announced, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world.”(John. 1:29). When John was in prison, he sent a messenger to Jesus, asking him if he was truly the One who was to come. Jesus replied, “Go and tell John the things which you have heard and seen: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)
Jesus knew who He was and is.
There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts we see in this Divine Personality. In summarizing his time with Jesus, the Apostle John wrote, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory; glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
It was illegal both to hold a trial at night and to condemn on the same day. Yet that is what happened to Jesus. The night of His trial, the High Priest asked Jesus if He was the Son of God. Jesus replied, "You said. Nevertheless, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming in the Cloud of Heaven."
Our modern version say 'clouds of heaven,' but that is not what Jesus said. It was singular and preceded by the definite article "the." THE Cloud of Heaven was a direct referral to the Shekinah Glory Cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness and also came to rest on both the Tabernacle and Solomon's Temple. It was where God was. In making the claim He did, Jesus was claiming to be God and the High Priest knew that, as did the others. It was for this reason -- this total blasphemy in their eyes -- that the High Priest tore his clothes, something he was normally forbidden to do (tearing one's clothes was a common symbol of deep distress or grief).
The following morning, Jesus stood before Pilate. Political and ethnic tensions were high. In the middle of this scene, a most remarkable exchange took place between Jesus and Pilate.
Pilate did not wait for the answer. He turned around and walked away. He walked away from the Truth Himself, and delivered Jesus to be crucified.
In a brief space of 1 day, 24 prophecies were fulfilled in one Man – a chance of 1:858 million million. Just from the math, Jesus is the Messiah!
For 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples. In total, over 500 people saw the resurrected Messiah (Lu. 24; Acts 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:3-8)
After 40 days He ascended to Heaven in an event witnessed by his disciples. “When He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and the cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). The Shekinah had its Resident back.
That is the King. He said He will come again, and the time is soon now.
What about the Kingdom?
In Luke 17:20-21, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Excellent note from a reader: "Within" can also be translated as "in your midst" or "among you," so He is not necessarily saying the kingdom is "spiritual" in nature--present within each believer--although many do think this. He was telling the unbelieving Jews that they could have had the kingdom, because it was right there in their midst--His very presence in their midst, offering them the kingdom.] Jesus here was making a sharp distinction between the traditional view of the Messiah reigning on earth and the reality of being born again in Him, with the Holy Spirit indwelling the person. The Kingdom of Heaven within a person is a foreshadowing of the new creation of heaven and earth spoken of at the end of Revelation, when the dwelling of God is with man. But this was far from the understanding the Jews, in particular, had of the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven (the two were used interchangeably by them). They considered the Kingdom of God a time on earth when the Messiah would reign. The prophecies pointed to an earthly reign, and yes, there would be a reign on earth, but only for a thousand years. Then this creation would be destroyed utterly and a new one created by God.
First, then, let's take a look at the Kingdom as expected by prophecy. Second it is important to counteract some of the Kingdom views that exist today. Then this section will close with Jesus lifting our eyes above that, and something from Revelation.
The Kingdom had been promised to David's descedant by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:12-16). This passage often is a source of confusion because of its double references both to Solomon and to the Messiah. The ending, however, says explicitely that David's throne would be established forever. We assume 'forever' means what we interpret as 'forever' -- through all eternity. However, if we look at Psalm 89, we find something a little different. Verses 36-37 the reference is to David's throne continuing to endure 'like the sun' and 'established forever like the moon.' We know from 2 Peter that this creation will end and all the elements themselves will be consumed in a massive heat. So what did 'forever' mean in the Hebrew culture?
The word in the Hebrew is "olam." It means "a long time, time out of mind, vanishing point." It is from a root meaning "to veil from sight; to hide." The future is, indeed, hidden except where God chooses to reveal it. But the actual meaning of the "forever" in the prophecy to David appears to mean "until the end of this creation."
Jesus Christ is and was God. Therefore the Kingdom of God is His Kingdom. We first learn a little about Jesus' connection to this Kingdom when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son. “… You will call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David. And He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Four points become evident here:
So, in Jesus, the Jews looked to someone who would fulfill the prophecies they were aware of:
Psalm 89 says David's throne would be firm "through all generations."
Isaiah 9 and 11 state the Messiah would rule and judge righteously and destroy wickedness. Even the animals would be at peace (this may be a reference to the world returning to the original condition before the Flood, and maybe even before sin.)
Zechariah 14 says the Messiah will be king over all the earth.
Micah 4 states the Messiah will reign over all the earth from Jerusalem.
There are many, many prophecies about the coming Messiah. Some were ignored, such as Isaiah 53, which spoke of the Messiah as unattractive, rejected, "like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." But when the Jewish people shouted "Hosannah" at Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, they were expecting the prophesied and long-awaited King of the Scriptures. In fact, we read in Luke 19:11, "While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once."
In Acts1, the Apostles ask Jesus, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." In short, Jesus answered them "No. You have a job to do first." We know now He will return at the Battle of Armageddon, when He will crush those who are oppressing Israel and then set up a thousand year reign on earth in this creation. It is referred to as the Millenium.
That is what the Jewish people then meant by the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, however, was extremely specific about something else. He told Pilate His Kingdom was/is NOT of this world. So, again, Jesus was trying to lift the sight of folks.
Starting with Constantine, and his "conversion" to Christianity, every effort was made to bring the Kingdom of God down to earth through a combination of political systems and religion. In the same way the Roman Catholic Church tried to establish His Kingdom through their church via the Pope, whose title "Vicar of Christ," literally means "in place of Christ," many churches today are either insisting that the Kingdom of God resides in the church, or various churches, of our time or that it is our responsibility to bring it into fruition (the Kingdom Now movement, etc.). In fact, all the Reformation churches followed suit with the Roman Catholic idea that the Kingdom of God could be established by the church on earth. It is from this idea that the concept of "no Millennial reign of Christ" or "Amillennialism" came in, in direct contradiction to Revelation 20.
In direct contrast to this idea of now, or any time in history so far, being the Kingdom of God, Jesus first and most often repeated warning regarding His return was "see that no one deceives you." Matthew 24 and Luke 21 tell of Jesus warning about the signs that would precede His return. And until He returns, there is no Kingdom on earth. Look, rather at the third temptation Satan gave Jesus: he shows our Lord "all the kingdoms of the earth" and offers to give them to Jesus if Jesus will fall down and worship Satan. Jesus never argues that Satan CAN give Him all the kingdoms of the earth! Jesus refers to Satan a number of times in the Gospel of John as the 'ruler' or 'prince' of this world. If Satan is currently the ruler of this world, the Kingdom of God is not yet here on earth! 1 John 3:19 states , "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."
Can we establish that Kingdom before Jesus arrives? Here is what Paul tells Timothy about the end times: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1-5) In other words, despite any attempts people might make to achieve God's Kingdom on earth before the second coming of Christ, it looks like they will have failed.
"My Kingdom is not of this world," Jesus told Pilate. That means Jesus was not thinking about His Millennial Reign, nor was He thinking about the times of the Gentiles, otherwise known as the Church Age. His view was of the bigger picture -- the time without end -- the new creation. But He also said the Kingdom of God is within us. Wherever God is, He is King. Thus, for born-again Christians who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God truly has started within.
There is a little book I read long ago called Mr. God, This is Anna. Although a great deal of the book has to do with some rather "interesting" ideas, little Anna does mention one thing which has stayed with me through the years: that dying is like turning inside out. C.S.Lewis presented a similar concept in the last of the Narnia series, The Last Battle. In that book, the inside of the stable was ever so much larger than the outside -- it led up the mountain, past the worldly Narnia, to the reality above and beyond it. Neither of these pictures is enough, but each is something. Jesus used pictures again and again, particularly as recorded in Matthew 13 to try to explain His Kingdom.
Before dealing with the parables, or pictures, themselves, there is something of interest to mention. In our Western culture, we generally describe things, if dealing with time, starting with the earliest and working our way along to the later. However that is not always the way it is in Eastern cultures, where the beginning might easily start at the farthest point then work its way back or forward to the more recent. We see this in the prophecies in Mathew and Luke where Jesus appears to have started with prophecies that would be fulfilled in the most distant time and then worked His way back to what would happen shortly. It may also be what we are seeing here regarding the order in which Jesus told these "the kingdom of heaven is like" stories.
Matthew 13:24-30 -- The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
Bits and pieces of what the Millennial Kingdom will be like are scattered throughout the Bible, most notably in the Prophets (Isaiah 2:1-5, Isaiah 11 and 12, etc). But what will the final Kingdom of Heaven be like? We only have the vaguest of outlines, but very promising and encouraging ones, in Revelation 21, which begins:
There was have His explanations of His Kingdom. It is not a physical entity here on earth, as many churches and denominations claim. Nor is it something which we can bring about ourselves. It is HIS Kingdom, established HIS way, by HIM.
So what about the church on earth?
One of the most disputed passages in the Bible is found in Matthew 16:13-20. This is where Jesus asks His disciples who the people say He is and then He asks the disciples themselves who they think He is. Peter answers that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In Mark and Luke this episode ends with Jesus telling them not to tell others. But in Matthew, we see the following exchange. Translated into English, it reads:
The Roman Catholic claim is that the church Christ was establishing was therefore built on Peter, and their claim that Peter was in Rome shows he was the first Pope. Both parts of that statement are wrong. Before we go into that, however, it is important to note that the verb phrase "will be" used twice in verse 19 has an equally valid alternate translation: "will have been." The disciples will be allowed to know the judgment of certain people as they start to spread the Gospel later. It will not be theirs to pronounce judgment, but theirs will be the special privilege of knowing heaven's judgment in certain cases.
Now, back to Peter. The first thing, which is fairly well-known, is that Jesus used two different words when he said "Peter," which means 'rock' and "rock." The word He used for Peter was "petros" -- the masculine form, meaning a small rock. The term He used when He said "upon this rock" was "petra," the feminine form, which means 'large formation or large boulder.'
The concept of what 'petra' is can be demonstrated by the city carved out of rock which bears the name Petra.
So it is evident Jesus was not referring to Peter himself when He said that "upon this rock I will build my church..."
So what did He mean? Peter answers this question himself in his first epistle. Here is 1 Peter 2:4-8a
"and a rock that makes them fall" -- the word Peter uses for "rock" there is "petra." Christ, Himself, is the petra -- the rock on which the church is built -- the cornerstone with which the entire foundation (of Apostles) was aligned.
Paul also said in agreement in I Corinthians 3:11 “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Was Peter ever in Rome? Not according to the Bible. This is traced extremely well in an article originally by Brian Hoeck at Truth on The Web, but in a much more readable form (because of the formatting) here.
Now that it has been established that the church Christ founded was NOT Roman Catholicism, let's turn to Acts to find out more about the early church.
We tend to think of the early groups of believers in Messiah as the beginnings of the Christian Church. In hindsight they were, but that is not how it developed historically. And unless you understand what happened historically, you will mis-read the book of Acts.
The same word is used in Acts 7:38 where Stephen calls the Israelites who escaped from Egypt “The Church in the Wilderness”. They were uniquely God’s “called-out ones,” but not a ‘Church’ as we recognize the word today.
Indeed, throughout the entire book of Acts, the concept of God’s “called-out ones” forming a ‘Christian Church’ as we know it today was never in view.
These “called-out ones” worshipped daily in the Temple (Acts 2:46) and discussed with the people and taught what Jesus had done in the area known as Solomon’s Porch – a large colonnade running the length of the Eastern side of the Temple (Acts 5:12-15). The Temple was the focal point of their outreach; the Upper Room the place for their prayer meetings (Acts 12:12) and decision making and instruction, while breaking bread and spreading the apostle’s doctrine and instruction was from house to house with the believers (Acts 2:46).
Since these groups were entirely Jewish to begin with, there was no thought of the Ekklesia as anything other than the fulfillment of Judaism & Scriptures: they were “completed Jews.”
The Gentiles that came in later were viewed in a Jewish context … until the Council which decided that Jewish Law was not applicable to them, as all had been saved by Grace (15:11).
The Bible makes it quite clear that the Mystery of the Church, as we have it today, was revealed to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:1-13 about 62 AD. This was in the second year of his house arrest in Rome and at least 18 months after the Jewish hierarchy had given their final rejection of the message in Rome. At that rejection, the Holy Spirit through Paul said in Acts 28:28 that the salvation of God would now be sent to the Gentiles who would accept it.
It was only after that event that the concept of the Christian Church, as a separate entity from Judaism, actually developed. Until then, the emphasis was on acceptance of Jesus as Messiah by the Jews around the Empire, and if they did accept Him, Jesus would return in their generation and set up the Millennial empire and rule from David’s Throne in Jerusalem.
Their official rejection put that program on hold and introduced the “Times of the Gentiles”, the Church Age. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, thus putting a stop to worship in the Temple. The Jews were dispersed around the Roman Empire. Jesus said in Luke 21 that the generation which saw the Jews return to Israel (which happened in 1948) would see His Coming. The Sign that ‘Times of the Gentiles’, the Church Age, was closing was the restoration of Jerusalem to Jewish control (in 1967).
So Acts covers a crisis period when some unusual things were happening to convince the Jews the offer of the Kingdom was genuine. In effect, the Jews were being given a choice to accept or reject Messiah nationally as well as personally. The nation and its religious leaders in fact rejected, but a number of individuals accepted as the book of Acts outlines.
We thus find in the later letters of Paul, that the Ekklesia – Jews & Gentiles - are “fellow-heirs” of blessings & fullness in Christ (Eph. 3:6). This was a new concept -- different from Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) and what they seemed to indicate and definitely different from what the Jews in Jesus' day were expecting.
In the early days, the Ekklesia met in appropriate houses whose families were believers (see 1 Cor. 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2) and presumably had facilities to cope with the numbers involved. An example would be the Upper Room in the Jerusalem home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). In Acts 18, when Paul was barred from the Synagogue he went to the house of Justus and taught there for 18 months or more (Acts 18:4-11).
Paul always went to the Jews first in any given city. That meant going to the synagogue (as in Corinth, Acts 18:4) or to the meeting place of the Jews when numbers were too small for a synagogue. In the case of Philippi, that meeting place was the river bank (Acts 16:12-13). When there was rejection by the Jews, he went to the house of a believer where the Ekklesia then met. In Philippi, it was the house of Lydia where the believers assembled (Acts 16:40). Lydia was a seller of purple – the very expensive dye from the Murex shell. So she was probably well off and had a house appropriate for the occasion. In Thessalonica Paul and his companions used the house of Jason (Acts 17:1-9, Romans 16:21). At Troas, a house with a large Upper Room was used for the meeting of the Ekklesia (Acts 20:7-11).
It was customary to meet on the first day of the Week, that is Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor.16:2). This celebrated the Lord’s Day when He rose from the dead (Revelation 1:10) and was the day he appeared in the Upper Room in Jerusalem before the assembled disciples (John 20:19-20, 26).
First – Someone in spiritual leadership, like the Apostle Paul, presented Biblical doctrine, teaching and instruction – sometimes this was a lengthy process (Acts 20:7). Timothy and Titus were ordained by Paul for this position as well (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:5 etc).
Second, many believers searched the Scriptures to see whether or not what was said was in accord with the rest of the Bible (Acts 17:11) and discussed the topics under consideration (Acts 20:11 is literally “‘discussed’ for a long while”). Apparently, Paul moderated that particular discussion and presumably answered questions as well.
Third, breaking bread was often a part of the meeting (Acts 20:11; 1 Corinthians 11:20-34). This was the Lord’s Supper, not a general meal, which Paul states is to be eaten at home. It was a remembrance of the Lord’s Sacrifice. However, some refreshments are implied as being available and eaten during the following discussion period as in Acts 20:11.
Fourth, the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs did occur according to 1 Corinthians 14:26. We are also instructed to sing this music during our daily activities in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Since a hymn or psalm was also sung at the Last Supper, it might be surmised that the breaking of bread might have been similarly accompanied on occasion.
Fifth, whatever was done had to be done in a decent and orderly manner so there was no confusion (1 Corinthians 14:40). This included collections for suffering saints (1 Cor. 16:1-4).
Some form of leadership and oversight became necessary once it was clear, about 62 AD, that the Ekklesia had been rejected by the rest of the Jewish community. Therefore, it was not going to be a revitalized form of Judaism in which the structure of Judaism became an integral part of it. In turn, this meant that the High Priest and the hierarchy of Israel would not control the Ekklesia or have oversight of it. In addition, it became apparent that the Temple sacrifices had been superseded by Messiah’s sacrifice (“Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us” 1 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, since all believers now had direct access to the Throne of Grace through the Sacrifice of Messiah, there was no longer any necessity for a priesthood (Hebrews 10). Indeed, no further sacrifice was needed, since “Christ offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). The High Priest was, and is, Christ Himself; no other priests were needed, and no other sacrifice was needed. This meant the Judaic hierarchy did not apply to the church.
In Philippians 1:1, as well as 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:7, Paul, writing about 63 or 64 AD, indicates that there should also be bishops or overseers in the church. In the Philippians passage it indicates there were several bishops or overseers to the local church. (This contrasts with today’s situation where one bishop looks after the affairs of many churches).
Deacons are also mentioned to assist in the running of the church as in Acts 6:1-8 as the numbers multiplied. The word ‘deacon’ derives from a root which means to raise dust by making haste (in running errands)! The strict requirements for deacons and overseers are listed in the passage in 1 Timothy 3.
When we recognize that the book of Acts is a record of how Jews and their hierarchy reacted to the renewed offer of the Kingdom with Jesus as the Messiah, some enigmas are resolved.
First, in Acts 6:7 we are told that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” But the sacrifice of Christ ended all the OT sacrifices and the system of priests. In fact, that was pre-figured by Jesus stopping the procession of priests through the Temple and the vessels they carried containing the blood from the sacrifices in Mark 11:16. So how could these priests be obedient to the faith and still perform their office? Today they could not; it would be a contradiction. But back then, before the transition period was over, they could.
Second, In Acts 8:12 we are told that the Samaritans “believed” after the preaching of Philip and were then “baptized”. Today, when we believe (and are baptized) the Holy Spirit has usually taken up residence within us, if the belief is genuine. However, in Acts 8, some short time later, Peter and John came up from Jerusalem and laid hands on them and prayed over them because “the Holy Spirit had not fallen on any of them” (Acts 8:15-17). Today, this delay is not encountered. But back then it was needed to convince the apostles and disciples that God had accepted the Samaritans as part of His kingdom plan. Further, it emphasized that Peter was the one who unlocked the door to the Kingdom (the keys) for both the Jews at Pentecost, and now the Samaritans. So this is something that only occurred during the transition period with its peculiarities; it is not the norm for the Christian Church later.
Third, In Acts 10, we find that Peter is preaching to Cornelius the centurion and his friends, all of whom were Gentiles. They have not had a chance to repent or say they accepted the message. In fact, Peter is still in the middle of his message when the Holy Spirit fell upon all those present and they began to speak in tongues (Acts 10:44-48). Again this is definitely unusual by today’s standards. It was even unusual for Peter who said later “If therefore God gave them (the Gentiles) the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). This occurred to convince the apostles and disciples that God had accepted Gentiles into His Plan – and it was Peter who opened the door to the Gentiles. As a result, this is not to be taken as “normal” for the Christian Church today. We do not take our cue for behavior from Acts but from the epistles. The building does not keep repeating the foundation; rather, the building continues building on the foundation. In Acts, we see the foundation being established, and this was a unique time with unique events orchestrated by God.
Fourth, in Acts 15:4-5, about 49 AD, we are told that “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed” said it was necessary to circumcise the Gentile converts and command them to “keep the Law of Moses.” In Acts 21:17-20 we similarly find that the assembly of apostles and disciples in Jerusalem in 57 AD stated that “many thousands of Jews there are which believe and they are all zealous of the Law.” This is what they had grown up with and been concerned with as adults, knowing that the essential law was from God, Himself, and therefore must be obeyed. This became the issue at stake at the Council of Jerusalem in 49 AD, as recounted in Acts 15. There were two parts to the discussion: first, was salvation by grace with the works of the law, and second, did the Gentiles then have to be introduced to the law and follow all of its points. Here is the passage describing that discussion and the results of it:
There was, however, a difference between deciding something and establishing it. In addition, what to do about the Law? For Jewish believers, the idea that the Law of God had been superceded by God Himself was a very difficult thing to deal with. The whole point of Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians was that salvation is by faith and that “by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Paul wrote Galatians in 55 AD, but as late as 57 AD the concept still had not been assimilated. For the Jewish believers in particular, there seemed to be no conflict between grace and works as their acceptance of Jesus was of their Messiah-King, and kings were to be obeyed.
The other stumbling block, so to speak, was -- and is -- the fact that men want clear directions regarding their behavior. When children play games, if they do not know a rule to cover a particular situation, they make one up. Adults do the same thing. Jesus was furious with the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23 because they kept adding laws upon laws, many of which they did not bother obeying themselves. So given not only the history and habit of the law, but the deep desire in men to have direction, it was extremely difficult for the Apostles to explain fully that salvation is by grace and there is nothing that can be done to earn it.
That is why salvation by grace and grace alone is such an ever-present theme in Paul's letters. James wrote so that people would understand the place of works: they demonstrate faith; they come from a heart in tune with God and express Him to the world.
So the early church, which we see developing in Acts, was a time of transition, and, at times, a very difficult transition. Depending entirely and soley on God was difficult for Jew and Gentile alike.
"The blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the church." This was taken from Tertullian, a believer in 197 AD who was alive during one of the major persecutions of Christians. Here is part of his quote from The Apologia as part of a letter to the Roman governor of his province: "Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."
The earliest years of the new 'sect' were relatively peaceful, with only some personal attacks, such as the stoning of Stephen and even of Paul. But soon, as Christianity started to spread, it became a threat to Judaism. But for Rome, it was another matter. The mad emperor Nero demanded that he be worshiped as a god and when the Christians refused to do this, it was considered insurrection and they were to be disposed of. That was the beginning of a series of persecutions of Christians by Rome which did not end until the time of Constantine in the fourth century. At that time, in the heat of a battle, Constantine said he had a dream and "converted " to Christianity. Although this stopped persecution, it almost destroyed the church itself, for Constantine combined his form of Christianity with paganism (statues of idols were simply transformed into saints) and the Roman legal system. This rapidly became what is known today as the Roman Catholic Church. When the Roman Empire finally was destroyed, the Roman Catholic Church picked up the pieces.
Although Jesus declared His Kingdom was not of this world, the Roman Catholic Church, for a thousand years (approximately 500 - 1500 AD), made every effort to establish its kingdom on earth in the name of Christ. In doing so, they systematically eliminated a number of small groups of simple believers who disagreed with Roman Catholic doctrines. This effort continued into the Middle Ages. If one lived in lands under the sway of the Pope, one had to believe in Roman Catholic doctrine or die. In order to keep the populace under control, the Bible was only allowed in Latin, and masses were only said in Latin. The general populace was illiterate and their only exposure to the Bible was whatever the Catholic priests said and what the stained glass windows in their churches illustrated.
However Jesus had said to His disciples that the gates of hades (precisely, "the place of departed souls") would not prevail against His church. And so small groups of simple believers continued, here and there, keeping alive the original faith. When the Reformation hit, with Martin Luther, John Calvin and others, their exposure of some of the Roman Catholic doctrinal errors came shortly after the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1440. Luther printed the first Bible in the German language in 1522. The first Bible printed in English was in 1535. When people were finally able to see what the Bible actually said, Roman Catholicism started to lose its dominance.
However, many of the churches which arose from the Reformation did not change the idea that the Kingdom of God was in the church. This led to the idea, which is still current in the "Kingdom Now" and "New Israel" type churches that God has forsaken Israel and the earthly church has taken its place.
Another problem which has remained is the concept of works. In Roman Catholicism, certain works must be performed in order to be saved. In a number of non-Catholic churches today, what is referred to as the 'social gospel' has become predominant. The emphasis is not on salvation by grace, but on the necessity of works -- often of changing a political system, redistributing wealth, or other earthly goals which would then help usher in the Kingdom of God.
So where is Jesus' church? It is where it always has been, in the hearts of true believers throughout time. There are groups, certainly, which are part of His church. Many of these groups can be found in places in the world where Christianity is persecuted today. In "more tolerant" countries, very often the more popular churches end up being pretty far from the church Christ established. Entertainment is not Christianity. Jesus is Christianity.
Jesus asked if, when He returned, He would find faith on the earth. It seems a rhetorical question with the implied answer of "no." But He also said the gates of death would not prevail against it, so there will be some. There will always be some until the Antichrist makes every effort to eliminate them for good. That won't last for long -- Christ will return in power.
The seven churches Jesus sent messages to in Revelation were all in Turkey. The messages were sent via John, who was imprisoned on Patmos at the time. The messages must, first of all, be seen in that light. The messages were current messages to current churches. There are two other ways of understanding the messages to these churches, as well: the church through time, in seven different stages; and the various churches around the world at any given time.
In order to compare the seven churches, different parts of the message from Christ are color-coded. The opening identity is in black, the 'deeds' remarks are in blue, positive remarks are in green, negative remarks are in red, advice and counsel are in teal, results are in purple, and closing remarks are again in black.
Ephesus --this is the only church that Paul wrote a letter specifically to, out of the seven. Ephesus was a major port and commercial center, located at the intersection of several major trade routes. It had a temple to the goddess Diana.
Smyrna (no deeds are spoken of and there are no negative comments about them) -- the name comes from the spice myrrh, which gives its fragrance when crushed. Today known as Izmir, Smyrna was closely allied with Rome and promoted emperor worship. It also contained a large and hostile (to Christians) Jewish population. Polycarp, one of the early martys, was bishop there.
Pergamum (there is no reference to deeds) -- Now known as Bergama, the name meant 'citadel' as it was located on a large, cone-shaped hill about 1000 feet above the surrounding valley. It was the ancient capital of Asia. Pergamum was the official center of emperor worship in Asia.
Thyatira -- Thyatira was a military outpost. Today known as Akhisar. Famous for its purple dye.
Sardis -- Today known as Sart it was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, a city of great wealth and fame.
Philadelphia -- Today known as Alashehir. In both languages the name means "brotherly love" as comes from the deoition of two brothers about 200 BC. A city of commercial importance.
Laodicea -- Today is Pamakkale, it was the wealthiest city in Phrygia during Roman times, widely known for its banking, medical school and textiles. It had a major problem with its water supply, which arrived lukewarm after traveling miles through an aquaduct in the sun.
A quick note before we continue about the church. When we put the different parts in color, we saw something we had not seen before. Sermon after sermon concentrates on the negative in these messages. But look at how little 'red' there is compared with everything else! The positives, the encouragements, the warnings -- all of these far outweigh the negative comments. This does not make the negatives any the less strong, but it does show the character of our Lord to encourage, warn, point the way again and again.
This list of seven churches goes clockwise on the map starting with Ephesus, the closest one to Patmos where John was imprisoned. And there are many who say these churches do show the development of the Christian religion through time.
Ephesus -- the beginning church
Smyrna -- the persecuted church
Pergamum -- the mixing of the Christian church with Roman paganism, initiated by Constantine, resulting in the Roman Catholic Church
and so it goes....but it does not all fit, exactly, as the actual bodies of believers were not always defined by the state churches or the main churches.
In addition, so many churches have claimed to be the "true church." The foremost of these is Roman Catholicism. It is run by men, the top man of whom -- the Pope -- is called Holy Father and Vicar of Christ. These titles replace God with a man and declare the Pope in place of Christ. This is definitely not the church Christ began and established. The Reformation Churches, including what is now known as the Episcopalian (Church of England), the Lutheran, the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, etc. were all begun by men and are currently under the direction of men. The same can be said of just about every other denomination, whether it be Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist, etc.
While Paul did establish the need for overseers and teachers, especially once the Apostles had gotten old or been killed, there was never an intent for the establishment of churches the way we have them now, run by men with rules established by voting. The Biblical emphasis was always on the leadership of Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit indwelling the hearts of the believers. That is what comprises Christ's church. That is always what has comprised Christ's church, regardless of what any state or popular church existed at any given time. In any of the organizations, it comes down to what is in the heart of the individual believer, not membership in a church.
Which brings us to the problems of the church today, in these last days. The Bible tells us there will be a falling away from the faith.
Paul told Timothy what the last days would be like in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Piece by piece, here it is:
The Apostles did not preach on the power of positive thinking but on the necessity of the Cross, the forgiveness of sins and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-40).
They did not use skillful oratory, enticing words or man’s wisdom (1. Cor. 2:1-5; 2Cor. 10:10).
The Apostles said that the believers should follow their example as they did of Christ (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:10, 17-19). Suffering and persecution was part of that (Rom. 8:35-37).
A prosperity gospel was not preached. Rather we were to present our whole being to Christ for Him to use for His glory (Rom. 12:1-2). Selfish gains for us were to be counted as loss for Christ (Phil. 3:7; Rom. 15:3). The prosperity gospel preached today fits neatly into the description of the church at Laodicea.
In contrast, Christ told His disciples, in John 15: "if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is you do not belong to the world." And again, a chapter later, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world."
The word for the early church was "ekklesia," meaning "the called out ones." It is still the same.
Our reward is Eternal Life (Jn. 3:16); to be transformed into Christ’s likeness, be with Him in glory (1 Jn. 3:2), & reign with Him (2Tim. 2:12).