The Establishment of Christ’s Church
Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Did Jesus mean that all the hadean powers could not keep Him from building His church, or did He mean that once built, His church would be invulnerable, or both? We will study the scriptures looking for an answer as to when Jesus actually built His church, and how He did it.
One ought not to dismiss the question of the establishment of the church Jesus promised to build as an irrelevant issue. When the church was established is of vital consequence. Imagine someone running a property survey who begins at the wrong starting place. It is like starting with the wrong button when you button a shirt or blouse -- you invariably end wrong. With surveys and dressing that is not much of a problem, but with the church it is serious.
Suppose someone comes up with the idea that the church began back with Abraham, in the Old Testament. From this false beginning has come the idea that infants may be “christened” and become members of the church. Starting with Abraham, since infant males were circumcised as a seal of their covenantal relationship to God, that was a type of “christening” babies today. Or suppose someone affirms that the church was set up by John the Baptist. They erroneously conclude that the church was then a Baptist Church. Many other doctrinal facts are closely tied to the issue of when the church Jesus promised to build was set up. There is really only one reliable source of information and it is to that we now turn.
Prophecy serves a very valuable function in our study of this topic. For hundreds of years, prophets had been foretelling the establishment of God’s government over all mankind. Until Christ came, there was really only one nation God regarded as special to Himself -- the nation of Israel. Yet, the prophets began telling these special people that down in the far distant future, God would be the ruler of all nations. Listen to this prophetic utterance from Isaiah.
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains. And shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:1-3).
J.A. Alexander, a well known and reliable scholar of Old Testament prophecy, wrote of this passage, “the Prophet sees the church, at some distant period, exalted and conspicuous, and the nations resorting to it for instruction in the true religion...” (The Prophecies of Isaiah, Zondervan Publishers, page 98.) Again, he wrote, “The prophecy begins with an abrupt prediction of the exaltation of the church, the confluence of nations to it, and a general pacification as the consequence, verses 2-4.” (Ibid, page 97.)
Notice, friends, this was all to take place in “the last days.” One must measure the “last days” from the time of the prophecy -- not from our own day. The prophet could look forward from around 700 years before Christ to what he saw as “the last days.” One might understand this as the last days of the Mosaic age. Literally, this expression can be rendered, “the end of the days,” or very simply, “hereafter.”
That which the prophet saw as being set up was called “the mountain of Jehovah’s house.” We ought to remember that Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “But if I am delayed, I wrote you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The house of God is His church. That which the prophet foretold as being established in the last days before Judiasm ceased to exist as God’s people, is the church Jesus promised to build.
Now this “house of God” is called a mountain. It was the mountain of the Lord’s house that was to be established. In the same prophecy Mt. Zion is mentioned. The prophet said that “out of Zion would go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Mt. Zion, including the mountains of Moriah, was the place where the sacred temple of the Jews was situated. That places the establishment of the church in the ancient city of Jerusalem.
All nations would flow to it. No longer would it be just the Jews as the people of God. When this great house became a reality it was large enough for all nations. No ethnic qualification was necessary. Gentiles, for the very first time, since the giving of the Mosaic Law, would be included as the special people of God. Listen to the apostle Paul. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-27).
The time element. Isaiah saw the “last days,” or the last time. As previously noted, he looked at the last days from his perspective, some 700 or so years before the fulfillment of his prophecy. He had no idea when the prophecy would be fulfilled -- only that it would happen in the end of the days. To those living under the Mosaic Law, there could be only one meaning to that -- the end of the Jewish age. So as the Jewish dispensation wound down to its climax, Isaiah says that the church would be set up.
We may be more specific about the time element. On the first Pentecost, following Christ’s glorious triumph over death, and his magnificent ascension to the right hand of God, Peter proclaimed, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days -- (this is the exact expression Isaiah used) -- says God that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh...” (Acts 2:16-17). When an inspired apostle says this is that which a prophet spoke, there is no room for doubt as to whether the prophet’s utterance is being fulfilled or not. Isaiah and Joel referred to precisely the same time in the use of precisely the same expression. That fixes the time of the last days around A.D. 33, on the first Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
But there is more. Jesus stated clearly, “There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1). You cannot miss this. Some of those who heard Jesus lived to see the kingdom set up. Jesus used the expression “kingdom of God” and “My church” interchangeably. Listen to it again. “Upon this rock I will build My church — and I give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Those keys to the kingdom fit the door of the church, for as Peter preached the gospel of the resurrected Christ, thousands of honest people obeyed the gospel and were added to the church. In that sense, and only in that sense, did Peter use those keys.
Jesus was giving His disciples their final instructions when He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:47-49). Repentance and remission of sins had never been preached, as Jesus intended for it to be preached. Only one nation had found favor with God until this time. Now, He says that things will be changed. The old will pass away; the new will be set up. This repentance and remission of sins was announced for the very first time when Peter told those in Jerusalem, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins...” (Acts 2:38). Upon compliance, those penitent believers were then added to the church (verse 47).
So, the church Jesus built was established in Jerusalem, on the first Pentecost after He rose from the dead, and includes all nations. If you are a member of some religious organization that cannot and does not claim to be established in this precise way, I urge you to investigate. If you want to be a member of the church Jesus built, you must truly repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. As a penitent believer, your baptism will admit you into His fellowship, His fold, His church. Why not do it today?
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