The Study of the Church
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." Matthew 16:18
The Present Church Age
A. Events Leading Up to the Inauguration of the Church
1. God offered the Kingdom to Israel in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who was to be Israel’s ultimate Anointed King, the Messiah (2 Sam. 7:8-17; Luke 1:26-33; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-40).
2. In judgment, God temporarily withdrew His blessing from Israel. Jerusalem, including the Second Temple, was destroyed in 70 A.D., just as the Scriptures and Jesus had predicted (Isa. 8:13-14; Dan. 9:26; Matt. 24:1-2; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24), and the nation was sent into exile, becoming the Jewish Diaspora.
3. Israel rejected Jesus as King (Matt. 12:22-32; Luke 19:41-44), crucifying Him instead (Psa. 22:14-18; Isa. 52:13-15; 53:1-12; Dan. 9:26; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 27:20-25; John 19; Rom. 9:31-33), just as the Scriptures predicted.
4. To make Israel jealous (Deut. 32:21; Rom. 10:19; 11:11) and woo the Jewish people back to Himself, which He will surely do (Rom. 11:11-32), God extended mercy to the Gentiles (Nations) (Rom. 9:22-26, 30-33; 11:11, 25) just as the Scriptures predicted (Psa. 86:9; 87:3-6; 102:15; Isa. 2:2-4; Hos. 2:23; Zeph. 3:9-10).
5. God will one day restore believing Israel to a place of blessing and preeminence in the world (Isa. 2:2-4; 9:1-7; 59:15-21; 60:1-5, 10-22; Jer. 31:31-37; Zech. 14:9, 16-18; Rom. 9:27; 11:25-29; Heb. 8:7-13).
B. The Prediction of the Church
1. When Jesus saw that the Jewish leaders had rejected Him as King, He predicted that He would build His Church, which would militantly advance to the gates of hell and rescue damned sinners out of its clutches (Matt. 16:18).
2. What Jesus taught concerning the Church was brand new truth. It is called a Mystery (Greek musterion, Matt. 13:11), which means it is truth previously unrevealed (see Rom. 16:25). In Matthew 13, Jesus revealed that the Mystery Form of His Kingdom (the previously unrevealed Church Age) would include the following features.
a. There would be four varying responses to the message of the Kingdom of Christ in the Church Age, only one of which would actually bear fruit (The Parable of the Four Soils, Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23).
b. There would be a mixture of good and evil people in the Kingdom of Christ in the Church Age, ultimately discernible only at the judgment at the end of the age (The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat, Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43).
c. The Kingdom of Christ in the Church Age would start from a small beginning and grow to a great size (The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Matt. 13:31-32).
d. The Kingdom of Christ in the Church Age would influence the whole earth pervasively in spite of its small beginning (The Parable of the Yeast in the Dough, Matt. 13:33).
e. Some would sacrifice all to become part of this Kingdom (The Parables of the Hidden Treasure, Matt. 13:44, and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value, Matt. 13:45-46).
C. A Definition of the Church
1. Jesus and the New Testament writers used the Greek word ekklesia, which means, in a word, assembly. The word was used in every day Greco-Roman society to refer to an impromptu gathering of people (Acts 19:32), and also to a legislative assembly (Acts 19:39).
2. The word ekklesia is a compound of two Greek words, ek, out of or out from, and kaleo, to call. Put together, the word ekklesia means “the called out ones.” It is in this sense that Jesus intended the word. Believers in Jesus are those who have responded to the call of God and have entered His Kingdom of Light.
3. The Church, then, is God’s present means for advancing His Kingdom and His agenda in this present age.
4. As used in the New Testament, the word Church has a universal and a local designation.
a. The Church Universal consists of all those in this present age who have placed their trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23).
b. The Church Local consists of a gathering of professing believers in a particular locality, in New Testament, for example, the Church of Jerusalem, of Antioch, of Ephesus, of Thyatira, of Philippi, etc. (Acts 11:22; Acts 13:1; Rom. 16:1; Rev. 2:18).
D. Entrance into the Church
1. Entrance into the Church Universal is by simple faith in Jesus Christ absent any human works (John 1:12; John 3:3-8; John 3:16-18; Acts 16:5; Romans 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; Col. 1:13-18; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).
2. There is no procedure listed in Scripture by which someone enters into a Local Church.
a. The New Testament expects that unbelievers attend (1 Cor. 14:22-25).
b. As a practical matter one becomes an integral part of a local church
1) By trusting in Jesus Christ as His Savior (Rom. 3:21-23; Rom. 5:1).
2) By being baptized in obedience to Christ’s command and the example of the Early Church (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:35-38; Acts 10:46-48).
3) By being willing to follow the leadership of the church (Acts 20:28-32; Rom. 12:8; Heb. 13:17).
4) By regularly attending the fellowship (Heb. 10:25).
5) By serving according to one’s giftedness (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
E. Word Pictures of the Church. There are several fascinating word pictures used to describe the Church, most often depicting the relationship between Christ and His Church.
1. He is the Head, of which the Church is the Body (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 4:11-13; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18; Col. 2:19).
2. He is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride (Eph. 5:22-27, 5:32; see also Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-10; 22:17).
3. He is the Good Shepherd, and the Church is comprised of His Sheep, who hear His voice (John 10:11-16).
4. He is the Vine, and the Church constitutes the Branches (John 15:1-8).
5. He is the Great High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:5-6, 9-10; 6:19-20; 7:25-27; 8:1-2; 9:11-12), and the Church constitutes His Royal Priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
F. The Mission of the Church
1. As subjects of the King, the Church is asked to bear witness of Him and recruit citizens for the Kingdom of Light (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 8:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).
2. As gifted people in the Church, its members are asked to baptize, train and disciple the new recruits and to build up the whole body of believers in Christ-like obedience and maturity ( Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:12-13; 2:6-7).
3. As members of Christ’s Body, the Church is asked to be Christ’s Body in the world today (1 Cor. 12:11-27).
G. The Special Relation of the Holy Spirit to the Church
1. Before His departure, Jesus instructed His followers that they were to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:4-5).
a. The Holy Spirit had been with Old Testament believers; He would dwell within New Testament believers (John 14:16-17).
b. The Holy Spirit would remind Jesus’ apostles of everything He had taught them, would guide them into all truth, and would even show them things to come in the future. In so doing Jesus was pre-authorizing His apostles to write the New Testament Scriptures for our instruction and spiritual growth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).
2. The Holy Spirit is the One who baptizes (immerses) all Church Age believers in Jesus into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
3. The Holy Spirit is the One who gifts New Testament believers with special abilities to serve (1 Cor. 12:4-31).
4. With the indwelling Holy Spirit, New Testament believers have a power present within to live for Christ in this world, if they will but yield themselves to the Spirit’s control (Rom. 8:1-15; Gal. 5:16-25; Eph. 5:18).
H. The Organization of the Church
1. The early Apostles, who also served as Prophets, were the founders and foundation of the Church, Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-22).
2. Leaders in Israel were known as Elders (Exod. 12:21; 24:21-23), and this same governance was transferred into the Church.
a. There is a transition in the Book of Acts, the early Church’s authorized history. In its beginning the Apostles were making decisions (Acts 1:15-26; 6:1-4). By Acts 15 Elders were involved in decision-making as well as the Apostles (Acts 15:1-6, 22-23). By the end of the book of Acts, the Elders were making decisions (Acts 21:17-26).
b. The main task of the Elders was to Shepherd the Flock (Acts 20:17, 28).
c. The qualifications of the Elders, also known as Overseers, were laid out in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9) and their style is modeled in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
3. Early in the history of the Church a ministry problem surfaced. The Greek widows felt they were being discriminated against. The Apostles understood their role was serving the Word of God and praying, not serving tables. They authorized the selection of seven qualified men to serve tables (Acts 6:1-7). The Greek word for serving is diakoneo, from which we derive the English untranslated word Deacon, which means servant. When ministry problems arise therefore, the Elders of a Church can arrange for the appointment of Deacons, who supervise the ministry so that the Elders can maintain their priorities of serving the Word of God and praying.
I. The Beginning and Completion of the Church
1. Jesus instructed His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:4-5).
2. The Beginning of the Church
a. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the small group of believers in a miraculous way (Acts 2:1-12).
b. Peter preached to the crowd that quickly gathered that the speaking in unlearned foreign languages, the flames of fire, and the sound of a rushing wind were all signs that Jesus, as the risen Messiah, had ascended to the right hand of the Father, and that He had sent the Holy Spirit, just as He promised (Acts 2:14-35).
c. He reminded His Jewish audience that they had killed their Messiah (Acts 2:36).
d. In consternation and contrition, 3,000 people placed their trust in Jesus and were baptized (Acts 2:37-41). The Day of Pentecost constitutes the Founding of the Church.
3. The Completion of the Church
a. While He was yet with His followers, Jesus told them that He would leave them, but that He would return and gather them to Himself so that they might always be with Him (John 14:1-6).
b. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church that they were not to be ignorant about the destiny of those in their number who had died without Jesus having yet returned. He assured them that when Jesus would return, the dead in Christ would rise first. Then those who were still alive when Jesus returned would be caught up together with them to a meeting with the Lord in the air. They would always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Believers have called this event the Rapture.
c. Paul further disclosed that believers who are alive at Christ’s return for His Church will not remain in their mortal bodies, but will be instantly, at Christ’s return, transformed into resurrection bodies, incorruptible and immortal (1 Cor. 15:50-58).
d. This event, the Rapture, appears to be the completion of the Church. Once the Rapture takes place, no one else will be added to the Church. The Church will continue to exist however, as a distinct entity alongside redeemed Israel throughout eternity, headquartered in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12, 14). The 24 elders around the throne in heaven (Rev. 4:4, 10) probably represent both Israel and the Church, twelve representing each entity throughout eternity.
This study is based on, and the links reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE 1995 ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995. Used by Permission.)
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Updated February 13, 2022