|THE THREE PHASES OF CHRIST'S GATHERING (or "CHURCH")|
1. Phase one of Christ's "church" was a 'kingdom church', a fulfillment of the 'gathering' foretold by the Hebrew prophets which would restore the earthly kingdom to Israel.
2. Phase two of Christ's "church" is the same 'gathering' in mystery form as Israel proceeded to reject God's offer of their prophesied kingdom.
3. Phase three of Christ's "church" is not part of God's eventual plan to restore the earthly kingdom to Israel, but is a totally new mystery that takes a people chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be part of God's purpose to transform a heavenly people into an inheritance for the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Early Church, What Was It?
The Lord announced in Matthew 16:18-19 that He would "build" His ekklesia (gathering). Was this "gathering" ("Church") a gathering with a heavenly calling and blessing, a "one body" consisting of believers called by God without regard to national or covenant advantages? Or was it a "kingdom church" with an earthly, millennial expectation? Consider the following:
"This IS that which was spoken through the prophet Joel."
The "times of refreshing" and "the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets" is an unmistakable reference to the many Old Testament prophecies concerning the spiritual restoration of Yahweh's precious Nation during the millennial kingdom by His Anointed King, and the conversion of Israel and Judah in that kingdom under the terms of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31). That is why the disciples asked the very pertinent question, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) The Lord Jesus had called this "the regeneration" (Mat. 19:28).
The sending of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:20) refers to His coming to earth with power and great glory to restore Israel when He establishes His millennial kingdom.
Finally, Peter explicitly states that this regeneration, this offer of Israel's refreshing, regeneration and restoration, was the subject of prophecy, not of the two distinct mysteries later revealed to Paul the apostle.
"And indeed all the prophets from Samuel and those in succession after him, as many as have spoken, have announced also these days" (Acts 3:24).
"Ye are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God appointed to our fathers, saying to Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. To you first God, having raised up his servant, has sent him, blessing you in turning each one of you from your wickedness." (Acts 3:25-26)
Summary of the dispensational timeline:
1. The earthly kingdom offered to Israel. (Acts 2 – 7) – God makes a bona fide offer of the millennial kingdom to Israel. God's "gathering" (ekklesia) consists of an elect remnant of believing Jews and proselytes. No Samaritans or uncircumcised Gentiles are part of that gathering. Their promised sphere of blessing is in the millennial kingdom on earth foretold by all the prophets.
2. The kingdom as a mystery (Acts 8 – 28) – God introduces 'the mystery of Israel's blindness' (Rom. 11:28), through which unbelieving Jews are "provoked to jealousy" by the inclusion of non-Jews in God's gathering. These Gentile believers now occupy the parts of the Olive Tree left vacant by unbelieving Jews who by covenant relationship had rightfully owned the Olive Tree blessing (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14). Thus Gentiles as equals participate in Israel's Olive Tree blessing, which includes the millennial kingdom on earth. This is something new, a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament: God's "gathering" (ekklesia) for the first time consists of believing Jews and Gentiles, united in Christ in one body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13). There has not as yet been any change in the promised sphere of blessing. It is still the millennial kingdom on earth, and after the millennium they would enjoy the blessings of the City of God, the New Jerusalem, which will come down out of heaven to the new earth. Believing Gentiles are grafted into that earthly olive tree blessing belonging to Israel, whereas some of the natural (Jewish) branches have been broken off. The Jew continues to be "first" because the kingdom offer to National Israel is still on the table.
3. Israel blinded, the kingdom offer withdrawn (Acts 28:28 to the present day) – The Holy Spirit Himself pronounces God's sentence of blindness on all National Israel (at Jerusalem and at Rome upon the scattered Diaspora). The Jew is no longer "first" because God's offer of earthly blessings for them has been withdrawn. Gentiles no longer participate in the earthly, prophesied, covenants and blessings that once were offered to Israel. The Olive Tree of Romans no longer exists. God's "gathering" (ekklesia) continues to consist of believing Jews and Gentiles, united in Christ in one body (Eph. 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). However, a new non-prophesied calling and sphere of blessing ("in the heavenlies", Eph. 1:4) replaces God's prophesied millennial blessings for His earthly nation. This heavenly blessing is revealed as part of the Great Mystery which includes God's invitation to all, without regard to nationality, former covenant status, or any other preconditions.
Christ's "ekklesia" (gathering) has thus far in historical time been revealed in three distinct stances or characteristics:
Acts 1 - 8: Christ's kingdom church as revealed in O.T. prophecy, with a direct offer to restore Israel's earthly kingdom.
Acts 8 - 28:28: Christ's kingdom church in "mystery" form, not as revealed in prophecy.
Acts 28:28 and beyond: Christ's heavenly church totally unconnected with Israel.
Because the word "ekklesia" simply means any "gathering of people" It is not exclusive to any one of the three expression of Christ's "gathered believers" mentioned above. Each of the three above expressions of the "ekklesia" qualify as Christ's "gathering of people" who bow down to Him in humble worship, as the One Who is fully "worthy" of worship (see Rev. 4:11; 5:2, 4, 9, 12, etc.).
Some final thoughts
"Wherefore remember that *ye*, once nations in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that called circumcision in the flesh done with the hand;
"that ye were at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
"but now in Christ Jesus *ye* who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ.
"For *he* is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of enclosure,
"having annulled the enmity in his flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances, that he might form the two in himself into one new man, making peace;
"and might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross, having by it slain the enmity;
"and, coming, he has preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off, and the glad tidings of peace to those who were nigh.
"For through him we have both access by one Spirit to the Father.
"So then ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but ye are fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God,
"being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone,
"in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord;
"in whom *ye* also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit." (Eph. 2:11-22)
For more information you might enjoy the following two papers:
How many "churches" existed during and following the Acts record?
(A paper questioning the theory that two "churches" simultaneously existed during the Acts period. This article makes certain logical conclusions raised by the paper you have just read on the real meaning of the word ekklesia - church, gathering, assembly, meeting, etc.)
The Birthday of the Church vs. the Beginning of the Present Dispensation
(A survey of dispensational truth as its understanding
developed under the ministries of J. N. Darby, C. H. Mackintosh, E. W. Bullinger, C. H. Welch, C. I. Scofield, J. C. O'Hair,
C. R. Stam, and others)
Return to Thy Testimonies / Bible Studies
(A survey of dispensational truth as its understanding developed under the ministries of J. N. Darby, C. H. Mackintosh, E. W. Bullinger, C. H. Welch, C. I. Scofield, J. C. O'Hair, C. R. Stam, and others)
Return to Thy Testimonies / Bible Studies