"THE CHURCH" (AND HOW IT CHANGED DURING THE ACTS)

 

Does the nature and destiny of "THE CHURCH"
stay the same throughout the book of Acts?


"THE CHURCH" of Matthew 16 IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

with its sphere of blessing on the earth
Not the "Body of Christ" with its blessing "in heavenly places"

The word "church" simply means any "gathering" of people

(either believers or even unbelievers)


The word can describe "gathered" believers

in several ages and dispensations,

because the word "Church" by itself has NO doctrinal implications

 

All who have ever believed in Christ are part of His “Gathering” (ekklesia),

whether that “Gathering” was earthly or heavenly in nature


However, not all of these “gathered” believers

were members of the “Body of Christ”

with a sphere of blessing "in heavenly places"

 

But, does the Bible teach that there are two "Christian Churches"

existing side by side in the book of Acts?

(i.e., a "kingdom" church

that was gradually replaced by

the "Body of Christ")

 

Finally, the truth of Christ's atonement is the foundation

which does not change
regardless of dispensational practices which do change

R.L.B.

 

        The Lord Jesus Christ declared to His apostle Peter that He (Christ) would build His "church":

     "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. . . ." (Mat. 16:18)

What is the "church"?

        Brethren writer Charles Henry Mackintosh (1820 - 1896) was one of the earliest expositors of the scriptures since the apostolic age to comprehend the true meaning of the word "church" and its changing dispensational character as history marched forward.  As C.H.M. studied the scriptures he accurately identified the church that existed between Pentecost and Acts 28:28 as a kingdom church with a distinctly earthly character.  Furthermore, he clearly understood that the remarkable manifesting by Paul of its never-before-revealed heavenly character took place in his prison epistles ONLY AFTER national Israel was temporarily set aside, or "shut up" (to use Brethren language):

"The doctrine of the Church's heavenly character was developed in all its power and beauty by the Holy Ghost in the Apostle Paul.  Up to his time and even during the early stages of his ministry, the divine purpose was to deal with Israel.  The thought of a church composed of Jew and Gentile, 'seated together in the heavenlies', lay far beyond the range of prophetic testimony.  The Kingdom was still the very highest thought.  The Church as seen in the opening of the Acts ... was still the Kingdom, and not the great mystery of the Church.  Those who think that the opening chapters of Acts present the Church in its essential aspect, have by no means reached the divine thought on the subject."  (C. H. Mackintosh, Life and Times of Elijah, Concluding Remarks, Miscellaneous Writings, Loizeaux Brothers, Volume 5, pp. 127-130).

        With this thought provoking introduction, we now ask two questions:

            1. What is this "church" that the Lord promised to build?  And,

            2. What does the word "church" actually mean?

The New Scofield Reference Bible defines the word 'church' as follows:

"The word 'church' (Gk. ekklesia, from a verb meaning to call out) is used of any assembly and in itself implies no more than a gathering of people who have been called forth, e.g. the town meeting at Ephesus (Acts 19:41), and Israel, called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38).  Israel was a 'church,' but not in any sense the N. T. church - the primary point of similarity being that both were 'called out' and by the same God." (The New Scofield Reference Bible (1967), p. 1021 - footnote on Matthew 16:18-19).

W. E. Vine adds:

"In the Sept. [ekklesia] is used to designate the gathering of Israel, summoned for any definite purpose, or a gathering regarded as representative of the whole nation." (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Fleming H. Revell)

       When referring to those making up Christ's "church" on earth this word "church" (Greek ekklesia), simply means a gathering, meeting, assembly, or congregation, consisting of individuals who believed the message Christ revealed to them at a particular historical time in God's purposes.  In a spiritual sense it is a "gathering" of individuals who profess to have a spiritual link with the One who has the words of life eternal, whether their "sphere of blessing" is millennial in character (i.e., on the earth), or in the New Jerusalem which will come down out of heaven and rest on the new earth, or whether this sphere of blessing is "in the heavenlies in Christ."

        When we encounter the word "church" in the scriptures many fall back on a pre-conceived notion of the word, and often attach specific, inappropriate, meanings to it.  To correct such misunderstandings let us briefly review the following:

How is the word "ekklesia" used in the scriptures?

        The word "ekklesia" simply means any "gathering of people" with no particular doctrine or agenda in mind.  Thus we have it describing

It may be noted that some translators use one particular English word to translate "ekklesia" when it refers to a spiritual gathering, and a different English word when it refers to a non-spiritual gathering.  That's too bad, because it is the same word "ekklesia" in the Greek. That practice perpetuates the erroneous notion that whenever we see the word "church" in our Bibles it must mean the Body of Christ that has its ultimate blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

The word "ekklesia" simply means a "gathering of people" with no particular agenda, doctrine, or sectarian identity inherent in its meaning.

Is it a building, cathedral, chapel, gospel hall?

Is there a difference between a "church" and an "assembly"?

        No.  Some people wrongly differentiate between being a member of a "church" versus being with an "assembly." Someone who says, "I have been with the Assemblies for 25 years" may actually be implying that they left a denominational or independent "church" to join a different type of religious group.  Such talk is simply sectarian language which the apostle Paul strongly condemns (1 Cor. 1:11-13).

Where is a church composed of believers physically located?

        Scripture mentions several cities where believers "gathered" together.  Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica, the 7 gatherings mentioned in the Apocalypse, etc.  The Bible also mentions that believers "gathered" in private houses (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 12:12; 20:20; 28:30; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2).  The gathering of Israel was in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), and Jews, and perhaps Christians, met (gathered) under the open sky to pray by the riverside (Acts 16:13).

What do Christians do when "gathered" together?

        Depending on the dispensation a few of the things they have done are fellowship, break bread (i.e., eat meals) together, pray, sing, anoint with oil, speak in tongues, prophesy, resolve doctrinal or practical problems, write and receive/read letters from other gatherings, reach out to the outside world, and sometimes even sin.

When did Christ's church begin?

        There are several conflicting ideas as to when "the church" began.  Did "it" began at Pentecost, or at Acts 9 with Saul's conversion, at Acts 13 with the commending of Barnabas and Saul to missionary work?  Did it begin after Israel's final rejection of the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ at Acts 28:28, or at some undisclosed time after the close of the Acts? 

        Actually, this is not the correct question to ask, because our Lord Jesus Christ has always had those whom He has "gathered" to Himself.  The group of 12 disciples might be considered a "church", but the Lord probably had in mind that AFTER His resurrection and the 40 day's of teaching there would be a very special Jewish festival when the First Fruits of the harvest would be offered to God (i.e., on the Jewish feast day of Pentecost).  That particular day marked the first-fruits of the final fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies having to do with the "gathering" of Israel back to the holy land and their potential restoration to communion with Jehovah.  It would seem that Christ's particular "gathering" (ekklesia) referred to in Matthew 16 first began to be "built" at Pentecost.

        However, let us be quick to acknowledge that the character and stance of Christ's "gatherings" subsequently changed as time progressed.  What began as a kingdom-of-the-heavens "gathering" (Mat. 16:19; Acts 2 & 3) composed (by God's design) of Jews only, took on a different characteristic when the Jewish leaders at Jerusalem rejected their Messiah (Acts 7) and God began to include non-Jews into the "gathering" (Acts 10).  And this "gathering" changed again very significantly when the Jewish diaspora throughout the world and finally at Rome turned a deaf ear and sightless eyes to God's offer of national restitution through the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:28).  But even after Acts 28:28 when Israel was shut up, the remaining "ekklesia" was still Christ's "gathering" because the word "ekklesia" does not carry with it any doctrinal, dispensational, or moral description.  All "gatherings" from Pentecost onward are Christ's gatherings "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20).

        So, the question, "When did the church begin?", is probably the wrong question to ask.  The correct question should be, "When did the present dispensation begin?"

       When referring to those making up Christ's "church" on earth this word "church" (Greek ekklesia), simply means a gathering, meeting, assembly, or congregation, consisting of individuals who believed the message Christ revealed to them at a particular historical time in God's purposes.  It is a "gathering" of individuals who profess to have a spiritual link with the One who has the words of life eternal, whether their ultimate "sphere of blessing" is millennial in character (i.e., on the earth), or in the New Jerusalem which will come down out of heaven and rest on the new earth, or whether their sphere of blessing is "in the heavenlies in Christ."

Summary of the meaning of the word "ekklesia" (church, assembly, gathering)

        The word "church" (ekklesia) does not always refer to "the church, the body of Christ."  Nor does it always refer to a "Christian" assembly of God's people.  Of the 114 occurrences of ekklesia in the New Testament, once it refers to the "congregation" or "gathering" of Israelites who wandered 40 years in the wilderness (Acts 7:38).  In Acts 19:32 the word ekklesia means the unruly "gathering" of the mob who wanted to harm the apostle Paul.  In Acts 19:39 it refers to the regular local government meeting where people "gathered" to debate Roman political matters, and in Acts 19:41 it again refers to the unruly "gathering" previously mentioned in Acts 19:32.  None of these four references speak of any so-called "Christian" gatherings.  If I attend a meeting of the board of adjustment in my local city I have "gone to church" insofar as the New Testament usage of the word ekklesia is concerned.  And if I "gather" at the stadium to watch a football game I have "attended church."  The point being that an ekklesia can be a earthly kingdom gathering (as in Matthew 16:18-19), or it can be a gathering anticipating a heavenly terminus, as we await "the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).  And it can even be a non-religious "gathering" such as a party in one's home.

Local "church" versus the true church

        When we speak of 'The Church' we must be careful to distinguish between the ekklesia which exists in heaven and the local expression of that ekklesia which existed (or exists today) on earth.  It is incorrect, for example, to say the assembly on earth should always picture that which exists in heaven.  Christian assemblies on earth may appoint people to hold property, make repairs to meeting facilities, reach out to the poor.  On earth it may be necessary to discipline those who stray from 'the Way.'  Individuals in Christian groups on earth may become foreign missionaries, hold Bible conferences, etc., whereas such will be unnecessary for the ekklesia in its eternal manifestation in the heavenly places.  On earth there once were healings, interpretations, tongues, all of which "sign gifts" disappeared when God temporarily ceased offering National Israel the earthly kingdom.  Today in our Christian meetings we have marriages, children, need for food, clothing, financial support, all of which only have to do with our passage through this physical life as strangers and pilgrims. 

        Put simply, God's church on earth is simply a "gathering" of His people.  In Old Testament times God's gathering included the people making up the nation Israel, by covenant relationship, but, for example, not the descendants of Ishmael, Esau, or Lot's two sons (Moab and Ammon), even though the descendants of those individuals that became nations had specific earthly promises made to them. (See Gen. 17:20; 27:39; Deut. 2:19).  Why the difference between the nation Israel and the other nations?  It was a matter of "covenant."

     "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
     "But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto you at this set time in the next year." (Gen. 17:20-21)

        Stephen, in his defense of the gospel, mentions the ekklesia in the wilderness, referring to God's gathering which wandered for 40 years.

     "This is he that was in the church [ekklesia] in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him in the Mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received living oracles to give unto us." (Acts 7:38)

God's prophetic promises to His covenant people

        Jehovah had promised to reward Israel as long as they were obedient.

     "If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them. . . ." (Lev. 26:3)

     "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people."  (Lev. 26:17)

But if they failed to observe His statutes:

     "But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall reject my statutes, and if your soul abhor mine ordinances, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant; I also will do this unto you . . .

     "I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you: and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste." (Lev 26:14 & 33)

        Throughout their history God's covenant people Israel forgot Jehovah and failed to observe His commandments.  As a result 10 tribes of Israel were captured by the Assyrians and were deported.  Judah and Benjamin were deported to Babylon for 70 years.  At the time of the Lord Jesus God's people were living under Roman rule, and many remained scattered throughout the known world.  These scattered Jews were known as the diaspora, and were the primary targets of the apostle Paul's ministry "to the Jew first."

        However, in spite of their scattering because of sin, the Hebrew prophets, consistently foretold of the day when Jehovah would "gather" His scattered people, and bring them into untold blessing.  He would be their God, and they would be His people.

        Many Bible believers hold a form of "replacement theology," believing that God's promises to the Jewish covenant nation are fulfilled in the present day "church."  They think the kingdom church (ekklesia) which our Lord promised to build is precisely what exists today, as if God had only one plan in mind for the particular ekklesia that He would "build" during the historical period that began shortly after His death, burial, and resurrection. It is a commonly held theory that God's purpose for the "gathering" that took place at Pentecost is the same purpose He later revealed for the "gathering which is His body" which exists today. After all, isn't "the church" "the church"?  But in fact at various historical points in time God has revealed a number of differing purposes and plans for the believers He has 'gathered.'  He administered these differing purposes during the historical period beginning at Pentecost and throughout the Acts. 

        Absolutely chief among His purposes was to send "the Word" to become "flesh" (John 1:1-14), and to be the substitute for the sins of those He chose to be included in His eternal plans.  Without the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ absolutely no one could possibly take part in any of the glorious plans God revealed for His people in any of His economies (or dispensations).

        As stated above, one of God's long-term purposes was to gather His earthly covenant people Israel from all the nations where He had scattered them because of their unbelief and sinful conduct.  God's plan to gather His people Israel is one of the primary subjects of prophecy, (see Isa. 11:12; 27:12-13; 40:11; 43:5; 54:7, etc.) but many Christians are unaware that this prophesied plan was renewed and placed in full force starting at Pentecost and that it continued throughout the entire book of Acts.  In fact this prophesied "kingdom purpose" was God's PRIMARY plan being carried out during the historical period covered by Luke's record in the Acts.

The nature of God's plan for Israel

        Jehovah had promised to gather a remnant of Israel and to make them into a believing nation (Jer. 31:34).  He promised to pour out His Holy Spirit on them (Isa. 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28-29) and to put His Holy Spirit within them (Ezek. 36:27; 37:14).  Does this not sound exactly like what began to happen on the day of Pentecost when God's Holy Spirit was placed upon and within a remnant of Jewish believers called out exclusively from His covenant people Israel?  As a matter of fact the apostle Peter specifically said

                "but this IS that which was spoken through the prophet Joel." (Acts 2:16)

In other words, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast day of First Fruits (Pentecost) was the actual fulfillment of the prophecies having to do with ISRAEL'S latter days on earth, and of their "gathering" together from their various scattered locations.

In the future, when these Hebrew prophecies are completely fulfilled, a selected remnant of Israel will become a missionary nation, a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 5:10) fulfilling the 'Great Commission' by bringing Gentiles into a twofold blessing.  First, these future Gentiles will be blessed with a spiritual relationship with God on earth (Zech. 8:23) and, second, these Gentiles will be blessed by becoming Israel's bonded servants (Isa. 14:1-2).  This subservient relationship between Jew and Gentile that will exist in the millennial kingdom, is not the same relationship that exists between Jew and Gentile in the present dispensation.  Today, there is no difference in standing, status, or covenant advantage between Jew and Gentile in our spiritual sphere of blessing in heavenly places.  (But that truth was not revealed, nor was it placed in effect, until it was declared through the apostle Paul at a particular point in his ministry).

        In addition to God's plans for His covenant people which are described in detail by the Hebrew prophets, God also had a secret plan, one that is not mentioned by the prophets.  Unlike his plan to bless His earthly people, this secret plan would place a people with absolutely no earthly standing, and with no covenant relationships, into a magnificent sphere of relationship with God known as "in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. 1:4).  This plan, of course, had not been revealed when the gospel of the kingdom was first preached at Pentecost nor was it made known for several years thereafter.  During that early Acts period the good news of the kingdom was announced exclusively to the Jew.  Not until Peter was authorized to open the door of 'acceptance' to Gentiles (Acts 10) were Gentiles allowed to participate with Israel in Israel's Jewish kingdom blessings.  But even those blessings with Israel are not the same as being "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ."

        We have stressed that every purpose of God for His people is fully based upon the shedding of the precious blood of Christ.  His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension became the propitiatory sacrifice which 'satisfied' Yahweh's wrath with regard to sins (1 John 2:2). This work of Christ on the cross is the one and only basis for His earthly purposes during the millennium; His work on the cross is also valid for his purposes concerning the City of God following the millennium; and it is absolutely basic to His plans for those who will be blessed in a totally non-prophesied realm, known as "in the heavenlies."

Church practices on earth during and after the Acts period

        As God's plans unfolded following the ascension of our Lord, it is important to see that the church practices described in the second half of the book of Acts are completely consistent with those teachings found in the early (pre-prison) epistles of Paul written during the same parallel Acts period.  Yet it is equally important to contrast these early practices with the teachings expounded in the so-called 'prison epistles' written after the close of Acts. In other words, Paul's epistles written during the historical period covered by the second half of the Acts complement the kingdom practices found in the second phase of the ekklesia (from Acts 10 through Acts 28). These epistles of Paul are 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Romans.  Paul's epistles written after the close of Acts, and which complement the third phase of Christ's non-prophesied ekklesia are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, & Philemon).  The three phases of Christ's ekklesia (church) will be discussed in more detail later.

        During the early Acts period, when the glad tidings of Christ and His resurrection were preached to Israel many of the sons of Israel responded positively to God's call to repentance, but most of the leaders of National Israel rejected the good news. The gifts and practices that God dispensed to the "church" (ekklesia) which existed during the first half of the Acts were consistent with His prophesied plans for the chosen Nation.  But as National Israel continued to reject God's message to them, God suddenly changed the character of His "church" (ekklesia), and some of the practices carried out by that "gathering."  Thus, during the second half of the Acts Gentiles were added to the ekklesia, as a mystery to force Israel to make a decision whether to receive or to reject their Messiah as part of God's prophesied program.  But Israel continued to reject their King and God's program reached its final climax at Acts 28:28.  At this crucial turning point in the spiritual history of Israel God dispensed yet more changes to the marching orders for His "gathering of believers."  These changes temporarily put on hold God's offer of Israel's earthly kingdom and introduced an additional mystery that brought blessing to believers totally apart from Israel's covenant blessings. This is why the "sign gifts" such as tongues and healers disappeared at the same time national Israel was shut up at Acts 28:28. These sign-gifts had been the Holy Spirit's validation of the message God had been presenting to national Israel. Once national Israel was shut up the sign-gifts had no further use and of necessity disappeared.

        Such changes made to 'church practice' were a direct response to Israel's negative reaction to the divine message.  We must not ignore the progression of God's message for believers during and after the Acts.  Recognize that God's changing program with Israel resulted in important changes in the message dispensed to His "gathered people" (ekklesia).  If we fail to comprehend this progression of God's message we will misunderstand the entire theme of God's Acts program.  This is why we believe it is so important to understand that the nature of "The Church" (ekklesia) is not static throughout the Book of Acts, but that significant changes took place in the ekklesia as God progressively dealt with the unbelief of His earthly people during that period of time.

        Some theologians incorrectly believe the disciples were wrong in restricting the kingdom gospel only to Jews from Acts 1 through 9.  Some feel it 'slowly dawned on them' that they should have been preaching to Gentiles all along.  But this 'Israel-only' gospel was actually part of the Divine plan, a plan that God Himself altered when His timetable required Peter to use one of his 'kingdom keys' to open the gospel to Cornelius the Gentile.

Characteristics of the church (then and now)

What was God doing on earth during the historical period covered by the book of Acts?

 So, what are some characteristics of "The Church" which, rightly or wrongly, are commonly held today?  What do you really think about the following statements?

        A careful reading of the Acts, and of the Pauline epistles written after the close of Acts, makes it plain that not all of the above statements concerning 'the Church' are true during the entire history of that 'Church' from Pentecost to the present day.  Some of the above statements apply to the 'Church' that exists in the present dispensation.  But some apply only to the 'Church' that commenced on the day of Pentecost but do not apply today.  Some are true for the 'Church' that existed when Israel began to reject the Christ.  And some apply only to the 'Church' which existed after Israel's rejection became final, but were not true for the 'Church' that existed prior to that time.  Thus, not all of the above statements are simultaneously true for all three phases of the historical 'Church.'  It is all too easy to read into the Book of Acts certain personal beliefs, or doctrines that are revealed in later scriptures and misapply these subsequent revelations to a time before they were actually made known or were placed in force.  In other words we should not read Ephesian truth into the 'church' that came into being on the day of Pentecost.  God had His reasons for revealing certain features of truth at particular times. What God has separated we should not lump together as if they were all in force throughout the three phases of God's "gathering."

Commonly held views of the church during the Acts period

        Consider the following comparisons between what is often perceived to be a description of 'the Church' as it exists today, and 'the actual Church' as we find it described in the Acts:

Commonly held views of Acts:

What the Acts and other Scriptures actually say:

The sphere of blessing for believers in the Acts period is "in heavenly places" per Ephesians 1:3.

 

 

 

Those Jews who believed shortly after Pentecost were promised the restoration of a kingdom ON EARTH, as a fulfillment of prophesy (Acts 3:19-21). Following the millennium a believing remnant of Israel will be blessed in the City of God, the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven onto a new earth (Rev 21:2; Heb. 11:10, 16; 12:22) But the third sphere of blessing, Eternal blessing IN HEAVENLY PLACES (Eph. 1:3), was not introduced until after the judicial blinding of National Israel that took place at Acts 28:28.
Jews and Gentiles in the Acts period had equal "acceptability" to receive God's word.

 

 

 

 

 

In fact, God's plan was that Gentiles were totally excluded from hearing the gospel until the moment Peter was authorized to preach to Cornelius nearly 10 years after Pentecost.  (See Acts 10 - 11, and especially Acts 10:34-35)

Even after Gentiles were brought into blessing Paul clearly stated that the gospel message was not offered to Gentile and Jew on an equal basis.  On the contrary, Rom. 1:16 says the gospel was for "the Jew FIRST".  [Some teachers suppose that Paul went to the Jewish synagogues first because the Jews were familiar with the Old Testament and would be more likely than Gentiles to respond to God's word].  But see Acts 13:46 where Paul stated that is was "NECESSARY" (not 'optional') for the word of God to FIRST be preached to the Jews of the Diaspora. See also Acts 3:25-26 where the same exclusionary truth had been proclaimed by Peter.

Gentiles were excluded because of the prejudice of the Jewish apostles against non-Jews, similar to Jonah's reluctance to preach to the Gentile people of Nineveh.

 

On the contrary, note the joy of the believing Jews when they heard that Gentiles also had been granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).  This initial exclusion of Gentiles was an exhibition of God's long-suffering to permit National Israel to repent so they might become the missionary light to Gentiles, and thus fulfill God's prophetic promises of Israel's future role in the great commission.
Speaking in tongues, physical healing, and other miraculous signs and wonders took place because the word of God had not yet been committed to writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miraculous signs and wonders were connected with God's prophetic program for Israel, not with how many of the 27 books of the New Testament scriptures had been committed to writing.  Hebrews 6:4-5 calls these wonders and signs "works of power of the age to come" (The "age to come" is the millennial kingdom ON EARTH).  As long as God's valid offer of Israel's restoration in the millennial kingdom was on the table those signs were actively practiced.  Once the Jewish nation was blinded and laid aside at Acts 28:28 there was no further need for these signs, and there is no further mention of them in any later scriptures.  Thus, it appears that Israel's signs ceased at least 30 years before the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse were committed to writing (showing that the theory in the left column is not true).

In 1 Cor 14:21-22 we learn that Gentiles speaking in tongues were part of God's plan to provoke unbelieving Israel to jealousy.  (In this passage the "unbeliever" who enters the local assembly and hears Gentiles speaking in tongues is defined as an unbelieving Jew.  See Isa. 28:11-12; Rom. 10:19; & Rom. 11:11).

These signs are absent today because we are not spiritual enough.

 

 

The Corinthian believers had many spiritual shortcomings, (including misuse of the gift of tongues, the Lord's supper, failure to discipline, sectarianism, erroneous views of marriage, etc.), yet they abounded with spiritual gifts. The signs were definitely not related to the spirituality of those who possessed these gifts.
The above miracles and signs took place only at the initial preaching of the gospel to unbelievers in a particular location.

 

1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; 14:5, 6, 22, 23, 39 make it abundantly clear that speaking in tongues & physical healings were frequent, and continuing, occurrences in the Corinthian church. They were not a 'one-shot' manifestation.
The book of Acts is "The Pattern Church," a pattern we should be following today. 

"The apostles were foundational in the church (Eph. 2:20).  As such they established churches under the Spirit's guidance, giving us a pattern for church structure and function today."  (Donald L. Norbie, Acts The Pattern Church, Walterick, 1998,  p. 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did the Acts-period church describe the specific 'pattern' local assemblies should follow today?
  • Repentance and water baptism as a pre-requisite to receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)
  • Water baptism to "wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16)
  • "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mk. 16:17).
  • Specific signs "shall follow those who believe: in my name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they should drink any deadly thing it shall not injure them; they shall lay hands upon the infirm, and they shall be well." (Mk. 16:17-18;  see Acts 28:3-9)
  • Christian "communism": do we teach that members of the Christian community should hold all things in common? (Houses, bank accounts, land, etc.). How does the deed to your house read?  See Acts 4:34 to 5:10.
  • Preach to "cities" and literally stamp the dust off the feet against any "city" that fails to receive the gospel of the kingdom (Luke 10:10-11; Acts 13:51; 18:6).  [Should we do this today?]
  • Gentiles were excluded from the gospel invitation for several years because until Peter was sent to Cornelius (a Gentile) the message went to the Jews only (Acts 11:19).  [Note: we know the Eunuch was a proselyte of Judaism because he "had come to Jerusalem to worship" (Acts 8:27).]
  • Gentiles were finally included in order to provoke the Jewish nation to jealousy. (Rom. 10:19; 11:11, 14).  [Is provoking Israel to jealousy a purpose of Gentile salvation today?]
  • Even after Gentiles finally became "acceptable" (Acts 10:34-35), it was still a 'requirement' that the gospel must first be preached to Jews in a city, before it could be preached to Gentiles. (Acts 13:46)  Should we follow this practice today?  Must we first present the gospel to a local synagogue before reaching out to other non-believers in our communities?
  • It seemed acceptable for a believing Jew to circumcise a believer of mixed race for 'religious reasons,' (i.e., the son of a believing Jew & a non-believing Greek) (Acts 16:3)
  • Gentiles were exempted from the circumcision ritual (Acts 15), but believing Jews continued to observe the Mosaic law, including circumcision. And this practice was not condemned.
  • Sacrifices for a vow were offered in accordance with Old Testament law (Acts 23:21-26)
  • The gift of tongues, the gift of interpretation of tongues, the gift of discerning of spirits, the gift of healing, and the gift of supernatural knowledge were all valid gifts from Christ (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28)

The above gifts and practices fit in perfectly with the "gospel of the kingdom" for Israel but do not fit in with God's order for today, now that Israel is in a fully blinded state.  In fact see Eph. 4:11 for a completely different list of "gifts" mentioned following the withdrawal of the kingdom offer to national Israel at Acts 28:28. That list does not include the sign gifts of the great commission. 

Are the above practices a proper 'Pattern' for God's present day 'gathering'?

What does the word "Church" (ekklesia) really mean?

       One system of scripture interpretation, sometimes called the "Darby-Scofield" theory, is expounded by various editions of the Scofield Reference Bible, and in many Bible believing Christian gatherings, Bible colleges, seminaries and in many books.  This system has much to commend it, and it serves as a beginning basis for a profitable understanding of God's word.  The "Darby-Scofield" system does not pretend to have the last word in Bible interpretation and should not close the door on prayerful Biblical research.  It is an excellent starting point that opens the door to research which, if followed through to solid Biblical conclusions, should bring us to an even greater appreciation of God's word and of the wisdom and longsuffering of our wonderful God Himself.

        Some preachers mistakenly assign a specific meaning to the word 'church,' and attach to this word a list of specific (sectarian) doctrines, practices and characteristics.  But, in fact, as we pointed out at the beginning of this study, the word 'church' simply means any 'gathering of people,' with no dogma, doctrinal statement, catechism, or creed implied in its meaning.  In fact, a 'church' could be a 'gathering' of unbelievers for a political or social event (as is unfortunately true in many denominational so-called 'churches' today). 

In Christendom we see remarkable examples of this, right names attached to the most unfit opponents of them.  For instance, "the church," as used in common parlance, no more represents the true thing than the golden calf did the God who brought Israel out of Egypt; and yet the majority of consciences are satisfied because the true and spiritual name is retained. (J. B. Stoney, Discipline in the School of God, G. Morrish, p. 47)

        By way of example, let us assume that at some historical point in the Divine timetable God begins to fulfill prophecy.  He causes a remnant (Isa. 10:20-22; 28:5, etc.) of the twelve tribes of Israel who are scattered throughout the world to be gathered together for an earthly blessing in the literal land of Israel (Jeremiah 24:6; Ezekiel 36:24).  And, as prophecy has stressed over and over, this remnant acknowledges that Yahweh is their God, and God acknowledges them as His people (Jer. 24:7).  God then puts His Spirit upon them (Ezek 39:29), and He puts His Spirit within them (Ezek. 36:27).  Because His Spirit is upon them certain prophesied wonders and signs are displayed among them (Joel 2:28).  God sprinkles clean water upon them and they become clean (Ezek. 36:25).  God gives them a new heart (Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 39:26) and therefore they have become "born again" (see John 3:7).  This remnant of believing Israelites knows God and therefore believes all the prophesied Word of God (Jer. 31:34) including belief in the Messiah that Moses prophesied would come (Acts 3:22).  Are these true believers not a "gathering" of Yahweh?  Are they not, therefore, an ekklesia (assembly, or church)?  And is not this exactly what was beginning to happen in Acts 1, 2, and 3?

        Some believe "the New Testament church" had a totally fixed calling and blessing from its inception [at Pentecost] to the present day.  We take issue with that conclusion.  The so-called 'N. T. church' at Pentecost differed greatly from the church on earth that exists today.  Later we propose to show that Christ's "gathering" passed through three distinct stages, beginning at Pentecost, and continuing through the present day.  These three discrete stages of Christ's ekklesia directly correspond to three stages during which God dealt with national Israel's unbelief throughout the Acts period.

The nature of the "Church" announced by the Lord Jesus Christ

What was the true nature of "the Church" built on the Rock Christ Jesus?  (Note that *asterisks* in the following translation indicates emphasis to pronouns in the Greek by *I* and *thou*).

     "And *I* also, I say unto thee [singular] that *thou* [singular] art Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and hades' gates shall not prevail against it.
     "And I will give to thee [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou [singular, i.e. Peter] mayest bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou [singular] mayest loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens." (Mat. 16:18-19 - 'New Translation' by J. N. Darby)

        The above scripture describes in the Lord's own words the nature of the particular "gathering" (church, or assembly) that He promised to build following Peter's bold confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mat. 16:16).  In the above quotation, verses 18 and 19 are tightly joined together and we must not separate the "assembly" of verse 18 and the "keys of the kingdom of the heavens" of verse 19.  These are not two completely unrelated concepts. To say that Christ's 'gathering' has little or nothing to do with the 'keys of the kingdom of the heavens' given to Peter is disproved by the fact that Peter actually used these 'kingdom keys' several times to initiate major changes to church practice during the Acts.  The 'binding' and 'loosing' undertaken by Peter in connection with the ekklesia and with the kingdom during the Acts period confirms that the two verses must be taken together.  It is not consistent hermeneutics to separate the two verses by saying verse 18 refers to "the church" and verse 19 to an entirely different subject unrelated to "the church" (i.e., to the millennial "kingdom").  Thus the term 'Christ's kingdom church' accurately describes the characteristics of that particular "gathering" (ekklesia) that began at Pentecost.  This kingdom related church that the Lord declared to Peter had the following characteristics:

What was the Lord's message to His disciples after His resurrection?

Because the Lord consistently taught the apostles about the kingdom foretold by the Hebrew prophets it was completely logical that the eleven apostles should ask the following question about that kingdom:

   "Therefore, (i.e., because of what the Lord had been teaching them), when they had come together, they asked Him saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'" (Acts 1:6)

        Some teachers have wrongly criticized the apostles for questioning the Lord about Israel's earthly kingdom, in spite of the fact that Israel's prophesied kingdom is precisely what the Lord had spoken to them about during the 40 days. Nowhere did the Lord Jesus speak of a gathering of believers that consisted of Jews and Gentiles united in one body whose sphere of blessing would be in the heavenly places!  But note the following erroneous opinion:

"Finally, we know that even the disciples had communication problems.  Before Jesus' ascension, the disciples asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' (Acts 1:6, NIV).  Even after his death and resurrection they misinterpreted his intention and expected a physical restoration of the Kingdom." (Susan Thode, The Missteps of Miscommunication, Decision, April 1991).

        Another, more well known radio preacher made a similar bumble:

"Even after Pentecost it was difficult for the disciples to give up the Kingdom idea" - (M. R. DeHaan, M.D.,  Pentecost and After, Zondervan, p. 20)

But the word "therefore" in the above scripture (Acts 1:6) makes it crystal clear that the disciples' question was entirely legitimate.  They had no "communication problems."  It was because of the Lord's teaching about the kingdom during the 40 days that the disciples asked that kingdom question.  Nor did the Lord correct His disciples by telling them they should have been asking about "the church," rather than about Israel's earthly kingdom.

This brings us to two key questions: why was someone chosen to replace Judas Iscariot?  And was Matthias 'God's choice' or was Matthias just a fleshly choice?

        Listen to the words of Peter (to whom the Lord Jesus had specifically given authority to make decisions on earth that would be ratified by God in heaven):

   "It is necessary THEREFORE, that of the men who have assembled with us all the time in which the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day in which he was taken up from us, one of these should be a witness with us of his resurrection." (Acts 1:21-22)

Was this choice of Matthias valid, or should Paul have been selected as Judas' replacement?

        The Apostle Peter has been criticized by some for using the lot to select one of the two qualified candidates, calling it "gambling", and that Paul, (not Matthias), was actually God's choice to fill Judas' place.

"They spent their time in prayer and supplication.  But then, sometime during those ten days, impetuous, impatient Peter had another of his wild ideas.  He was still thinking of the setting up of the Kingdom and the place of the apostles in that Kingdom....  While they therefore were waiting for the promise of the Spirit which Peter evidently still associated with the setting up of the Kingdom, he suggests they give the Lord a little assistance by appointing a twelfth apostle in the place of Judas.  He forgot that the apostles are chosen directly by Christ, and are not elected by men....

"Peter was completely out of order, for they had been commanded to wait for the Holy Spirit to direct them.  But Peter wanted to get ready for the setting up of the Kingdom which, of course, necessitated twelve apostles.  Since they had no revelation from God who was to be the twelfth apostle, they were forced to use carnal means for the appointment.  Instead of waiting for the divine appointment of God's ordained apostle - Paul - they set up a slate of candidates and cast lots to see who would win.

"The eleven, however would not admit their mistake, and so continued to count Matthias among the twelve....

"Now this great mistake of Peter in engineering the appointment of Matthias was because he did not understand the difference between the Kingdom and the Church." - (DeHaan, op. cit., pp. 21-24)

As Christian teachers of the word we need to believe the Scriptures and accept the fact that the Lord did indeed confer upon Peter special authority in connection with the kingdom of the heavens (Mat. 16:18-19).  If our preconceived ideas differ from what the apostles believed, we should defer to their understanding of the Lord's truth.  Do we know better than what the apostles knew?  While some branches of Christendom falsely claim that this apostolic authority continues to exist in their particular religious systems today, it truly did exist in God's program for Israel while the earthly kingdom was being proclaimed.  So let us see what the Holy Spirit Himself has to say as to whether this gap left by Judas was rightly filled by Matthias, or should Paul have been appointed.  Was this choice of Matthias "bound in heaven" as our Lord promised to Peter in Mat. 16:19, or was the Lord's kingdom promise to Peter invalid?  To put it bluntly, did the Lord make a mistake when He gave Peter that authority?

   "And they gave lots on them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:26)

   "But Peter, standing up with the eleven." (Acts 2:14)

In both of the above passages eleven plus one equals twelve, as is made clear in the following two citations:

   "And the twelve, having called the multitude of the disciples to them...." (Acts 6:2)

   "and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." (1 Cor. 15:5)

Here, the Holy Spirit, the author of the sacred writings, confirms that the appointment on earth of Matthias was totally authorized by God and accepted by Him in heaven, and that the twelfth apostle was surely Matthias.  Paul excluded himself from being the twelfth apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:5.  Paul believed it was necessary to distinguish his apostleship from that of the twelve apostles who would occupy thrones in the millennial kingdom. God had chosen Paul to be an apostle to the uncircumcision.  Paul knew he was never to be numbered with the eleven circumcision apostles nor would he sit on one of the twelve kingdom thrones.  And he made that fact clear:

"and last of all, as to an abortion [one born out of due time], he appeared to *me* also." (1 Cor. 15:8)

One must realize that without twelve apostles who would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, God's bona fide offer of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel could not take place.  But if (as some contend) it was not God's plan to offer the earthly kingdom to Israel at that time, why does scripture say "It is necessary therefore" (Acts 1:21-22) to fill the gap left by Judas by appointing a new twelfth apostle?

Thus, in appointing Matthias God was making good on His Son's declaration to Peter that this man Peter would be authorized to act in a kingdom capacity on earth, and to have his actions on earth ratified in heaven as part of the kingdom program for His kingdom gathering (ekklesia).  "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Mat. 6:10).

        (Note:  Protestants are sometimes uncomfortable with the fact that Peter was given Divine authority on earth by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:18-19 because they feel this seems to play into the systems of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  But the answer to their dilemma becomes clear once the kingdom purpose of God in the Acts of the Apostles is correctly understood.  Because, once that kingdom program was decisively put on hold at Acts 28:28 Peter's authority to act with the keys of the kingdom necessarily disappeared, making it impossible for there to be divinely sanctioned 'POPERY' today.  The fact that 'apostolic succession' is nowhere mentioned in the Word of God also forbids the notion of any present day 'vicar on earth.').  

        In restoring Matthias as the twelfth apostle, God was in fact preparing to soon restore all twelve tribes of Israel and Judah into a united theocratic kingdom under the Anointed Son of David (Ezek. 37:15-25).  He was carefully preparing the twelve apostles to make a valid offer of that kingdom to the leaders of Israel.  That was the kingdom nature. mission, and destiny of the 'church' (ekklesia) at Pentecost.

What was "Pentecost" and why was it important?

   "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1)

        The word "fully come" (sumpleroo) means "to complete entirely, be fulfilled" (Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D.,Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan, p. 597).

   "And in the fulfilling of the Day of Pentecost, they were all with one mind in the same place" (Acts 2:1 - Literal Bible #5 with Strong's numbered definitions)

        Pentecost is the Jewish Feast of [Seven] Weeks (fifty days inclusive) from the waving of the sheaf of first-fruits (Lev. 23: 15-16).  The law required on that day a "new meal offering unto Jehovah" consisting of two wave loaves "baked with leaven, the first-fruits unto Jehovah."  In addition, an animal sacrifice was offered, and the day was "a holy convocation unto you [Israel]."

   "Three times in the year shall all your males appear before Jehovah your God in the place which he will choose, at the feast of unleavened bread, and at the feast of weeks [Pentecost], and at the feast of tabernacles; and they shall not appear before Jehovah empty." (Deut. 16:16)

As the Mosaic law required, Jews from every nation appeared before Jehovah on this fulfilled Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) of Acts chapter two:

   "Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, pious men, from every nation of those under heaven." (Acts 2:5)

        Passover had been fulfilled by the shedding of the precious blood of "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  The first-fruits after Passover correspond to the resurrection of the Lord.  "But now Christ is raised from among the dead, first-fruits of those fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20). 

        Next we have Pentecost, (the Feast of Weeks), the ingathering of the first-fruits of the harvest, i.e., the redeemed Jewish sinners (represented by the two wave loaves baked with leaven).  5,000 Jewish men (plus women and children) soon comprised this redeemed "gathering" (ekklesia).  This was an ingathering of souls under Jehovah's plan for the millennial kingdom on earth.  It had nothing to do with believers being blessed "in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).  Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, speaks of the first fruits of God's kingdom gathering.  Thus, Joel's prophecy actually began to be fulfilled on that occasion.  Notice Peter's explanation of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost:

"But this  IS  that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16).

Pentecost was the actual beginning of the last days of prophecy  - cut short, of course, by the rejection of the Just One by a stiff-necked Israel, uncircumcised in heart and ears (Acts 7:50).

When did God consign Israel to unbelief?

        One author makes the following statement about the setting aside of Israel and the formation of "the church:"

In [Daniel's] period of 490 years, when the Jews rejected Messiah, Christ turned to the Gentiles and formed a bride composed of believers called the church....  Do you see the plan?  He came to the Jews.  The Jews rejected the Messiah, so He went to the Gentiles, and the church was formed."  (Rob Lindsted, Ph.D., Can you really know your FUTURE?, Bible Truth, Inc., pp.121-122)

        It is certainly true that at some historical point "the Jews rejected Messiah" but the real question is 'When did God consider He was temporarily finished with Israel?'  When did God's longsuffering reach its limits?  Was it at the cross?  Was it at Pentecost?  Was it at the martyrdom of Stephen? Was it at the conversion of the first Gentile Cornelius?  We believe the Acts record is clear that the leaders of national Israel began to reject their Messiah at Acts chapter 4.  At Jerusalem their rejection climaxed with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). But Christ's rejection by the diaspora (the Jews scattered throughout the world), was ignited when Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree plan of God (see Rom. 10:19). Finally, after Paul had presented their Messiah in vain to the Jews scattered abroad, official Judaism had reached the point of no return.  This is when Paul deliberately brings the blessed Holy Spirit into the pronouncement, telling this last outpost of national Israel:

"Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers." (Acts 28:25)

and  the historical point where God placed in abeyance His offer of the kingdom to Israel had finally been reached. Note the following series of happenings:

     "And whosoever shall have spoken a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age nor in the coming one" (Mat. 12:32)

        The Acts of the Apostles has sometimes been referred to as "The Acts of the Holy Spirit" because of the Spirit's overwhelming role throughout that portion of scripture.  Keeping this in mind, did God cast aside Israel at the cross?  No, for Christ said "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34)  Did He give them up at the stoning of Stephen?  No, for Stephen being filled with the Holy Spirit prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:59).  National Israel stubbornly rejected the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire book of Acts, not just at the beginning.  But because of the longsuffering of God, Israel's rejection of God's Son did not become final until Acts 28:28 when the Holy Spirit Himself pronounced the Divine sentence of blindness upon all Israel, thus fulfilling the stern warning of the Son of God in Matthew 12:32.

     "And being disagreed among themselves they left; Paul having spoken one word, Well spoke the Holy Spirit through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers,
     "saying, Go to this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear and not understand, and seeing ye shall see and not perceive.
     "For the heart of this people has become fat, and they hear heavily with their ears, and they have closed their eyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
     "Be it known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they also will hear it.
     "And he having said this, the Jews went away...."
(Acts 28:25-29)

"It is when the enmity [of man] has arrived at its height, that He says, "Make the heart of this people fat" (Isaiah 6:10):  but it is not until nearly eight hundred years after (Acts 28:27), that we find the accomplishment of this judgment pronounced so long before by the prophet.  It was when the people had rejected everything, that God hardened them, to make them a monument of His ways.  What patience on the part of God!"  (J. N. Darby, The Hopes of the Church of God, In Connection With the Destiny of the Jews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophecy, Lecture 9, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Believers Bookshelf, Vol. 2, p. 362 [written 1840] )

As we have pointed out at the beginning of this paper, Plymouth Brethren writer C. H. Mackintosh comprehended the true earthly character of the church that existed between Pentecost and Acts 28:28.  He accurately identified the kingdom nature of the church prior to the close of the Acts, and clearly understood that the remarkable manifesting by Paul of its never-before-revealed heavenly character took place in his prison epistles ONLY AFTER national Israel was temporarily set aside:

"The doctrine of the Church's heavenly character was developed in all its power and beauty by the Holy Ghost in the Apostle Paul.  Up to his time and even during the early stages of his ministry, the divine purpose was to deal with Israel.  The thought of a church composed of Jew and Gentile, 'seated together in the heavenlies', lay far beyond the range of prophetic testimony.  The Kingdom was still the very highest thought.  The Church as seen in the opening of the Acts ... was still the Kingdom, and not the great mystery of the Church.  Those who think that the opening chapters of Acts present the Church in its essential aspect, have by no means reached the divine thought on the subject."  (C. H. Mackintosh, Life and Times of Elijah, Concluding Remarks, Miscellaneous Writings, Loizeaux Brothers, Volume 5, pp. 127-130).

As to the great dispensational 'line in the sand,' Acts 28:28, C.H.M. said:

"Every effort that love could make had been made, but to no purpose; and our apostle, with a reluctant heart, shuts them up under the power of that judicial blindness which was the natural result of their rejection of the salvation of God.  ...now all was over...he must therefore set himself to bring out that holy and heavenly mystery which had been hid in God from ages and generations---the mystery of the Church as the body of Christ united to its living Head by the Holy Ghost.  Thus closes the Acts of the Apostles, which like the Gospels, is more or less connected with the testimony to Israel.  So long as Israel could be regarded as the object of testimony, so long the testimony continued; but when they were shut up to judicial blindness, they ceased to come within the range of testimony, wherefore the testimony ceased."  (C. H. Mackintosh, Op. cite., pp. 141-142).

What took place as the Holy Spirit took control during the Acts period?

        In Acts 3 Peter healed the lame man who was a figure of spiritually lame National Israel.  Thus, if the leaders of Israel had truly appeared before Jehovah on the day of Pentecost, not "empty" (Deut. 16:16), but with an offering of true repentance, a lame Israel could have been spiritually healed and so enter into the true temple of God, just as the lame man did in a figure:

   "And leaping up he stood and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God." (Acts 3:8)  [See Isa. 35:5-6]

Then would have been fulfilled the promise made by Peter and the prophets regarding the wonderful millennial kingdom of Jehovah:

   "Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,
   "and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you,
   "whom heaven indeed must receive till the times of the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began." (Acts 3:19-21)

Finally, to whom did Peter (the holder of the keys of the kingdom) address these words of refreshing and restoration?  Was it to Gentiles?

   "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)

What did this offer of the earthly kingdom consist of, and what was not included in the offer?

   "Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you, whom heaven indeed must receive till the times of the restoring of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since time began." (Acts 3:19-21)

Timeline of "The Church" during the Acts

Some of the historical dates of events recorded in the Acts are uncertain, but various lists have been compiled.  For the following list we are indebted to Donald L. Norbie, Acts. The Pattern Church, Walterick Publishers, p. 11.  Norbie consulted chronologies by Ramsay, Bruce, Stott and others.  Dates not listed by Norbie are marked with an asterisk and are taken from Appendix 180 of The Companion Bible, The Lamp Press, Ltd.

AD 30    Christ makes a first mention of His future "gathering" (ekklesia) (Mat. 16:18-19)

AD 30    The apostles ask whether the Lord Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel "at this time."

AD 30    Matthias is appointed to take the place of Judas, thus restoring the missing twelfth apostle

Christ's kingdom gathering of believers begins

AD 30    The Jewish Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) is fulfilled (Acts 2:1).  The Holy Spirit's power is poured out upon the apostles.  God gathers 3,000 souls into His kingdom ekklesia.

AD 30    The lame man is healed, thus pointing to the fulfillment of Isaiah 35:5-6 which foreshadowed the soon coming of the millennial kingdom.  This miracle is immediately followed by a bona fide offer made by Peter on behalf of God, to bring to pass the prophesied kingdom "times of refreshing," conditional on Israel's repentance (Acts 3:19).  This refreshing included the sending of Jesus Christ to Israel, at which time He would "restore all things" that the prophets had promised to Israel (Acts 3:21).  The hearers of this kingdom gospel message were the Jewish people.  "Ye are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant...." (Acts 3:25).  [Thus far the kingdom gospel was exclusively directed to Israel.  Gentiles were not invited, so at this time there was no "one body in Christ" (Rom. 12:5)].  The believing remnant of "gathered" Israel grows to about 5,000.

AD 33    Stephen is stoned, thus marking the formal rejection of Christ by Jewish leaders at Jerusalem. God's longsuffering would continue 27 more years throughout the Acts until the Jews of the Dispersion at Rome would signally reject their Messiah (who had been declared the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah, by the signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit), thus finalizing at Rome the unbelief the Jewish leaders had already demonstrated at Jerusalem when they stoned Stephen.

AD 33    Saul, the future apostle of the uncircumcision, is converted

AD 35*  Philip explains Isaiah 53 to a proselyte (a convert to Judaism) (Acts 8:37-40)

From this time period onward in the historical Acts record God begins to provoke Israel to jealousy by including for the first time non-Jews in His calling.  Also God inflicts blindness on part of Israel (Rom. 11:28).  This blessing of Gentiles through the fall of Israel is a "mystery" not found in prophecy.  (Prophecy predicts the blessing of Gentiles through the rise of a saved Israel, not through their fall).

AD 35*  Peter uses a kingdom key to allow Samaritans (half-breed Jews/Gentiles) to receive the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14).

AD 38*  Peter uses a kingdom key to open access to the gospel and to the power of the Holy Spirit to Gentiles (Acts 10-11). This begins the period the apostle Paul refers to as the "mystery" of Israel's "blindness." (See Rom. 11:25)

AD 44    James, one of the twelve, is killed, thus postponing the possibility of an immediate fulfillment of prophecy regarding Israel's earthly kingdom blessing.  However, it is clear Israel is still "First" in God's program (Acts 13:46; Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:1-3; 11:23, 26) until the rejection of Christ by the Jewish Diaspora at Rome and the consequential sentence of blindness inflicted on all Israel by the Holy Spirit at Acts 28:28. What a tribute to the longsuffering of God!

AD 47*  Seventeen years after his conversion, Paul's ministry begins to the uncircumcision, but always with the Jew first and uppermost in importance. (Acts 13 - 28).

AD 49    Paul finds it necessary to obtain agreement from the Jerusalem ekklesia regarding the non-circumcision of Gentiles. (Acts 15)  Note that Jerusalem is still the center of Christ's 'gathering.'

AD 60    The Holy Spirit through Paul pronounces the apostolic sentence of judicial blindness upon the entire nation (Jews at Jerusalem and the Jews of the Diaspora). (Acts 28:28)

God temporarily sets aside His offer to Israel of the earthly millennial kingdom, and introduces the great "mystery"

AD 60-62  Paul circulates the "Prison Epistles" which unfold the mystery which is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Now that the Jewish nation is set aside, God's offer of the restoration of their earthly kingdom is no longer active, and the Jew is no longer "first."  Consequently, all nations (Gentile or Jewish) are equally invited to participate in God's blessings without regard to covenants or any other priorities or privileges that Jews might have previously claimed.  (It is incorrect to say "The Church" is the mystery because Christ's "Church" (gathering) had existed since Pentecost and was the subject of prophecies, and thus was not a mystery.  The mystery in Paul's letter to the Ephesians is the fact that individual Gentiles and Jews who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world can now equally participate in a blessing in heavenly places, entirely apart from God's earthly corporate nation.  Thus the "mystery" of Ephesians and Colossians is not the same "mystery" found in Romans, which had to do with provoking Israel to jealousy with the hope they would repent and enter into the kingdom blessing on earth offered to them at that time).

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:

  1. Christ's kingdom church as revealed in O.T. prophecy (Acts 1 - 8)

  2. Christ's kingdom church in "mystery," not as revealed in prophecy (Acts 8 - 28:28)

  3. Christ's heavenly church totally unconnected with Israel (following Acts 28:28).

  1. Christ's "ekklesia" was originally revealed as the fulfillment of prophecy which stated that Israel would be "gathered", the Holy Spirit's gift would be poured out upon them, the Holy Spirit would be placed within them, and a believing Israel would be the gospel messengers to fulfill the great commission by going to all the world and bring Gentiles into the earthly kingdom.
  1. When Israel at Jerusalem rejected their Messiah by stoning Stephen at Acts 7 God changed the nature of His "gathering."  He opened the gospel door to Samaritans (Acts 8:5-17), and to Gentiles (Acts 10), to provoke Israel to jealousy so they must either choose to believe or to disbelieve the gospel.  A believing Israel was prophesied to be the missionary arm of the Lord to bring Gentiles into a relationship with God.  But bypassing a Christ-rejecting Israel by allowing Gentiles to participate in Israel's exclusive covenant promises totally apart from Israel was a "mystery" never revealed in Old Testament prophecy.
  1. Once the Jewish leaders of the diaspora joined Israel at Jerusalem by totally rejecting their Messiah Paul with apostolic authority, and with the authority of the Holy Spirit as expressly stated in Acts 28:25, cast spiritual blindness and deafness upon national Israel, thus ending the offer of the millennial kingdom to Israel.  The sin against the Holy Spirit had been committed by Israel. The Jew was no longer first.  The charismatic signs of the Holy Spirit (the works of power of the millennial age to come) ceased. A new "mystery" was revealed, not a mystery provoking Israel to jealousy, but a mystery not revealed in O.T. prophecy, that simply allowed anyone anywhere to believe the gospel and partake of all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, totally apart from any covenants promised to Israel.

Because the word "ekklesia" simply means a "gathering of people" It is not exclusive to any one of the above three expression of Christ's "gathered believers."  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

        For those who may have difficulty accepting the above conclusions, may I indulge the reader who has plodded through this paper to this point, with an additional quotation from the thoughts of that beloved Brethren writer C. H. Mackintosh.

When Christ was raised from the dead, all the members of His body were raised also; when He ascended into heaven, they ascended also; when He sat down, they sat down also; that is, in the counsel of God, and to be actualized in process of time by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.  Such was the thought and purpose of the divine mind concerning them.  Believers did not know this at the first; it was not unfolded by the ministry of the twelve, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, because the testimony to Israel was still going on; and so long as earth was the manifested scene of divine operation, and so long as there was any ground of hope in connection with Israel, the heavenly mystery was held back; but when earth had been abandoned and Israel set aside, the apostle of the Gentiles, from his prison at Rome, writes to the Church, and opens out all the glorious privileges connected with its place in the heavens with Christ.  (C. H. Mackintosh, Concluding Remarks, Miscellaneous Writings, Volume 5, Loizeaux, p. 144)

As to Acts 28:28, C.H.M clearly understood the significance of Paul's quotation of the Holy Spirit's words to Israel from Isaiah 6:9-10, that this was God's final closing judgment on Israel.

There was now no more hope.  Every effort that love could make had been made, but to no purpose; and our apostle, with a reluctant heart, shuts them up under the power of that judicial blindness which was the natural result of their rejection of the salvation of God.  ...now all was over...he must therefore set himself to bring out that holy and heavenly mystery which had been hid in God from ages and generations---the mystery of the Church as the body of Christ united to its living Head by the Holy Ghost.  Thus closes the Acts of the Apostles, which like the Gospels, is more or less connected with the testimony to Israel.  So long as Israel could be regarded as the object of testimony, so long the testimony continued; but when they were shut up to judicial blindness, they ceased to come within the range of testimony, wherefore the testimony ceased.  (Op cite, pp. 141-142).

We have only to glance at the history of the Church for the last eighteen centuries to see how feebly [the mystery revealed through Paul the prisoner] was held and how speedily it was let go.   I am deeply conscious of how feebly and incoherently I have developed what I have in my mind concerning the doctrine of the Church, but I have no doubt of its real importance and feel assured that as the time draws near, much light will be communicated to believers about it.  At present, it is to be feared, few really enter into it.  (Op cite, pp. 146-150)

 

   "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)

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