The Establishment of the Church
Earl E. Robertson
The fact of the existence of the church of Christ seems to be sufficient to satisfy some to the point of expressing no interest in any specifics concerning its establishment. While on the other hand others place stress on its origin but have little interest in its present condition. We are, however, interested in the prophecies, promises and facts given in the word of God concerning the Lord's church. Many problems are extant in the churches because an appreciable interest and understanding of the origin of the church does not exist. Holding a position that the church was established before the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2) or a premillennial view that the kingdom is yet to be founded will inevitably cause problems within churches. The evil ramifications necessary to these false positions have in the past and will in the future divide churches and, in some instances, destroy them completely. This study is then vital and essential to the life and well-being of any congregation.
Though some are adamant that it makes no difference when and where the church was founded, the word of God stresses both the time and place. Isaiah wrote, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (2:2-4). With added dimension Daniel foretells the establishment of God's kingdom, the church, in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and the interpretation of it (Dan. 2). Isaiah and Daniel prophesied near the same time (Isaiah during the Assryian empire and Daniel during the Babylonian - about one hundred years apart) and of the same people. While Isaiah called it the "house" of the Lord Daniel called it the "kingdom". They were not speaking of two different things, but one and the same thing - the people of God while Jesus is on the throne ruling.
These two prophets prophesied some six-hundred to seven-hundred years before Christ. Isaiah's prophecy covers some four phases of the church: time, extent, place and nature. The time would be in the "last days"; the extent embraces "all nations"; the place would be "Jerusalem", and "peace" would be the nature of the kingdom. The church was a part of the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:10, 11). It was not an afterthought of God to bridge the gap when the Jews rejected the Messiah, thus preventing Him in the establishing of the kingdom, as falsely claimed by the modern millennialists. God eternally planned the church and caused the prophets to tell beforehand of its beginning. Isaiah specifies the time when this would happen. The last days remove forever the possibility of the church beginning prior to Pentecost of Acts 2. It could not, therefore, have been established during the Mosaic dispensation. This was, the time Jesus lived. John the Baptist also lived at this time. However, John did not found a church and neither did Jesus during his personal ministry. Baptist preachers used to contend that Jesus founded His church during the days of John the Baptist's ministry, but they could never prove such by the scriptures.
The prophecy of Isaiah 2 demands that the church of Christ be founded in Jerusalem. No other city in all the world can serve as a substitute. The man of God specified Jerusalem. Acts 2 gives a perfect and total fulfillment of this prophecy.
The prophet shows that the provisions of the reign of the Messiah would be extended to man universally. The "house of the Lord" would be made up of all nations. During Moses' time it was to the Jew; but the last days would bring God's blessing to all men through Christ in the church. The commission Jesus gave to the apostles was world-wide in scope.
The church would be the sphere and relationship in which peace would obtain. Peace with God is established through Christ in His body (Eph. 2:16). It is in this house that all peoples have peace with each other; it is in the church we find the barriers removed.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream but in the passing of the night shadows forgot it. He was sore troubled and called the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans to reveal unto him this dream. These men were unable to tell Nebuchadnezzar anything about the dream and openly declared unto him, "there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh" (Dan. 2:11). Daniel the prophet of God was called and he both told the dream and the interpretation of it. The dream was one of an image whose brightness was excellent, but whose form was terrible. The image consisted of a head of gold, breast of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron with feet of part iron and part clay (Dan. 2:31-33). Nebuchadnezzar further saw in his dream a stone cut out without hands that smote this image, and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel revealed this entire dream unto the king and then gave him the interpretation of it. He tells the king that the head of gold represents himself and the Babylonian empire; that the second kingdom, the Medo-Persian empire, is represented by the breast of silver; the third kingdom represented by the belly and thighs of brass was the Grecian empire with Alexander the Great; and the fourth kingdom, the Roman empire, was represented by the legs of iron. This fourth and last kingdom consisted of the Caesars and Herods, and it would be during the fourth kingdom that the God of heaven would set up the kingdom (Dan. 2:44). It was during the reign of the Herods and Caesars that John the Baptist began his work (Matt. 3:1) saying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus was born in these days (Matt. 2:1 ff; Lk. 2:1 ff). Jesus began His own ministry in those days preaching "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mk. 1:14, 15).
Isaiah said the house of the Lord would be established in the last days and Daniel says the kingdom of God would be set up in the days of the Herods and Caesars. Daniel shows that God can change the times and seasons, remove kings and set up kings (2:21). God's word being true the world could expect God's kingdom to be established while the Herods and Caesars were ruling. This not only rules out the possibility of the church being established prior to Pentecost of Acts 2, but it demands that the church be set up before the so-called millennial period.
Jesus promised to build His church and give the keys of the kingdom to the apostles (Matt. 16:18, 19). When the Lord was confessed by the apostle Peter to be the Son of God, Jesus gave the promise to build upon that rock - the rock of truth couched in the confession - "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is the only foundation the church of Christ can possibly have (1 Cor. 3:10, 11). Paul emphatically says "other foundation can no man lay" than the one already laid - Christ Jesus. Jesus is the tried and precious foundation stone (Isa. 28:16). "Will build" is future tense. So, during the personal ministry of Christ, He was promising to build His church. He spoke of it as "at hand" or "nigh." It was to come soon, but it was not at that time in !existence. Jesus taught the disciples to pray for it to come (Matt. 6:9-10). He sent the 12 to preach "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:7), and the 70 to preach "that the kingdom of God is come nigh" (Lk. 10:10, 11). Jesus told some that "there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mk. 9:1). This kingdom which Jesus promised had to come into the world during the lifetime of the disciples to whom He then spoke, yet, the millennialists say the Christ had to postpone the establishment of the kingdom because He was rejected by the Jews (John 1:11, 12) and just set up the church to bridge the gap! Pshaw. The church and the kingdom are one and the same people. The people who make up the church and the kingdom of Christ are the same people. They both are blood-bought (1 Pet. 1:18, 19; Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:7). To be a blood-bought member of the church is to be a blood-bought citizen of the kingdom of God.
In the promise made by Jesus that some of the disciples would not die until they had seen the kingdom come with power (Mk. 9:1) is the Lord's veracity. In Luke 24:44-49 Jesus told the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait until they were endued with power from on high. Luke further shows they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). All of this was just before Jesus ascended back to heaven. The promise of the Father was the coming of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit would give the power - the power as promised by Jesus in Mark 9:1. The Holy Spirit came on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:1 ff). Pentecost was an annual feast of the Jews (see Lev. 23:16). It was 50 days after the Passover. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover feast (Matt. 26:1ff). The disciples made ready for the Passover and, as they sat together, Jesus announced to them that one of them would betray Him. On this occasion He instituted His supper, they sung an hymn and went out into the Mount of Olives. After this the mob took Jesus away. Mockingly He, was tried and condemned to die. He was crucified then buried in Joseph's new tomb, but God raised Him from the dead the third day. He walked among men for forty days teaching them things concerning the kingdom of God and proving Himself to be the resurrected Christ with many "infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3). When the forty days were over He ascended and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Pentecost was some 10 days away. While they waited in Jerusalem these ten days God made ready the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. The Spirit came on Pentecost and the power came with Him (Acts 2:1-4). But remember, the Kingdom was to come with power! When the power came the kingdom would be there, too. The power came at Pentecost; therefore; the kingdom came at Pentecost. No, the kingdom was not in existence during His earthly ministry. Luke 22 shows the church and the kingdom are one and the same people. Here Jesus said, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." Mark's account says, ". . . until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (14:25), and Matthew says, ". . . until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (26:29). When the "disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7) such was the church and the Lord's supper was in it (1 Cor. 11:18-34). Either the Kingdom and the church are one and the same or the disciples stole it from the kingdom and put it in the church. Who can believe it?
From the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the kingdom/church has been in existence and Jesus has all this time been the king over the kingdom and the head of the church. Let no millennialist deceive you in this matter! Furthermore, let none of the middle-of-the-roaders influence you to compromise such fundamental Bible doctrine.
The church could not have been established before the resurrection of Christ. God would use David's seed (Christ) in fulfilling the prophecies and promises made through the prophets concerning the building of the church (2 Sam. 7:12; Psa. 132:11; Acts 2:29ff). In the synagogue at Antioch, Paul used these scriptures to prove to the rulers and others that God had kept His word in raising the ion of David from the dead, that He saw no corruption in the flesh, and through Him "is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." The kingdom/church could not be established until after Christ's ascension into heaven (Lk. 19:12; Dan. 7:13, 14; Acts 1:11). When He ascended heaven received Him (Psa. 24:7-10) and He was seated on David's throne over His kingdom (Lk. 1:32, 33). So, Pentecost was the beginning (Acts 11:15) of the last days (Acts 2:17); the reign of Christ (Acts 2:34, 35); the first gospel sermon (1 Cor. 15:1-5; Acts 2:23, 32); and the kingdom of Christ (Mk. 9:1; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
The various passages dealing with the establishment of the church before Pentecost point to Acts 2, and the passages after Acts 2 point back to this Pentecost identifying the church as an established fact. After the preaching of Acts 2, Luke tells us the Lord added to the church the saved (Acts 2:47). No more do we read of promises that the church will be established; rather, they affirm its existence. The tense on the verb "are built" in Ephesians 2:20 shows its existence at that time was a fact. Various apostolic letters were addressed to the churches (see 1 Cor. 1:2 for example).
We can rejoice in having the facts which inform us of the Lord's doing concerning the establishment of the church. We rejoice to know that the church is a product of prophecy and divine promise (not an accident or afterthought); that Jesus built His one and only church; that it was established in Jerusalem; that it came into existence on the first Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection from the dead; that the Lord adds the saved to it (yea, translated into it, Col. 1:13), and live with the promise that He will deliver it up to the Father when the end comes (1 Cor. 15:23, 24).
Truth Magazine XXIV: 2, pp. 40-42