By Garreth L. Clair
The Church was in the purpose of God as early as the birth of Saul of Tarsus (i.e. Paul the apostle to the Gentiles). In connection with this fact please observe the statement by the great apostle in Galatians 1: 15,16, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace. . . . To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood. ” From the reading it is obvious that God separated Paul from the time of his birth for the purpose of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.
Since Paul was separated in the mind of God for the work of proclaiming the gospel message to the Gentiles from the time of his birth, we may safely deduce from this fact that the church was in the purpose of God as far back as before the birth of Paul.
Even further back in history God purposed the church for the church was in the purpose of God at the time of Moses. In Acts 26:22,23 we read, “Therefore having obtained help from. God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come – “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to arise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” From this reading we learn that the prophets, including Moses, foretold the suffering of Christ on the cross. The apostle tells us that Christ purchased the Church with his own blood shed on the cross (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). Therefore, it is unthinkable that God knew his Son would suffer on the cross, but did not know and plan that through this action the church would come into existence. Therefore, God knew and had purposed at the time of Moses and the prophets the establishment of the church as a direct result of the shed blood of Christ on the cross.
Even further back in time, at the time of Abraham, God had purposed the church. Paul tells us that there was revealed to him a mystery, “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel” (Eph. 3:6). The promise mentioned here is the same promise made to Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). This is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham that all nations were to be blessed in his seed (Acts 3:25,26; Gal.3:26-29).
When God told Abraham that all nations were to be blessed in his seed (Christ – Gal. 3:16), he meant that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs with the Jews of all the benefits of membership in the one church (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 3:6,7). God could not plan for the Gentiles to be fellow-members of the body, which is the church, without planning the existence of the church.
And even further back than Abraham, the church was in the purpose of God before the foundation of the world. The expression, “foundation of the world,” has been understood by some to mean the beginning of the Christian dispensation. Because of this concept by some we present the following facts:
(1) Paul’s use of the expression in Ephesians 1:4 seems to be parallel with the expression “eternal purpose” in Ephesians 3:11.
(2) Peter speaks of Christ being foreknown before the foundations of the world, but manifest in these last times for you (1 Pet. 1:20).
a. The manifestation of Christ refers to his coming in the flesh – a period pre-dating Christianity. b. Peter speaks of the “foundation of the world” as a time prior to “these last times.” Consequently, the foundation of the world in this instance was more than the beginning of the Christian dispensation.
That being true, we can truthfully say that the church was in the mind of God since before the creation of the world. Please notice Ephesians 3:10, 11: “To the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” God therefore chose us “in Him” (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love (Eph. 1:4).
In Ephesians 5:25-27 we are taught that the church for which Jesus died is to be holy and without blemish, the 6osen of Ephesians 1:4 involves the church of Ephesians 5:27. In view of that fact the church was in the purpose of God before the foundation of the earth. The apostle Peter further says we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, “who verity was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (Emp. mine, G.C.; 1 Pet. 1:18-20). Is it possible that God would have foreordained that Jesus would suffer as a lamb in sacrifice for the redemption of man’s sin and yet did not know that the redeemed would constitute the church?
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 5, p. 138
March 3, 1988