By Garreth L. Clair
During the lifetime of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ upon this earth, no church was established. Although a great deal of information about the church of Christ is discussed during the lifetime of John and Jesus, the church did not become a reality until after the death of both. These facts indicate that the period of the gospels and the first chapter of the book of Acts were a period preparatory for the establishment of the church of Christ. To this concept we present the following lessons:
I. The work of John the Baptist (i.e., The baptizer). John’s work was to herald the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven (the church). “And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1,2).
A. John was the messenger to prepare the way before the Lord (Mal. 3:1).
B. He was Elijah who was to appear before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5).
C. John was the friend of the bridegroom whose work was to decrease while that of the bridegroom (Lord) was to increase (Jn. 3:29,30).
D. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness (Isa. 40:3; Jn. 1:23). The kingdom (church of Christ) was to begin in Jerusalem and the law was to go forth from Zion (Isa. 2:2-4) but the work of John the Baptist and the message he preached started in the wilderness of Judea.
II. John was not in the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., the church of Christ). Please observe the following facts in this connection:
A. Jesus said of John, “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, not withstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). If John was as great as any before him, but the least in the kingdom was greater than he, it follows that John was not in the kingdom. Why was he not in the kingdom? Could any man be called great by our Savior if he lived in disobedience to God? If the kingdom was in existence at this time and John was not in it, he was living in disobedience to God by not being a part of it (Matt. 23:13).
B. John the Baptist was not in the kingdom for the same reason that Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. were not in it; John lived and died before the kingdom of the Messiah was established and, therefore, had no opportunity to become a citizen in it.
C. John could do all God expected of him without entering the kingdom; but those of us living today live during the existence of the kingdom, we therefore have the responsibility to become a part of it (Col. 1:13,14).
III. John died before Jesus promised to build his church. We read in Matthew 14:1-12 about the events leading up to and the death of John the Baptist, but following in chronological order in Matthew 16:13-20 we read of Jesus’ promise to build his church sometime in the future.
There is no absolute way of determining how many months passed between these two events. But it is certain that John had been dead sometime before Jesus made his promise on the coast of Caesarea Philippi to build his church. Since John died before the church was established, his work could only be a preparatory nature. It was John’s work to prepare material out of which Jesus Christ would eventually build his church.
Church Not Built During Jesus’ Earthly Ministry
In the next phase of this lesson we want to examine the work of Christ during his approximately 33 years on this earth as a living human being. In this phase of the study we want to establish as fact that Jesus did not build a church during his earthly existence. In establishing this fact we direct your attention to the following set of biblical facts:
I. The personal ministry of Christ did not begin where the prophets predicted the kingdom would begin. Notice the following:
A. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and did immediate work among the disciples of John (Jn. 1:35-51).
B. He left the vicinity of the Jordan on the third day and was attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee (Jn. 2:1ff).
C. After this we find him going through Galilee and finally coming to Nazareth where some sought to kill him (Lk. 4:14-30).
II. In the second place the work of Jesus during his personal ministry was not directed toward all nations as the prophets predicted regarding the nature of the coming kingdom:
A. Jesus addressed a woman of Canaan, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).
B. Jesus teaching did not extend to any of the nations around about Israel, only to the Jews.
III. All the teaching by Jesus pointed to the establishment of kingdom (church) in the future:
A. As John the Baptist had been teaching, so did Jesus teach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mk. 1:14,15).
B. Jesus lived under the law of Moses; he recognized the authority of the Mosiac law and taught men to obey it (Matt. 23:13). Even though he lived under and taught men to submit to the law of Moses he taught that a great law (i.e., kingdom, church, government) was soon to be established (Matt. 5-7).
C. In spite of all his teaching about the coming kingdom, Jesus did not tell his disciples everything about it as is evident from John 16:12,13.
In this final phase of the lesson let us now examine the work of the twelve apostles during Christ’s personal ministry. Observe the following facts about the apostles’ work:
I. The work of the apostles did not begin in Jerusalem during the personal ministry of Christ as the prophets predicted.
A. Jesus was in Galilee, not Jerusalem, when he called the twelve apostles and gave them their authority (Matt. 10:lff; Lk. 9:1-6).
B. The Old Testament prophets predicted that the kingdom would begin in Jerusalem and that the law of the kingdom would go out from that city. Consequently, the work of the Twelve at the time of Christ’s earthly life was not for the establishment of a kingdom (church) but was preparatory.
II. The Twelve were instructed by Christ during his earth ly ministry to preach to Jews only (Matt. 10:6).
A. The prophets said that the message of the coming kingdom would be for all nations when it was established in the last days of the Jewish dispensation (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:24-45; Mic. 4:1-5; etc.).
B. The limitations of the Twelve and their ministry during the lifetime of Christ is clearly established from the statement recorded in Matthew 10:5-7, as follows: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
III. The apostles of Christ were given a limited commission, they were limited to specified territories in their work during the life of Christ; notice the following facts:
A. The prophets had said that when the kingdom arrived they should go into all nations (i.e., “all nations would flow into it”). Jesus limited the apostles (Matt. 10:5).
B. When Jesus later gave the commission that we refer to today as the great commission in Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15,16; Lk. 24:46-49. The apostles were then told to “go into all the world,” for then the time for the establishment of the predicted kingdom had come.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 6, pp. 168-169
March 17, 1988