It is tragically sad to see how much the modern-day religious teachers underrate the importance of the church. To many of them, the church has nothing to do with the salvation of the souls of men. “Just believe Christ,” they say, “the church has nothing to do with salvation.” Incidentally, if by saying so they have in mind the churches that are designed, established and presided over by fallible men, then, they are one hundred per cent correct. Churches of men, which are nothing more than plants “which my heavenly Father hath not planted,” according to Christ, “shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13).
However, if by saying the church has nothing to do with the salvation of the soul, reference is made to the church purchased and built by Christ, then, that statement betrays a woeful ignorance of what the Bible teaches about the blood-bought institution of our Lord (Acts 20:28). To some others, especially those who espouse the premillennial theory, the church is nothing more than an after-thought on the part of God and His Christ. According to the proponents of this idea, Jesus Christ came principally to establish an earthly kingdom. But when He came, He was rejected by the majority of the Jews. As a result of this rejection on the part of the Jews, the premillennialists opine, He established the church as a kind of stop-gap arrangement against the time He would come back again. That when He comes back the second time, He would actualize His plan - set up an earthly kingdom and rule for a thousand years. Simply put, this is not the teaching of the Scriptures.
We shall attempt in this article to show that the New Testament church has been in the eternal purpose of God. Moreover, it is our resolve to elucidate how this plan was unfolded. It is the burden of the other writers in this series to show how the prophets of old predicted the coming of the church in the form of a kingdom and how these prophecies were fulfilled, leading to the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Church Has Been In the Eternal Purpose of God
In the third chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul was talking about his knowledge in the mystery of Christ (verse 4). This mystery “in other ages was not made known to the sons of men” (verse 5). The mystery has to do with the Gentiles becoming fellow-heirs of the same body and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel (verse 6). Let us keep in mind that the mystery is not that God would receive the Gentiles. That the Gentiles would be saved has been revealed as a fact by many Prophets of old. It was revealed by Isaiah in 49:6; 60:1-3. It was also predicted by Malachi in Malachi 1:11. Hosea also revealed that the Gentiles would be called to salvation (Hosea 2:23; cf Romans 9:25-26).
However, the mystery has to do with the Divine purpose of bringing the Jews and Gentiles together in one body. This body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). That is, the Jews and the Gentiles would be brought together in one church to share on equal terms the salvation that is in Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles would be Christians on equal footing regardless of ethnic, social, racial or national differences.
Now, in verse 10 and 11, he says, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and power in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Emphasis mine, SA). The “principalities and powers in the heavenly places” is an allusion to the rulers and authorities in the spiritual realm, the unseen beings who behold God's great wisdom. Peter informs us by inspiration that the angels of God, for ages, had desired to see the great purposes of God (1 Peter 1:10-12). These great purposes they see through the church. Or as the American Standard Version (ASV) puts it, the principalities and powers behold God's wisdom “through the church.”
The implication of this is that just as a magnificent building shows the wisdom of an architect; and a fine piece of literature evidences the author's wisdom, just so the manifold wisdom of God is seen by observing His plan in action in the church. The word “manifold” suggests many-sided, many-faceted. Colly Caldwell puts this beautifully: “the church is so grand that it surpasses the brilliance, intelligence and sagacity of anything calculated in the mind of man and thus evidences God's great wisdom” (Colly Caldwell, Truth Commentaries, Ephesians, Guardian of Truth Foundation, p. 121). This means that as one takes a look at the church of the New Testament from any perspective, he wouldn't fail to be impressed with the variegated wisdom of God. For instance, the simplicity of the terms of pardon which makes entrance into the kingdom accessible to everyone regardless of sex, race or social stature is an exemplification of Divine wisdom. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and the things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Another perspective from which the wisdom of God could be clearly seen in the church is its simple organizational structure. The New Testament makes no provision for earthly UNIVERSAL organization for the church of our Lord. Divine wisdom makes for each local church to be self-governing under its own elders (plurality) with Christ as the Chief Shepherd (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:4).
This Divine wisdom precludes arrogant, ambitious and power-hungry men from wielding undue influence on the church at the Local Government or State or Regional or National levels. Apart from making it impossible for power-mongers to hijack the church of our Lord, local church autonomy also prevents wholesale apostasy of the church. Each local church rises or falls before Christ, the owner of the church (Revelation 2-3). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus Christ is “the only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). He has all authority (Matthew 28:18). He executes judgment (John 5:27; 12:48-50). He is the only Lawgiver (James 4:11-12). Viewed from this perspective, the church of the Lord is a monarchy with Christ as the Monarch, possessing all legislative, executive and judicial powers.
The main point here is that Christ is the centre and circumference of God's plan of redemption through the ages, on the one hand. On the other hand, the church which constitutes the body of Christ is the body of the saved. Christ is the Saviour of this body (Ephesians 5:23). Now, how did these plans unfold?
Christ Is the Seed of the Woman
The Divine plan of redemption began to unfold immediately after the fall of mankind. Cursing the serpent which was used by Satan, the arch-enemy of God and man, God said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
When God pronounced this curse, he was not talking about snake family. Rather, He was speaking of the enmity that should exist between Satan, the old serpent (Revelation 12:9) on the one hand; and man, the offspring of God (Acts 17:29), on the other. This calls for one to be born of a woman apart from the natural 'begettal' by the man. This was fulfilled in Christ. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those that were under the law …” (Galatians 4:4-5;Matthew 1:16). Christ was the seed of the woman who “was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). In destroying the works of the devil, He accomplished the bruising the head of the serpent. However, in accomplishing this, the seed of the woman would have His own heel “bruised.” That is, Christ would be put to death physically. But His victory over Satan was complete when He was raised from the dead and glorified at God's own right hand (Acts 2:22-36; Hebrews 12:1-2). So, Christ is the seed of the woman born of Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:16), who gave a crushing defeat to Satan; although He also had to submit to death.
Christ Is the Seed of Abraham
God called Abraham and said among other things that, “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). But, if we may ask, how or in what way would all the families of the earth be blessed in Abraham? God said a few years later after Abraham had proved his faithfulness to God, that “in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Who was this seed of Abraham? Was He going to be the same Person as the Seed of the woman? Indeed, Christ was that seed of Abraham through whom the whole earth is going to be blessed! “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your seed,' who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). Yes, the seed of the woman and the seed of Abraham are co-terminus both refer to one and the same Person that is, Jesus Christ through whom God would work out His redemptive plan.
Jesus Christ Is Also the Seed of David
As God's redemptive plan continues to unfold, we see the promise of God to Abraham renewed to his son, Isaac and from Isaac to Jacob, the father of the Patriarchs (Genesis 21:12; 28:14). Jacob, when he was about to die, he called his sons and pronounced blessings upon them. When it was the turn of his fourth son, Judah, he pronounced this prophetic benediction: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the obedience of the peoples be”(Genesis 49:10). This prophecy was fulfilled when about 650 years later the throne of David was established and the kingdom reached its apogee in the days of Solomon. To David, God sent Nathan the Prophet to announce to him that “… I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever … and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever” (2 Samuel 7:11-17).
It is interesting that portions of this passage are quoted in the New Testament and applied to Jesus Christ. On the day of Pentecost, for instance, Peter quoted this and said, “Therefore, being a prophet and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne …” (Acts 2:30-36). The Hebrews writer also quotes from this same 2 Samuel 7:11-17 and says it refers to Christ (Hebrews 1:5).
The throne of David is the throne of Christ in the ultimate. God's kingdom on earth constitutes all those who have submitted themselves to God's appointed King, Jesus. The church is the body of those who are members of Christ through the new birth (John 3:5). The kingdom of God on earth and the church of Jesus Christ are one and the same when viewed in the aggregate. In prophecy, the kingdom of God on earth would be established in the days of the fourth (Roman) empire (Daniel 2:41-44).Christ was born when Caesar Augustus (of the Roman Empire) was blooming (Luke 2:1-7) The kingdom and the church share a common origin in date and place (Isaiah 2:2-3; Acts 2:1-47). They are identical in territory (Daniel 2:44; Mark 16:15). They share the same ownership. Christ spoke of “my kingdom” in John 18:36 and equally spoke of “my church” in Matthew 16:18. The kingdom and the church share common rulership (1 Timothy 6:15; Ephesians 5:23). They have the same law (Isaiah 2:3; Acts 2:38). The citizenship of the kingdom is the membership of the church (Colossians 1:13; 1:2). The citizens of the kingdom and members of the church look forward to identical glory and exaltation (Isaiah 2:2-3; Ephesians 3:21). The church and the kingdom expect the same reward for faithfulness (Matthew 25:31-34; 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Jesus Christ is the centre and circumference of God's redemptive plan. He is the Saviour of the body which is the church (Ephesians 5:23). This church is made of all who would submit to His rulershipboth Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 3:16). This has been in the eternal purpose of God (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Let us appreciate the church as a Divine institution and give glory to Him in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21).P. O. Box 31019 , Ibadan .