|Vol. 14 No. 8 August 2012||
J.C. Choate (deceased)
Daniel prophesied that the Lord would set up a kingdom which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). Many other prophecies were made to indicate where and when it would be established (Isaiah 2:2-3; Joel 2:28-29). John the Baptist came preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:1-2) and Christ said that the kingdom would come with power in the lifetime of some of those who were present as He was speaking (Mark 9:1). Christ also asked his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom (Matthew 6:10). After the apostles had confessed Christ to be the Son of God, the Lord responded by saying that He would build His church or kingdom on that rock, that truth (Matthew 16:18-19). Later, we have the writer of Hebrews saying that we have received that kingdom (Hebrews 12:28). Paul said to the Christians at Colossae – and he included himself – that the Father had delivered them from darkness and had translated them into the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:13-14).
However, when was the kingdom or the church established? After the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection, Christ appeared to the apostles, “And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:46-49). In Acts 1:8, Jesus said to the apostles just before He returned to the Father in heaven, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” When we turn to Acts 2, we have the fulfillment of those prophecies and promises concerning the establishment of the kingdom or church.
The apostles were in Jerusalem, and it was the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a Jewish feast day that brought Jews to Jerusalem from all over the world. The Lord chose this occasion to be the birthday of the church, so that from this very first day on which the Gospel was preached, it would begin to go into all the world. Thus it was that the stage was set, in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, with the multitudes gathered together. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles and, as evidence of this, they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. They preached the Gospel of Christ to the masses that were gathered there and, as a result, many who heard, believed and wanted to know what they should do to be forgiven. They were told to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord for the remission of their sins and that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The record goes on to say that those who gladly received the word were baptized. That day around 3,000 were added to the church (Acts 2:41), and the Lord continued to add to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). That church or kingdom has been in existence since that time. We read, “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33). You may read of the church throughout the Book of Acts and in the epistles or letters that followed.
Paul warned, however, that there would be a falling away or an apostasy on the part of many Christians and congregations. He was directed to write, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Paul also spoke of a falling away in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4.
God’s plan for the church was that there were to be elders and deacons over each congregation that had qualified men to serve (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), and that each congregation was to be autonomous or self-governing. In this way, even though some congregations might fall away, the one or ones that remained faithful to God could continue to represent Him.
After its establishment, the church grew and spread throughout the world. Church history tells us that the apostasy came about through unauthorized and unscriptural church organization. In time, elders in some congregations usurped authority and began to be recognized as the chief elders over those congregations. Eventually, this led to one man being recognized over all the congregations in his area. Out of this came the Catholic Church, with Boniface the Third being recognized as the “Universal Bishop” in 606 A.D. Later, the Catholic Church divided into the Roman and Greek branches that continue to this day.
In the 1500’s, Martin Luther led the Reformation Movement, which attempted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. This effort was not successful but did lead to the Protestant Movement, which resulted in all of the denominational churches with which we are familiar today. In the 1700’s and 1800’s, there arose numerous denominational people in Europe and America who advocated that we not be Protestants or Catholics but that we go back to the Bible and be Christians only, members of the church that Christ built. This was known as the Restoration Movement, an attempt to restore pure New Testament Christianity in Europe and America.
Even though it was called the “restoration movement,” that did not mean the true church had gone out of existence, that it did not exist somewhere in the world. It just meant that those individuals in America as well as in Europe (or any other place in the world where there were those who wanted to be Christians only and members of the one church of the Bible), were trying to restore the original church for themselves. There have been many such groups found in recent times that had done that or were trying to do that, and even in the future, anytime, anywhere there are those who are willing to return to the Bible and follow the New Testament pattern of Christianity, they become the Lord’s people, members of His one church.
Because the majority of the church did fall away in the first three centuries of its existence, the apostate churches received most of the historical attention. The same has been true with the so-called Christian world right on up to this day. Yet, the faithful few are always there, and always have been, will always be. Even though the world as a whole ignored those who remained faithful, and much of their story became lost from the history records, still they were there. Just as the prophecies and promises stated, the true church of our Lord will not be destroyed, and it will continue as His voice in the world, even until He returns. The Holy Spirit directed Paul to say that when Jesus comes at the sound of the last trumpet, there will be faithful Christians alive who will be caught up in the clouds to meet Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Therefore, we can be sure that the Lord’s kingdom, His church, once established would stand forever. There has never been a time when the Lord did not have someone on earth to represent Him. We know this, because it was the imbalance between good and evil that brought about the destruction of the world in the time of Noah. If God’s people – the church – had ceased to exist and to permeate the world to some degree with righteousness, the world would of necessity have been destroyed.
However, the prophecy that there will be Christians living when Jesus returns is God’s own word, again, that the church will never die. It has not only existed in promise, through the written Word, but in reality. Neither was it established, eventually to go out of literal existence and to exist only in the Word, which is called the seed of the kingdom; this evasive explanation will not work because the “seed” is words in a Book, but the “kingdom” is people. No, if God is to be believed at all, He must be believed fully. We must accept Jesus’ word that, though individual Christians and congregations here and there in the world might prove faithful or unfaithful, the church itself would continue as His representation on earth until it is finally delivered up to the Father, where it will exist eternally.
Neither will the Lord come back one day to establish it as a literal kingdom, over which He will reign victoriously for 1,000 years. The promised church, the spiritual kingdom which Christ came to establish, already exists, and it will exist forever. Are you a member of the church of Christ? If not, our prayer is that you will want to become a member of it. Only in the Lord’s church, and as a faithful Christian until you die, can you expect to be eternally saved as a part of that kingdom.