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The Church In Prophecy

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
October, 1999

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Last updated:
October 1, 1999.

The prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the New Testament church are a strong proof of the inspiration of the Scriptures.  So numerous are the Old Testament statements of the nature of the Christian dispensation and prophecies which were fulfilled to the letter in its establishment that it is, indeed, difficult to understand how anyone can fail to believe.  The prophecies respecting Christ's virgin birth, His sinless life, the agony and pain in His death on the cross, His triumphant resurrection as Savior and Lord, and His exaltation to the throne of David at the right hand of the Father to reign throughout the Christian age as the Head of the body, the church, together with all the prophecies which described the church itself, constitute the most effective proof that this book which we call the Bible is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:17,18).  Furthermore, these prophecies utterly defeat the theory that the church was simply an afterthought in the mind of God.  Every prophetic description of the Kingdom or church (Matthew 16:16,18) shows that it was established on the day of Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection (Mark 9:1; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4), and was part of God's "eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:11).

When a person takes the position that the Kingdom has not been established we cannot take it passively.  It is not a matter of little consequence; it is an outright denial of Biblical Inspiration.  The predictions through "holy men of God" declared that the Kingdom would be established, and Paul, in Colossians 1:13, indicated that its establishment had already taken place.

We learned from Ephesians 3:11 that from eternity God planned to establish a kingdom into which men could be translated from the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13).  The Godhead foresaw the necessity of building such an institution.  It was completely through their grace that the church was planned, designed and established.  There was nothing inherently good in man that demanded such a kingdom.  God predestined that all who would enter and work in this kingdom would be given the gift of eternal life, and all who rejected this kingdom He predestined to eternal condemnation.  God only predestinated certain groups to life and to destruction not which individuals should be saved and lost regardless of their character.  Furthermore, God has given each individual the power to decide to which group he will belong.  Jesus said, "Ye will not come to me that you might have life." (John 5:40; 6:44,45).  The decision is man's responsibility, not God's.

After God drove Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, He promised that the seed of woman should bruise the head of the serpent.  The church did not remain in God's purpose alone, but He revealed it to man in the form of promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God promised that in Christ or in his body, the church, all nations would be blessed.  (Please read Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 1:3; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:22,23).  Thus God began to teach man of the coming kingdom.  Man was to be trained by the law of Moses to receive the promised Messiah (Galatians 3:24,25).   It remained for God to further man's knowledge of the coming church by speaking of it through the prophets from Moses to Malachi.

In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses said to the Jews, "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken."  This foretold the authority of the Head of the church.  He was to come through the Jews, like Moses, and when he would speak, spiritual Israel should hearken to him.  In quoting this same prophecy Peter said, in Acts 3:23, "It shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people."  It is no wonder that Paul referred to Jesus saying that He is "the author of eternal life unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).  He has all authority (Matthew 28:18).  It is His place to command; it is ours to obey.  Our attitude must be, "Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth; command and I will obey."

The church or kingdom again appears in prophecy in the days of David.  The great king of Israel wanted to build the house for God, but the Lord through Nathan, the prophet, forbade him, saying, "Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in.... Furthermore I tell thee that the LORD will build thee an house.  And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever" (1 Chronicles 17:4-12).

This interesting prophecy sheds a great deal of light on some present-day theories.  God would not allow David to build his house because he had become a man of blood, but promised to rebuild the house of David, and set up in the heavens his throne forever.  (Read 1 Chronicles 17:1-13; Amos 9:11,12; Acts 15:16,17.)  James, a pillar in the early church, quoted this prophecy in Acts 15:16,17 to convince the brethren that the Gentiles should hear the Gospel.  He said that God had promised to set up the kingdom and throne of David in order "that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and the Gentiles upon whom my name is called" (Acts 15:17).  This prophetic description of the kingdom or church promised all classes of people equal rights to citizenship.

Therefore, we are commanded to "have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons" (James 2:1).  In Christ, in His church there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, rich nor poor.  Some people make distinctions among members, but that is sinful; it was never intended that way.  If the kingdom has not been established, according to James, we as Gentiles have no right to the Gospel or to salvation.

After David, Isaiah foretold more of the church.  In Isaiah 2:2-4 the prophet said, "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 shall 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 pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."  This majestic announcement tells when the church was to be established, where it was to be established, what its work was to be, and the nature of its peaceful influence in a world of war and strife.

The time of its establishment was to be in the last days.  The last days began on the day of Pentecost immediately after the resurrection of Christ.  (Read Acts 2:1-17; Hebrews 1:1; 9:15-17; Acts 11:15).  The place of its establishment was to be in Jerusalem.  It was in this very city that the events of Acts 2 took place.  The work of the church was to make known to the world the "manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:8-11).  The word of the Lord was to go forth from this people, the church.  In Acts 2:4 the Apostles, in sending the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, "began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance."  The sweet peace and benevolent influence of the church on this sinful world has gone nearly unnoticed.  Perverted religions have caused national turmoil, chaos and blood-shed, but the influence of the true church has been to bring peace between man and man.  Denominationalism with its wrangles and disagreements does not fit this prophetic description of the true church.  The goodness and pleasantness of Christian unity are better signs that the prophecy has been fulfilled.

That great harbinger of the Lord, John the Baptist, came into the wilderness of Judea prophesying, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2).  John's purpose was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord and the establishment of the kingdom.  The material which went into the building of the church on the day of Pentecost began to be prepared by John.  He made successful and courageous preparations.  His courage in denouncing those things about Herod which were contrary to the principles of the kingdom of God led to his death.  Dying at the wish of a revengeful wicked woman, John left a courageous example of preaching against sin.  He not only condemned the sins of the society in general, but he marched right into the palace of Herod and denounced Herod's adulterous union with his brother Philip's wife.  This act of courage cost John his life, but it gained for him a great reward (Matthew 11).

After John's death, Christ, in Matthew 16:18, prophesied of His church saying, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  No one was to labor in vain on the church for the Lord was its builder.  Moreover, it was to be built on the bedrock truth that Christ is the Son of God.  This promised to make it unmovable and irreplaceable (Hebrews 12:28).  It also promised to give inspired men the keys of the kingdom, so that no human vote or permission to enter it is needed.

We have noticed that the church appeared in prophecy many times.  Its head, its nature, its work, its foundation, its influence, and its destiny were described by "holy men of God," who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).

[Lord willing we will look at the establishment of the church later. -- R.N.]