The Kingdom Church
When the Lord Jesus Christ was here on this earth He came as Israel’s “horn of salvation” and as a “minister of the circumcision to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” (Luke 1:67‑75; Rom. 15:8) He came in accordance with the covenant God made with David to provide for Israel’s redemption and to establish the “kingdom of heaven” in Zion, just as had been promised and covenanted with Israel. (Isa. 2:1‑4; 9:6‑7; Luke 1:30‑33) This being the program of God at this time, the gospel which was preached was the “gospel of the kingdom.” John the Baptist, the Lord and His apostles preached to Israel that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1‑12; 4:17; 10:1‑7) The signs of the kingdom were also manifested to Israel as the “gospel of the kingdom” was heralded to her. (Matt. 4:23‑24; 11:1‑6; 12:28)
Though Israel rejected Christ and crucified Him, God utilized their rejection as the means of providing for their redemption. (Luke 24:25‑27) Also, in accordance with the Lord’s prayer on the cross, an extension of mercy and forbearance was given to Israel. (Luke 23:34) God graciously extended an opportunity to Israel to change their minds about Jesus of Nazareth and to believe the “gospel of the kingdom,” before Christ began to “make His enemies His footstool” and purge His nation. And this is what the 12 apostles proclaimed to Israel, as the opening chapters of the book of Acts testify. (Acts 2:14‑40; 3:19‑26; 5:29‑32)
But, as Acts 1‑7 relates, Israel spurned the mercy of God unto them, climaxing their rebellion with the stoning of Stephen. At that point, just as Stephen declared in the vision given unto him, the Lord was ready to “make His enemies His footstool.” (Acts 7:51‑56) The Lord’s day of wrath was ready to begin.
But, as Acts 9 records,instead of the expected wrath, the Lord Jesus Christ unexpectedly came back from heaven and raised up Paul as a brand new apostle. In so doing, He commissioned him as the “apostle of the Gentiles,” and sent him out with an unprophesied message. To Paul the Lord revealed that He was holding back His day of wrath, and that He was temporarily setting aside His program and dealings with Israel, and that He was ushering in a dispensation of His grace for us Gentiles. (Rom. 11:1‑36; Eph. 3:1‑12) To Paul God revealed the “mystery of Christ”; the secret purpose which He has in Christ, which He kept “hid in Himself” in ages and generations past.
It is this “mystery of God’s will,” which was before kept secret, that God is now working out today. (Rom. 16:25‑27; Eph. 3:1‑6: Col. 1:25‑27) God’s program with Israel, as set forth in the Old Testament, the Gospel accounts, and the opening chapters of the book of Acts, has been temporarily put in abeyance by God until after this mystery dispensation of Gentile grace is concluded.
We, today, live in this dispensation of the grace of God for us Gentiles.” And as the apostle Paul teaches us in his epistles we have been made members of the “new creation,” the church the body of Christ ‑‑ the church which God is forming in this present dispensation in accordance with the “mystery of Christ.”
Unfortunately, though, often times there is a particular stumbling‑block in the minds of Christians which makes it so that the mystery character of this present dispensation of God’s grace isn’t understood as it ought to be. That stumbling‑block is the concept of the “church.”
To many Christians the word “church” just automatically makes them think of us today. We are “the church which is His (Christ’s) body.” The term applies to us. Therefore, whenever it is encountered in the Bible it must be a reference to us today; to the church the body of Christ. And with such thinking, when the concept of a church is found in the Gospel accounts (Matt. 16:18; 18:17), and also in the opening chapters of the book of Acts (Acts 2:47), the assumption is made that it must be referring to us today. The question is then asked, `How then can we say that this present dispensation of grace was a mystery before and wasn’t ushered in by God until He raised up Paul, when the “church” is spoken about before that?’
MORE THAN ONE CHURCH IN THE BIBLE
What needs to be understood and appreciated is that every use of the word “church” in the Bible ISN’T referring to us today. The concept of a “church” is NOT something that is exclusive and new to this present dispensation of God’s grace. But rather, the concept of a called out people, (which is what the word for “church” means), was also used in connection with God’s program and dealings with the nation of Israel. Notice how Stephen utilized it in connection with the nation of Israel, in Acts 7:38.
“This is he, that was in THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:”
When God had brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt into the wilderness, that is what they were. They were a “CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS.” They were God’s called out people; called out of Egypt unto Himself to go into the land God had covenanted with their fathers. Because they were God’s called out people they were a “church.” But it is obvious that they were NOT “the church which is His (Christ’s) body”; the church which God is forming today in this dispensation of His grace to us Gentiles. But the people of Israel were a church. In fact the “church” concept is used a great number of times in the Old Testament in connection with Israel. The words “congregation” and “assembly,” for example, are usually the translation of the Hebrew words for a called out people or a gathered together people. (e.g. Deut. 31:30; 33:4)
Clearly, therefore, it is a mistake to assume that every time the word “church” occurs in the Bible that it is a reference to us today. We, today, are NOT the only church spoken about in the Bible. The body of Christ is not the church referred to in Acts 7:38, nor in the Old Testament. But we also need to understand that the body of Christ is not the church spoken of in the Gospel accounts nor in Acts 2.
THE CHURCH OF THE GOSPELS
In Matthew 16 the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to His disciples about the building of His church. He tells them about the “rock” upon which it is going to be built, and about the participation which they will have in it. But it is important to notice that as the Lord talks about this, He does not talk about a change of programs in connection with it. But rather, the building of this church is spoken of as part of His program and dealings with the nation of Israel. It is spoken of as something which will be going on and which the apostles will be involved with as they continue to preach “the gospel of the kingdom.”
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar‑Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”(vs. 13‑19)
It was in the face of mounting rejection by the nation of Israel that the Lord said these things to His apostles. The people for the most part failed to recognize who He was. The nation’s rulers were increasing their opposition against both the “gospel of the kingdom” and the Lord Himself. But that mounting rejection was not going to thwart the establishment of the covenanted kingdom of heaven. But rather, in accordance with what the prophets had foretold, the Lord would call out a remnant from the nation to whom the honor and blessings of the kingdom would be given. A “church”; a called out people would be brought forth from the nation and to them the kingdom would be given. Just as it is written in the 22nd Psalm…
“A seed shall serve him; it shall be counted to the Lord for a generation.” (vs.30)
And as Isaiah prophesied,…
“Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for the herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me.” (Isa. 65:8‑10)
This calling out of that “seed of Jacob” which would serve the Lord in the kingdom and which would enjoy the blessings of it is what the Lord was describing to Peter and the other apostles in Matthew 16. The Lord described to them the building of this prophesied church; this election from the nation; this gathered out seed which would be given the blessings of the kingdom. The Lord also described to Peter and the others the role which they would have in the building of this kingdom church, as they preached the “gospel of the kingdom.” Just as the Lord had said to Peter…
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Peter and the others were going to be utilized by the Lord, in His absence, for the building of this kingdom church. The “KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN” were given to Peter in connection it, because that is what this church pertains to. It pertains to the kingdom of heaven; the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah in Zion in fulfillment of the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants. And entrance into that kingdom is what those of this church would receive, just as the Lord promised when He said to them…
“Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Lk. 12:32)
The prophets foretold the issue of a church which would be brought forth out of the nation of Israel. A called out remnant would be the Lord’s servants to whom the joy and blessings of the kingdom would be given. (e.g. Isa. 8:13‑18; 65:11‑25) This is the church which the Lord is talking about in the Gospel accounts.
THE CHURCH OF ACTS 2
This kingdom church is what the Lord began to build through the authoritative ministry of Peter and His other apostles, as God’s program with Israel continued on following Christ’s rejection and return back to the Father.
When Israel rejected the Lord Jesus Christ, He prayed for them on the cross as is recorded in Luke 23:33‑34.
“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him,…Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
The Lord, in praying for them, provided for an extension of mercy and forbearance to be given to His nation. A merciful opportunity was given to the people to change their minds about Jesus of Nazareth and so be constituted as part of the remnant of Israel, before the Lord began to purge His nation. As Peter explained to the rulers of the nation in Acts 5: 30‑31,…
“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour for TO GIVE REPENTANCE TO ISRAEL, and forgiveness of sins.”
God’s program and dealings with the nation of Israel continued on following their rejection of Christ, and this is what the opening chapters of the book of Acts describe. As Peter explained to the “men of Israel” in Acts 2, the nation’s “last days” were upon them, just as the prophet Joel had spoke about. They needed to “repent and be converted,” as Peter and John exhorted in chapter 3, so that their “sins may be blotted out” and therefore not be ones who would be “destroyed from among the people” when the Lord made His enemies His footstool.
Those “men of Israel” who did “repent and be converted” were “saved from this untoward generation,” just like Peter said in Acts 2:40, and they were constituted part of the remnant of Israel; part of the church the Lord was building, just as verse 47 declares.
“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
God was calling out of His nation the remnant to whom He would give the kingdom. As Joel also said, in describing what God would be doing in Israel’s “last days,.”..
“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in THE REMNANT WHOM THE LORD SHALL CALL.” (Joel 2:32)
This is what Peter knew God was doing with His nation, as he exhorted the “men of Israel” to change their minds about Jesus of Nazareth. As he said to them in Acts 2:39‑40…
“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as THE LORD OUR GOD SHALL CALL. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, SAVE YOURSELVES FROM THIS UNTOWARD GENERATION.”
God was calling out from them and their children, both near and afar off, the remnant of Israel. He was building His kingdom church just as the prophets foretold and just as the Lord had previously told Peter and the other apostles that He would do.
THE CHURCH OF THIS DISPENSATION
When the Lord Jesus Christ ushered in this present dispensation of His grace with the raising up of the new apostle Paul, God revealed how that He was temporarily setting aside His program and dealings with the nation of Israel. (Rom. 11:1‑36) In this present dispensation of Gentile grace, therefore, God is not calling out the remnant of Israel. He is not building His kingdom church. But rather, having set His program with Israel in abeyance and having put Jew and Gentile on the exact same level, God is now in Christ making of the twain ONE NEW MAN. (Eph. 2:11‑16) This “ONE NEW MAN” is “the church which is His (Christ’s) body.”
The church the body of Christ is what God is forming now in this dispensation of Gentile grace in accordance with the “mystery of Christ.” But the church spoken of in the Gospels and the opening chapters of the book of Acts has to do with God’s program and dealings with the nation of Israel. It is the prophesied kingdom church. The church of the remnant of Israel to whom the honor and blessings of their covenanted kingdom of heaven would be given. This kingdom church will yet be built and given the kingdom when God resumes His program with Israel after this present dispensation of grace is over. – K.R. Blades