Part II The Church: A Mystery Revealed


Chapter 2

The Mystery Of The Church


Announcement by Jesus

Toward the end of His public ministry Jesus made an announcement to His disciples about the formation of His "church."

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,

"Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
(Matthew 16:13-18)

The word "church," was the normal Greek word for "assembly." Literally, it meant to "call out," as when the people of the city would be called together for a town meeting. Later the concept of being "called out" would take on special meaning. It would come to mean that the followers of Jesus should consider themselves no longer members of the old fallen world system (cosmos), but they are now citizens of a heavenly country, ambassadors from a far country serving in the world as sojourners and aliens. Down through history every generation of Christians has had to rediscover this pilgrim-nature of our calling.

Like many important teachings of Christ, the Disciples did not understand what Jesus meant at the time when He said that He would build a church which would assault and ultimately conquer the very strongholds of evil (Matthew 16:18). In fact, in the same chapter Jesus also revealed that He would soon die and be raised again on the third day. Peter actually argued with Him about that! (Matthew 16:21-23) It was only after Jesus' resurrection that they remembered His teaching (Luke 24:7-8).

The fact that the church was not described by Christ at this time is significant in the light of His teachings, sometime later, about future things. In His great discourse on the future, known as "The Olivet Discourse" (because it was delivered on The Mount of Olives), He spoke of Israel's future trials, but made no reference to the church. That is why the events of the future seem to be imminent. The entire church period, including the Rapture of the church, were still a mystery, not yet revealed. This vast new body of revealed information, later made known the Apostles (including Paul), would have only confused His disciples had it been given to them in the tumultuous transitional period when God was turning His attention away from the nation of Israel to the out-calling of a world-church.

Beginnings at Pentecost

It is interesting that even during the last week before His crucifixion, while Jesus was giving many important instructions, the subject of the church was not specifically addressed. Everything He taught would later be applicable to the church, but it was not about the church per se. This, again, was because the nature of the church had not yet been revealed.

During the forty days Jesus spent with the Disciples, between the time of His resurrection and the time of His ascension into Heaven, He still did not give details about the church. But He did tell them to wait for a special gift from the Father.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
(Acts 1:1-11)

This, incidentally corresponds exactly to the Old Testament prophecy of the coming of Messiah at the end of the age. Jesus will return to the same Mount of Olives from which He departed almost 2000 years ago

I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.

Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.
(Zechariah 14:2-4)

In obedience to the parting words of their Lord, the fearful, powerless little band of about 120 Jewish followers of Yeshua gathered in the Upper Room. They waited there for about one week until the Day of Pentecost, a Sunday morning, part of a time period on the calendar known as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Harvest. This was one of the major events of the year for which Jewish men were expected to travel to Jerusalem. Because of this, the city was full of Jewish believers from all over the known world on this great day.

The Book of Acts describes the amazing "gift" from the Father for which the Disciples had been waiting.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
(Acts 2:1-12)

This filling with the Holy Spirit was followed by a powerful message by Peter to the crowds that had gathered. He made many references to the Hebrew Scriptures, and showed how Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 2:14-40). Three thousand out of the gathered crowd became believers that day and were all baptized immediately (Acts 2:41).

This was the beginning of the church. As mentioned before, all the first believers were Jewish, and all of them understood that what they were doing was totally compatible with their Jewish history and Scriptures.

The word "church" is very similar to the word "synagogue." The Greek word for church was ekklesia, which means "called out," "an assembly." The Greek for synagogue is sunagoge, meaning "gathering together." Neither of these words are used in the Book of Acts until a little later. ("church" in Acts 5:11 and "synagogue"--implied in Acts 6:9, and actually used in Acts 13:14). When the words were used, it was always clear that the church referred to the new sect of Christians, while the synagogue referred to traditional Jewish groups.

Therefore, there are both similarities and differences between the new "church" and the old "synagogue." The differences were not contradictory. The new group saw itself as a continuation of the old, believing that Yeshua (Jesus) was the fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah.

The Feasts and Fulfilled Prophecy

Since the Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost, and this is considered the birthday of the church, it is helpful to study the connection between other major Feasts of Israel and God's prophetic timetable.

Leviticus 23 -is the key passage which describes the original seven feasts.

The Passover Supper (Pesach)- Leviticus 23:4-5
The Feast of Unleavened Bread - Leviticus 23:6-8
The Feast of Firstfruits - Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:9-14
The Feast of Weeks - Leviticus 23:16-21
(Also called Pentecost- meaning 50 days after Feast of Firstfruits)
(Also called The Feast of Harvest)
Rosh Hashanah - New Year's Day - Leviticus 23:23-24
(Also called The Feast of Trumpets)
Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement - Leviticus 23:26-32
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) - Leviticus 23:33-34, 42-43
(Also called The Feast of Ingathering)

Since that time several others have been added, such as

Purim and
The Feast of Lights (Hanukkah).

These holy days were symbolic of things to come.

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17)

It is surprising how many of the most important events in Jewish and Christian history have occurred on one of these dates, especially when one notices the correlation between the events and what the corresponding feast originally signified. Grant Jeffrey points out that all of the feasts and fasts of Israel have had significant historical events occur on their anniversaries.

Of the seven prescribed feasts of Moses, the first three all have something to do with the First Coming of Christ, the last three have to do with the Second Coming, and the one in the middle, Pentecost, is the birth date of the church. Let us look at them more closely:

The Passover Supper (Pesach) -- Fourteenth of Nisan

The event known as the "Last Supper" was actually the observance of Passover. Jesus told His disciples,

"I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:15)

All of the Gospels agree that this was the Passover meal. John 13 begins with these words:

"It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love." (John 13:1)

Here are the instructions for the first Passover, observed by Moses and the Israelites just before they left the land of Egypt:

The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.

That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire--head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD--a lasting ordinance."
(Exodus 12:5-14)

This feast was a reminder of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It was mentioned often in their literature, and was to be commemorated yearly forever. It became the perfect occasion for education of the young about the story of their sojourn in Egypt, the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, and their Wilderness experience.

The central issue of the feast is the death of the lamb in the place of the firstborn. When John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he cried out, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) (NIV)

Jesus said this about Himself: "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." (John 10:17-18)

During the Passover meal, Jesus used well-known ceremonies of breaking bread and drinking the cup to institute a "New Covenant" with His followers:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
(Luke 22:19-20)

The Apostle Paul actually called Christ "our Passover lamb" (1 Corinthians 5:7). So we see that it was not a coincidence that Jesus was crucified for our sins during the Passover season. The exact date of His final arrival in Jerusalem and His death on the cross had been foretold by Daniel the prophet approximately 500 years earlier.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread -- Fifteenth of Nisan

This feast was to be celebrated the day after Passover.

Then Moses said to the people, "Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. (Exodus 13:3)

This feast marked the beginning of seven days of eating unleavened bread. In Jesus' time, it appears that the Jews had combined the Passover and this first day of unleavened bread.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" (Mark 14:12)

Separation from yeast is symbolic of purification from sin. It symbolizes the purification of Christ's disciples. This, of course is the result of His death: believers are delivered from the penalty and power of sin.

The Feast of Firstfruits -- Seventeenth of Nisan

Leviticus 23:9-14

This feast was prescribed in Leviticus 23:9-14, while Israel was still wandering in the wilderness, but it was not to be celebrated until they entered the land. When they did finally enter the Promised Land, Joshua 5 records the sequence of events.

On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.

The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain.

The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan. (Joshua 5:10-12)

On the fourteenth day of the month they celebrated the Passover. On the next day, the fifteenth, they ate "some of the produce of the land." The word for "produce" is properly translated "old corn" in the King James version because the Hebrew word used was `abuwr, which literally means "passed" or "kept over." The word was used only of stored grain.

On the next day, the sixteenth day of the month, Manna was given for the last time. The next day, the 17th, would have been their first day of food from the new land. The word "produce" in this verse is different from the word used earlier. It is the Hebrew tebuw'ah, meaning "income," or "fruit."

All of this speaks of their new life in the Promised Land.

The resurrection of Jesus was on the third day. It was, therefore, symbolized by this feast. The concept of the "first fruits" is most appropriate since, as Paul explains,

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

As Matthew Henry writes, "It is very observable that our Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the very day that the first-fruits were offered, to show that he was the substance of this shadow."

Pentecost -- Sixth of Sivan

(50 Days after Feast of Firstfruits)
Also called the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Weeks

Leviticus 23:16,21 Deuteronomy 16:9-10

It is surely no coincidence that this feast, being next in the order, was the occasion of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church, as explained above. (Acts 2:1-4)

This leaves three of the primary seven feasts for possible symbolic meaning in regard to future prophetic events.

A Warning about Date Setting!

It is important that the reader does not think, from the remarks on the following three feasts that we can set exact dates for future events. Please see the Appendix- Warnings and Cautions, for a brief discussion of this topic. We do not believe in setting dates, and Jesus warned His disciples against the temptation to do that. However, it does seem likely that, in some way, future events will be tied in to the meaning of these feasts. Using the Passover, and Christ's crucifixion, as an example, it seems that He and His disciples celebrated Passover early in order that His death could take place, and His body could be removed from the cross before the beginning of the sacred day itself. Thus, even if one could have known He was going to die on Passover of that year, they still would not have been able to set the exact date. In the same way, even if we could know that the Rapture would take place on Rosh Hashanah (and we can not know this), we would still not be able to predict with certainty whether it would be the exact day, or near the day, for His own purposes. Furthermore, we can not know whether it will be this year, next year, or twenty years from now. For the past several years, people have presented elaborate schemes "proving" that the Rapture would be in a certain year. All such attempts have only succeeded in causing some people to doubt the whole subject of Biblical prophecy.


The Feasts and Possible Future Fulfillments

Rosh Hashanah -- First of Tishri - Ancient New Year's Day (Civil)

Also called The Feast of Trumpets

Leviticus 23:23-25,27-32

This day marks the ancient New Year's Day, and the beginning of the holy season of the Seventh Month (which includes the next two feasts). It began with the blowing of the shofar, or trumpet. It was to be a day of rest and sacrifice.

Chuck Missler thinks this was possibly the date of the Birth of Christ. Another strong possibility for Christ's birth is the Feast of Tabernacles, just two weeks later the same year.

This day might point to the future rapture of the church, since it is the next major feast in the Jewish calendar, and because of the prominence of the blowing of the shofar. Again, we do not believe that this theory gives grounds for any actual setting of dates for the Lord's return.

Yom Kippur -- Tenth of Tishri -- The Day of Atonement

Leviticus 16; Leviticus 23:26-32

This is considered the most holy day of the Jewish year. It is a day of public fasting and humiliation as the people of Israel seek atonement for their sins.

When animal sacrifices were still being offered the high priest first sanctified himself by taking a ceremonial bath and putting on white garments. He then sacrificed a bullock to atone for himself and his fellow priests. Then two goats were chosen, one for sacrifice in behalf of the sins of the people, and one to be released into the wilderness. This "scapegoat" was symbolic of the pardon for sin brought through the sacrifice.

Since this is a day of mourning for sin, it is possibly symbolic of that future date when Christ returns to Earth in glory. At that time Israel will mourn when they see their Messiah whom they have pierced

On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:9-10)

This future day of mourning is developed more fully in the third section of the book.

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) --Fifteenth of Tishri

Leviticus 23:33-42

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary describes this feast for us.

This festival was observed on the 15th day of the seventh month to commemorate the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. Features of the celebration included a holy convocation on the first and eighth days, and the offering of many animal sacrifices. The Israelites were also commanded to live in booths made of palm and willow trees during the festival to commemorate their period of wilderness wandering when they lived in temporary shelters. This feast is also known as the Feast of Booths.

This could very well have been the time of year when Jesus was born.

The theme of the feast is appropriate since John 1:14 tells us that, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."(Greek skenoo - "to tent or encamp", as God did in the Tabernacle of old). Incidentally, if Jesus was born on this date, His conception would have taken place nine months earlier, about the time of Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, in December of the previous year. This would lend some credibility to our modern observance of Christmas in December.

As far as future symbolism is concerned, this feast is ideal for the concept of Christ ushering in the Kingdom Age ­ again, dwelling, or encamping with mankind once again, this time as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!


Revelation of the Mystery of the Church through Paul

The "mystery" of the church was revealed to the Apostle Paul, and described by Him in numerous passages of Scripture. In Romans 11:25 he used the word to describe the temporary "hardening" of Israel: "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in."

The word "mystery" (Greek musterion) meant a "secret," or something formerly hidden, but now revealed.

In Romans 16:25, Paul calls the Gospel, the proclamation of Jesus Christ, a mystery.
In Corinthians 15:51-58, he uses "mystery" to describe the resurrection and the glorified body that believers will receive.

Paul taught that it was a mystery (formerly hidden, but now revealed) that all things will eventually be brought together under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

In Ephesians 3 the Apostle explained in greater detail that the mystery of the church was part of God's purpose all along to make Gentiles heirs together with Israel.

Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.

Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Ephesians 3:2-11)

Again in Ephesians, Paul calls the revelation that the church is the Bride of Christ a mystery (Ephesians 5:32). And he refers to his commission to preach to Gospel to the Gentiles as a mystery (Ephesians 6:19). This theme is also addressed in Colossians:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness--the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
(Colossians 1:25-27)

The Gospel to all nations - "To the Jew first"

The essence, then, of the mystery of the church is that, through this new assembly, God would include all people who would believe, both Jews and Gentiles. They would, in a sense, become one:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28 See also Ephesians 2:14)

This spiritual oneness does not blur the distinctions between them. Peter and John (and all the Disciples) became one in Christ, yet no one was confused about which of them was which. Likewise, oneness exists between Christian men and women, but God does not change their gender. Neither did he obliterate the difference between slaves and free men, as seen in the touching story of Philemon. The spiritual oneness superseded the physical differences, but did not eliminate them.

It should also be obvious that the church did not replace Israel, because, as mentioned before, Paul was careful to always take the Gospel to Jewish believers in every new city before sharing it with the Gentiles. He said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

The Church: The Body and Bride of Christ

The church is distinguished from Israel in many ways (See Appendix). One example would be that it is called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Ephesians 12:4).

The church is also called the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33), whereas unfaithful Israel was sometimes called an adulterous wife (Jeremiah 16:32; Hosea 1:2). The church has not yet been married, but is a virgin bride preparing for her first wedding. However Israel was in times past the wife of Yahweh whom He finally divorced because of her spiritual adultery. Yet Hosea makes clear God will one day take His wife, Israel, back to Himself, restored and remarried. The common belief that Israel has been permanently set aside by God can easily be refuted from many Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments.

It is vitally important for the followers of Jesus in our age to understand the difference between Israel and the church. Israel as a nation enjoys covenant relationships with God--other nations do not have such covenants with God. God's covenants with the church do not include a plot of land, a temple, an earthly inheritance, etc. They are an entirely different set of promises.

Grafted in temporarily - in Israel's place

In Romans 11, Paul, "the Apostle to the Gentiles" explains to Gentiles that Israel has not been rejected by God, but, because of their hardness, they have suffered temporary spiritual blindness, and that Gentile believers have been grafted in, in the place of some of them. Eventually, believing Israel will be grafted back in (Romans 11:17-25).

The description of Gentile believers as wild olive branches grafted into the true olive tree suggests that Gentiles need to become more Jewish in their thinking and life styles as they grow spiritually. When we meet our Messiah and Savior face to face we shall discover that He is Jewish and was raised in Jewish culture and taught the Hebrew Scriptures. He was a devout and observant Jewish believer. Visits to Israel and cultivated friendships with Jewish people are well worth the effort in freeing us from our own ghetto mentalities and the pagan, idolatrous roots from which we have been freed as Gentiles.

Spiritual Heirs of the covenants

In Ephesians, chapter 2, the Apostle Paul reminds his Gentile readers that before Christ, they were excluded from the covenants given to Israel, but now have been brought near through Christ's blood. The barrier between Jews and Gentiles has been abolished. Both have been reconciled by the Cross, and both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, Gentile believers in Christ have become fellow citizens with Israel (Ephesians 2:11-22).

In the church, Gentiles have also become fellow-heirs with Israel:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Ephesians 3:1-12)

Not to replace Israel

In Romans 11, Paul shows that the church has not replaced Israel:

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

The institution of the church was not meant by God to replace the earlier institution of Israel as His "chosen people." In the next verse (v.2), he stated plainly, "God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew." And he used the well-known example of Elijah, when he thought he was the only believer, and the Lord told him that he had seven thousand other true believers. Thus, Paul argues that there were many true believers in Israel. "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace." (Romans 11:5)

After explaining that the others, who did not believe that Yeshua was Messiah, had been hardened and blinded temporarily, he asks again, "Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?" And then he answers emphatically, "Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious." (Romans 11:11)

One New Man...

Ray C. Stedman notes that all of human history is the story of two men named Adam. We are all descended from Adam Number One, the head of our race, and we are by nature body, soul and spirit. The fall of man brought doom to the race of Adam, but the Second, or Last Adam heads a new race:

For as [all who are] in Adam all die, so [all who are] in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

The church plus Israel is the "one new man" God is building. Ray Stedman says,

There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:3)

Running all through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and especially in Genesis and Revelation, is the great theme that God's desire is that he may dwell amidst man. Man himself is to be the dwelling place of God. This is what our Lord and the apostle Paul speak of when they speak of a new creation, a new man which God is forming at this present hour. Just as there is an old man symbolized by Adam and all his descendants, so there is a new man, the true Adam, symbolized or figured in Jesus Christ and all his spiritual sons and daughters. That is the new creation.

Just as the old creation, humanity itself, is made up of body, soul and spirit, so in the new heavens and the new earth there will be a new humanity to inhabit, develop and fulfill it, body, soul and spirit. This seems to be, then, the place where we can bring together the apparent conflicting destinies of Israel as a nation and the church as the bride of Christ. In our human bodies we have an outward physical part of our life, i.e., the body.

That seems to be the place that Israel occupies in the new man, the new humanity. Israel's destiny is earthly. It will reign on the earth. It will govern the earth. It will be involved with the blessing and the fruitfulness of the earth as Paul so beautifully describes in the 11th chapter of Romans. But linked with the body very closely in our humanity is the soul, our inner life, our minds, our emotions, our wills, this inner functioning of which we are so aware and which links us to so much of the universe of God in terms of feeling and thinking, etc. Now, that is the church. The special dwelling place of God is in the soul of man, and the church is called to fulfill that, linked together with Israel as the soul in our humanity is linked with the body. And the spirit, which is the third part of man necessary to his existence is, of course, God himself. God is a spirit, and in the new humanity, God fulfills that central control place. So, you have a whole new creation in a whole new world operating on totally different principles which probably are the exact reverse of the principles on which the world functions today.

One of the great principles with which science has to deal is the so called second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy, the idea that everything is running down, that no matter how good things are they do not eventually get better. They get worse. They fall apart. They phase out. They lose energy. That law is universal. In the new heavens and the new earth, it will be exactly the opposite. There things will start and you will not be able to stop them from developing. They get better and better, and richer and sweeter and fuller and more exciting. We are awed when we look at the vastness of the cosmos in which we now live, but everywhere we look we see the evidence of sin and decay, the futility that is present in the universe today. But according to the promises of Scripture, there is coming a new heaven and a new earth. This is why for believers the apostles and the prophets try to describe what lies beyond death, but they can only talk about what is not going to be there, no sorrow, no tears, no separations, no weakness, no fear, no war, no death, and just imply the opposite. This is the fulfillment of the dreams and hopes of mankind. (from The New Earth, by Ray Stedman.)

Not to antagonize Israel

Members of the church must not feel superior to the Jewish people, since the time will come that Israel will return to the Lord. This too is part of the mystery once hidden, but now revealed:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins."

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you.
(Romans 11:25-31)

Edited 10/7/04.

Next Chapter

 Index Page Prefatory  Chapter 1
  Chapter 2   Chapter 3   Chapter 4
  Chapter 5   Chapter 6   Chapter 7
  Chapter 8   Chapter 9   Chapter 10
 Chapter 11   Chapter 12   Chapter 13
 Chapter 14   Chapter 15  Appendices