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The Establishment of the Church

(Many of you have heard lessons about the establishment of the church, and many of those lessons follow the same detail as found in this one. While this is a composite of several of these it is based primarily upon a lesson by N.B. Hardeman. I hope you might find it useful.)

Most of the mighty works of the Son of God were done around the Sea of Galilee, but since he was human as well as divine, the time came when he too had to have a period of rest away from the crowds and multitudes. At the time under consideration here, he had left the press of the surroundings and went with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. There he asked them what public opinion was concerning his identity.

They replied by telling him that some of the public believed that he was John the Baptist (recently killed and so perhaps risen from the dead), others said that he was Elijah, others Jeremiah, while others announced that he was at least one of the prophets.

To make this personal, he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Plainly put he asked, “What is your opinion? What do you think? What do you have to say yourselves?”

Peter, characteristically outspoken boldly gave answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The others in their silence endorsed Peter’s statement.

The Lord then turned and pronounced a blessing upon Peter for having made the confession which flesh and blood had not revealed, but as is stated, was revealed by the Father which is in heaven. Now this doesn’t mean that Peter had ceased to think for himself and that God took over his body and his intellect – it simply meant that the revelation of these events came from the hand of God. It wasn’t revealed by flesh and blood issues but only by God and through the mechanisms that he had put in motion. Peter spoke the answer to the things that had been initiated by, directed through, and that were sent forth from the throne of God.

Then Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter (a clear play on words – as the name Peter means a little rock), and upon this rock (a great rock – this confession you have made Peter – or as some understand it, upon the great rock of Christ himself), I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth, will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

In this expression, where the Middle English word for church (a word meaning a gathering of purpose, a called out group) first appears in the English Bible, there are some significant points to be considered.

Christ said, “On this rock I will build my church.” Christ then was to be the builder. Any church therefore that has been built by some other person is not the church of the Bible.

Any organization erected in some other time than the time under consideration is unknown to the book of God. What’s more, any organization built at some other place than the one mentioned in conjunction with these times is also not the church that Christ built. Of churches the scriptures only speak of one, and that one is the one attributed to Christ, established sometime after this remark was made.

God forbid that in reference we should fail to give credit to Christ for the honor and glory due him – who gave his very blood for the church – who filled it with his spirit. That is why we should speak of it as the church of Christ. By that we mean the church belonging to Christ. It is a purchased entity, a sanctified and made holy assembly. And that is why the apostle later calls it the church of the firstborn, the pillar and ground of the truth.

He said “church” as in singular entity – not churches in the plural. For that matter, it is not “a” church, but Christ had said it is “my church,” thereby showing possession; and there had never been a previous assembly or church of Christ; and there has not been another one established since Christ left this earth. So that makes it the only church that matters. This institution is the only one of which the Bible has anything to say. Any other church is an impostor.

He did not say “I will propose to build,” “I may build,” but, with the strongest of all possible future tenses says I will build my church, as though to indicate a surety of purpose that would not be dissuaded. Though the arms of death may come and enfold him, and he’s laid in anothers new tomb sealed with both stone and government agents witness, death cannot stand against him or the building of his church. Nothing shall hinder the course that has been set before time itself. I will build my church.

He further states, and I will give to you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven. From this passage I learn that, as far as mankind is concerned, the church and the kingdom are one in the same. It also shows once again that there is only one church-kingdom through the wording: “the” kingdom of heaven. Yet there are many that cannot see that distinction. They first say that there are many churches for the many diverse situations and peoples. Then they say that the church is just a stopgap measure, an interim piece between us and the rapturous kingdom. Finally, the statement also shows that Peter would be alive when this kingdom/church came to be with men.

There are a variety of words and phrases used of the church, and we have introduced several so far. All of these provide a picture of various characteristics and significance. So the word church, likewise the phrase kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven, and church of God, and body or assembly of Christ, while in a large part synonymous, each provides certain characteristic parts to the description of the church of Christ.

Until just recently – within the last thirty years, all scholars understood that the church that Christ built was established during the feast of Pentecost, fifty-three days following the Passover during which Jesus had been crucified and then subsequently resurrected.

But let us trace things from their beginning.

Beginning in 612 BC there was a battle for control of the world. Nabopolassar, king of Babylon died and his son Nebuchadnezzar, now ruler, refused to align with Egypt and its leader, Pharaoh Necho. In 605 Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho at Carchemesh heralding the establishment of the greatest of all kingdoms of men — the Chaldean or Babylonian. Nebuchadnezzar overran Palestine in 601 and again in 597 effectively destroying the country and later moving many of the inhabitants to Chaldea as slaves and servants.

Four of the princes of Israel that were taken to Babylon are likely known to you – Daniel (who bore the Chaldean name Belteshazzar), and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who themselves are perhaps better known by their Babylonian names than was Daniel — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Ezekiel was among the others who were also taken.

Sometime after his return Nebuchadnezzar was disturbed by a dream in the night. He could recall that he had had a dream, but the content of it was troubling and he wanted a sure interpretation of the dream. So he said that the dream was swept from his memory. Then he ordered all of the magicians and sorcerers to come before him and demanded that they make known to him the dream and its meaning.

They said, “O, King, live forever. Tell your servants the dream and we will give the interpretation.”

But the King answered, “My decision is firm, if you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces and your houses shall be made an ash heap.”

To this they responded, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the kings matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean.”

So the decree went forth that all these wise guys would be destroyed, and they started doing just that. But when the news reached Daniel he sent a message to the king asking for some time to pray to God.

It wasn’t long until Daniel was taken into the presence of the king. He explained the dream as follows.

“But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head upon your bed were these: As for you, O king, thoughts came to your mind while on your bed, about what would come to pass after this; and He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be. But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart.

You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This images head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all – you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters all things; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others. Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potters clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.

And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”

We have now presented both the dream and its interpretation. The dream details (and for that matter the interpretation) were obviously correct or Daniel would have been summarily executed.

I am certain that Nebuchadnezzar and all the rest had no idea what this dream and its interpretation was all about. Yet the king was happy to have the discomfiting situation resolved. None of these men then could possibly have known the far away implications in the dream and its telling.

We now turn again to history for the rest of the story.

In 536 while Daniel was still alive, Babylon, being the first of these kingdoms fell. History tells us that Cyrus and Darius, of Persia and Media, combined and established a government that is noted as the second of these mentioned kingdoms. This empire continued until 330 BC when it was absorbed into the Macedonian kingdom following the death of Alexander the Great, when the Longidae and Salucidae controlled the world of Europe, Asia, and Africa: the known civilized world. These continued up to the absorption of the Macedonian empire by Rome in 34 BC. These are all of the succeeding kingdoms that we have in history from this starting point. By the way, all of these except Rome are mentioned by name in the book of Daniel.

This is the record of the remaining facts in brief from this point. In the days of these kings came John the Baptist teaching that men should “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This very expression implies that the coming singular kingdom had moved close to establishment.

After John was put in prison then Jesus began preaching that the “kingdom of heaven was at hand.” In Mark 9:1 the Lord taught the following, “Assuredly I say to you there are some standing here who will not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”

The characteristics are that the kingdom, the ONE true church would come with power – during the advent of the fourth kingdom. And that there were those alive of the apostles and disciples who would not die until this church, the ONE true kingdom should come.

As recorded in Luke 24:49, the instructions to the apostles were clear, “But tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”

Well, you might inquire: “When did the power come and how may I know?”

In Acts 1:6 is recorded the following: “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, saying, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What have we learned?

First, we have learned that the only kingdom of God, the one that Christ was sent to set about to establish, was to come with power. Second, we learned that the power was to come with the Spirit of God. There is just one more step. When did the Spirit come?

All we need do now is read the first four verses of Acts 2.

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

The Bible says that the Spirit came on this Pentecost. The Bible says that the power came with the Spirit, and the Bible says that the one true kingdom came with the power.

On that day Peter used the keys given him and unlocked the kingdom of heaven, the church of Christ (not any church, and not a church of Christ ) to men. The terms of admission were that day announced. Where do you think that you should worship on the Lord’s Day?

Paul wrote to Timothy, “that you might know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Therefore it is now a matter of history.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’

Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”

All churches should be the church of Christ , but unfortunately, a simple look around and at the word of God will show otherwise. But then, some churches are not trying to be a church of Christ at all, or some are trying to be just “a” church of Christ among many, or they’re trying to be something else entirely. But there are some that are “the” church of Christ. And you shouldn’t be interested in any church that is not following after the pattern God left to us – you shouldn’t be interested in the church that wants to be “a church” instead of “the church.” You should be interested in the church that is doing the things that distinguish it as the “kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” Won’t you come and join with true Christians in assembly in the one and only kingdom of God as it appears upon the earth: the church of the firstborn, which is the church of Christ and the church of God?