The Church's Beginning
By Eddie Cloer
"So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).
When a professor counsels a student on how to read a chapter of a book for an assignment, he usually says, "Look for pivotal points or crucial ideas which are the roots of the author's thoughts and give rise to his other ideas." This is not only good advise for reading almost any book; it is also sound guidance for reading the book, the Bible.
For serious Bible study, the message of the Bible should be placed within a framework of pivotal turning points or around the crucial root ideas of God's truth. Every line of the Bible is God's inspired Word and is important to us; we must not denigrate any part of it. We cannot understand the truths of the Bible, however, unless we place them in their appropriate contexts. Preachers, a number of years ago, would say that we must "rightly divide the Bible." They taught people to see the Bible in connection with its age divisions, or periods of its history, warning them that a failure to recognize these divisions of the Patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian Ages would lead to a misinterpretation and misapplication of the Bible to their lives. Their words were wise instruction which certainly needs to be heeded by the diligent student of the Bible.
Let us apply this truth of "rightly dividing the Bible" to the early part of the New Testament. In the first five books of the new Testament, six major junctures or turning points are clear: (1) the birth of Jesus, (2) the preparatory preaching of John, (3) the baptism and temptations of Jesus, (4) the ministry of Jesus, (5) Jesus' death and resurrection, and (6) the beginning of the church. The first five junctures actually lay the foundation for the sixth juncture. In essence, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John prepare the way for the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, the church. These four books culminate in the Acts 2 story of the beginning of the church.
Judging, then, from the very movement of the new Testament story--the movement from the birth of Jesus to the fullness-of-time for the establishment of the church--it is evident that the beginning of the church is a high point of significance in the New Testament.
In light of the attention given in the early part of the new Testament to the beginning of the church or the kingdom, God must have wanted us to consider carefully this event. Let us look at the establishment of the church with the hope of understanding it better and appreciating it more.
ITS BEGINNING PROPHESIED
The church was not an afterthought or an accident in the mind of God. From eternity past, it was part of the divine purpose of God. Long before the New Testament days, it was spoken of by the prophets as the coming kingdom of God.
One of the great prophecies foretelling the establishment of the church is found in Daniel 2:36-44. Nebuchadnezzar had seen a great image in a dream. Its head was made of gold, its arms and chest were of silver, its belly and thighs were of brass, and its feet and toes were of iron mixed with clay. The dream troubled Nebuchadnezzar so much that he was unable to sleep. He sought the interpretation of the dream from his magicians and sorcerers, but the interpretation eluded them. Eventually, Daniel, God's prophet, was brought before him to interpret the dream. By God's power, Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar God's purpose in the dream. Daniel's interpretation makes it clear that the dream and the interpretation are not just for Nebuchadnezzar but for the larger audience of the readers of the Book of Daniel, for the dream foretells the coming of the kingdom of God.
Daniel said that Nebuchadnezzar, as a world ruler and the head of the Babylonian Empire, was the head of gold (Daniel 2:38). After Nebuchadnezzar, three other world kingdoms were to arise. The arms and chest of the image represented the Medo-Persian Empire, the next world empire after Babylon. The belly and thighs symbolized the Grecian Empire, which was created by Alexander the Great and was the third world empire. The final part of the image illustrated the Roman Empire, which was established by Caesar Augustus in 31 B.C. and was the fourth world empire of the dream.
The Roman Empire came to an end around 476 years after the birth of Christ. Therefore, Daniel's prophecy said that sometime between 31 B.C. and A.D. 476, during the days of the Roman kings, the God of heaven would setup His kingdom: "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44).
Daniel's interpretation pointed to a time, four or five hundred years in the future from his day, when the church or God's kingdom would be established. God's kingdom would exist one earth as these four world kingdoms had, but God's kingdom would endure and not come to an end as the four world kingdoms had. It would be eternal. The content of this prophesy reminds us of the words of Christ as He anticipated the establishment of His church: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18).
Repeated emphasis suggests importance. Any communiqué that repeatedly emphasizes a certain thought or command is to be understood as conveying significance through its repetition. The fact that the church is the subject of numerous Old Testament prophecies indicates that the church is part of God's eternal purpose and the object of His emphasis and special importance. The church should be very special to us since it is of foremost importance to God.
ITS BEGINNING PLANNED
The coming of the church was intricately planned. Christ's major work during His ministry was to lay the foundation for His kingdom or church.
John's ministry could be designated as preparational. He prepared the way for the ministry of Christ. His preaching sounded two characteristic themes: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2) and "He who is coming after me is mightier than I" (Matthew 3:11) "At hand" meant "near" or "not far away." As the people listened to John, their hearts began to beat with anticipation concerning the coming of the Messiah and coming of the kingdom of God. Although John's ministry lasted probably no longer than a year, he, as a voice crying in the wilderness, as an advance runner heralding the coming of the king, laid the groundwork for the ministry of Christ.
Nothing should be
heart-lifting to any of us than the
truth that the Lord's church was
established according to the plan
of our blessed Lord.
Christ's ministry could be called foundational. He was born under the law of Moses, and He lived His entire life under it; but in His example and precepts He taught men how they were to live under the special rule of God when the kingdom of God came. His sermons, conversations, and ministry priorities were keyed to laying the foundation for the coming of the kingdom.
To one gathering of people, Christ said, "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1). At this point in time, the kingdom's coming was very near, even within the lifetime of some who were listening to Him. Christ even identified the way the kingdom would come -- "with power."
After His resurrection, Christ said,
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the
dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins
should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from
Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending
forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in
the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:46-49).
In His statement, Christ also named the place of the coming of the power -- Jerusalem. The coming of the kingdom was approaching, and the place where it would begin was Jerusalem.
On the day of His ascension, Christ said to His apostles, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Thus, the power that would accompany the coming of the kingdom would come when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles.
Four facts are evident from these statements of Christ: (1) At the time He spoke, the establishment of the church or kingdom was not far away, (2) the establishment of the church or kingdom would occur at Jerusalem, (3) the establishment of the kingdom would be accompanied by power, and (4) the apostles would receive that power when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.
The foundation is vital in building any king of physical house. The bigger or more enduring the house is intended to be, the more important the foundation becomes. Christ used His entire ministry to lay the foundation for the establishment of the church. The extensive preparation which was made for the church or kingdom suggests how important the church is to God and how critical it is to mankind.
ITS BEGINNING PICTURED
When was the church actually established? When were the prophecies concerning the church fulfilled? When were the plans which were made for it finally realized?
Prior to the Day of Pentecost, the church or kingdom is always spoken of in the future tense; it is always something coming. From Pentecost forward, however, it is spoken of in the present tense; it is reality -- it has come.
Within Acts 2 are recorded the circumstances and events which fulfill all Old and New Testament predictions regarding the establishment of the eternal kingdom. Acts 2 qualifies as the fulfillment of Daniel 2:44, for it falls within the time span foretold by Daniel -- that time span indicated by the phrase "in the days of these kings." Mark 9:1 is fulfilled in Acts 2, for some of those present when Jesus uttered His statement about the coming kingdom were present at Pentecost. For example, the apostles heard His statement in Mark 9:1 and were present on Pentecost. Luke 24:46-49 is fulfilled in Acts 2, for the setting of Acts 2 is Jerusalem. Acts 1:6-8 is fulfilled in Acts 2, for the Holy Spirit descends (Acts 2:1-4) upon the apostles and they receive the powers that had been promised. Undoubtedly, Acts 2 pictures the establishment of the church or kingdom of God. Hence, from Acts 2 forward, the church is spoken of as being in existence (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22; Colossian 1:13).
After the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, they preached the gospel of the resurrected Christ to those who had gathered. Peter preached the principal sermon, which is often called the first gospel sermon to be preached after the Great Commission was given. He presented the evidence which proved that Jesus whom they had crucified had been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Convicted by this evidence, many cried out, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Peter told these believers to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Those who opened their hearts to his inspired words repented and were baptized. Three thousand were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). The church of our Lord was thus established. The kingdom of God had come. In the remaining part of Acts 2, the daily, on-going life of the church is described (Acts 2:42-47).
God's Word provides the testimony for true faith. Paul said, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). If you cannot read about it in the Bible, you cannot believe in it with biblical faith. Authentic faith is not a "blind leap into the dark"; it is an informed commitment to following God's Word. If you cannot read it, do not receive it. Any God-sent revival is based upon the God-inspired Bible.
Can you read of the establishment of the church of which you are a member in Acts 2? Is your religion based upon human supposition or divine Scripture?
How priceless and precious the church
or kingdom must be to God! Through numerous prophecies of the Old
Testament, God stresses the importance of the coming of the kingdom, In
addition, he shows the importance of the church to Him in the emphasis which is
given in the Gospels to laying a foundation for it by the earthly ministry of
Jesus. Then, immediately following our Lord's resurrection and ascension,
God depicts the value of the church by picturing the outpouring of the Holy
Spirit and the actual establishment of His kingdom as three thousand souls are
brought into it.
Nothing should be more heart-lifting to any of us than the truth that the Lord's church was established according to the plan of our blessed Lord. The church the Lord promised is in existence now and will continue forever.
The church is the most consequential kingdom into which people can enter. Members of it are blessed beyond measure, having access to all spiritual blessings
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
Give a simple definition of the phrase "rightly dividing the
2. List the six major junctures of the first five books of the New Testament.
3. Why should we consider the establishment of the church as a high point in
4. Explain the dream that Nebuchadnezzar had in the days of Daniel.
5. What interpretation did Daniel give to Nebuchadnezzar's dream?
6. When did Daniel say the God of heaven would set up His kingdom?
7. According to Daniel, what kind of duration would the kingdom of heaven
8. As John prepared the people for the coming of Christ, what two notes did
9. In what sense was the ministry of Christ foundational?
10. What implications regarding time does Mark 9:1 have for the coming of the
11. Discuss this phrase uttered by Christ concerning the coming of the
"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you."
12. Discuss how Acts 2 fulfills all the prophecies concerning the coming of the
13. What kind of assurance does the realization that the church has been
established bring to us?