The Church and Israel (1)
This issue of the News will answer three questions concerning Israel and the church, the last two of which were sent by the same reader. Here they are:
- How do we support our view that Israel and the church are the very same one people of God in light of Matthew 16:18? Christ says, “I will build my church.” If words mean anything, does this not imply that, at that time, the church was not around yet but was an entity to come only in the future? Therefore, Old Testament Israel could not possibly be “the church” (as we say).
- The church is called the “body” of Christ (Col. 1:18) and entrance into the body is said to be through Spirit baptism (I Cor. 12:13)—the key element being that the work of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what places a person into Christ’s body, in whom elect Jews and Gentiles are united as the church. Since Acts 1:5 views Spirit baptism as future, while Acts 11:15-16 links it to the past, is it not evident that the church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)?
- Certain events in history were essential to the establishment of the church—the church did not come into being and was not established until certain events had taken place. An example of this is that the church could not become a functioning entity until after the Holy Spirit provided the necessary spiritual gifts and offices (Eph. 4:7-11). So how can Old Testament Israel be the church?
That Israel and the church are the same is clearly taught in Scripture and is an important teaching of the Word of God. There are many passages we could use to show this but one passage in Acts is especially significant.
Acts 7:38 is clear and decisive: “This is he [i.e., Moses], 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.” Israel is “the church in the wilderness.” The New Testament word for the church, ekklesia, is used by Stephen and by the Spirit of God who speaks through him.
There are other passages as well. The church is built not on the foundation of the apostles alone, but on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Those who were aliens and strangers from Israel and covenants have been made nigh by the blood of Christ, so much so that these aliens and strangers (the Gentiles) are now reconciled unto God in one body (11-16), and we know that the church is that body: not just the New Testament church but Israel is the body of Christ. Together they are the one building and habitation of God through the Spirit.
The church did not begin at Pentecost. Christ, the builder of the church, did not begin to build His church then but from the very beginning, even after the fall of Adam and Eve. The words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church,” are not so much future as emphatic. Never have and never will the gates of Hell prevail against the church.
The necessity of Spirit baptism for entrance into the church does not mean that there was no entrance into the church in the Old Testament. It only means that Spirit baptism, “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5), was experienced by God’s people in the Old Testament as well as the New (cf. Ps. 51:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27).
The gifts of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:7-11 were present in the church of the Old Testament in the offices of prophet, priest and king. Those offices, as well as the offices which Paul lists in Ephesians, are the offices of Christ as the Head and Mediator of His people, so that, both in the Old Testament and the New, Christ exercises those offices to reveal to His people the will of God for their salvation, to offer Himself as a sacrifice for their sins and intercede for them to God, and to rule over them by His Word and Spirit, defending and preserving them from their enemies, and giving them eternal life.
The difference between the Old and New Testaments is not that there were two different peoples, Christ standing in a different relation to each and saving them in different ways, the one by works and the other by grace, and giving each a different future.
The difference is, first, that Christ was present in the Old Testament through pictures and types. Pictures and types they were, to be sure, but Christ was present in them. Moses’ intercession was effective on Israel’s behalf, not because Moses was anything but a sinful man but because he was a picture of Christ the Intercessor. Abraham saw Christ’s day and was glad (John 8:56). He offered his son and received him back from the dead “in a figure” (Heb. 11:17-19). The sacrifices of the Old Testament sent the people to Christ picturing what He would do for them. David spoke of Him in the Psalms (Acts 2:25-31), as did all the prophets, and what they said was the Word of God, living and powerful and able to make men wise unto salvation, not because David’s voice was mighty but because Christ spoke through David. Read Psalms 22 and 69, and you will still hear Him speaking peace to His people as our Prophet and Teacher.
The second difference between the church of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament is explained by Paul in Galatians 4:1-7. The church in the Old Testament was like a child not yet come to maturity and into its inheritance. It was like a child under the “bondage” of tutors and governors, the tutelage and governorship of the law. The church of the New Testament is that same child come to maturity and into its inheritance, through the coming of Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit. The beginning of the New Testament does not mark the birth of that child but its coming to spiritual adulthood. One child, one church!
This truth is important as far as baptism and its administration are concerned, as far as the promises of the Old Testament are concerned and as far as future coming of Christ is concerned. But we will deal with this next time, Lord willing. Rev. Ron Hanko