The Church Age
Church in God’s plan
We are currently living in an age or dispensation called the church Age. In order to understand God’s purpose of the church, we need to understand His purpose for Israel as well. God has twin purpose for this age. God has a plan for Israel and He also has a plan for church. God’s plan and purpose for Israel has to be understood in distinction to His plan and purpose for the church.
There are, of course, number of similarities between Israel and Church. Both are God’s people, part of God’s spiritual kingdom, both Israel and church are the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings from Abrahamic covenant and the New covenant and both will be in millennium rule of Christ on the earth in future and both will be part of eternity. However, Bible gives several distinction between the two as well.
Church is distinct from Israel
These are some of the distinctions between Israel and church. In essence, church is distinct from Israel. A person becomes an Israelite or a Jew only by physical birth. However, a person becomes a member of the Church only by accepting and believing in Jesus Christ as his or her savior. This is achieved by a spiritual birth in to God’s family based on what Lord Jesus has done on the Cross. Acts 2:47 informs us Lord was adding to their numbers (the first Church) day by day those who were being saved. Secondly, Bible informs us the Church consists of Jews and Gentiles of all nations and races. However, Israel consists of only Jewish people. In Acts chapter 2, we can see this distinction very clearly. On the day of Pentecost, there were devout people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world and whatever nation or race they might have been affiliated, they all became members of the Church when they believed in the Gospel of Christ on the day of pentecost (one of the festivals of Jews) when Peter preached the good news of salvation. Three thousand people believed in Jesus Christ on that one preaching, which was the formation and beginning of the Church. Then God started adding to this number day by day those who were being saved. 1st Corinthians 12:13 says, “For one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (Body means Church), whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free…”. The scope of the membership of the Church is much wider than the scope the nation Israel.
1st Corinthians 9:32 gives us a clear distinction between Israel and church in this way, “Whether, then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offence either to Jews, or to Greeks or to the church of God”.
When we study the promises God made to Israel, we will immediately notice these blessings are more in a sense of earthly benefits. Israel was formed as a political entity and received blessings from God more of earthly type of blessings. The promise given to Abraham was the promise of a land and a nation. God formed the constitution of the nation Israel after He delivered them out of the bondage experience in Egypt. God used Moses for this purpose. God gave them the Law for the nation and instructed how to formulate the nation in the promised land. In contrast, the universal church is a spiritual body of Christ and blessings and promises given to the church are spiritual blessings. Ephesian 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in he heavenly places in Christ”.
Church is a new entity came in to existence after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in accordance with his statement in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it”. In fulfillment of Christ’s promise of building church and per His specific instruction, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who was going to be the agent in building the church. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was sent by the ascended Christ in fulfillment of His promise just before His crucifixion in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world can not receive…”. Due to the fact that Jesus said ” I will build My church”, the church is new entity that was absent in the old testament scripture and thus totally different from Israel.
God made the covenants with Israel and Ephesians 2:11-13 clearly gives us this distinction between Israel and the church in these ways. When Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus, He says, “Therefore, remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “uncircumcision” by the so called “Circumcision”…. remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world, But now in Christ Jesus you who we were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ”.
Church-a mystery revealed
Church is a mystery not revealed in the old testament section of the Bible but only revealed in the New Testament is also supported by Colossians 1:26-27, “Even the mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations —which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” What was the mystery? The mystery is linked to the message of unification of Jewish and Gentiles believer in to one spiritual body with is called the church. The is the mystery. This is why Ephesians 2:12 says to the church in Ephesus, “remember that you were , and ….excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise and having no hope and without God in this world”. Then Bible says in Ephesians 2:13-14, ” But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly were far off (gentiles -non-Isrealites) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He (Christ) is our peace, who made both groups (Israelite and gentiles) in to one (church), and broken down the barrier of the diving wall.”
Israel’s Temporary blindness and formation of Church
Romans 11:25 says like this, “I want you to understand this mystery, brothers; a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (this means until all the Gentiles who are chosen to be part of God’s salvation by God’s eternal counsel, becomes saved). According to the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, the Messiah, the appointed king, presented Himself to the nation Israel and offered the kingdom. However, the nation experienced blindness due to their hardened heart toward Him. What caused this blindness were two fold. First, Romans 9:32-33 says, ” Jews stumbled over the stumbling stone.” See, Jesus didn’t fit in to their wrong perception of Messiah. Secondly, Jewish people were seeking a relationship with God by works, not by faith. Through the observance of the Law, they sought righteousness (right standing before God). Galatians 2:16 says, “Nevertheless a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.. that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified”. You can read the the account of rejection of their Messiah and King, by the nation Israel (by the leadership of Israel) in Matthew 12:22-37. “Pharisees went out, and counseled against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Matthew 12:14). They attributed the miracles of their long promised Messiah to Satan’s and demon’s power (Matthew 12:24). This is the decision the pharisees came up after witnessing the work of the Sprit of God right in front of their eyes. The leadership of the nation Israel turned their back on the promised Messiah and rejected Him. From that point onwards, we can see a definite shift in Jesus ministry toward the Gentiles (non Jews). As we read in the book of Romans chapter 9, a definite partial judicial blindness and hardness of heart has come upon Israel. In this way, Israel temporarily lost their front role in the plan of God in the current age and dispensation, and the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous that they may be saved (Romand 11:11). Acts 15:14 says, “God was pleased Himself taking from among the gentiles a people for His name”. God’s promise to Abram that said, ” in your seed, all the families of the earth shall be blessed”, began its fulfillment in a literal sense in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is were the beginning process of the formation of the new entity called church began. in Ephesians 2: 14-16, the church is called a ‘new man’ and ‘one body’. The ‘new man’ or ‘one body’ is made by Christ, by reconciling both (Jews and gentiles) in to one, by abolishing the enmity between them that existed, in His flesh on the cross. The result of this reconciling work is given in Ephesian 2:18 this way, “for through Him (Christ) we both (Jews and gentiles) have our access in on spirit to the Father”. Ephesians 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household”. Gentiles, who were far off from the covenants of God, are brought near to the Father and became fellow citizens, with equal love and participation in the promises. Ephesian 2:13, although the gentiles were far off, we have been brought near “by the blood of Christ”. You see, church as a ‘new man’ and ‘new body’ is distinct from Israel and consists of Jews and Gentiles (all other nations) from all over the world. Since the day of Pentecost, all the Gentiles who place their faith in Christ, becomes members of God’s church. Similarly, all Jews who believes in Christ also become members of God’s church.
Now the Bible says Israel’s hardening and blindness is only temporary. Now they are still in blindness and hardness of heart toward God’s plan of salvation because a major part of the Israelites doesn’t accept Christ as their savior at this time. However, Bible says at the end of the tribulation period, which would follow after the rapture of the church, Israel as a nation will finally understand their promised Messiah and turn to Jesus Christ. This will happen only after they went through severe judgment time called the great tribulation period. Antichrist’s forces will be against them and without any source of help, they will turn to Jesus Christ for their rescue. Zechariah 12:10 talks about this future incident in this way, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will week bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. In that day, there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo”. Remember the nation of Israel along with the help of the Roman empire pierced their promised Messiah 2000 years ago. They abandoned and rejected their own Messiah whom God promised for them and the world, as the savior of the whole world. That is why the prophet said Zechariah said above, they will look on Me and weep bitterly whom they have pierced.
Bible says about Jesus Christ in Acts 2:23, “this man (Jesus), delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death, and God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in it’s power”. In essence , God delivered Jesus Christ to us according to the eternal plan of God. However, Bible says to Jews, “you nailed Him to cross”. Did you notice it said above, “since it was impossible for Him (Jesus) to be held in it’s (death) power”? Bible declares Jesus Christ was one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. This is why He was able to pay for our sins and save us from our condition and grant us eternal life.
Fulfillment of Daniel 9 Prophecy
Church age, current dispensation or current period, whatever your call this current time, is attributed to the parenthetic period between the 69th and 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy in the Bible. God’s calendar for the Jews numbered 69 “weeks” plus “1 week” (Daniel 9:24-27). The 69th week was completed by the cutting off the Messiah and the people of the prince who is to come (people of the prince is Romans and prince is Antichrist) would destroy the city (Jerusalem) and sanctuary. All these fulfilled literally in history. The Messiah (Jesus) was cut off and the city and temple were destroyed according to this prophecy and per the prior prediction of Christ (Matthew 24:1-2). And Daniel said in 9:24, “And he (Anti Christ) will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week, he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offerings..” This part of the firm covenant of Anti Christ with Israel didn’t happen yet and the great tribulation when all these things would happen is still future now. Therefore 69th week is completed by the death of Jesus Christ and there is one more week left in God’s calendar to deal with Israel. This one week or 7 years will occur in the great tribulation period. Between 69th and the last week left to deal with Israel, is the church age. Sir Robert Anderson in his marvelous work “The Coming Prince” explained in details about the accuracy of God’s calendar and how exactly this prophecy in Daniel matched with the date of the cutting of the Messiah (crucifixion of Christ). You can read the above mentioned book to understand the pinpoint accuracy of the fulfillment of this God’s prophetic calendar explained in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel.
God loved you and me so much that He gave only begotten son to die for our sins on the cross and thereby not only Jews but also all the nations of the world can obtain salvation and eternal life and be part of God’s church. What a marvelous plan of God.
The word ‘church’ used in two meanings.
The word ‘church’ is used with two meanings in the Bible. A. Local Church: is a group of believers in Jesus Christ, who meet together for worship, bible study, fellowship, prayer and for the remembering the Lord in Lord’s Supper in a specific location is called the local church. Bible Chapel in Irving, Bible church in Fort Worth and First Baptist Church in down town, Dallas are all examples of a local church.
B. Universal Church: There is a second meaning in which Bible uses church. This means all believers who believed in Christ for salvation all over the world from the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture. You see, this usage is distinct from the first meaning in the sense that universal church is much wider in scope. All believers, who trusted Christ as their savior all across the world and additionally all Christ believers from the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost to the day of rapture are part of the universal church of God. Universal church cut across the distance, time in which you live and church you attend. All people, who accepted and believed in Christ as their savior, comprises the universal church.