In our prior lesson we stressed the facts that Jesus wants unity in His church and that He and His church cannot be separated (though some will try to do such). We also emphasized that the church is part of God's eternal plan to save man and that the church belonging to Christ is not a denomination.
Today, we will continue talking about the one, true church. Our focus will be twofold. First, we will show from the Old Testament Scriptures that the coming of the church of Christ was prophesied or predicted. Second, we will note that there were many who lived during Jesus' earthly life who worked diligently to prepare for the establishment of Christ's church.
FIRST, THE CHURCH WAS PROPHESIED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
In II Samuel 7:12,13, God made a promise to David - "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers. I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." It was true that Solomon was David's son and he did sit on his father's throne, but Peter interprets this prophecy in Acts 2:29,30 as ultimately being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus was a descendent of David and would be the One to establish an eternal kingdom. That kingdom was (and is) His church! This is just one of many glimpses the Old Testament gives us at the kingdom of God that was to come.
Another prophetic utterance regarding the church is found in Isaiah 2:2,3, where the prophet foretold - "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem." Notice all of the details that Isaiah included in this prophecy. First, God would establish His house in the latter days. What is God's house? I Timothy 3:15 holds the answer. God's house is His church, His kingdom! So, God's church would be built in the last days, and "all nations" would come into it. This is certainly seen in the history of the early church (e.g, Acts 10). The gospel was a universal message (cf. Matt. 28:19,20); that is, it was a message for all--both Jews and Gentiles. Isaiah also noted where the kingdom or church would begin--in Jerusalem! That is where "the word of the LORD" would go forth from. Where was the full gospel message of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection first declared? It was in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2), which was exactly as Isaiah predicted.
Another prophetic passage pertaining to the establishment of the church is found in Daniel 2:31ff. In that context, Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The Babylonian ruler had seen a great image made up of four primary divisions. The head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire. The chest and arms of silver represented the Medo-Persian Empire. The belly and thighs of bronze represented the Greek (Macedonian) Empire. The legs of iron and the feet of iron and clay represented the Roman Empire (cf. Dan. 8:20,21). The great image that Nebuchadnezzar had seen was manmade, but the stone which struck the image on its feet was "cut out without hands"; that is, this stone was divinely prepared (Dan. 2:34). From 2:44, it can be seen that God's kingdom is closely related to the crushing stone described earlier. Both of these items are described as breaking other kingdoms into pieces and destroying them. The kingdom of God was divinely prepared and would stand forever. It would never be conquered by enemies or left to other people. It would be in the day of the kings of Rome that God's kingdom would be founded, and that is precisely what happened.
Let us briefly consider a fourth Old Testament prophecy at this time. In Joel 2:28-32, God predicts that there would be a certain time wherein He would pour out His Spirit on all types of flesh (or people). As we will prove a little later in this lesson, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit coincided with the beginning of the church. Also, this passage affirms that whoever would call upon the name of the Lord would be saved. There would be spiritual deliverance from sin beginning in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2).
There are six points that I want to stress that we have seen from our brief look at some Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of Christ's kingdom or church: (1) the son of David would sit on the throne of an eternal kingdom, (2) God's Spirit would be poured out at the establishment of the church, (3) it would take place "in the last days", (4) it would be during the reign of the Roman rulers, (5) salvation would be available to those who called on the Lord's name, and (6) the word of God would be sent forth from Jerusalem. In our next lesson we will show how these points were perfectly fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
SECOND, THE CHURCH WAS PREPARED FOR BY JOHN, JESUS, AND HIS DISCIPLES.
John the baptizer preached in Matthew 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" John knew that the kingdom or church was very near to being established. John was the one who was sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah and His kingdom (cf. Mal. 3:1; 4:5,6). Some mistakenly believe that John the baptizer started the church or was a member of it. But, listen carefully to Jesus' words in Matthew 11:11 - "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the baptizer; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Did you catch that? John the baptizer was an exceedingly great man, but one who is least in God's kingdom (the church) is greater than John. Now, what does that imply about John? It implies that John was not a member of God's kingdom. If he had been, it would be a logical impossibility for the least in the kingdom to be greater than him. This leads us to wonder "why?" Why was John the baptizer not a part of God's kingdom or church? There is only one feasible answer: John lived and died before the church was established.
Further evidence of this fact is seen in Matthew 16:16-18. John was already dead at this time (cf. Matt. 14:10). In 16:16, Peter made the good confession that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus responded by saying, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Did you notice that Jesus spoke in the future tense? He did not say that His church was built; He affirmed that He would build His church. Is it not clear that the church or kingdom was not yet established at that point in time?
Throughout Jesus' public ministry, He continually prepared people for the establishment of His church. He declared in Matthew 4:17 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In Matthew 6:9,10, He taught His disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom. In Mark 9:1, He predicted that some of His contemporaries would still be living when His kingdom would come - "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." After Jesus' resurrection, He commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until they were "endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). In Acts 1:8, the Lord said to His apostles - "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you..." Now, what can we conclude from these last three passages? Mark 9:1 states that the kingdom would come with power. Luke 24:49 declares that power would come from on high while the apostles were in Jerusalem. And, Acts 1:8 says that the power received would be the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles. It seems most reasonable to conclude that these three passages are all referring to the same event. The kingdom would be established in Jerusalem (which is consistent with the prophesies we considered earlier). The kingdom would come with power in that generation when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and endowed them with special power. Is there a Biblical event where such happened? Absolutely! Acts 2:1ff is the fulfillment of all these passages (and we will study it in our next lesson).
Friends, perhaps you are wondering why we spent this time proving from the Scriptures that the church of Christ was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets and prepared for by those in Jesus' day. Some may be inclined to think that such matters are unimportant. However, these matters are extremely important in helping us to identify the one, true church today! Think about it--we have shown that the one, true church was predicted to begin in Jerusalem during the generation of people that Jesus spoke to in the first century. Did such take place? Indeed it did, and we will discuss the establishment of the church in our next lesson.
But, for now, do not miss the point I am endeavoring to make. If, according to God's word, the one, true church was supposed to have its origin in Jerusalem in the first century, then what does that imply about the many denominations that originated elsewhere after the first century? The conclusion should be obvious. Any religious group that was founded after the first century or outside of Jerusalem cannot be the one, true church. Allow me to be candid. The Roman Catholic Church can be dated from 606 A.D. in Rome. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Greek Orthodox Church began in 1054 in Greece. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Lutheran Church originated in 1530 in Germany. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Presbyterian Church was founded in 1535 in Switzerland. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Baptist Church originated in 1607 in London. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Methodist Church was set up in 1729 in England. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Mormons were founded in 1830 in New York. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! Seventh-Day Adventism was started in 1846 in Massachusetts. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! Jehovah's Witnesses began in 1874 in Pennsylvania. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Nazarene Church originated in 1895 in Los Angeles. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! The Pentecostal Holiness Church was started in 1898 in South Carolina. Such cannot be the one, true church because it was established in the wrong place and at the wrong time! We could go on and on, but you get the point. The church that belongs to Christ was established in Jerusalem in the first century. It is the one, true church. All others, no matter how lofty their intentions, are nothing more than the creations of men. Are you a member of the one, true church?