TGOC Bible Class Curricula – The Church of Christ (1st Quarter) - Lesson 4 - The Establishment of the Church: Who, When, and Where?
Every religious organization (present or past) was started by somebody. No organization springs into existence on its own. In this chapter we will be answering the following questions: 1) Who established the church; 2) When was it established, and 3) Where was it established. It is important that Christians understand the events surrounding the church of which we are members and be prepared to give an answer to other people who may ask us about the church (1 Peter 3:15).
I. It was established by Jesus Christ:
In Matthew 16, just prior to His death, Jesus was talking to His apostles, Simon Peter in particular. He had asked the question, “Who do men say that I am?” They gave Him several answers. Then, Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Upon hearing this answer Jesus made the following promise recorded in verses 17-19:
Matthew 16:17-19 “17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ ”
If we were to diagram the sentence “I will build my church.” we would have the following. “I” [first person, singular-subject] “will build” [verb in the future tense] “My” [possessive personal pronoun] “church” [direct object]. Jesus said He would build His church and that it would belong to Him.
II. Others testify to His ownership:
When a builder builds something it is automatically understood that the thing he built belongs to him. Many others throughout the pages of the New Testament understood that the church belonged to Christ thus also lending credibility to His being the builder. In Romans 16:16 Paul said, “The churches of Christ salute you.” This is not a name but a designation showing ownership. The churches which belong to Christ send you greeting. The Hebrew writer wrote that Christ is “a son over his own house”. (3:6, KJV)1 It belongs to Him. Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” “Sheep” is a term which refers to followers of Christ, Christians. Christians are the church. Therefore, Jesus knows His church and His church knows Him. Again, He claims ownership of the church.
III. Misunderstandings Answered:
There are many misunderstandings surrounding the builder of the Lord’s church. We will address only two in this study.
A. “The Church was built on Peter.”
This is the teaching of some religious bodies. They believe and teach that the church was built on Peter because the Bible says he is the foundation. Let’s examine this false claim:
Matthew 16:18 “18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Their argument is that the word “Peter”, in the Greek, means a rock or stone, therefore Jesus was promising to build His church on Peter. However, the Greek text will not support such an argument. In fact, two entirely different words are used in Jesus’ statement. The Greek word translated as “Peter” is petros, which is masculine and means a piece of rock or a stone. The Greek word translated as “rock” is petra, which is feminine and means a rock, or “bedrock”. The text literally reads, “You are Peter(PETROS) and on this rock (PETRA) I will build my church”. Jesus could not have nor did He intend to build His church on Peter. What He did build it upon was the rock of the confession that Peter made that He was the Christ the Son of God. On this foundation was the church and all Christian principles and beliefs founded. The word “rock” is often used to mean something right and sure and strong. We use the expression, “His word is rock solid”, meaning “What he says you can believe.” Jesus was telling Peter that based upon Peter’s confession (an admission that Jesus was truly the divine Son of God, Matthew 16:16), He would build His church.
B. “John the Baptist started the Church.” This is a claim made by a number of religious organizations who believe and teach that when John the Baptist began preaching repentance and baptizing people, he established the church – then the church Jesus started was just an addition to it. This theory cannot be true for three very important reasons.
1. The evidence that Jesus started the church and the church belonged to Him is irrefutable (as we have already seen). There cannot be two founders of the same body at different times.
2. John the Baptist was already dead when Jesus promised to build His church. Look at Matthew 14:10. “10 and had John beheaded in the prison.” Herod had John beheaded to keep a promise made to the daughter of Herodias. Two chapters later Jesus promised to build His church. John was dead and the church had not yet been established. Besides this, John never intended to start the church. His work was preparatory to Christ and the church.
3. John was never a member of the Lord’s church. In Matthew 11:11-12 Jesus said, “11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” If John the Baptist was the greatest man born among women, he would have taken that greatness into the church of which he would have been a part. But Jesus said the least in the church was greater than John, implying that John was not in the church (besides the fact that he was dead when it was started).
IV. When and where was the church established?
Return to the Prophecy:
Let’s review the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 2, and verses 2-3. If you remember, Isaiah made four predictions about the coming of the kingdom or church. We will concern ourselves with two of these.
A. The Church would be established in the “Last Days”. (2:2) Joel makes a similar prediction. He said that God would pour out his spirit in the “Last Days”. Joel 2. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
In 2 Peter 3:3-4 Peter writes, “3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
Finally, in Hebrews 1:1-2 the Hebrew writer had this to say. “1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe”
To which period of time in biblical history are all of these writers referring? If we can answer this question, we will be closer to knowing the answer to when and where the church was established.
First, Paul told Timothy that in the “Last Days” perilous times would come, and then he listed the things that some would do. Then in verse 5, he says an interesting thing, “…Have nothing to do with them.” We have to conclude that the last days he was talking about were within the life time of those to whom he wrote it; otherwise, how could they have nothing to do with them if all of them were dead?
Secondly, Peter said there would be scoffers in the last days who would question the prophet’s predictions that Jesus would come back. They gave the excuse that nothing had happened since Jesus’ death and these predictions. Listen to Peter’s answer in verse 14.
2 Peter 3:14 “14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
He told them they needed to be ready. Therefore we must conclude that the ones to whom he wrote were living in the last days.
In the final passage above (Hebrews 1:1-2), the Hebrew writer said that in the past God had spoken to people many times and in many different ways, but now, in these last days, speaks to them through His son. If God’s Son, Jesus Christ, now speaks to them, and it is the “last days”, then the last days must be during the time of Christ and the apostles.
From these verses, we can irrefutably conclude that the church was established in the last days and that the last days included the time when Jesus and the apostles lived and taught. But, let us see if we can narrow it down a little closer.
B. The church would be established when the law went forth from Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:3) To understand this prophecy properly, we must determine what the writer meant by the term “Law”. The word “law” as used by Isaiah is translated from the Hebrew word TORAH which means a precept or statute, a law. An example, especially when Isaiah wrote this, would be the Decalogue or Pentateuch. When we talk about the “Old Law”, or “Law of Moses” most serious Bible students know that it refers to the law given by God through Moses to govern His people. (Exodus 24:12)
But to which law is Isaiah referring? It is not likely that he was talking about the Law of Moses because it had been in place for many hundreds of years. Not only that, but Isaiah said the Law would go forth. This has an evangelistic ring to it. The Old Law was not designed to be taken to the world (Exodus 31:13). Fathers taught it to their children; other Jews automatically accepted and followed it; and those desiring to become Jews learned it (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). What law is he talking about then? Isaiah had reference to a new law that was to come to replace the Law of Moses. A better law. The Law of Christ. Look at Hebrews 7:18-19.
“18 The former regulation is set aside because it as weak and useless19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”
Then in verse 22, the writer says, “22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Isaiah not only predicted the coming of the Kingdom, he also predicted the coming of the new law that would govern that Kingdom.
When did the apostles become aware of this New Law of Christ and the part they would play in taking it to the world? Look at the following. First, in Luke 24:46-49 Jesus is talking to His disciples just after His death and before His ascension.
“45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Jesus said something new is coming. People are going to be offered something the Old Law could not give them - forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:13-10:4) The writer said the Old Law could not do it, but Jesus was to bring a New Law that would. This is the New Law of which Jesus said His disciples would be witnesses. In Acts 1:4-8 Jesus tells them again that the promise of the Father would be theirs, and they should wait in Jerusalem for it. Then He tells them what the promise was. They would be baptized in the Holy Spirit and receive power. He again reminds them they would tell His story to all the world.
When did this new Law of Christ go forth from Jerusalem? It began on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. Notice the following:
Acts 2:1-4,14 “1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 14 Then Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.”
The writer tells us they received the promised power and spoke in other tongues (other languages) as the Spirit guided them on what to say. Why did the Spirit have to guide them? Just as Moses had no way of knowing about the Law of God until God revealed it to him on Mount Sinai, the apostles had no way of knowing about the Law of Christ until the Holy Spirit “breathed” it into their minds. So, for the very first time, the Law, that would provide forgiveness of sins to all who obey, was preached. From that day and at that place they began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world and people began to be added to the Lord’s church. (Acts 2:47)
C. The kingdom would come with power. (Mark 9:1)
In Make 9:1, Jesus prophesied that some of them would not see death until they saw the Kingdom come with power. If we determine when the power came we will know when the church came.
1. The power came with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told His disciples when they would receive this power. They would receive it when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
“8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
2. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. The kingdom is coming with power; the power is coming with the Holy Spirit. Now, when did the Holy Spirit come? According to Acts 2:1-4, He came upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost.
3. The power was to come at Jerusalem. Luke tells us where this power was to come in his record of the conversation of Jesus to His disciples.
Luke 24:46-49 “46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ ”
This is also in keeping with the prophecy that was made about the coming of the church. Isaiah said the church would come when “the law went forth from Jerusalem”. (Isaiah 2:2-4) If the Law of Christ, which was given for the church to follow, was to come from Jerusalem, we can safely assume that the Church would also. Joel Prophesied in Joel 2:32, “32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said….” On Pentecost, in Jerusalem, people were delivered from Satan and saved from their sins. (Acts 2:38,41)
So, if the church was to come with the power, and the power was to come with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, in the city of Jerusalem, then the church also came on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
D. The Scriptures point to the time and place the church was established. Before the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, all Scriptures made reference to the Church as being in the future. Scripture references after the Day of Pentecost indicating the church has arrived (Acts 2:47; 5:11; etc.). Notice the progression:
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist speaks of the kingdom as being near - in the future. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He taught them to pray for the coming of the kingdom. (Matthew 6). After John’s death, Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16). It was not yet built – still future. After Pentecost, references to the Church were in retrospect. In Acts 8 the church was being persecuted. For it to be persecuted, it had to have been in existence. In Colossians 1, individuals were being translated into the Kingdom (KJV). It had to have been in existence for this to be done. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul speaks of an existing church. In Revelation 2:1, John writes to the existing church at Ephesus.
It is very clear from the prophecy of the Old and New Testaments that the church was established in the city of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost following the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It was there for the first time that people were told of a new and better way. It was there that people were told for the first time that it was possible for them to receive the forgiveness of their sins. (Acts 2:38); and it was there and then for the first time God was adding people to His church. (Acts 2:47)
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