“I Will Build My Church”
By Dave Hunt
Christ was born “King of the Jews” (Mat 2:2), was called “King of Israel” and “King of the Jews” (Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2, etc.) and acknowledged both titles (Jn 1:49-50; 12:12-15). He did not renounce His claim to David’s throne even though His own people (as the prophets had foretold) “despised, rejected” (Isa 53:3) and crucified Him (Ps 22:12-18; Isa 53:5; 8-10; Zec 12:10). All four gospels declare that “King of the Jews” was the accusation placed on the cross (Mat 27:37; Mk 15:26; Lk 23:38; Jn 19:19). Here is Mark’s account of Israel rejecting her king and demanding His crucifixion:
But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?…
But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?
And they cried out again, Crucify him. (Mk 15:9-13)
The Hebrew prophets had foretold that Christ would rise from the dead and that He would come again to establish a kingdom that would never end (1 Kings 2:45; 9:5; Isa 9:7; 53:10-12; Jer 17:25; Dan 2:34-35; 44-45; 7:14, etc.). Christ has fulfilled only the first part, rising from the dead and ascending to the Father’s right hand. If the remainder of those prophecies is to be fulfilled (and they must be, or God has lied) there must be a future restoration of the Kingdom to Israel as the disciples believed (Acts 1:6), as Peter affirmed (Acts 3:19-26) and as Christ acknowledged (Acts 1:6-7). Israel’s future repentance, redemption and restoration are foretold often (Eze 39; Zec 12, 13, 14; Acts 5:31, etc.). Paul prayed for Israel’s salvation (Rom 10:1) and declared that “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom 11:26).
If the Muslims and other nations in the world would understand these prophecies concerning Israel’s right to her land and honor them and the God who gave them, there would be peace in the Middle East and throughout the world. Instead, they will persist in their desire to destroy Israel, resulting in Christ’s intervention from heaven to rescue Israel at Armageddon and to destroy Antichrist, his followers and kingdom. Most Israelis themselves do not believe that God gave them their land and are trading it for a fool’s “peace” with an enemy which has sworn to exterminate them.
Knowing that Israel would reject and crucify Him, Christ said He would build a new entity, the church. The word “church” or “churches” (ekklesia in Greek, meaning “called out”), occurs about 114 times in the New Testament. No Hebrew word in the Old Testament is translated “church” in the KJV. Pertaining to Israel, the major comparable words in Hebrew are edah, mowed and qahal, translated as “assembly” or “congregation.” While Acts 7:38 refers to “the church [congregation of Israel] in the wilderness,” the Bible makes a clear distinction between Israel and the New Testament church. The latter consists of both Jews and Gentiles and did not exist before Christ’s death and resurrection. He continues to build that church even now. It was established by Him and specifically for Him: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mat 16:18).
Here we have an obvious claim by Christ that He is God. Israel had been chosen by God. Who, then, but God himself, could establish another congregation of believers in addition to and distinct from Israel? Christ’s statement regarding the church is similar to what He said to the Jews who “believed on him,” and it has the same awesome implications: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).
The Jews must have been stunned. How could this one dare to use such terms as “my word” and “my disciples” and claim to set His followers free? Was it not God’s word they were to follow, and were they not Moses’ disciples? Was He claiming to be greater than Moses-even equal to God? Whatever it meant to be His disciple, He was obviously starting something new.
Nevertheless, no one imagined that this miracle-worker intended to dispense with Israel and replace her with some other entity. That heresy would come from Roman Catholicism; and many of the Reformers would be unable to extricate themselves from it, in spite of their clear understanding of salvation by grace through faith. The belief that the church replaces Israel remains today among Roman Catholics, among those of Reformed theology such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, and among many charismatics as well.
In its infancy, the church was composed only of Jewish believers. They had difficulty believing that Gentiles, too, could be saved through Christ and be in the church, even though the Old Testament prophets had laid that foundation (Ps 72:11,17; Isa 11:10; 42:1-6; 49:6; Mal 1:11, etc.). And even when they understood the “mystery” revealed by Paul “that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph 3:3-6), some of them tried to subject the Gentiles to the Jewish law. In effect, they were erroneously making the church an extension of Israel (Acts 15:1).
Gentiles are “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12). When a Gentile is saved and is added by Christ as a “living stone” to the church under construction (1 Pt 2:5), he doesn’t come under the Jewish laws and customs of the old covenant. And when a Jew is saved and added to the church, he is set free from the Jewish law (the “law of sin and death”) and its penalties (Rom 8:1). Both the Gentile and the Jew who enter the church through faith in Christ are thereafter under a higher law, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Indeed, Christ has become their life, living out through them this new standard of holy conduct-something that was unknown in Israel even to her greatest prophets (1 Pt 1:10-12).
No one can establish himself in that sacred temple; he must be placed there by Christ alone. The living stones which He is building together to form the eternal temple do not fall in and out of the structure. We are in Christ and eternally secure.
The church is Christ’s body, nourished by Him. Believers are spoken of as branches in the true vine, depicting a continual flow of life and nourishment from Him to them. Christ is the head of the body, which is therefore directed by Him and not by a priesthood or hierarchy of men in some earthly headquarters. The headquarters of the church is in heaven. Yet today’s denominations (like the cults) all have their earthly headquarters and their traditions. They have become organizations instead of being content with being part of the organism, His body.
In the church “There is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]…[but all are] one in Christ” (Gal 3:28). Gentiles do not become Jewish, but Jew and Gentile have become “one new man” (Eph 2:15). Through the cross, Christ “abolished” the “ordinances” which had separated Jew and Gentile. Therefore, we can confidently affirm that Gentiles are not to adopt those “ordinances.” Would one of Christ’s own adopt something which God has abolished?
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians was written to correct the error of salvation partly through Christ and partly through works. A works salvation is the error of every cult, and Roman Catholicism has developed her system of religious ritual and works to the ultimate. In all of his epistles Paul comes back to the theme that salvation is all of grace and nothing of works. Herein is a major difference between Israel and the church: for the former, eternal life came through keeping the Law; for the latter, eternal life comes by faith.
The old covenant offered life to the righteous who kept the Law: “this do and thou shalt live” (Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28). But no one could keep the Law, for all have sinned (Rom 3:23). Under the new covenant (available from Adam onward), “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Human pride insists upon becoming righteous on its own-an impossible task. Paul mourned the fact that his people Israel, though they had “a zeal after God,” yet “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the rightousness of God” (Rom 10:3) through the new covenant. So it is with all the cults. Roman Catholicism, for example, attempts (through the sacraments, suffering and works) to make its members righteous enough for heaven. It is the error of the Pharisee who proclaimed his righteousness to God and was not heard, whereas the publican, who acknowledged his unworthiness, was justified (Lk 18:10-14).
One had to belong to Israel (with some exceptions) to be saved; but one must be saved (with no exceptions) in order to belong to the church. The church is not a vehicle of salvation. Making that claim is a major error of most cults such as Mormonism and Roman Catholicism. Each claims salvation comes through their church. In fact, salvation is for those outside the church and only then can one become a part of it.
Salvation has always been and still is the same for both Jew and Gentile; but God’s plans are different for Israel than for the church. Jews (like Gentiles) who believe in Christ prior to His Second Coming (when He makes Himself known to Israel and all Israel is saved) are in the church. Jews who only come to faith in Christ when He appears to rescue them in the midst of Armageddon will continue into the millennial kingdom on earth and Christ will reign over them from the throne of David. Many Gentiles will be saved at that time also, but “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom 11:26).
The Galatian problem remains (in varying degrees) within some so-called Hebrew-Christian or Messianic congregations today. There is often a tendency to imagine that a return to Jewish customs (even by Gentiles) makes for greater sanctity. Extrabiblical traditions are honored, for example in the Seder ceremony at Passover, as though inspired of God. Scripture alone must be our guide, to the exclusion of manmade traditions, which Christ condemned (Mat 15:1-9; Mk 7:9-13), as did the apostles (Gal 1:13-14; Col 2:8; 1 Pt 1:18). Traditions developed over the centuries have led to great error within both Catholicism and Protestantism.
We must ever remember that Christ intended the church to be something new and separate from Israel. It would neither partake of nor interfere with God’s promises to His earthly people, promises which will be fulfilled in their time. The church would be separate, too, from Israel’s religious ordinances. Here, again, the cults have gone astray.
Mormonism, for example, pretends to have both an Aaronic and Melchisedec priesthood. Roman Catholicism claims to have a sacrificial priesthood that offers Christ continually as a sacrifice upon its altars. On the contrary, in the church every believer is a priest (1 Pt 2:9) and the sacrifices offered are “praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” and “to do good” (Heb 13:15-16).
In fact, there are no longer any propitiatory sacrifices offered for the forgiveness of sins because the church was made possible by the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. That sacrifice is never to be repeated because it paid the full penalty demanded by God’s justice and made it possible for God to “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Consequently, “there is no more offering for sin” (Heb 10:18).
Israel broke the covenant God made with her. She demonstrated that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). Her sacrificial system could not take away sin, but looked forward to the unique “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The establishment of a “new covenant” with Israel (Jer 31:31) is foretold. Animal sacrifices had opened the way for the Jewish high priest into the earthly sanctuary which was patterned after the heavenly reality (Heb 9:1-10). When Christ died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mk 15:38), ending the animal sacrifices. Now we have a “great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb 4:14), who, “by his own blood…obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb 9:12, 24).
Israel was given a land on earth (Gen 12:1; 13:15; 15:18-21; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Lev 20:24, 25:23, etc.), her destiny is tied to it, and she will never cease to exist there (Jer 31:35-40). Numerous prophecies promise her restoration to her land, with the Messiah, upon His return, ruling her from the throne of David (2 Sam 7:10-16; 1 Kings 9:5; Isa 9:6-7; Eze 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Lk 1:31-33, etc.). The promise is clear that God will pour out His Spirit upon His chosen people, after which they will never pollute His holy name again and He will never again hide His holy face from Israel (Eze 39:7, 22, 27-29; Zec 13, 14).
Israel must endure forever (Jer 31:35-38) or the prophecies of the Bible and Christ’s promises to her could not be fulfilled. Christ referred to the cities of Israel in existence at His Second Coming (Mat 10:23), proof enough that the church has not replaced her. As further proof (though not needed), Christ promised His disciples that they would rule over Israel with Him in His millennial kingdom (Mat 19:28; Lk 22:30).
The church cannot fulfill the prophecies to Israel, never having belonged to a specific land nor having been cast out of it or returned to it. Rather, the church comes “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev 5:9). The hope of the church is to be raptured to heaven (Jn 14:3; 1 Thes 4:16-17, etc.), where we stand before “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10) and then are married to our Lord (Rev 19:7-9) and are eternally with Him wherever He is (Jn 14:3; 1 Thes 4:17).
That being the case, in love with our Bridegroom and longing to see Him face to face, let us hold the things of earth lightly and live for eternity. Let us please Him alone, not following men or organizations, by faith allowing our Head to nourish, sustain and direct us and to live His life through us to His glory. TBC