UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH - (2)
(Understanding the Word reveals the Church)
Revd. C.H. Mattison, D.D.
The fact that the Qahal was the National Church stands out more and more clearly as the Qahal of Israel moves farther and farther away from the mixed multitude of the Exodus into the established worship of the promised land, and of the Temple. The word Qahal is regularly rendered by the Greek word Ekklesia in the Septuagint, but Edah is never translated Ekklesia. It is only the Qahal of Israel that is the EkkIesia of the Scriptures which were in common use in our Lord's day.
The writers of the New Testament in Greek used the word Ekklesia 108 times without the slightest hint that they did so with any other meaning than that of the Septuagint and other current Israel literature; and the translators of the Greek New Testament into English regularly used our English word 'Church' for Ekklesia!
Much misunderstanding and erroneous teaching on this vital subject would have been avoided if the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament into English had been as consistent in translating Qahal and Edah!
The Church of God In Continuum
The present Church of God is a continuation of that Church He founded in the wilderness: 'God is not man that he should lie.' He did not spend four thousand years in preparing the great instrument for the consummation of His eternal purpose, then throw that instrument away and begin again with Gentiles.
This erroneous teaching, proclaimed so thoughtlessly, carries with it the admission that God broke His oath-confirmed covenants with the Fathers and began over again with different people! Then when these teachers of error seek to excuse God on the grounds that Israel's sin forced Him to do this they imply that God is impotent, but if He is impotent, or if He breaks covenants, then we are indeed 'without hope.'
Though it is widely proclaimed today, that is not the teaching of God's Word; rather is it one of the many 'traditions of men' which make void the Word of God. We must be careful to discern what these teachings carry with them. 'Prove all things; hold fast that which is good' was a terse and sound warning from Paul when he adrnonished the Church about prophesying and quenching the Spirit of truth. Today there is an urgent need to heed that warning.
'Ye men of Israel, hear these words'
To whom did Peter preach at Pentecost, and who joined themselves by the thousands to Jesus the Messiah on the Day of Pentecost, and after that? Let the record itself speak to us:
'The day of Pentecost was fully come' and 'there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven' (Acts 2:1,5). Millions came to the great annual festival of the Passover (of which only circumcised members in good standing in the Qahal could partake). Josephus says there were sometimes three million present at the Passover!
Many came from great distances and sojourned in Jerusalem until Pentecost. These 'Jews' had come from every part of the Roman Empire and far beyond. Fifteen nations are named (vv. 9-12) as also are some 'proselytes' from Rome; but these having been proselytized to Judaism were no longer Gentiles and easily could have been gentilized Israelites of the diaspora, who were very numerous both in Asia Minor and westwards.
When Peter spoke he addressed 'ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem' (v. 14). Then he quoted the prophet Joel to them at length. How much weight and meaning would Gentiles attach to Joel? In verse 22 he again addresses 'men of Israel' and then quotes at length from the prophets, and in verse 29 it is 'brethren' with further quotations from their Scriptures.
'Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus ... both Lord and Christ' (v. 36), and 'the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls' (v. 41). Added to whom? The eleven disciples of our Lord who were proclaiming this great news to these 'men of Israel' had all partaken of the Passover; therefore they were circumcised members of the Qahal! It was to this band of our Lord's Apostles and their fellow believers that these three thousand 'Jews' were added. They attended the Temple daily and the Lord added to their number day by day.
Gentiles are not mentioned; and how many Gentiles would there be, aside from the Roman garrison, in that relatively small, densely-packed Holy City of Jewry; and can we envisage a large number of Gentile tradesmen competing with Jewish traders?
Where are the Gentiles in these Scenes?
In the Temple, Peter again spoke to them thus: 'Men of Israel ... the God of our fathers.' 'And now, brethren ... repent ... and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you' (Acts 3:11-26). 'And the number of the men was about five thousand ... rulers of the people and elders of Israel ... be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel' (Acts 4:4,8, 10). 'And great fear came upon all the ['over the whole': Moffat] church (ekklesia), and upon as rnany as heard these things' (Acts 5: 11). Does that word 'Whole' refer only to the Christian Ekklesia or to the whole Qahal-Ekklesia, withered and fallen under the blight of Rabbinism?
Here the preaching is directed to the 'men of Israel' and to 'all the house of Israel' - these 'dry bones.' Out of them the risen Lord of the Church is calling multitudes to give them new life, and through them ultimately to quicken the whole body, adding 'unto thern' day by day; but there is not the slightest hint of organizing a new Church.
'And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women' (Acts 5: 14). 'And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the falth' (Acts 6:7). Those priests also were Israelites, not one Gentile. The number of believers 'added' to the Church at Pentecost and afterwards had become very great indeed, and the record makes it very plain that the Church was made up of Israelites whom God was raising up from the 'dry bones' of the whole House of Israel and quickening them for the fulfilment of their high mission to all the families of the earth.
If this greatly 'multiplied' Ekklesia included Gentiles at that time, how do we explain the Ekklesia's very strong protest two years later when Peter baptized Gentiles at Caesarea? And after, when this Israel Church had been so marvellously 'rnuidplied' by the power of the Holy Spirit for sorne eight or nine years, why then do we find that 'they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen' were still 'preacmng the word to none but unto the Jews only' (Acts 11: 19)?
The teaching that the Church is 'a new thing in human history' born at Pentecost, and that it is a Gentile Church, does not derive from the Word of God, but is one of those 'traditions of men' which make void the Word of God. Those who accept it without testing, as the teaching of the Word of God, do not search that word, and therefore do not find the joy of seeing our ever-faithful God fulfilling unfailingly His vast and changeless purpose and covenants.
The traditions of men cheat us of so much that is priceless! The crafty and subtle Destroyer (Abaddon) framed these traditions, and foisted them upon us for that very purpose!
What did Messiah raise up? 'Upon this rock 1 will build'
The words 'I will build' call for unbiased study, for those who claim that a new Gentile Church was born at Pentecost claim that these words prove that the Church our Lord said He would build was in the future and was not in existence at the time He spoke.
These English words,'I will build' could easily mean to build something new; and the Greek word oikodomeo, which is used in this place, can mean to erect a new building. However, the Lexicons give several other meanings for oikodomeo: to rebuild; to repair; to renew; to restore; to name just a few; and the word is used frequently in the New Testament with this meaning.
Three familiar passages use it so: Matthew 23:29, 'ye build the tombs of the prophets' (the last of them died four centuries before Christ), where it clearly means restoring those sepulchres; Matthew 26:61 and 27:40, both refer to a temple thrown down which is to be rebuilt in three days. This word oikodomeo is used in all of these passages, and quite clearly means to rebuild or raise up again.
A striking proof that it was not something new which our Lord said He would build upon this rock, but the raising up of the fallen sanctuary, is given by the first Church Council in Jerusalern in A.D. 50 (Acts 15).
Gentiles had been received into the Church at Antioch, and Judaizers from Jerusalem raised a vital issue :'Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved' (Acts 15: 1). Both Paul and Barnabas reasoned with them earnestly but to no avail. So the Church at Antioch appointed a commission consisting of Paul and Barnabas and certain others to carry this issue to the mother Church at Jerusalem for a decision.
The first Church Council is Called in Jerusalem
Paul and Barnabas told of the wonders God had done by them, but the circumcision party insisted that these converts must be circumcised. So a Church Council was called, consisting of the Apostles and the Elders, that an authoritative verdict might be given on this vital matter.
After there had been much earnest discussion Peter rose up and told this Council how the Holy Spirit had led him to receive and baptize those believers at Caesarea without requiring that they be circumcised, because the Holy Spirit had been given to them without circumcision. His argument was unanswerable, and the whole Council became silent. Paul and Barnabas then told that hushed Council how wonderfully God had worked through them also, and at that point James, who seems to have been the Moderator, arose and gave his judgment, and this was accepted.
It is God Who has Called out His People
James showed them that these reports of how God had visited the nations to take out of them a people for Himself, agreed fully with what God had promised through the prophets centuries before. He quoted from Amos 9:11,12, using the portions applying to the question before them. He introduced this quotation thus: 'after these things ... I will build again' (Acts 15: 16 R.V).
These words plainly point us back to the things God had just spoken of to the 'house of Israel' in verses seven to ten of Amos chapter nine, in which He called them progressively 'the children of Israel', 'Israel' (the nation), the 'house of Jacob,' then the 'house of Israel.' God assured the 'house of Israel' by name that He would not entirely destroy that house, but He would cause them to move to and fro 'among the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth' (v.9). (Grain is shaken to and fro in a sieve to get rid of all the dirt and rubbish, but not to cast out good grain).
The King Jarnes version renders goyim of Amos 9: 12 as 'heathen' and in Acts 15:17 renders it as 'Gentiles,' but the Revised Version correctly renders it 'nations.' This at once calls attention to a vital point, completely hidden when the incorrect 'Gentile' or 'heathen' is used: for what nation is the only nation that has ever had the name of God placed upon it by God Himself, but the nation Isra-EL?
While Amos does not state the fact explicitly here, various prophets show that after this great Dispersion (sowing the 'house of Israel' among the nations) Jehovah will gather them again and restore them; He will begin the great rebuilding and setting up again. It is not the building of something new to supplant that which has fallen down but the setting up again of that which had fallen down.
'After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up:* That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles (nations) upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord who maketh these things known from the beginning of the world.' (Acts 15: 16-1 8 R.V.)
With clear spiritual insight James brought that tense Council up sharply to recognize this most significant prophecy-covenant because the Holy Spirit had shown him that the thrilling reports from Peter and Paul were the beginnings of the fulfilment of that mighty global promise God had sent to His people eight centuries earlier through the prophet Amos. The part James quoted calls for close study: a cursory look, so common today, will not give us its great message, and certain facts must be kept in mind.
Taking a Close Look at the Portion Quoted from Amos
We first note that Amos, mainly a prophet to the house of Israel, refers to the house of 'Judah' only once by name (2:4,5), and again, (inclusively) as part of the whole family which God brought up out of Egypt, and the third time in this chapter (9: 11) where only that one family of Judah, the house of David, is named; God Himself chose it to be the Royal Family that would bear the sceptre over the whole House of Israel perpetually. It is that fact which makes the quotation by the Moderator of that First Christian Church Council so significant.
Secondly, in that prophecy God specifically names the 'house of Israel,'- the ten-tribed northern Kingdom of Israel - as that 'house' concerning which he says 'I will command, and I will sift ... among all nations,' and that 'sinful kingdom' of Israel (Arnos 9:8) was broken and enslaved and cast out of the Holy Land by the Assyrians within 45 years of the tirne God announced this punishment for their great sins.
Judah's captivity in Babylon came 150 years later; and the destruction and dispersion of the nation by the Rornans (A.D. 70) came 20 years after this first Church Council. These separate captivities and dispersions must be kept in mind as we seek to understand just what this wonderful Book reveals and what its thrilling message is for us today.
We must also note that God did not say 'I will raise up the house of Judah' (the Jews) but 'I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the branches thereof,. and I will raise up his ruins, and 1 will build it as in the days of old.' It is to be a very thorough job that will make God's Kingdom on this earth to be 'the glory of the whole earth' for ever.
The Light-hearing Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ
Another fact that we must note carefully is that God's promise to make right and true this tabernacle of David is for a vast global purpose. Jarnes saw it unfolding, and he saw how precise and wonderful were even the initial fulfilrnents.
It appears that the first disciple apostles of Jesus, excluding the Judahite who sold the Son of God to death, were of the tribe of Benjamin, that one Tribe of the Kingdom which God loaned to the House of David 'that David my servant may have a light alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there' (1 Kings 11:36).
These men of the light-bearing tribe belonged in a very special sense to 'the tabernacle of David' and David's greater Son began His raising up with them in David's city; then in David's kingdom of Judah (Judea), and after that in the northern kingdom of the 'house of Israel' over which David reigned for 33 years; which 'house' afterwards rejected the wonderful law of Moses and the circumcision, which was the sign of the covenant. Having completely rejected that covenant they were carried away by the Assyrians - an uncircurncised people - and therefore Gentiles although of the seed of Abraharn. And those 'lost sheep' are found again as Gentiles and recovenanted in His 'new covenant.'
The 'Lost Sheep' of the House of Israel are Located
When the Assyrian Empire was finally broken by her powerful neighbours towards the end of the seventh century B.C., then the captive ten-tribed 'house of lsrael' escaped north-west through the upper reaches of the Caucasus on their long, long trek to the 'place' God had appointed for them (2 Sam. 7: 10), and they were as 'Gentiles, being uncircumeised.
During this great exodus from the Assyrian captivity large numbers of those uncircumcised Israelites broke away from the main trek and flowed westwards into Syria and Asia Minor. Their children's children of monotheistic origins would naturally flow into the numerous monotheistic synagogues of the Jewish faith in those regions and may easily have constituted the large majority of 'proselytes of the gate' in those regions evangelized by Paul and his fellow-labourers.
Even today history gives a fairly clear picture of those 'lost sheep' moving to and fro among all nations just as God had said He would move them during their 'seven times' chastisement. Where they were at the time of that Council was known to Jarnes and Peter, for they both wrote letters to them which greatly blessed the whole Christian Church down through the ages. Cornelius might have been one of thern, as also, perhaps, might many of those up north in Antioch of Syria, about whom the Council was seeking the Lord's will. James knew far better than we do today.
It was all timber from the ruins of that 'tabernacle of David' now being used by the Messiah to rebuild it - Jehovah's ancient Qahal - just as He said it would be rebuilt, but with new glory and power in that great global purpose for good 'that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called' (Isra-EL) (Acts 15: 17).
James saw clearly that it was 'this people', whom God had created and formed that they should show forth His praise (Isa. 43:21); and who had been sown among all nations, who were being gathered again: it is this tabernacle of David which has 'fallen down' which is being 'set up' again (made right and true, but now built upon their Rock, the Messiah, in an altogether new sense and power which were not possible until He had dwelt with them in the flesh and had revealed to them the very nature of the Father; had given His life for them, had risen from the dead and poured forth upon them the long-promised Spirit of Life and Power).
It is this resurrected tabernacle of David - His ancient Qahal - that the nations upon whom God's name is called are to seek, and be grafted again into His eternal purpose to be a blessing to all the families of the earth - a very high calling indeed.
The Foreknowledge of God is an Uplifting Study
The Apostles and Elders at that great Council saw that God was not building a new Gentile Church (we do not know that there was even one Gentile there), but that He was restoring His people who had fallen, and quickening them into new life to fulfil the mission for which He had created and formed them, taught and disciplined them, rnoulded and trained and used them through the centuries.
God was not surprised by Israel's terrible lapses into idolatry, nor by her forsaking that wonderful law He gave at Sinai, nor by her acceptance of the evil 'statutes of Omri' and becoming an uncircumcised nation, nor indeed by her being broken by the Assyrians and sown among the nations. He had said in the beginning that she would do these things, and in consequence He would purge the Holy Land of her people and their abominations, and chastise them seven times and disperse them among all nations.
In that same chapter He said: 'And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God' (Lev. 25:44-45). Moreover, He put His own signature at the bottom of that covenant: 'I am the LORD.'
What need was there for another people; another plan? Omniscient and Omnipotent, the changeless, faithful I AM keeps covenant unto all generations: 'For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed' (Mal. 3:6).
It is that 'eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord' 'before the foundation of the world' (Eph. 3:11; 1:4) which throughout all ages He unfolds and is consummating; the same vast and adequate instrument for blessing the whole world: a servant race; a great company of nations, raised again and built upon the Rock of lsrael, 'Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever' (Heb. 13:8).
We have been raised up again to be 'workers with him' in establishing His Kingdom in Righteousness over all the earth. That same 'high calling' is ours today; and the same highest honour that can be conferred upon a race - to be a blessing to all the families of the earth - is still ours if we turn to Him in our millions and join with Him in building His eternal Kingdom of good in all the earth.
*Set it up does not express the basic meaning of Ortheso (right, straight, correct, true). In this context Kai anortheso auter may be rendered I will make it right, true.
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