Hugh Fulford page parts 12-21, 5.3.10
SOME GREAT LEADERS OF THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT
13. John T. Johnson (1788-1856). The eighth of eleven children, Johnson was born on October 5, 1788 in Scott County, KY at Great Crossings, about three miles west of Georgetown. His father, Robert Johnson, was a colonel in the army and his brother, Richard M. Johnson, would later serve as the ninth vice-president of the United States during the presidency of Martin Van Buren. In 1820 John T. turned his attention toward politics and was elected to serve in the U. S. Congress, and then was re-elected for several terms. In 1821 he joined the Baptist Church in Great Crossings, his home community, but after his retirement from politics in 1830, he became interested in what was derogatorily called “Campbellism” (then sweeping his community) and determined to make a study of it in the light of the Scriptures. He said, “My eyes were opened, and I was made perfectly free by the truth” (John Rogers, The Biography of Elder John T. Johnson [Cincinnati: 1861], p. 21, as cited by Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, p. 234). Johnson immediately set about to convert the Baptist Church at Great Crossings, but did not take into account the power of religious prejudice, though he did baptize his wife, as well as his brother Joel and his wife. With others, he formed a congregation in Great Crossings that worshiped after the New Testament order. Johnson went on to become an extraordinarily successful preacher of the gospel and an ardent advocate of the principles calling for a restoration of the New Testament order. Alexander Campbell said of him, “I wish Kentucky had a few persons equally gifted for taking care of the sheep, as brother Johnson is for marking them and putting them in the green pastures” (a reference to converting people to the right way of the Lord) (The Millennial Harbinger, June 1839, as cited by West, p. 228-229). Samuel Rogers said of him, “As an evangelist, I have thought John T. Johnson the best model I have ever known. Perhaps I ought not to speak of him as a model at all, for no man could imitate him” (as cited by West, p. 229). On the first Sunday evening of December 1856, Johnson preached his last sermon. He developed a case of pneumonia and died in the home of Thomas Bledsoe with whom he was staying in Lexington, KY. When told that death was approaching he said, “I did not think death was so near, but let it come.” In his delirious moments he would quote scripture or preach on the sacrifice of Jesus for sin. On December 18 he closed his eyes in death.
14. Elisha G. Sewell (1830-1924). Sewell was born on October 23, 1830 in Overton County, TN, the thirteenth child and eighth son of Stephen and Annie Sewell. All but one of the eight boys had Bible names. Four of them—Isaac, Caleb, Jesse, and Elisha—went on to become gospel preachers. Joshua, Caleb’s twin, died in infancy. Originally, the Sewells were all Baptists. When an older brother, William, married a member of the church of Christ he soon came to accept the principles of the restoration plea. His brothers regretted William’s course and Jesse set out to bring him back to the Baptist fold, but in the process he converted himself to the New Testament way. Soon, Isaac and Caleb and the whole Sewell family, except Elisha, had been converted to the original apostolic ground. In the spring of 1849 Elisha started reading and studying the New Testament for himself, and on the fourth Lord’s Day of October 1849, he was immersed into Christ by Jesse, an older brother. In the fall of 1851, in the private home of a neighbor, Elisha preached his first sermon. In 1853 he married Lucy Kuykendall near Cookeville, TN. He studied at Burritt College in Spencer, TN, and in 1859 he graduated from Franklin College in Nashville where he studied under Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb. In 1870 when David Lipscomb found himself in need of help in editing the Gospel Advocate, he turned to E. G. Sewell. For the next almost fifty years—January 1, 1870 until Lipscomb’s death in 1917—the team of Lipscomb and Sewell played a key role in shaping the cause of the restoration of the New Testament order in the South. Nothing expanded his influence more than his work on the Advocate. In addition to his work at the Advocate, he stayed busy in evangelistic work and establishing churches of the apostolic order, especially in Nashville. He lived a quiet and peaceable life, was known for his moderation in all things, and was extremely methodical. He was described by F. D. Srygley as being “meek and lowly in spirit, gentle and timid in manner, severely scriptural in doctrine, and kind and persuasive in his oratory” (Biographies and Sermons, p. 257). He and his family were extremely hospitable, and traveling preachers often found themselves welcomed in his home at 801 Boscobel Street in east Nashville, where he lived for fifty-four years and where death came to him on March 2, 1924 at the age of ninety-three.
15. James A. Harding (1848-1922). The oldest of fourteen children born to James W. and Mary McDonald Harding, James Alexander Harding was born on March 16, 1848 in Winchester, KY. At the age of thirteen he was baptized into Christ by his father during a meeting in Winchester conducted by the illustrious preacher, Moses E. Lard. Young Harding grew up in a home in which Alexander Campbell, “Raccoon” John Smith, Moses E. Lard, John T. Johnson, and John Rogers were regular visitors. Following his graduation from Bethany College in 1869, he moved to Hopkinsville, KY where he taught school and did some preaching. In 1871 he married nineteen year old Carrie Knight of Hopkinsville. Following her death in 1876, he married Patti Cobb in 1878. In the spring of 1875, he was asked by a brother John Adams to preach in a meeting. At first he refused, saying he had no evangelistic sermons. Adams responded, “Why you have been brought up in the church all your life. You have attended Bethany College and you have your degree. You have been preaching since you were nineteen. If you can’t hold a meeting, you ought to be shot. Now shut your mouth, get your horse, and come on out and hold that meeting!” Thus was launched a great evangelistic preaching career that extended from Canada to Florida and from Maine to New Mexico. From 1876 until 1893, Harding poured himself into evangelistic meetings, preaching twice every weekday and three times on Sunday. He held over 300 meetings that lasted anywhere from three to ten weeks. In one eight-week meeting at Foster Street in Nashville there were 123 additions. In a meeting at South Nashville he had 300 additions. He was no less adept as a debater than he was as a preacher and conducted over forty debates with various exponents of error. Of him it was said, “His mind was quick and his speaking ability extraordinary” (G. C. Taylor, Gospel Advocate, June 18, 1884, as cited by Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 2, p. 336). T. R. Burnett said of him, “He believes the Bible from ‘lid to lid’” (West, p. 336). In 1882 David Lipscomb made Harding a corresponding editor of the Gospel Advocate, and in 1891 Lipscomb and Harding began Nashville Bible School, now Lipscomb University. Ten years later, Harding moved to Bowling Green, KY to begin Potter Bible College and remained there for ten years, resigning the presidency when his memory began to fail. Harding was renowned for his great trust in the providence of God. He passed from this life on May 28, 1922 at the home of his daughter, Sue Paine, in Atlanta, GA, and is buried in Bowling Green, KY. In 1926, following the merger of Harper College in Kansas and Arkansas Christian College in Morrilton, Arkansas, Harding College (now University) in Searcy, AR was named in his honor.
(To Be Continued)
January 16, 2018
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Birth Of Christ
On the opening page of the New Testament we read the following wonderful announcement: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was thus: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). For the Christian, nothing is more significant than the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ. In this lesson we shall study His birth and some of the reasons for His birth.
Christ’s birth of the virgin Mary was not the beginning of His existence; it was only the beginning of His human presence in this world. The inspired apostle John takes us back into the vast eternity of the past, before the physical universe existed, and says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (existed alongside God, hf), and the Word was God (was of the same divine nature as God, hf). He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him (the eternally existing Word), and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1-3). (Note: For those wishing to further explore the matter of Christ’s eternal existence and the fact that He was the agent through whom God created all things, we call attention to such passages as Genesis 1:26; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-4; et al).
Following the prologue to his Gospel, John then proceeds to make this startling statement: “And the Word (which had co-existed eternally with the Father, hf) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul adds his inspired testimony to this tremendous truth when he says of Christ: “…who being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (literally, “selfishly clung to,” hf), but emptied Himself (not of His divine nature, but of His heavenly glory, hf), taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). But how could such a phenomenon occur?
Luke tells us that an angel appeared to the virgin Mary and said: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). Mary was perplexed by this announcement and asked the angel: “How can this be, since I do not know (a Biblical euphemism for sexual relations) a man?” (Luke 1:34). The angel then explained: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:36). The inspired apostle Matthew declares: “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’ ” (Matthew 1:22-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). Thus, through the miracle of the virgin birth Christ entered the world of humanity.
The story of the birth of Christ is recorded in Luke 2:1-20. This beautiful story has been read for 20 centuries, and many have rejoiced to hear it. It is the story that never grows old. But rather than getting caught up in the physical aspects of Jesus’ birth–the manger scene, the shepherds’ visit, or the gifts of the wise men–we need to focus on why Christ came into the world.
In His encounter with Zacchaeus, Jesus succinctly stated the reason for His coming: “…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). When we reflect back on our previous four Studies (“Humanity’s History Of Persistent Disobedience To God”), we immediately become impressed with the reality that everyone–both Jew and Gentile–stood in need of the salvation which Christ came to bring. Quoting from the 14th Psalm, Paul wrote: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way (the way of God, hf); they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12).
Yet in spite of humanity’s rebellion against Him, God is a God of mercy and grace who stands ready to forgive. “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5). God had known from the beginning that mankind would rebel against Him; humanity’s disobedience did not catch God “off guard.” In fact, in keeping with His merciful nature, even from the beginning He had planned for humanity’s redemption through Christ. Thus, “from before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), “from the beginning of the ages” (Ephesians 3:9), from “before time began” (Titus 1:2), “according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (II Timothy 1:9), and “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11), God sent Christ into the world to save us from our sins!
Throughout the ages of the Old Testament, God had been gradually unfolding His eternal purpose to redeem mankind through Christ. Though the prophets of the Old Testament spoke of many things pertaining to Christ, they did not always comprehend what the Spirit was leading them say. “Of this salvation (the salvation brought by Christ, hf) the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (I Peter 1:10-11). Peter went on to say that these matters concerned “things which angels desire to look into” (verse 12).
But after centuries of preparation for the coming of Christ, and “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman (the virgin Mary), born under the law (the law that had emanated from Sinai and delivered to Israel by Moses, see Study # 003, hf), to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). What a truly “one and only” kind of birth! “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).
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The Life Of Christ
The birth of Christ–the subject of our previous Study–was the only birth of its kind. Through the miracle of the virgin birth, “the Word (which had been with God the Father, and which possessed the same divine nature as God–John 1:1) became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Likewise, the life of Christ was the only life of its kind. No other person ever lived “who committed no sin” (I Peter 2:21-22, quoted from Isaiah 53:9). In this Study we will briefly examine the wonderful life of Christ, giving particular attention to the reasons for His “taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
Following Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, and at the urging of an angel, Joseph took the baby Jesus and His mother into Egypt to escape the murderous wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13-15). At a point in time, He was brought to the temple in Jerusalem, where as the firstborn son of Mary, He was presented to the Lord in compliance with the stipulations of the Law of Moses under which He was born (Luke 2:22-24; see Exodus 13:2). Following these events, the family settled in the city of Nazareth in the northern Palestine province of Galilee (Luke 2:39).
At the age of 12, Jesus attended the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph. Following the Passover, and without Joseph and Mary’s awareness, Jesus remained in the city–much to the consternation of Mary and Joseph. Later, after being found by them in the temple and reprimanded for His actions, Jesus said to them: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Mary and Joseph were completely puzzled by these words, “but His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:50-51).
At “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) Jesus submitted to baptism by John the Baptist in order “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). From His baptism “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Following His successful repulsion of Satan’s attacks, Jesus began a ministry that would extend over the next three-plus years. In the synagogue in Nazareth He announced the purpose of His life on earth when He read the following from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). To the synagogue gathering He then
announced: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 2:21).
Early in His ministry Jesus selected from among His larger group of disciples/ followers, 12 men “whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:13). They became His co-laborers in preaching that the long-awaited “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 10:5-7). Christ delivered the matchless Sermon on the Mount in which He set forth the principles that would guide the citizens of His kingdom (Matthew 5, 6, 7). In the course of His ministry, Christ taught many parables pertaining to the nature of His kingdom and its various characteristics(Matthew 13). Over and over, He affirmed that “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16), that “I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (John 12:49).
Jesus performed many miracles. He healed the sick, enabled the blind to see, unstopped the ears of the deaf, miraculously fed the hungry, and even raised the dead. People flocked to Him to receive some cure or physical blessing, but His miracles had a far greater purpose than simply the immediate benefits to the recipients. John tells us that Christ’s miracles were “signs” that signified something of tremendous import. John says: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book (the Gospel of John); but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
The following points will serve as a brief summary of why Jesus came to earth and lived as a man:
1. He came to fulfill the Old Testament Law and the Prophets–all that the Law and the Prophets for centuries had been pointing to (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44).
2. He came to communicate God’s final word to mankind and to establish God’s final covenant with humanity (Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:7-13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 10:9-10).
3. He came to leave us “an example, that [we] should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21).
4. He came to “show us the Father” (John 14:7-9)
5. He came “to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Paul explains that “many” means “all”–I Timothy 2:6).
6. He came that He might suffer “once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring (reconcile) us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).
This all too brief summary of the life of Christ leads us to the point of His crucifixion. In our next Study we will examine the death of Christ and why in the unfathomable wisdom of God the death of Christ was necessary.
The Death Of Christ
“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left” (Luke 23:33).
The four Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–tell of the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. His death was by means of crucifixion–a terrible and torturous form of execution devised by the Romans. We are sometimes guilty of sensationalizing the crucifixion of Christ–of trying to fill in as many of the gory details as possible, of trying to arouse as much emotion as possible. (Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, a movie which I chose not to see, was, I am told, “heavy on the details” of the crucifixion). The Bible spares us of this. Scripture reports the death of Christ in a straightforward manner, foregoing the gory details. Though they were a reality, the details of the crucifixion are not the important factors in Christ’s death.
By examining the accounts of the death of Christ as given by the four inspired penmen, we are provided with a composite picture of what occurred. Jesus is led from Pilate’s judgment hall to the hill of Calvary outside the walls of Jerusalem. First bearing His own cross, Simon of Cyrene is later pressed into service to carry it to the hill of execution. A multitude follows the entourage to Golgotha (another name for Calvary). Two thieves also are taken along that day to be crucified. Some have speculated that they may have been members of Barrabas’ band, the murderous insurrectionist who was released by Pilate in the place of Christ (Luke 23:18-19), but the Bible does not sat that they were. The actual crucifixion process began around 9 A.M., with Jesus being nailed to a cross between the two thieves. Possibly as an act of compassion, He is offered wine mixed with gall to deaden the pain, but He refuses the bitter elixir. An inscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is placed on the cross: “This is Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” Someone has called this the first gospel tract–the first briefly written statement of who Jesus was and is.
The Roman soldiers commissioned to carry out the executions cast lots for Christ’s garments. A word comes from the middle cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Soon a second word comes, one directed to His mother: “Woman, behold your son!” This is immediately followed by a word to the apostle John: “Behold your mother!”, indicating that this apostle would now assume responsibility for the care of Jesus’ mother.
Jesus is mocked and reviled by the crowd, with the two thieves casting the same insults at Him. However, one of them later has a change of heart and asks for mercy. This thief’s thinking apparently was: “If He saved others, maybe He can save me. If He has a kingdom, perhaps there is room in it for me.” As the storyteller of country music, Tom T. Hall, wrote in the classic ballad, I Remember the Year that Clayton Delaney Died, “a lot of folks get religion at the end.” To this penitent thief Christ said: “Today you shall be with Me in paradise.”
At noon the second stage of the crucifixion begins as darkness overwhelms the land for the next three hours. A fourth word emanates from the cross–a gut-wrenching, agonizing cry: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is followed by: “I thirst.” Then: “It is finished.” And finally: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
At this moment there is an earthquake. The veil of the temple–the veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place–is mysteriously torn in two. The tombs of the dead are opened; however, none of the dead come from their tombs until after Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53). What wonderful symbolism we see in these two events: (1) Mankind can now have direct access to God in the Most Holy Place through “the new and living way which [Christ] consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20), (2) The spiritually dead can now be raised to life with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-7).
A centurion standing by cries out: “Truly this was the Son of God!” The multitude, now deeply touched by these unusual occurrences, begins to draw back and move away, beating on their breasts. It is now dawning on them that they have done something truly awful. But the instigators of the crucifixion, hurrying to get it over with so that they can get on to their religious rituals, request that the legs of Jesus and the thieves be broken–apparently in an effort to intensify the pain and to hasten their deaths. The soldiers broke the legs of the thieves, “but when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:31-37). In this incident the inspired apostle John says that two Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ were fulfilled: “Not one of His bones shall be broken” (Psalms 34:20) and “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).
Finally, the body of Jesus is removed from the cross and hastily yet lovingly buried by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. A guard is placed at the tomb to prevent the apostles from stealing the body and claiming a resurrection (Matthew 27:62-66).
What shall we make of the death of Christ? Why did it have to occur? What explanation did the apostles later make of the crucifixion? What did the early Christians believe with reference to the death of Christ? In our next Study we shall look at the reasons for the death of Christ and why it was necessary.
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BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Death Of Christ
In our previous Study we looked at the crucifixion of Christ and some of the events surrounding His death. In this Study we will explore the reasons for His death–of why, in the unfathomable wisdom of God, the death of Christ was necessary.
Earlier in our Studies we surveyed humanity’s history of persistent disobedience to God (Studies #008 – #011). It is precisely because of the reality of sin and mankind’s inability to atone for his sins that Christ had to die. Perhaps the apostle Paul put it most succinctly when he wrote: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Everything else that the Bible says about the reasons for the death of Christ ties in
–either directly or indirectly–with this one central truth, that Christ died for our sins.
The first eight chapters of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans constitute a theological masterpiece of the reasons for–indeed, the necessity of–the death of Christ. After showing that all–both the Gentile world (Romans 1) and the Jewish world (Romans 2 – 3:20)–stand condemned before God so “that every mouth [that might profess innocence of sin] may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19), the inspired apostle then declares of Christ: “…whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in His blood…” (Romans 3:25). The word propitiation (properly pronounced pro-pish-e-a-shun) means “a conciliatory offering, an atonement.” By means of the death of Christ God “has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). What all of this means is that mankind could never atone for his sins by his own efforts, by his own works of righteousness (Titus 3:3-7). Only by the death of Christ could propitiation/atonement be made for sin, so that henceforth God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Other Biblical statements setting forth this same sublime truth include the following:
(1) When He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christ said of the cup, the fruit of the vine: “For this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Earlier, Christ had declared that He had come “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Paul explains in I Timothy 2:6 that “many” means “all.”
(2) The writer of Hebrews says that Christ “by the grace of God, might taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).
(3) The apostle Peter declares: “For Christ also has suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).
(4) The apostle Paul affirms: “For He (God) has made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ)” (II Corinthians 5:21).
(5) Peter echoes this same truth when he says of Christ: “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed” (I Peter 2:24).
(6) Paul plainly states: “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (I Corinthians 15:3).
In this last passage we see one of several complementary reasons that is attached to the death of Christ and the overarching purpose of His death. Paul says that Christ died “according to the Scriptures,” i.e. to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures which had pointed to the atoning death of Christ. The fact is that there had never been a time when in His infinite wisdom God had not planned for the death of His Son as the atonement for the sins of mankind. In Revelation 13:8 Jesus is described as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” This, obviously, does not mean that Christ actually was crucified before the creation of the world; it only means that in the eternal wisdom of God this was the way He had chosen “before time began” (II Timothy 1:9) to deal with the reality of humanity’s sin. To use a contemporary phrase, in the mind of God the death of Christ for the sins of mankind was “a done deal” from before the foundation of the world. Indeed, as Jesus said to Peter when he attempted to protect Christ from the mob who came to arrest Him in the garden of Gethsemane and take Him to His trial and crucifixion: “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be thus?” (Matthew 26:54).
Throughout the ages of the Old Testament God’s “eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11) was gradually being unfolded. The sacrifices, rites, rituals, feasts, festivals, and Levitical priesthood, along with all the other institutions of the Old Testament were never ends of themselves, nor were they intended to last indefinitely. They served only as “a figure for that time then present” (the Old Testament period, hf) (Hebrews 9:9), and were but “a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things…” (Hebrews 10:1). The Old Testament, with its rituals and rites and feasts and festivals, was only “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:14-17). The animal sacrifices offered and the other ordinances engaged in during the Old Testament ages could never achieve actual remission of sins “for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Only the death of Christ and the shedding of His blood could procure actual forgiveness!
In summary, the reasons for the death of Christ were as follows:
1. To be a propitiation for the sins of the world, as well as for the sins Christians commit in their imperfect walk with God (Romans 3:21-26; I John 1:7; I John 2:1-2).
2. To reconcile mankind to God (Romans 5:10).
3. To fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures and bring to fruition God’s eternal purpose to redeem mankind through Christ (Luke 24:44-47; I Corinthians 15:1-4).
4. To break down the middle wall of division between Jews and Gentiles–“that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances” so that Jews and Gentiles might not only be reconciled to each other, but, more importantly, so that both might be reconciled to God “in the one body (the church) by the cross, by it (the cross) having put to death the enmity (the enmity that existed between Jews and Gentiles, and, more importantly, the enmity that existed between all humanity and God because of sin)” (Ephesians 2:14-18).
5. To enable Christ to become the mediator of the new testament, thereby terminating the inadequate rites and rituals of the old testament (Hebrews 9:15-17; Hebrews 10:9-10; Romans 7:4).
How thankful we should be for “the manifold (the many splendorous aspects, hf) wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10) and His great love for us, demonstrated so completely in the death of Christ for our sins! “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). In future Studies we shall see from the New Testament Scriptures how we are to respond to that love in faith and obedience.
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The Resurrection Of Christ
Our last two Studies focused on the death of Christ. In these we saw that the death of Christ was: (1) a violent death, one in which He was humiliated, beaten, and subjected to the cruelest death devised by man–crucifixion; (2) a voluntary death, one from which He could have been delivered by summoning “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53), but one which He chose to suffer in order to fulfill God’s plan for human redemption from sin (Matthew 26:54); and (3) a vicarious death, that is, a death–not for His own sins (of which He had none)–but for the sins of the world (I Corinthians 15:3; II Corinthians 5:21). But the death of Christ was also a victorious death as we shall now proceed to show in a study the resurrection of Christ.
In a beautiful summary of the gospel, the apostle Paul explains that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen of Cephas (Peter), and then by the twelve” (I Corinthians 15:3-5). The rest of I Corinthians 15 is devoted to proofs of the resurrection–first of Christ’s, then of all who have ever died. In proof of the resurrection of Christ, Paul affirms that in addition to being seen by Cephas and then by the twelve, on other occasions Christ “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once” (verse 6), “by James, then by all the apostles” (verse 7), “and last of all He was seen by me (Paul) also…” (verse 8). These people were all eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection–credible witnesses who could have been interviewed by anyone in the area of Judea interested in knowing the facts about what had happened.
As Paul develops his arguments for the resurrection of Christ he reminds the Corinthian Christians (some of whom were denying the general resurrection of all the dead at the end of time) that if there is no resurrection of the dead in general “then Christ has not been raised” (verse 13). He further states that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith also is vain (meaningless) (verse 14). Paul goes further and asserts that if Christ has not been raised then all the apostles (and others) who testified to Christ’s resurrection “are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise” (verse 15). Finally, Paul affirms: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” and “those who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished” (verses 17-18). The overwhelming conclusion of denying the general resurrection of all the dead, involving as it does a denial of Christ’s resurrection, is this: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ (in other words, if there is nothing beyond the grave), we are of all men most pitable” (verse 19) and we may as well “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (verse 32) and that is it! Thus, the consequences of not believing in the resurrection of Christ are indeed many and tragic!
It is interesting to observe that not all the Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–tell of the birth of Christ. None of them claim to tell all that Christ did and taught (John 20:30-31; 21:25). But all four Gospel writers tell of the resurrection of Christ! (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10). Not only do they record the fact of His resurrection, but they each tell of individuals and groups to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection, thus providing credible witnesses to the reality of the resurrection.
Through the years, religious liberals and modernists have sought to explain away the resurrection. They do this because they cannot bring themselves to accept anything that that is beyond the boundaries of their human reasoning. Thus, they deny both the virgin birth of our Lord and His literal, bodily resurrection from the dead. It is with this mindset that they also deny the divine inspiration of the Bible.
The resurrection of Christ has been “explained” by asserting that Christ did not actually die, that He only fainted (this is known as the “swoon” theory), later revived, and escaped from the tomb. However, the Roman soldiers who pierced His side knew that Jesus was dead (John 19:33-34), and Pilate the Roman governor verified the death of Christ before granting permission for the burial of the body (Mark 15:44-45).
The resurrection also has been “explained” by suggesting that the disciples of Jesus stole the body and then claimed a “resurrection.” In fact, this is the oldest “explanation” that has been made for the resurrection, one that the Jews had continued to make at the time Matthew wrote his Gospel (Matthew 28:11-15), and one that unbelieving Jews and other infidels continue to make until this day. But guards had been placed at the tomb of Jesus to prevent this very thing from happening (Matthew 27:62-66), and after the resurrection they were bribed to say: “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept” (Matthew 28:13). But consider this: If the guards did “go to sleep on the job,” how did they know what had happened? If they were asleep how could they know if the disciples (or anyone else) had come and stolen the body? And if the disciples had stolen the body and faked the resurrection, how do we explain their later dying the deaths of martyrs–all for what they knew to be a lie, a fable?!
Still again, in their insistence on denying the reality of the resurrection, modernists have “explained” the resurrection by asserting that the apostles only saw Christ in their imagination, that they wanted so badly to believe that He arose from the dead that they “saw” Him in their minds, but that He did not literally, physically, and actually arise from the dead. How then do we account for the “over five hundred brethren” who all saw Him “at once” (I Corinthians 15:6)? Were they all possessed of an “over-worked and highly vivid imagination”? And how do we explain Christ being seen by Saul of Tarsus, the arch-enemy of Christ, and the last person on earth who would want to see Him (I Corinthians 15:8-9)?!
The facts are these: Christ lived, He was crucified, He was buried, and three days later He arose from the dead. As Peter preached so convincingly to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested (approved) by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know–Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it (death)” (Acts 2:22-24). Indeed, Christ has been “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4) and therefore “He is able to save to the uttermost (completely) those who come to God through Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
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The Ascension And Coronation Of Christ
“Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Throughout the centuries of the Christian era much emphasis has been given to the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This is as it should be since Scripture affirms that these events–and specifically the death, burial, and resurrection–lie at the very heart of the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-5). However, attention also needs to be given to the ascension of Christ and His coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords. Without a Biblical perspective of Christ’s ascension and kingship, one cannot appreciate the formal inauguration of the Christian faith and the nature of Christ’s kingdom.
After giving final instructions to His apostles, Christ “led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). Among other reasons, the ascension of Christ showed that His mission on earth had been completed. In a special prayer uttered shortly before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus said to His Father: “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). While at that moment He still faced death on the cross for the sins of the world and His subsequent burial and resurrection, so sure was He of their accomplishment that He could speak of His mission as being finished. In His dying breath He proclaimed: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Following His burial and resurrection, and after another forty days during which He appeared to His apostles and numerous others (Acts 1:1-3; I Corinthians 15:5-8), Christ’s mission on earth indeed was completed and He returned to God in heaven.
In one of His first post-resurrection appearances, and in a passage that has been enigmatic to many, Jesus said to Mary: “Do not cling to Me (do not hold on to Me, NIV), for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ ” (John 20:17). Because both the King James and the American Standard Versions of this passage have Jesus saying: “Touch me not…” some have thought that there was some kind of mystical prohibition to anyone touching the resurrected body of Christ prior to His ascension. However, later in this very chapter, Jesus invites Thomas to “reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side” (John 20:27). Thus, as the New King James, the New American Standard, and the New International Versions, as well as the footnote of the American Standard Version, all indicate, Jesus apparently is only saying to Mary: “You do not have to hold on to Me, you do not have to cling to Me, as though I am about to leave. I have not yet ascended to the Father, and there will be an adequate amount of time for such touching, holding to, and clinging to Me. However, at the appointed time, I will ascend to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”
The ascension of Christ is described as follows: “And when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). In beautiful predictive imagery and anticipation of this very event, the prophet Daniel (c. 600 BC) had written: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man (Christ–Luke 19:10), coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days (God), and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away. And His kingdom one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14). In this magnificent prophecy we see both the ascension of Christ and His coronation as the King of His kingdom.
When the angel Gabriel had announced to the virgin Mary that she would have a Son, he had said of the Christ: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). This promise is irrevocably tied to the covenant God made with David recorded in II Samuel 7:12-13. Christ was “of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), and following His ascension to heaven He was seated on the throne of David, which also is said to be God’s throne. The Old Testament clearly states that “Solomon sat on the throne of his father David” (I Kings 2:12), but with equal clarity it states that “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord” (I Chronicles 29:23). Thus, David’s throne and the Lord’s throne were one and the same throne.
Now consider this: In Revelation 3:19 Christ commanded the lukewarm church in Laodicea to “be zealous and repent,” and then promised: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down (both past tense verbs) with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). So, Christ is now on His throne, which also is the Father’s throne. But the Father’s throne is David’s throne (see above Old Testament references); therefore, Christ is now on David’s throne, which obviously means that David’s throne from which Christ now reigns is not physical or earthly, but spiritual, and His kingdom is not physical, earthly, or national, but spiritual.
That is precisely what Christ affirmed to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That is what Paul stated concerning the spiritual realm in which Christians live (Colossians 1:13). And that is what the apostles, by the power of the Holy Spirit, preached on the memorable Day of Pentecost when Peter quoted David’s prophecy from Psalms 16:8-11 that God “would raise up Christ to sit on his (that is, David’s) throne” (Acts 2:30). Peter then proceeded to explain that David foreseeing this “spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ” (Acts 2:31). Then Peter declared: “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he (David) says himself: ‘The Lord (God) said to my Lord (Christ), “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool” ‘ (quoting Psalms 110:1). Then with an inescapable conclusion, Peter affirmed: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made (past tense verb) this Jesus, whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:34-36). Thus, if Christ is not now on David’s throne He is not occupying the position God raised Him to occupy, nor is He where He ascended to be, because both David in the Psalm 16 and Peter in Acts 2 affirmed that Christ was both raised and ascended in order to sit on David’s throne! Indeed, as this same apostle elsewhere wrote concerning Christ: “…who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (I Peter 3:22).
The New Testament book of Hebrews speaks often of the ancient Melchizedek, and describes him as “king of Salem (an older name for Jerusalem, hf), and priest of the Most High God” (Hebrews 7:1). It is likewise affirmed numerous times in this same epistle that Christ is “a priest forever according to (after) the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:5-6; 7:15, 17, 21; et al). And just as Melchizedek was both king and priest, so Christ is both king and priest. Indeed, as the prophet Zechariah (c. 520 BC) predicted of the Christ: “… He will be a priest on His throne” (Zechariah 6:13). Inasmuch as Melchizedek was both king and priest, and inasmuch as Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and inasmuch as He would be on His throne at the same time He was a priest–“a priest on His throne” (Zechariah 6:13), and inasmuch as Christ is now priest (Hebrews 8:1), we may know of a certainty that Christ is now on His throne!
In one further note regarding the fact that Christ is now reigning on His throne, we call attention to Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15:25: “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” (In connection with this phrase, see again Peter’s quotation in Acts 2:34-35 from Psalms 110:1: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”). Continuing, Paul says: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Corinthians 15:26). Since people are still dying, we know that death has not yet been destroyed. Paul goes on to explain that death will not be destroyed until the resurrection of all the dead at the second coming of Christ (I Corinthians 15:51-55). But Paul has already said that Christ must reign until death is destroyed. Therefore, as long as men are still dying, Christ is still reigning. But He could not still be reigning if His reign has not yet begun!
In summary, we have learned:
1. That following the completion of His earthly mission to accomplish human redemption from sin by means of His death, Christ ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:9).
2. That when Christ returned to the Father, He was “given dominion and glory and a kingdom”–He was crowned as King of kings and Lord of lords (Daniel 7:13-14).
3. That Christ’s throne is not earthly or physical, but spiritual; neither is His kingdom earthly, physical, or national, but spiritual (John 18:36).
4. That Christ was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit on David’s spiritual throne (Acts 2:30-35).
5. That Christ combines His priestly function and His kingly office into one role, serving as “a priest on His throne” (Zechariah 8:13).
6. That all who surrender to the Lordship of Christ in obedience to the gospel are “delivered…from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
In future studies, we will learn more about the nature of Christ’s kingdom and see when it was inaugurated.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Coming Of The Holy Spirit
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Comforter, KJV & ASV) will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7, New King James Version).
In our previous lesson we studied “The Ascension And Coronation Of Christ.” Throughout the course of His earthly ministry Jesus had endeavored to prepare His apostles for the fact that He eventually would leave them and return to the Father. As He came closer to the time of His death, Christ tried to get them to understand what would soon take place. However, they were extremely slow to grasp the import of what He was saying.
Consider, for example, the following instance: “From that time on, Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. But Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ ” (Matthew 16:21-22).
Still again, consider the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas Iscariot led the Jewish religious leaders to Christ and Peter attempted to protect Him from the mob. Jesus said to Peter: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures (of the Old Testament, hf) be fulfilled, that it must be thus?” (Matthew 26:52-54). But they were so “slow of heart to believe” all that the prophets had spoken! (Luke 24:25).
In a very intimate conversation with His disciples shortly before His crucifixion, Christ sought to comfort the apostles by assuring them that even though He was going away He would not leave them alone. This conversation with just the apostles (and recorded only by the apostle John in chapters 14, 15, and 16), sets forth Christ’s wonderful promise to His disciples to send the Holy Spirit to them. Listen in as Christ says to them: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17).
A little later Christ said to the apostles: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). (Note: It is extremely important to keep in mind the context of these statements and to realize that Jesus is addressing only the apostles. To take words spoken to the apostles and apply them to a larger audience is fraught with numerous problems and results in many erroneous views regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s people today).
Still later in this special visit with His apostles, Jesus said to them: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He (the Holy Spirit) will not speak on His own authority (just as Christ had not spoken on His own authority–John 12:49, hf), but whatever He hears (from the Father, hf) He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:12-13). It was just prior to this statement that Christ had said to the apostles: “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Then, as Christ ends this intimate conversation with His disciples, He says to them: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Against the background of the above promise of Christ to send the Holy Spirit to His apostles, let us now fast forward to after His death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel writer Luke records the following words of Christ to His apostles: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me…Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…And behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49). What was this “Promise of My Father” and the “power from on high” of which Jesus spoke? Let Luke the inspired recorder of these words explain them as he begins the Acts of the Apostles and “dovetails” its opening words with the closing words of his Gospel: “And being assembled together with them (the apostles), He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you heard from Me; for John (the Baptist) truly baptized with water, but you (the apostles) will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ ” (Acts 1:4-8). (Note: Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Both books are addressed to a man by the name of Theophilus [Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3], and are intended as a two-volume work on the earthly ministry of Christ and His continuing ministry through His spiritual body, the church. This accounts for the marvelous connection between the ending of Luke and the beginning of Acts, and for the inspired explanation of what Jesus meant when He spoke of “the Promise of My Father” and “power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
In the following chapter of Acts we read of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to His apostles to send the Holy Spirit to them. On the historic Day of Pentecost following the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (languages, verse 6), as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). With the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost the apostles were “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and the stage was set for the inauguration of the kingdom of Christ, the establishment of His church. In our next Study we shall look at the details of that great event.
Important footnote: This Study has not dealt with the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians–either in the early stages of Christianity or today. It has dealt only with the special promise Christ made to the apostles before His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and the fulfillment of that promise as recorded in Acts 2:1-4. Another series of Studies would be needed to examine what the New Testament teaches regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a child of God. Perhaps such a Study can be conducted in the future.
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
The Establishment Of The Church
“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” (Matthew 16:18, New King James Version).
Before looking at the specifics regarding the establishment of the church, it is in order for us to do a quick review of our last few lessons. Beginning with # 012, we studied the birth of Christ. From that lesson we moved to a study of the life of Christ. Then we had two Studies on the death of Christ. Next, we examined the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Following that, we studied the fact of Christ’s ascension back to heaven and His coronation. In our last lesson we studied about the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to empower them to proclaim the message (the gospel) by which people could be saved from their sins and brought into a proper spiritual relationship with God. The observant student will see that these last several lessons are sequentially connected, providing a step by step development of events leading to a grand climax, namely the bringing into existence a body of people–the church–that is uniquely the people of God. Let us now see how the church was created.
Jesus Christ came into the world for constructive purposes. He came to fulfill the Law (of Moses) and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). He came to bring to fruition all that the Old Testament had been leading up to and for which the prophets had been preparing mankind (Luke 24:44). Christ came to inaugurate the kingdom of God. Early in His ministry He preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came to give Himself “a ransom for all”
(I Timothy 2:5-6). In order to achieve these divine purposes, Christ died for the sins of the world. He shed His blood so that humanity might be forgiven of sin, be brought into spiritual fellowship with God, and have the hope of everlasting life. These purposes all came together with the establishment of the church.
Just as the death of Christ was fixed in the mind of God “from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), so the church was in the mind of God from the very beginning. The apostle Paul describes the church as the manifestation of “the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 3:9). He goes on to say that the church is the divine display “of the manifold (multi-faceted and splendorous) wisdom of God” because God’s wisdom is “made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (the spiritual realm of life and thought, hf) and is “according to the eternal purpose which He (God) purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).
In the light of the above, it is not surprising that following His death for the sins of the world, Jesus said to His apostles: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Before anyone could have remission of sins, Christ had to die and shed His blood “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). But after having suffered for the sins of the world and having been resurrected, Christ commanded His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel (the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection, I Corinthians 15:3-4) to every creature” (Mark 16:15). To enable the apostles to carry out this tremendous responsibility, Christ promised them that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem (the beginning place, Luke 24:47), and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). (See the previous Study: # 018 – “The Coming Of The Holy Spirit”).
When we move to Acts 2 we find the Holy Spirit filling the apostles, empowering them to speak in the languages of the thousands of Jews who were in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” for the observance of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). Peter, along with the rest of the apostles, explains the phenomenon that was taking place, showing that it was the fulfillment of what God had foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament (Acts 2:14-21). The Spirit-filled apostles then proceed to proclaim the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ, building to a grand crescendo: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
As a result of this first proclamation of the gospel in the fullness of its accomplished facts (the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ), many in the audience “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37). The divine reply is given: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
What were the results? “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). Thus, the church was established. People heard the good news of Christ’s death for their sins, they believed the message, they acted upon the divine instructions given to them, and they became numbered with the embryonic group of 120 left behind by Christ when He ascended back to heaven (Acts 1:15). Thereafter, “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
From the above, the following truths emerge:
1. The church began in the city of Jerusalem, for that was the place where “repentance and remission of sins” were first preached (Luke 24:47).
2. The church had its beginning on the first Day of Pentecost following the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, for until Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood the church could not exist as an historical reality (Acts 20:28).
3. Christ alone is the founder of the church, the body of blood-redeemed people, because He alone paid the price for human redemption (Romans 5:8-9; Matthew 16:18).
4. Christ alone is the foundation of the church, because the faith of its members rests solely on Christ (I Corinthians 3:11; I Peter 2:6-8).
5. Christ alone is the head of the church, for He alone is worthy of our allegiance (Ephesians 1:22-23).
6. The church is the collective body of people that has been cleansed of its sins by the blood of Christ and purchased to God by Christ’s blood (I Peter 1:18-19; Acts 20:28).
7. The church is composed of those people who have been delivered from “the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His (God’s) love” (Colossians 1:13), which is the same as “and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
8. The church is now God’s “holy nation, His own special people (a people for His own possession, American Standard Version)” (I Peter 2:9).
How significant the church! How vital the church! How necessary the church! Without it the manifold wisdom of God is never displayed. Without it the redemptive work of Christ is never realized in the existence of a body of redeemed people. Without it the kingdom of God does not exist. Without it there is no place in which to glorify God since “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
Saved By Grace
“And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we (Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they (Gentiles)” (Acts 15:11).
In our previous Study we learned that all that God had been preparing mankind for prior to the coming of Christ, all that the Old Testament prophets had been foretelling, all that Christ came into the world to accomplish reached its fruition in the establishment of the church, the body of people that has been redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ. We are now ready to move into a series of studies that is designed to set forth God’s wonderful plan of salvation, of how a person–any person anywhere–can enter into a spiritual relationship with God and be a part of the church, that body of people to whom the Lord adds those who have been saved from their sins (Acts 2:47).
The New Testament book of Romans, particularly chapters 1 through 8, sets forth in magnificent tones the wonderful, amazing grace of God toward sinful humanity. By His grace, God made provisions for mankind’s redemption through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Consider for example the tremendous statement found in Romans 5:6-8: “For when we were still without strength (to save ourselves, hf), in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is grace–God’s unmerited, undeserved love and favor toward sinful humanity in taking the initiative to save us by means of the propitiation/atonement offered by Christ for us on the cross (Romans 3:25).
The reality of salvation by grace runs throughout the gospel. In fact, the gospel is the message of God’s grace toward us, the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” (I Corinthians 15:3). The apostle Paul speaks with great appreciation of “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Throughout the New Testament emphasis is given to the exhilarating truth that we are saved by grace. Consider a few of the passages setting forth this fact.
Romans 3:24: “…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 5:20: “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…”
I Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am…”
II Corinthians 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich (referring to His pre-fleshly existence with God, Philippians 2:5-6), yet for your sakes He became poor (by coming to earth as a man and dying for our sins, Philippians 2:7-8), that you through His poverty might become rich (in spiritual blessings, Ephesians 1:3).”
Ephesians 1:7: “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
II Timothy 1:9: “…who (God) has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
Titus 3:5-7: “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Hebrews 2:9: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”
On we could go, submitting passage after passage of Sacred Scripture affirming the truth that salvation is possible only because of the grace, the unmerited love and favor of God toward man as demonstrated in the death of Christ for all mankind. Truly, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
In the light of the above, some may wonder why everyone will not be saved. Some may wonder why Christ, in His Sermon on Mount, urged people to “enter in at the narrow gate,” and then warned: “for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it” (Matthew 7:13). Some may wonder why, as Christ came to the end of that great sermon, He cautioned: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). While no one deserves God’s grace and while salvation can never be earned, is there something a person must do to accept God’s grace? Is there any validity to the question often raised in the Acts of the Apostles: “What must I do to be saved?”
In the next several lessons we shall give careful attention to the response that one must make to God’s amazing grace in order to be saved and incorporated into the church, the people who are now God’s “holy nation, His own special people” (I Peter 1:9-10).
BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
“What Must I Do To Be Saved?”
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ ” ( Acts 2:37).
In our previous Study we saw that any person’s hope of salvation rests upon the grace of God. No one can ever “lift himself up by his own bootstraps” to a right relationship with his Maker. As futile as were the efforts of the ancients to build “a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4, KJV), so is mankind’s effort to save himself by his own goodness. Human redemption required God taking the initiative on man’s behalf and providing a propitiation for sin. That atonement was the blood of Christ, shed “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), motivated as it was by the unmerited love and favor of God (Romans 5:8).
The writer of the New Testament book of