The Times Of The Gentiles
Jeremiah says: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time will I cause the Branch of Righteousness to grow up unto David and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness. For thus saith the Lord, David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of Israel… Moreover, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the Lord hath chosen, He hath even cast them off? Thus they have despised My people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith the Lord, If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have appointed the ordinances of Heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them” (Jeremiah 33:14-26). These are only a few of the many quotations we might make from the prophets, but they are a fair sample of the uniform witness of all the prophets to the glorious future of Israel, when the kingdom should again be theirs and the Lord would be in their midst once more.
With such magnificent promises filling the minds of all the faithful in Israel, what a thrill must have passed through their hearts when they began to hear that the time had come for the accomplishment of all this — that the Messiah was already here and that the long-looked-for redemption was about to be consummated. No doubt the great mass of the people were totally unready for the kingdom, so both John the Baptist and the Lord Himself called them to repentance. But only a remnant responded and as time went on, the leaders of the people especially and with them the majority of the nation banded themselves together against the Lord and His Christ. Again we point out, the question arises in the mind, when this became apparent, what will God do? The answer is that God accepted the situation the people had created for themselves, and brought out of the treasury of His counsels a plan that had not been made known to men hitherto. He will not give up the kingdom, but for the present it must take a form new and strange to the disciples. It is this new form of the kingdom that is unfolded in Matthew 13.
In seven parables the Lord sets forth this new form, and the manner in which He does this is most significant. For the first time He speaks to the people in a parable and when His disciples ask the meaning of this new departure, He tells them He has done so deliberately and of purpose. His words are:
“Because unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because they seeing, see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive. For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears for they hear. For verily I say unto you that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear and have not heard them” (Matthew 13:11-17).
This surely indicates a turning point in our Lord’s ministry to Israel. No longer will He continue His appeals to them as heretofore; on the contrary, He will confine His communications to a select circle, made up of those who have received what He has said up to this time. The rest are blinded and abandoned to the results of their unbelief. They have not understood nor cared to understand what He has said about the kingdom previous to this nor have they bowed in repentance before God, — now they cannot understand. But what about those who have understood and received Him and His message? Shall they be left as an integral part of an apostate nation, or will God separate this select circle into a community by itself, and if so, how? We have reached a solemn crisis in the ways of God, and it is of the utmost importance that we should understand it. In order to do so we must leave for a moment Matthew 13 and go on to Matthew 16. Here He declares His purpose concerning this remnant who have believed in Him, as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The way in which His purpose is announced is most interesting and should be noticed very carefully. In the first place the Lord puts a question, the answer to which divides the nation into two parts, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Observe the reply, “Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some Elias and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” Then follows the question, “But whom say ye that I am?” and to this comes the wonderful testimony, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Here then are the two parties in Israel, those who believe in Him and those who do not, and in view of this the Lord says, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father, which is in Heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”
Here is the first mention of the Church of Christ in the Bible. Let this be carefully noted, for it is important for our understanding of the Word of God. And let it be observed and weighed very carefully, that the Church and the kingdom of Heaven are not the same thing at all. The two ideas are distinct as this passage plainly shows. Peter is sometimes depicted in the religious world as carrying the keys of Heaven itself and sometimes as carrying the keys of the Church. But both thoughts are baseless and all it needs to show this is a little attention to what the Word says. In Matthew 13 the Lord has been giving to His own the secrets of the kingdom, that is to say, the form the kingdom of Heaven would take in the absence of the King, and the question would naturally arise in the mind, but who will represent the King down here in His kingdom? One cannot conceive of a King absent from his kingdom without leaving some one or ones to administer its affairs for him. Now let us repeat, the Lord has announced that the kingdom of Heaven is to take a new character entirely, not spoken of by the prophets. In this new form the King will be absent because rejected, and the question is who or what will authoritatively represent Him? Of course it is generally held in the Roman Catholic system that the Pope is the successor of Peter and in his hand are the keys of the kingdom. But who can find one single word in the Word of God as to the successor of Peter? There is not one hint that what the Lord said to him here established a kind of spiritual dynasty of which Peter was the root and head. It is all an absurd fable. On the other hand, the Protestant will say, that the representative of Christ here is the Holy Ghost and in so saying he is much nearer the truth than the Papist. But we must face the fact that here the Lord commits the keys of the kingdom to Peter, with the assurance that his acts on earth will be validated in Heaven.
Now there is no question whatever that at the beginning of the Church’s history as recorded in the Book of the Acts, the Apostle Peter acted in a very authoritative way, and moreover, that his course in this respect had the endorsement of Heaven. This is not merely a theory, it was a matter of fact plainly manifest to all. For example, on the day of Pentecost it was he who opened the door of repentance to the guilty nation of Israel. Later on it was he who prayed for the Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Ghost and surely the Lord approved of his action, because the Holy Ghost came on them. Furthermore, when the door was to be opened to the Gentiles he was the man chosen of the Lord to do it, and his message at that time was sustained by Heaven, for the Holy Ghost came on them when they believed the message he brought. There can be no question then that in the early day when the kingdom of Heaven was being given its form, the Apostle Peter carried the keys of the kingdom. But, let us ask here, after the door is opened to the Gentiles in Acts 10, when do you find him again in this important place? The answer is, never. In the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, in the discussion as to the Gentiles being circumcised, he occupies a subordinate place, the leading place being taken by James, and from this time on he disappears from the sacred narrative. He is mentioned of course by Paul in his epistles, but never as a spiritual superior, and once at least as an erring brother whom he had to reprove (Gal. 2:11-14).
But who then represents the Lord in the kingdom if there be no successor of Peter? Again we say, we reject with all our hearts the suggestion that the Pope is in any wise his legitimate successor. In what Peter did there is no succession needed, the work was done, the kingdom was formed, its limits fixed, its boundaries established. But then who acts for the Lord in the kingdom when it is thus established? This brings us to the eighteenth chapter of Matthew where for the second time the Church is mentioned. And in this mention of the assembly, the words addressed to Peter as acting for the Lord with His sanction, are now connected with two or three gathered in His Name, “Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be bound in Heaven.” So that when the kingdom is established those who are here on earth representing His Church in any given place are authorized to act for Him with the assurance that He will stand by them in it. It is through the assembly of saints gathering in the Lord’s Name that His authority is to be exercised and of course it is by the power and presence of the Holy Ghost that they are fitted for this solemn responsibility. We are not told of general assemblies or synods or any other form of government, far less of the Pope or college of cardinals; all authority to act for the Lord in His kingdom is vested in two or three gathering in His Name. We have dwelt on this at length so that we may have in our minds the close connection between the Church and the kingdom, because the condition of a kingdom surely depends to a large extent on the condition of those in authority in it. And for this reason we have on the chart put alongside of the various phases of the kingdom the successive stages of the Church’s history, and we shall take them up together.
But we must look a little further at the truth of the Church in order to justify our use of the seven letters as a picture of seven successive stages in its history. We have already pointed out the declared purpose of the Lord in Matthew 16. There it is a purpose to be carried out in the future, but when we turn to the Acts of the Apostles we find it becoming a fact. The Lord has gone into Heaven having accomplished redemption, but He has left behind Him a company who feel themselves thoroughly apart from the unbelieving nation with which they are linked. They are together in an upper room in Jerusalem, and day after day they meet for prayer until on the day of Pentecost the promised Comforter comes. This Divine Messenger from the glory brings to them the knowledge of Christ seated on the Father’s throne and their place as linked with Him there and with each other here in a new and heavenly way. Thus is brought into being the wonderful thing called the Church of God.
For a time it seemed like a Jewish sect, for they still went to the temple at stated times, but when Israel persisted, in spite of the appeals to the nation, to reject the Lord in glory and the testimony of the Holy Ghost, then God raised up a man, Saul of Tarsus, afterwards the Apostle Paul, to whom He committed the full revelation of His purposes in connection with the Church. It is not that the Church did not exist until Paul was raised up, it existed ever since Pentecost, but to Paul was committed the mission of telling its destiny, its character, its responsibility, and its glory. As the Word puts it in Ephesians 3:8-9, “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints in this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the administration (R.V.) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ.” In keeping with this he tells us that the Church is the Body of Christ, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, baptized by one Spirit into one body, thus being an entirely new thing in the earth.
* * *
According to the Bible, the Word of God, there is only one Church, the Body of Christ, of which all members are united to Him as Head in Heaven.