12-17-17 Lesson 8
If you all can open up to the Book of Acts, chapter 11, verses 17-18. As you all know we’re continuing our study in Ecclesiology which is the doctrine of the church. And we’ve defined what the church is, that unique body of called out ones that has trusted in the very Messiah that the leadership of Israel in the first century rejected. And from there we took a look at the differences between the universal church and the local church. We tried to flush that out. And from there, I think for the last several Sundays we’ve been on this part, Roman numeral III, Word Pictures of the church. So there are about seven New Testament word pictures of the church. Last time we were together we finished up with the vine and the branches word picture. But those word pictures give us a great portrait of what the church is supposed to be like under God.
And we’re moving now into Roman Numeral IV which is the origin of the church. When exactly did the church age start? And I don’t think, some of these slides I’m not sure you have but what you see up on the screen there is your basic dispensations chart. [on the screen: Innocence, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace]. And the reason I put this up is because figuring out when the church started is what we would call a dispensational call. When did God officially and formally start the dispensation of the church, the age of time that we’re living in now, the age of time that we’ve been in for the last 2,000 years.
Now you might be wondering what is a dispensation? Just very quickly, the Greek word translated “dispensation” in many of your Bible translations, if I remember right in the King James Bible Ephesians 1:10 and Ephesians 3:2 you’ll see the word “dispensation” in the English translation. [Ephesians 1:10, “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” KJV Ephesians 3:2, “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:” KJV.]
And dispensation is sort of a scare word that has a very simple meaning; it’s not a word you need to be afraid of. Dispensations are what we would call the keys that unlock the whole Bible to you once you understand it. So the word translated dispensation in some of those English translations is the word oikonomia, which is a compound word meaning two words making up one word; oikos meaning house, and nomia, coming from nomos or law, two Greek words. So it literally means house law or house rules.
So as you go through the Bible what you start to see is the rules were different in prior times than they are today. For example, we didn’t show up to church on Saturday, did we; we came on Sunday. The folks in the Old Testament came on Saturday and they came bringing their unblemished lambs to sacrifice; I didn’t see anybody doing that today here at Sugar Land Bible church. And then in the Old Testament times they went to the temple, in the Middle East; we’re here in North America. So it’s kind of obvious as you look at the Old Testament and you compare it to what’s normative today that the rules got changed somewhere along the line.
As you move from Genesis 1 and 2 into Genesis 3 it’s obvious the rules change, the house rules change. So Genesis 1 and 2, there’s no difficulty in pregnancy, there’s no such thing as death, the ground is not rebelling against humanity. And then in Genesis 3 all of a sudden those things I just articulated, whether it be death, painful pregnancy, rebellion of the agriculture against man, all of that is introduced so obviously by the time you get to Genesis 3 the rules changed some from Genesis 1 and 2. See that. So that’s basically what we mean by a dispensation, a change of house rules.
So a traditional dispensationalist like myself would back up and we would observe… this is not something we bring to the text, it’s an observation we get from the text. So a traditional dispensationalist like myself would back up and see about seven changes in rules. And so when we get into this subject of when the church started we’re making a dispensational call—when did God change the rules? The plan of salvation is always the same from beginning to end, personal salvation; that never changes. That’s always based on faith alone in Christ alone, Old Testament folks looking forward to a coming Messiah, New Testament folks and thereafter like ourselves looking backward to a Messiah whose name we know, who died on the cross for us.
So that plan of salvation is always the same but as you go through the Bible it’s pretty apparent that the rules, the house rules, the household rules, change over time. So prior to the age of the church the nation of Israel had been functioning under the Law for 1,500 years; that’s a long time, isn’t it, when you think about it. So at some point when the church started God changed the rules and the church age began.
And so then the issue becomes when did the rules change and if you can figure out when the rules changed you can figure out the birthday of the church. And one of the key things to keep in mind here is this: it doesn’t matter when man finally figures out the rules change. It never is man that introduces a new dispensation. It’s always God! So a lot of time people had a difficult time figuring out that the rules had changed and people, I think, go astray because they try to figure out well, when did man figure out the rules changed. And that’s really never the issue, the issue is when did God Himself change the household rules and the church age started?
So to illustrate this take a look at Acts 11:7-8, this is the Apostle Peter, and it says, the Lord speaking to Peter, ““I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’” So Peter had that dream of that sheet and he saw those animals on the sheet and God said to Peter, “arise, kill and eat.” In other words, Peter, the dietary rules of the Mosaic Law that the nation of Israel has been under for 1500 years, those have now been set aside. We’re under new household rules.
And look at Peter’s reaction, “Not so, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.” See, Peter wants to operate by the old house rules but the reality is God had already changed the rules. So this is a perfect illustration to demonstrate you don’t figure out when the rules change based on when Peter finally figured out the rules changed. God is the One that changes the rules. He did so at a particular point in time as I’ll be showing you, and whether Peter fully understood it or whether Peter fully comprehended it is irrelevant. So I think many people go astray because they’re looking at when did man figure out the rules changed and that’s not the right way of thinking about it. It’s when, according to the Bible did God Himself change the rules. Man oftentimes is very slow or kind of a Johnny-come-lately in recognizing what God has already done.
Man’s recognition of the rule change is not the issue; it’s when did God change the rules. So when we try to document the beginning of the church we’re trying to figure out when did the rules change from the dispensation of Law to the dispensation of the church, which is the time period that we’re living in now. On one extreme are people that will tell you that the church started in the Old Testament. A lot of them, in what’s called Reformed Theology, will push the church all the way back to Abraham. Beyond that many people will push it all the way back to Adam. If you look at Reformed Theologians when Adam got out of the Garden and put his clothes on the church started. So they have what’s called a one people of God theology, the church has always been here they think.
On the other end of the stick are those that push the extreme the other way and try to argue that the church started sometime after Acts 2, typically trying to start the church with the Apostle Paul. And I’d like to show you that I don’t think either position is correct; neither position is what is reflected in the Sugar Land Bible church position of faith, statement of faith. And I don’t think either position is reflected in the Scripture. I think there’s a solid case to be made that the church started in Acts 2. The problem with that is there’s no verse that says hey, the church started in Acts 2. I mean, I wish it was that easy. So when you try to defend a doctrine you have to consider multiple Scriptures and you have to put them together, kind of like a piece of the jigsaw puzzle gets put together. That’s how you have to approach this subject of when the church started. You have to look at multiple Scriptures, which is what I’m going to, by God’s grace, try to lead you through today.
And that’s how you put together any doctrine. For example, the Trinity, there is no verse that says hey, guess what, God is one and He’s expressed Himself in three persons. I mean, if such a verse exists I’d love for you to show it to me because it’s not that easy to assemble the doctrine of the Trinity. You have to compare Scripture with Scripture, compare the verses that teach that God is one with the New Testament verses that indicate that the Spirit is God, the Father is God and so forth. So the Trinity has to be assembled through multiple Scriptures. The birthday of the church has to be assembled through multiple Scriptures.
So here are the six arguments that I want to walk you through to demonstrate that I think the church started in Acts 2; that’s when God changed the house rules. There’s arguments 1-4 and there’s arguments 5-6. So with that being said here we go: let’s go first of all to Matthew 16:18. The first of the six arguments is Jesus Christ Himself referred to the church in the future tense. Notice, if you will, Matthew 16:18, it says, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build” that’s the Greek word oikodomeō, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” So that verb there, “I will build” is in which tense? Future! So this is something that obviously didn’t exist in the Old Testament, the church, because Jesus says “I will build” it.
And it’s obviously something that was not inexistence contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus Christ. So a lot of people will tell you the church is in the Old Testament. Well, that doesn’t make any sense because Jesus says “I will build” it. A lot of people, their mindset is well, you know, we have an Old Testament and we have a New Testament, so the church itself must have started at the beginning of the New Testament with the birth of Christ. And that doesn’t make any sense either because Jesus says “I will build” it.
So the church is not in the Old Testament and quite frankly it’s not even in the Gospels. Christ hints over and over again at a coming church, a change of rules; in many, many passages He does this. In John 7:37-39 it says this; the Spirit had not yet been poured out because He had not yet been glorified. That’s in the ministry of Christ. So He’s hinting at a change of rules on the horizon but the change of rules hadn’t occurred yet in the ministry of Jesus Christ nor in the Old Testament.
[John 7:37-39, Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”]
Now when you talk like this immediately Reformed Theologians will quote Acts 7:38, which is Stephen’s speech revealing Jewish history. And Acts 7:38 says, “This is the one who was in the congregation” now “congregation” is the Greek word ekklesia, ekklesia is the word for church in the wilderness and this is during the time of Moses. So your Reformed theologian will come back and say aha, there’s a reference to the church in the Old Testament.
But what you have to understand about the word “church” is it’s a non-technical word. What I mean by that is it’s a word that doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere it’s used. It’s like the word apple; when I use the word “apple” I could be referring to New York City, I could be referring to a computer, I could be referring to a piece of fruit. And that’s what the word “church” is. The word “church” doesn’t always mean the same thing everywhere it’s used. When Paul uses the word “church” he is infusing into it a certain meaning that you don’t find in the Old Testament. And I’ll be showing you what that meaning is in just a little bit.
So when Stephen talks about a church in the wilderness what he’s saying there is it’s a common gathering. Another way of saying this is it’s synagogue, which is a Jewish gathering. So just because the word “church” is used in reference to the Old Testament doesn’t mean “the church” that we’re in now. It’s an Old Testament concept because the word “church” doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere it’s used. It’s a nontechnical word whose definition changes from context to context. When you have this context here it’s not talking about the church, the body of Christ. It’s just talking about synagogue or a common gathering.
And a very important verse on this whole thing is Galatians 4:4. It says, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under” what? “the Law.” When Jesus was born into this world, the prior dispensation was in existence; the dispensation of the Law was in existence. During the whole ministry of Jesus Christ the dispensation of the Law was in existence. At the crucifixion of Christ the dispensation of the Law was in existence. At the resurrection and ascension of Christ the dispensation of the Law was in existence. God hadn’t changed the rules yet; Jesus is at the very end of the prior dispensation because He is the One who the Law pointed to. See that?
So the thinking of a lot of people is well, Matthew is a New Testament book so that’s when the church started. But that’s not what your Bible teaches. That’s not what Galatians 4:4 indicates; it’s very clear that during the whole earthly ministry of Christ in His first advent the church age hadn’t begun yet. So Galatians 4:4, Matthew 16:18 both tell you that the church did not exist in the Old Testament and it certainly did not start with the ministry of Jesus Christ. That would be clue number one. Clue number one is Christ referred to the church in the future tense.
Clue number two concerning when the church started is Paul referred to the church as a mystery. And you say well, what is a mystery? “Mystery” is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word mustērion, in English because when we look at the word mystery in English it has a totally different meaning than what it had in Greek. Mystery in English means something obscure, something that has to be searched out with great diligence. If you’re watching a mystery movie you don’t know who the bad guy is until the last five minutes. Like the old Colombo shows, you’ve got to wait till the bitter end to see how things get figured out. If you’re reading a mystery novel you don’t get the conclusion until the end.
And so we think the English word mystery is how the Greeks used the word mystery. But in Greek God ordained, as we know, for the New Testament to be written in Greek, the Greek word “mustērion” has the opposite meaning of what I just said; it’s an open disclosure. It is an veiling of something that in prior ages had been hidden. This is how Paul uses the word mystery in Romans 16:25-26. The mystery, mustērion, which has been kept secret from long ages past “but now is manifest.” [Romans 16:25, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, [26’ but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;”]
So a mystery is a truth hidden now openly disclosed. This is also how Paul uses the word mystery in Colossians 1:26, “… the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to” us. So that’s what the word mystery means. If you like Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words, Vine has a great definition of what a biblical mystery is.
Vine writes, “In the N.T, it [mustērion] denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those who are illumined by His Spirit.” So a mystery biblically is something concealed now unveiled.
So with that definition in mind notice that the Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-6 calls the church a “mystery.” In Ephesians 3 he uses the word “mystery….” he says, “That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery….” Later on he says, verse 4, “ By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,” verse 5, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” notice I’ve got apostles underlined there. Simple question: is “apostles” a singular noun or a plural noun? It’s plural, so the “mystery” (watch this very carefully) was not only revealed to Paul, because a lot of people believe the church started with Paul because only Paul had the mystery. That contradicts what your Bible says. Your Bible clearly says the mystery was not only given to Paul, it was given to the “apostles,” plural. Paul happened to write more about the mystery than anybody else. I mean, if we didn’t have Paul we wouldn’t have the explanation of the mystery that we have today. But the mystery was not only given to Paul and I’ll say more about that in a minute.
What’s the “mystery”? To be specific, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That’s the mystery. That’s the new truth. The new truth is that we, in this new man called the church, are in equal standing with Jews. Jews are no longer elevated to a place of preeminence over Gentiles as they were in Old Testament times. That’s how it worked for 1500 years; if you want to get right with God you’ve got to convert to Judaism and thus folks are called proselytes. That is the age of time that the Apostle Peter is still clinging to when the Lord says, “Arise and eat” and he says, “Not so, Lord.” [Acts 11:7-8] He’s not recognizing yet that God had changed the rules earlier.
So you can go into your Old Testament all you want and you’re not going to find this concept of the church in the Old Testament the way I’m describing it. You might find Stephen making a reference to a church, a common synagogue, a common gathering, but this meaning that I’m talking about here you will not find in the Old Testament. You will not even find it in the ministry of Jesus Christ except by way of a foretaste; sometimes He hints at the change of rules that’s coming.
So we are living in a unique period of time where the preeminent servants of God are no longer the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The primary people in the church are Gentiles. It’s been that way ever since Paul’s first missionary journey, and when a Jew gets saved, and we praise God for that, they are not elevated to a place of national supremacy over Gentiles any more, as existed in Old Testament times, but they are co-equals, fellow partakers, joint heirs in Christ Jesus. This is a mystery or a brand new truth.
We take it for granted because this has been written for us for 2,000 years but when Paul and the apostles began to speak of these things this was a brane new concept. This was mind blowing to them. That’s why Peter, even though he hears the voice of God in the dream, “Arise and eat!” doesn’t want to arise and eat because he’s still clinging to the way it used to work.
Ephesians 3:9 goes on and it says, “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.” So Paul, over and over again in Ephesians 3 is calling the church a mystery.
What’s the mystery? The mystery, you’ll find a definition of it in Ephesians 2:15-16 which says this: “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two” now who’s the two? Jew and Gentile. “He might make the two” in other words, believing Jews and believing Gentiles, “He might make the two into one” what man? “new man,” so this is brand new, that’s why it’s called a mystery, “thus establishing peace,  and He might reconcile them both in one” what? “body” now the concept of the church as a body, it’s a metaphor and we’ve traced that metaphor in prior teachings, that’s new to.
So what’s new, what the mystery is, is this spiritual man consisting of Jews and Gentiles as joint heirs in one new spiritual man called the church or the body of Christ, that doesn’t exist when Christ was on the earth nor does it exist in the Old Testament.
How did you, when you got saved by way of personal salvation in the Old Testament and you wanted to grow in your relationship with Yahweh, what did you have to do? You had to convert to Judaism; those folks are called proselytes. The most famous proselyte that I know of in the entire Bible is Ruth, the Moabites. Moab is a nation adjacent to the land of Israel, east of the Jordan, and you know the story of Ruth, how Ruth, through the influence of Naomi, a Hebrew, became a believer in Yahweh and Ruth wants to go with her mother-in-law back to the land of Israel. And what does Ruth say to Naomi? “Your people shall be” what? “my people, and your God shall be my God. [Ruth 1:16, “But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God….]
That’s how it always worked for 1500 years; you want to get saved, believe; you want to grow, convert to Judaism because Judaism, or Israel, are on the earth the preeminent servants of God. And right there in Acts 2, as I’ll be showing you, the rules just got changed. Paul is not introducing the change of rules. Are you with me on that? He is explaining the rules that God changed. Dispensations don’t rise or fall by what Paul does or any other servant of God. God is the one that changed the rules. Peter didn’t catch on. God raises up Paul largely to explain this change of rules and He does that primarily in Ephesians and that’s why He calls the church age a mystery.
And just to show you how, sort of behind the learning curve the apostles were on this, you get to Acts 15, which is the Jerusalem Council, and this is right after Paul’s first missionary journey into southern Galatia, Gentiles start getting saved like crazy. This has never happened before so they have to have a pow-wow, the church leadership still in Jerusalem, they’ve got to have a pow-wow, a meeting… what do we do with all these Gentiles that are now saved? Do we make them convert to Judaism? Well, why would the Jewish leadership think that? Well, that’s because that’s how it’s worked for the last 1,500 years.
So they have this whole meeting to figure out, do we make these Gentiles convert to Judaism to walk with God, and the ruling of the Jerusalem Council was no. If the ruling had turned out to be yes we would all be Jewish proselytes today in the year 2017. So they’re slowly acknowledging a 1,500 year air of time had passed away and it was not something that they wanted to accept right away but gradually what you see in the Book of Acts is they’re catching up with, something that God had already done in Acts 2.
So six reasons as to why the church started in Acts 2. Number 1, Christ referred to the church in the future tense, Matthew 16:18. Number 2, Paul referred to the church as a “mystery,” Ephesians 3:4-5, 9. And as I go through these different clues what you’re going to start seeing is the window is going to start narrowing. It’s going to start narrowing and narrowing and narrowing until Acts 2 really becomes the obvious reason why the church started in Acts 2.
So this takes us to number 3, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1. The church could not have existed prior to Acts 1; Acts 1 is the what? The ascension of Christ. The church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since Christ became the head of the church after His ascension. Ephesians 5:23 tells us that Christ is the head of the church. [Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.”]
The question is, when did he become the head of the church exactly? You’ll find the answer in Ephesians 1. Ephesians 1:20 talks about His ascension. It says, “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” that’s His ascension. And once that ascension took place He “gave Him as head over all things to the” what? “the church.” [Ephesians 1:20, “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”]
Jesus did not become head of the church or the body of Christ or the bride of Christ until after Acts 1 because this verse here says He became head over the church after his ascension and the ascension took place in which chapter of the Bible? Acts 1. If you have a church prior to Acts 1 basically what you’ve got is a body functioning without a head. You know, Ichabod Crane, the headless horseman and all that stuff. So obviously you can’t have the church with Christ as its head prior to Acts 1 because He became head over all things, including the church, following His ascension. So anybody that tells you the church is in the Old Testament is not paying attention to the details that we’re talking about here.
So number 1, Christ referred to the church in the future tense. Number 2, Paul referred to the church as a “mystery.” Number 3, The church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since Christ became the head of the church after His ascension.
Reason number 4, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since spiritual gifts only came into existence after the ascension of Christ. You say spiritual gifts, what are those? Spiritual gifts are Spirit empowered abilities to serve God in a special way in His church. If the spiritual gifts are not in operation then you can’t have a church. Why is that? Because you don’t have the divine means through which edification of the body takes place.
“But to each…” by the way, did you know you have a spiritual gift too. It’s not just the preacher and the piano player, everybody has a spiritual gift because of that word “each.” “But to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the” what? “common good.” [1 Corinthians 12:7] As the spiritual gifts are being ministered the body of Christ is being edified for the common good; the body of Christ is being filled up. This is why Paul, when he is talking about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:26, says, “let all these things be done” so folks can win a popularity contest. Whoops, it doesn’t say that, “let all these things be done for edification” which is building up of one another in the faith. That’s what spiritual gifts are designed to do.
Ephesians 4:11 says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists,” look at this, “and some as pastors and teachers,” for what purpose?  “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” that’s talking about the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher which the elders of this church feel that I possess and as I faithfully minister that gift, hopefully what’s happening is you are being equipped for the ministry that God has for you, whatever that may be.
Now what I want you to see is these spiritual gifts, which you have to have for a church to function, didn’t exist prior to Acts 1. They did not exist the way we experience them today prior to the ascension of Christ because Paul earlier on in the passage, Ephesians 4:7-8 says, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, ‘“WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,” when was that? The ascension, Acts 1, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH” His first order of business was “He led a captive of hosts and He gave gifts,’” what gifts? They’re spoken of later on in verse 11, verse 12, spiritual gifts, here he’s focused on the gift of the pastor-teacher but all the gifts, “HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”
So you can’t have the church existing prior to the ascension because the gifts of the Spirit weren’t in operation yet. See that? If you go to a church where the spiritual gifts are not in operation why even go, if you think about it. I mean, why don’t you just go to the Rotary Club. I mean, no one has the gift of preaching, no one has the gift of teaching, no one has the gift of mercy, exhortation, evangelism, mercy, but you get the drift. The reason you come to a church is to be… it’s typically to use your gifts to help others and then you become the recipient of someone else’s spiritual gifts. So the reality of the situation is prior to Acts 1 you don’t have spiritual gifts because Jesus Christ gave those gifts once he ascended to the right hand of the Father. So you cannot have a church in existence prior to Acts chapter 1.
Going back to our reasons here, number 1, Christ referred to the church in the future tense. Reason 2, Paul referred to the church as a mystery. Reason 3, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since Christ became the head of the church after His ascension. Reason number 4, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since spiritual gifts only came into existence after His ascension. So what we’re doing here is we’re narrowing the window, gradually, trying to figure out when the church started.
This takes us to number 5. Number 5 is the church existed before Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. Many, many people will tell you that the church started with Paul. I don’t think that’s true at all. The church was in existence before Paul ever got saved. You say well, I thought to Paul alone was given the mystery of the church. Well, that’s not true because the mystery was given to the Holy apostles, singular or plural? Plural! Paul is not starting a new dispensation; Paul, by God’s grace is a theologian God raised up to give us the greatest explanation of the mystery. And people are confusing the explanation of the mystery with when the mystery started. That’s the confusion.
So it’s very clear here that the church existed before Paul. Paul is converted in Acts 9. What do we read here in Acts 5? Would you all agree that Acts 5 comes before Acts 9. This is the Ananias and Sapphira, who were slain in the Holy Spirit (which is not a good thing by the way), it says, “And great fear came over the whole church,” well, there’s your reference to church, ekklesia, something that was functioning in Jerusalem prior to the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
In fact, this was the body that Paul, then Saul, was persecuting. Acts 8:1 says, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, [and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Verse 3, “But Saul began ravaging the church,” so clearly Saul is attacking something; he’s attacking the existent church. Paul over and over again tells us that he attacked the church. That’s why he calls himself the least and the last of the apostles.
He says in Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I” that’s Paul, “used to persecute the” what? “church of God [beyond measure and tried to destroy it.”] 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul says, “For I” that’s Paul, “am the least of the apostles and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He says over in Philippians 3:6, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the” what” “of the church….”
Now what many, many people will tell you is well, that was the Jewish church; Paul started the Gentile church and what he’s attacking here is the Jewish church. Folks, there is no such thing as a difference between a Jewish church and a Gentile church; it’s the exact same church. The complexion of the church was Jewish right up to the conversion of who? Cornelius. Acts 10. [Acts 10:1, “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort.”] And then by the time Paul goes on his first missionary journey that’s when the Gentiles start getting saved like crazy and the Gentiles become the dominant members of the church. So there is no doubt that the ethnic complexion of the church changed over time but it’s the exact same church. Paul was persecuting God’s church.
Jesus said this, and these are some of the hints that Jesus gives of a coming church age. He says, “I have other sheep” who would those other sheep be? Gentiles, “which are not of this fold. I must bring them also and they will hear My voice and they will become” what? the second flock… does it say that? It says, “they will become one flock..” [John 10:16, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”]
So Jesus is hinting at a time when Gentile believers are going to start getting saved like crazy and they’re going to be brought into, not their separate flock but one flock along with believing Hebrews. Paul himself in Ephesians 4:4 says there’s how many bodies? One body; these are all one, one body, one Spirit and what have you. [Ephesians 4:4, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;”] And this is a verse that folks, and I’ve tried to look into this, who believe the church started, I tried to look through their systematic theologies to see how they answer this, it’s a verse like it doesn’t even register.
Paul, in Romans 16:7 makes this statement, He says, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles,” look at this, “who also were in Christ” what? “before me.” Now do a word study on the prepositional phrase “in Christ,” that expression is used about 99-100 times and it always refers to Christ’s body, the church. In fact, that expression occurs in the famous rapture passage, where it says, “the dead in Christ will rise first.” [1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”]
What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about people who were “in Christ” before him. He mentions them by name, Andronicus and Junias. These are people who were “in Christ” a term used only of the church of Christ; a term used only of the body of Christ, who were “in Christ” before him so quite obviously the church could not have started with Paul because he’s talking about people “in Christ” before he was even saved in Acts 9. See that.
Number 1, Christ referred to the church in the future tense. [Matthew 16:18] Number 2, Paul referred to the church as a “mystery” [Ephesians 3:4-5, 9] Number 3, The church couldn’t have existed prior to Acts 1 because that’s when Christ became the head of the church. [Ephesians 5:23, after His ascension [Ephesians 1:20-22] Number 4, The church did not exist prior to Acts 1 because that’s when, at least after Acts 1 at least after Acts 1 because that’s when the spiritual gifts came into existence. Number 5, as we’ve looked at, the church existed before Paul’s conversion. You see many, many references to that.
So see what I’ve done here is I’ve said this: it couldn’t exist in the Old Testament, it couldn’t exist in the time of Christ, it couldn’t have existed prior to Acts 1, but I’m also saying this: it was entity, it was a reality, it was a change of rules that was already in effect by the time Saul is converted to Paul in Acts 9. So it’s not way back then and it’s not in the life of Paul as when the birthday of the church actually is. The birthday of the church is Acts 2.
Now let me explain why I think that. I’ve given you the outer edges and I’m trying to narrow the window down now to Acts 2. It’s not way back when, not in the life of Paul, it’s sometime in between the two. So you’ve got to put at least three verses together to understand this. The first is 1 Corinthians 12:13. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all” what” baptized into” what? “one body,” it doesn’t matter “whether we’re Jews or Greeks” we’re all in the same body. Right?
What does this word “baptize” mean? People think it means water baptism. It means that many times but this context does not deal with water baptism at all. The Greek verb is baptizō which means identification. Water baptism just celebrates what has already happened in terms of a spirit baptism. At the point of personal faith in Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit takes the lost sinner who is now saved and baptizes them, identifies them with Christ’s new man, new body, called the church.
This is something that the Holy Spirit does incorporating new believers into the body. See that. So if you can figure out when this started, it’s been going on for the last 2,000 years, if you can figure out when this started you can figure out when God changed the rules, regardless of whether Peter or anybody else understood the rule change.
So when did the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ start because if you can figure that out you can sort of figure out when the body of Christ started. When did the Holy Spirit start this new work exactly? Well, what did Jesus say in Acts 1:5, just before He left the earth. He said in Acts 1:5, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” When he says “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” they probably didn’t even know what He was talking about. Paul is going to come along in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and explain it. See that. So Jesus made this statement in Acts 1, this was during the forty day interval in between His resurrection and ascension; He had not ascended yet and He’s basically saying by the way, gentlemen, about a few days from now the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ is going to start.
Now Acts 1 precedes Acts 2, you guys with me on that, Acts 1 comes before Acts 2. So at some point after Acts 1:5 this unique change of rules, the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit started. Now, having said that go to Acts 11:15-16. Who just got saved in Acts 10? The first Gentile, named Cornelius; everybody is shocked a Gentile got saved, so they’ve got to go back to Jerusalem and have a big pow-wow and say to themselves can a Gentile really get saved? That’s what’s going on in Acts 11.
Acts 11 really is the first Jerusalem Council. The one I referred to earlier is the second Jerusalem Council. The first Jerusalem Council they’re trying to figure out can a Gentile in the age of the church get saved, a non-Jew. The second Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 they’re trying to figure out well all these saved Gentiles, they already knew a Gentile could get saved, Cornelius got saved, what do we do with them? Do we make them become Jews, as has happened for 1500 years, or not. So in Acts 11 they’re having a big discussion about is it true that a Gentile could get saved because Peter had gone to Caesarea, which is a beautiful city. I’ve been there myself, beautiful turquoise water there on the Mediterranean Sea, and there’s a great big Roman coliseum built there. And it was there that the Apostle Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius and Cornelius gets saved, a Gentile. That’s Acts 10.
Now in Acts 11 they’re having a meeting about it to figure out did this just happen or not? I mean, can a Gentile really get saved. See how they haven’t really caught up with something God was doing.
So in the course of recounting the event Peter is summoned and he recounts the events of Cornelius’ salvation and before the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and he makes this very interesting statement. He says, “And as I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them” that’s Cornelius and his entourage, “fell on them just as He did upon us” “us” being who? us Jews, when? “at the beginning.” So what happened with Cornelius, Acts 10, has already happened to us Jews. So if we can figure out when the Lord started doing this early on, beginning with the Jews, you can figure out when the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ started.
Verse 16 is the clue. Peter says, “And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He used to say John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with” what? “the Holy Spirit,” he’s remembering what Jesus said back where? Acts 1:5. So see what’s happened here? Jesus has said the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is going to begin a few days from now, so it’s got to be some time after Acts 5. Peter says you know, this guy, Cornelius, was baptized in the Holy Spirit like we were from the beginning. So the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit has to take place sometime before Acts 11 or even Acts 10. Are you with me?
So the Holy Spirit changes the rules sometime after Acts 1 and some time prior to Acts 10. Now you go and study those chapters all you want, the only time in between Acts 1 and Acts 10 where the Holy Spirit is poured out in an unprecedented monumental way is which chapter of the Bible? Acts 2. It doesn’t say hey you all, the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is starting now. Jesus already said it was going to start soon. Peter said it started some time prior to Acts 10. And you go right through those chapters and the only one where the Holy Spirit is doing anything of this gravity is in Acts 2.
It says in Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” So the Spirit is doing this thing; He’s baptizing men and women in the body of Christ. He’s taking people who have exercised faith in Christ and He is identifying them for the very first time into a new body called the body of Christ.
And the Holy Spirit is pretty good at doing this by the way, because Peter stood up and he gave the gospel and what does it say in Acts 2:37-41, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’  Peter said to them, ‘Repent,” which is a synonym for believe, we don’t have time to get into that, repent means change of mind which is a synonym for belief. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” now the translations here are very weak. The NKJB says “for the remission of sins,” when you study this word translated “for” it is easily translated in many places, like Matthew 12:41, “because of.” It’s not saying you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. What it’s saying is be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins. I think it’s the Greek conjunction eis, if I’m not mistaken, I should have looked it up. Maybe I can talk about that more next time.
But it’s easily translated because of rather than for. “…for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Verse 39, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!’” Which generation? Israel, that was under divine condemnation because of the leadership’s rejection of their Messiah. So they are moving off into judgment in A.D. 70 because of the cycles of discipline that God gave to Israel in the Mosaic Law. And then it says,  “So then, those who had received his word were” what? “baptized; and that day there were about three thousand souls were added to them.
And then as you move down to verses 42-47 it describes the first church meeting which we’re going to study. What is happening in Acts 2 is what Jesus said would happen a few days from now, the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. It’s what Peter said in Acts 11 happened to Cornelius like it happened to us Jews at the beginning.
So the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the body of Christ, I believe when you look at all of these clues starts in Acts 2. Paul explains the baptism of the Spirit. Christ says it’s going to happen a few days from now, Act 1. Peter said it happened to Cornelius like it happened to us from the beginning. And you go through those chapters and the only place it fits where the Holy Spirit is doing something of that caliber is Acts 2. So the rules change in Acts 2. Now Paul is going to come along and explain the change of rules but Paul didn’t start the change of rules. So when is the birthday of the church. The birthday of the church is Acts chapter 2; that’s when God changed the house rules. How do I know that?
Number 1, Christ referred to the church in the future tense.
Number 2, Paul referred to the church as a mystery, you don’t have it in the Old Testament, you don’t have it in the life of Christ, although Christ makes some hints thereof.
Number 3, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since Christ became the head of the church after His ascension.
Number 4, the church did not exist prior to Acts 1 since spiritual gifts, which are necessary for a church to function only came into existence after Christ’s ascension.
Number 5, many, many verses tell us that the church was in existence prior to Paul.
And then finally, number 6, when you follow the clues what you’ll see is the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit which Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:13 started sometime after Acts 1 but prior to Acts 10, and the only logical place it shifts. So that’s when the Lord changed the house rules and the church, the birthday of the church started in our estimation. I went into a lot of detail about that, I was hoping to open it up for Q and A but you guys can e-mail me your questions. Let me close us in a word of prayer
Father, we’re grateful for today, grateful for the church, we’re grateful for the fact that we are part of it and thank You for Your Word and the truth that it teaches us about this. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said…