People of God — Lesson 5

A Study by Robert F. Turner

What Was “Established” on Pentecost?

Jesus said to Peter, “I will build My church,” and “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18,19). Hence, “kingdom” and “church” have some things in common. Mark records Jesus as saying the kingdom would “come with power” within that generation (Mark 9:1), and “you [the apostles] shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). The Spirit came on the first Pentecost following the resurrection, as recorded in Acts 2:1–4, and that chapter also says, ”the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Clearly, “the church” and “the kingdom” existed then, but concepts of “church” and “kingdom” vary widely. “Kingdom” does not refer only to the church, even in the New Testament. The world realm of God’s rule is called His “kingdom” (Matthew 13:38,41), and the term is also applied to the eternal inheritance of the saints (Ephesians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:18).

The Events in Acts 2

The word “established” is not found in Acts 2, but is freely used in prophecies concerning the coming “kingdom” (basileia) of Christ. W. E. Vine says “basileia . . . is primarily an abstract noun, denoting sovereignty, royal power, dominion . . . then, by metonymy, a concrete noun, denoting the territory or people over whom a king rules.” In 2 Samuel 7, God (through the prophet Nathan) promised David that He would “establish forever” the kingdom of one of his descendants (vv.12–16; cf. Psalm 89:3,4), and Peter refers to such promises in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:30–36). But more, Daniel 2 records a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which Daniel interpreted as follows. The king dreamed of an image that represented four world empires (dominions): the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greek, and the Roman. God caused a small stone to strike the image, to break it in pieces, and become a great mountain, superior to all others, that would stand forever. That is to say, divine authority would be established “for all nations” that would be superior to all human authority. It is no accident that Isaiah prophesied that “it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains . . . exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2,3). Both passages refer to the establishment of the superior authority of Christ on David’s throne, to which “all nations” (Jews and Gentiles) must submit. In doing so, we become the “house” or people of God, the product of submission to His will (cf. Micah 4:1,2 ASV).

With this as our background, let us now make a study of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14–36. As an introduction, explaining the ability of the apostles to speak in the tongues of the many nations present, Peter cites the prophecies of Joel 2:28–32, concluding with the words, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Then he gets into the main body of his sermon. Jesus of Nazareth, adequately approved of God (v.22), you have rejected and crucified (v.23). God resurrected Him (v.24), as prophesied by David (vv.25–28). David was not speaking of himself, for he is yet in the grave (v.29), but rather he was saying that one of his descendants would be the Christ, resurrected to sit on his throne (vv.30,31). We are witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (v.32). Therefore, Jesus Christ (a) is exalted (John 7:39 tells us the Holy Spirit would not be given until Jesus was glorified), (b) has received His throne which the Holy Spirit promised (Mark 12:35,36), and (c) has poured out this (Holy Spirit) which you now see and hear (Acts 2:33–35). Therefore, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v.36). Peter’s sermon declared the establishment of Jesus Christ’s authority.

When the listeners “were cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter told them to “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.” We have put emphasis on the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” because this phrase correctly ties Peter’s reply to the sermon that fostered the question. He is saying, “Listen to the King — submit to His authority.” To “call on the name of the Lord,” one must heed the King’s command to “repent and be baptized,” etc.

What Went Forth From Jerusalem?

What was prophesied to “go forth”? Look again at Isaiah 2:3. “Come, and let us go up to the mountain [government, authority] of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” There is nothing here about a validating and self-perpetuating “institution” called “church.” It is certainly true that those who submit to divine authority, obeying the commands of Jesus Christ, become God’s people and constitute His “church,” His “called out” ones in the universal sense (Acts 2:47). But the universal church is not a functional entity. There was no universal organization on earth established that day. Isaiah is saying that the authority of Christ and His instructions for salvation from sin would be declared on that wonderful day. Read it carefully. “He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The three thousand souls had to hear the message, believe in the Christ, and obey Him in order to be saved and added unto them (Acts 2:41,47). The church — “called out [ones]” — flourished then because people, of their own free will, accepted the call. But what if none of the three thousand had obeyed the gospel on that day? Regardless of the response, would not the essentials for God’s people have been set forth? God “instituted” the church in somewhat the same way He instituted marriage. He gave the first man and woman regulations for this relationship, and a particular marriage today is representative of God’s institution, but only to the extent that the constituents are in submission to His rules.

The Church and the Kingdom

Shortly after World War II an evangelist from the United States taught and baptized several people in a foreign country, rented a hall where they could meet for worship, and put up a sign which read: “This church was established in Jerusalem, A.D. 30.” A native questioned the sign, saying that church had been there only three months. Upon reflection, the preacher acknowledged that it was only by way of submission to Bible teaching (the law and word of the Lord) that they could claim linkage with the church in ancient Jerusalem. The church does not validate the word, as Catholicism seems to teach, but must seek its own validation by the word, which is the seed that produces the people of God (Luke 8:11–15) and will judge them in the last day (John 12:48).

While endeavoring to correct erroneous impressions about “the church,” we certainly do not deny that the firstfruits or products of the gospel came into being on the Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection. At that time they were individually called “believers” (Acts 2:44). Later they were called “disciples” and “saints,” and finally they were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). But collectively these people were the ekklesia or “called out [ones].” This word, after translation through later Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and Middle English (Scottish “kirk”), comes to us as “church.” A large dictionary will show that currently the word is used for organizations, buildings, religious societies or services, clerical professions, etc. But the basic New Testament usage, as in “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18), is that of a collective noun, designating the people of God. Generally speaking, when one sees “church” he can think “people of God” and not go far wrong; but God’s people remain the keepers of His word, not the validating authority of that word.

With careful study it also becomes apparent that “kingdom” is a predominant figure used to describe the spiritual dominion of the Messiah. When we see the word “kingdom” we should think “rule.” Then, after the idea of “rule” is firmly planted in our minds, we may examine the context to see if, in this case, the word is extended to designate the realm of that rule, the people ruled, the nature of that rule (physical or spiritual), or other extended use. Jesus flatly denied that His kingdom is “of this world” (John 18:36,37). Christ was resurrected to “sit on [David’s] throne” (Acts 2:30), but this was no literal throne nor physical kingdom. He reigns from heaven, through His word, over all who freely subject themselves to Him.

On Pentecost in Acts 2, God’s messengers declared the establishment of Christ’s kingdom (rule), the message of the reigning King was heard, and the obedient became citizens in Christ’s kingdom. The law and word of the Lord (based upon His authority to speak) went forth from Jerusalem, and continues to this day. That word is “of God.” And the obedient are “children of God,” not children of the church, as Catholicism teaches. As saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae were delivered from the power of darkness and “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:12–14), so the true people of God today are citizens in Christ’s kingdom and a manifestation that His power is yet very much alive. The proof is in lives subject to instructions from God’s word, not in their acceptance by or submission to the ruling of some institution or society that supposedly “went forth” from Jerusalem.

Study Questions

1. What did Isaiah say would be established on top of the mountains?

2. In this context, and in Daniel’s prophecy, what do “mountains” signify?

3. How did Peter associate Christ’s resurrection with His authority?

4. What did Isaiah say would “go forth” from Jerusalem?

5. Did the 3,000 exercise free will in obeying the gospel?

6. On what basis can we identify today’s church with that of Acts 2?

7. What is the link between the rule of Christ and His subjects?

A Ransomed People (October 5)

A Ransomed People (October 5)

Reminiscent of the Passover lamb in Israel, Jesus was a greater sacrifice, enabling God to justify mankind from its sins. John the Baptist said on one occasion as he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

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