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A Transition of Mindsets

A Transition of Mindsets

The early disciples had great difficulty understanding the role of the first Advent of Christ and the coming Church Age.  We must understand that they thought that the Messiah would come, and establish an earthly kingdom, sit upon the throne of David, and reign over the House of Israel.  They truly anticipated assisting the Messiah as members of His inner circle.  It is absolutely amazing how, in such a short period of time, their mindset changed to the extent that they were willing to lay down their lives for Christ and for the Church.

The apostle Paul tells us that the Church was a mystery hidden in the revelation of God.  Jesus gave the first revelation of the Church to His disciples after the Jews had rejected Him as their Messiah.  Jesus asked His disciples who He was and Peter responded.  “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 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. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’” (Matt. 16:16b-19).

We will note that Jesus’ ministry was well advanced when He spoke about the future Church.  The Church did not exist at that time.   He also tells Peter that He will be giving him the privilege of introducing the Church to the world.  At that time, Peter and the other disciples did not understand what He was saying.  We should also note that the rock upon which the Church was to be built was not Peter, but the “Rock of Ages”, which is Christ.  

In the latter days of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed several times that He must go to Jerusalem, be put to death, and be raised from the dead after three days.  However, the disciples never understood what Jesus was saying, and continued to request special favors when He sat up His earthly Kingdom.

After the resurrection of Jesus, He appeared unto the disciples, and breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22b).  However, there are no signs that the Holy Spirit came upon them at that time but was later manifested in power at the “Day of Pentecost”.  God created man out of the dust of the earth, blew His breath into man’s nostril and he became a living soul.  In like manner, He also created a dead Church, and it later became a living organism.

On the Mount of Olives, just before Jesus was taken up into heaven, He gave the disciples final instructions.  “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’  And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:4-8).

Since the disciples were expecting an earthly Kingdom, it is obvious that they were still confused.  But only a few days later their eyes were opened, and they were never the same again.

Ten days later, the disciples were celebrating the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon them and the Church became alive.  

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.  And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.   And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.  Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born’” (Acts 2:1-8)?

The harvest Feast of Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the feast of First Fruits. Two wave loaves were baked with leaven, and were brought to the Lord to be followed by the offering of a burnt offering, a peace offering and a sin offering.   The Feast of Pentecost was completed, and was fulfilled with the birth of the Church.  The two wave loafs symbolized the Church being composed of both Jews and Gentiles, and the leaven symbolized the Church continuing to have evil and sin in it.  The Church has become the new temple of God composed of living stones – a living organism with Christ as its head.

The apostle Paul later gave more insight into this new body of believers.  This is what he said:  “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:11-14).  

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit baptized the disciples into the new body, The Church.  This is the reason that many believe that the Church began at Pentecost.  However, we must understand that the disciples were not saved at Pentecost.  They were saved under the Mosaic Covenant just as John the Baptist and the others were saved before the crucifixion.  They were saved based upon their faith and obedience as God revealed his will to them.  Thus, they placed their faith in Christ as the Messiah, and continued to offer sacrifices until the death of Jesus. These sacrifices were temporary coverings for sins, and pointed to the cross where their sins were washed away.  

The disciples have now made the transition from living under the Mosaic Covenant to living under the New Covenant.  “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more'” (Heb. 10:14-17).  The New Covenant was given to the Church, but many years will pass before it will be given to the nation Israel.  During this Age, Jews are saved by faith in Christ, just as the Gentiles, as they are born again into the body of believers which is called The Church.

The disciples were quickly transformed from disciples to apostles.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit who illuminated their minds to all the teaching of the Scriptures, which Jesus had been teaching them for more than three years.  They were also given power to perform miracles, and to receive new divine revelation, which they would preach to others.

The apostle Peter stood before the crowds, and began to preach with boldness.  After preaching a sermon of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,  Peter said: “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.”   “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:38, 41-42).  

Jesus had promised Peter that he would give him the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”, and now he has opened the door of the Church to the Jews and many Jewish proselytes.  The first local fellowship of believers was located at Jerusalem, but soon the apostles started new churches in other cities.  Quickly, the Church began to grow.  “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people.”  “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed” (Acts 5:12a,14-16).

Soon after the beginning of the Church, which was called “The Way”, the new believers came under severe persecution from the Jewish leaders.   A young Pharisee, by the name of Saul of Tarsus became very zealous tracking down the new believers and bringing them before the Jewish court.  He led a mob in stoning to death a young believer by the name of Steven – thus becoming the first Christian Martyr.  

“At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:1,3).   Saul was a highly educated Roman citizen.  He was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and other languages, and had been taught the Mosaic Law by highly trained Jewish teachers.  He was convinced that this new cult was an abomination against God, and he became aggressive in persecuting, and putting to death the new believers.

Having been commission by the chief priests, he was on his way to Damascus to arrest the believers when he encountered Jesus as a blinding light and Jesus spoke to him.  “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'” (Acts 9:4-6).

In Damascus Jesus spoke to a man by the name of Ananias and told him to minister to Saul.  “Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.’  But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  ‘For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’  And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus” (Acts 9:13-19).  

Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, provides insight into His early Christian life.  Later, writing to the Galatians, he said: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.  Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)  Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:15-23).

The early church was considered a continuing program with Israel as they continued to keep the Jewish law.  However, from the beginning they taught the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Modern liberal critics and the teachers of Islam argue that the teaching of the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus were figments of Paul’s imagination.  Lee Strobel, in his book “A Case of Christ”, reports in an interview with Dr. Gary Haberman, a well known New Testament scholar, that evidence strongly points to an early teaching of the resurrection.  He said that almost all critical scholars recognize that there was a very early Apostle’s creed, attesting to the resurrection, which was circulated among the early church

Dr. Haberman further points out that it is generally agreed that the apostle Paul inserted this early creed into the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians.  “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 by Cephas, then by the twelve.  After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:3-7).  Then he adds:  “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).

God moved rather slowly in revealing the true nature of the Church to the apostles.  It has already been pointed out that the apostles assumed that what they called “The Way” was part of the fulfillment of God’s program for Israel.  Since the early church was made up of Jews and Jewish proselytes, it was a complete surprise to them that Jesus would allow Gentiles to come into the Church without them first becoming Jewish proselytes.  

When Jesus was here on earth, the Jews were under Roman bondage and they hated the Gentiles – many Jews called them dogs.  The animosity that the Jews held for the Gentiles can be traced back to the Babylonian captivity.  Therefore, God punished the Jews for their sins by making the Gentiles their masters.  However, because of their privileges as God’s chosen people, the Jews still considered the Gentiles to be inferior to them.  They were spiritually proud, and considered the Gentiles as heathen, unclean and inferior.

The Scriptures promised that one day God would bring salvation to the Gentiles (Genesis chapter twelve).  As the Gentiles co-mingled with the Jews, many became believers in Jehovah God and the Jews allowed them to become Jewish proselytes.  

Since the Jews were circumcised, and the Gentiles were not, they were considered unclean.  If a Gentile wanted to become a follower of God, the Jews required them to be circumcised, and keep certain Jewish laws.   After that, they were given limited privileges, but the Jews always considered them subordinate.  They were forbidden from entering the Jewish area of the temple however, an area was set aside for them.  A wall and a spirit of enmity continually separated the two groups.

Considering the apostle Peter’s prejudiced mindset, God called him for a very special job.  While Peter was visiting in the home of Simon, a tanner, in Joppa, God was working with a Gentile named Cornelius in Caesarea who would test Peter’s prejudices and attitudes.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.  About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’  And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’  So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.  Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.   He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.  He will tell you what you must do”  (Acts 10:1-6).

In the meantime, God was preparing Peter for the visitors.  As Peter was taking nap on the roof of Simon’s house, he had a vision of a great sheet coming down and there were “all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.”  A voice came to Peter and said kill and eat.   Peter was horrified and He said. “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean. And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’  This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again” (Acts 10:14b-16).

“Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you.  Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them” (Acts 10:17-20).

Peter went down and met the men.  Then, the following day, he accompanied them to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius.  In the meantime, Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends for the meeting with Peter.  According to Scripture, it seems that neither Cornelius nor Peter knew why God had brought Peter to Cornelius house.  When he arrived at the door, a rather awkward moment occurred.  In fact, Peter was blunt, rude, and very fearful.  

“As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.  Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me” (Acts 10:25-29)?

Cornelius then told Peter his story about what he had been doing when the angel appeared unto him.  Peter then began to preach the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to Cornelius and his friends.  

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered,  ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God” (Acts 10:44 -11:1).

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was greatly criticized for what He had done.  Many who were in the Church believed that Peter had broken the Jewish law by fellowshipping with the Gentiles.

In the meantime, the Church at Antioch, commissioned Barnabas and Saul to take the gospel to the people living in Asia Minor.  This became known as Paul’s first missionary journey and he and Barnabas established churches throughout the area.  It was Paul’s custom, when he went into a new city, to go into the synagogue and present the gospel of Christ to the Jews.  Since many of the Jews refused his message and became antagonistic, Paul turned to the Gentiles. While preaching to the Gentiles, in local homes, many were filled with the Holy Spirit, and were baptized into the Church.  

When Paul and Barnabas returned from his first missionary journey, they reported to the church at Antioch and a great controversy took place within the church.  During these early days, many questions were asked about what God was doing with the Church.  As mentioned before, some thought it was a continuation of God’s program for Israel, and that all new Gentile converts must become Jewish proselytes.  

“Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.  So they stayed there a long time with the disciples. And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’  Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses'” (Acts 14:27 –15:2).

Again, we need to reflect on how slowly God revealed His plan for the Church to the disciples.  Based upon what Paul later wrote to the Church at Galatia, it has probably been twenty years since Pentecost.  Paul writes, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal. 2:1-5).

Paul is referring to this meeting in Jerusalem, which became the first church council that is recorded in the New Testament. The decisions made here would determine the future doctrines and role of the Church.

“And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.  But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Act 15:4-6).

“And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.  Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they'” (Act 15:7-11).

“Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name” (Acts 15:12-14).  Peter said that God is calling out a new group of people which is different from the Nation of Israel.  He is calling out a people for His name – a group of both Jews and Gentiles.

“And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

     ‘After this I will return
     And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has     fallen down;
     I will rebuild its ruins,
     And I will set it up;
     So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD,
     Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
     Says the LORD who does all these things.’
Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:15-18).

The words from the prophet, included in the above text, are from Amos 9:12-13 where God is promising Israel that they will be restored to the land with an everlasting salvation.  “After this I will return”.  After what?  After God has called out a people for His name which will be known as the Church and will become the bride of Christ.  After this, then God will restore the Nation Israel.

“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20).

Paul and the other apostles went into the mission field, and established local churches, which consisted of both Jews and Gentiles.  As the years went by, the Jewish leaders became progressively more hostile to Paul and the Gentiles.  Thus Paul wrote the following to the Church at Ephesus.

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands— that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-13).  

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Eph. 2:14-16).

Years later, Peter confirmed the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Apostle Paul.  “And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16)

Both Jews and Gentiles have been raised to a higher plane, and given greater privileges than were ever given to the Nation, Israel.  They both must come into the Church the same way, by faith in the finished work that Jesus did on the cross.  The Holy Spirit will baptize them into the Church when they repent of their sins, claim God’s gift of salvation, and make the Lord Jesus the master of their lives.  “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

The apostle Paul referred to the process of uniting of the Jews and Gentiles into one body as being a mystery, which was hidden in the Old Testament.  The Scriptures were not silent regarding the promise that salvation would come to the Gentiles.  However, what was hidden was God’s plan to join both the Jews and Gentiles together as one body and that, as members of the Church, they would receive greater rewards and privileges than were ever promised to either the Jews or the Gentiles.

“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 kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:25-26).  “How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:3-6).  

I read an excellent illustration referring to this union.  In this illustration, God took a silver statue, representing the Jews, and a lead statue, representing the Gentiles, and melted them down into a new gold statue representing the Church.  Together, they have become most precious in the sight of God, and he will raise them to the highest plane in His kingdom as the future bride, and joint heirs with His Son, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  

The apostle Paul wrote a large part of the New Testament allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal to us many of the mysteries of the Church.