This forum is a complete manuscript on “The Church.” I am making it available for your study. Please observe my statements on copyrights and permissions. You may copy it for personal use. Copyright rules state that this manuscript cannot be sold or used commercially.
At this point consider it as a draft as I may make minor changes as I continue to edit.
We all live during a time called “The Church Age” (the apostle Paul called it a dispensation), but few of us understand the full scope of The Church. We are so involved in the details of the current message that we fail to grasp the full scope of God’s plan for this group of people.
The apostle Paul called the church a mystery hidden in God’s program for the ages. “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:2-6, NIV).
The Church is a unique body composed of both Jews and Gentiles who are born-again believers. In its future role throughout eternity, it will be a separate exclusive group from the other two exclusive groups – one made up of the Jews and the other made up of the Gentile Nations. The roles of the three groups will be different throughout eternity.
The apostle Paul adds: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16, NIV).
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20, NIV). “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20a, NIV).
After the Messiah came and was cut off, God’s program with the nation Israel ceased for a while, and he replaced it with The Church. The Church Age appears parenthetical to God’s program for the Jews. God has temporarily set the Jewish nation aside until later. However, scripture makes it clear that he will restore the nation of Israel.
The Jewish leadership rejected Jesus as their Messiah when he came to earth as a man. We will recall that God blinded most of the Jewish people. Jesus said in John’s gospel: “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this reason, they could not believe because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts nor turn – and I would heal them‘” (John 12:37-40, NIV).
Since the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as their Messiah, “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’’? ‘Therefore, I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed’” (Matt. 21:42-44, NIV).
The apostle Paul tells us that the Jews were blinded so that God could give the kingdom to the Church and thus provoke the Jews to jealousy. “Again, I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring” (Rom. 11:11-12, NIV)!
“I am talking to you, Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead” (Rom. 11:13-15, NIV)?
We must keep in mind that the Church Age is temporary. Paul writes, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way,all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25, NIV).
The Church Age began at Pentecost with a small remnant of Jews Jesus had chosen as disciples and apostles. The Church Age will end with The Church’s rapture before God pours out his wrath upon the world. “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord, himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:15-17, NIV).
We are told that The Church will not experience the wrath of God. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess. 5:8-10), NIV)
The Body of Christ
As we study the Scriptures, we learn that there are two categories or roles for The Church. In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote about a universal Church and all its spiritual blessings. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3, NIV).
The idea presented in Ephesians is that the universal Church is a living organism or union of all true believers in Christ made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It is a temple built of living stones. However, of the 109 references where the word “Church” is used, only 13 references seem to point to the idea of a universal Church. Those references are Matt.16:18, Eph. 1:22, 3:10, 3:21, 5:23, 5:24, 5:25, 5:27, 5:29, 5:32, Col. 1:18, 1:24 and Heb. 12:23. The remaining 96 references point to local assemblies of believers or local fellowships. The major emphasis in the apostle’s letters, as recorded in the New Testament, is on the mission and obedience of the local fellowships.
The word “Church” is translated from the Greek word “ecclesia,” meaning “the called-out” or “assembly.” Because of this definition, many have tried to place the nation Israel in the universal Church because they were also “a called-out group.” However, Scripture is clear in Ephesians and other places that the “Church” is unique in God’s program for the ages, and the program for the Church and Israel are never interchanged or intertwined.
In the eyes of man, all listed on the local Church rolls are members of the Church. In the eyes of God, only those who have been regenerated are members of the local Church. This means that many large Churches may have very few members through God’s eyes.
It is clear from the Scriptures that the first local church was in Jerusalem. The apostles went throughout the then-known world preaching the gospel of a crucified and resurrected Christ and establishing local fellowships of believers. The apostle Paul made three missionary journeys establishing Churches in Asia and Eastern Europe. In his letters to some of the local Churches, Paul reiterated the doctrine of the Church, which was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, and now it is part of our canon of Scriptures.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10, NIV). This does not mean that good works save us, but that we are equipped for service and are expected to perform those services. We each have a heavenly job description, and each of us has been given spiritual gifts that allow us to function as part of the local body of Christ. Some are given the gift of pastors, evangelists, teachers, ministry, administration, music, knowledge and wisdom, prayer intercessors, help, and many others. All members work together as one body with Christ as the head.
Perhaps the apostle Paul best explains how the local Church functions in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. In the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, he writes: “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers, and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore, I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:1-6, NIV).
“Now to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor. 12:7-11, NIV).
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized byone Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:12-13, NIV).
“Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now, if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (1 Cor. 12:14-20), NIV.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:21-27, NIV).
How many of us have seen a group of believers come together and immediately become a functioning body of Christ? I have seen this happen with revival groups and mission trips. It seems that gifts are available for each required activity and function – they can and do function as a local body of Christ.
The local Church is a complete unity and a whole Church. Its functions are ministering, edifying the body, and carrying the gospel to a lost world. The Church functions like a family except on a larger scale. The local Church is the earthly manifestation of the universal Church and functions as a whole body. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we have the local Church coming under a denomination or higher organization. Only three offices are given for the local Church – Bishop, Elder, and Deacon. Some believe that the office of Bishop and Elder are the same. Today, we have created all kinds of groupings and hierarchical organizations that are not specified in the Bible.
The Universal Church
When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are spiritually born anew and are baptized into the universal Church, which is both earthly and heavenly. The universal Church will go into eternity as the Bride of Christ. However, the local Church is earthbound with heavenly leadership under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The local Church comprises local members who may or may not be members of the universal Church. Many local Church members have never received Christ and have not been baptized into the universal Church by the Holy Spirit. They are tares mixed with wheat, as Jesus spoke about in the parable of the “tares and the wheat” (see Matt.13:24-30). The tares will be separated either when they die or when the Church is raptured into heaven. When we get to heaven, we will no longer be members of the local Church. We will be members of the universal Church where we will be joint heirs with Christ as His bride.
In man’s eyes, all listed on the local church rolls are members of The Church. In the eyes of God, only those who have been regenerated are members of the local Church. This means that through the eyes of God, many churches may have fewer members than they think.
Now let us look at some Scripture clearly speaking of the universal Church.
We will begin with a dialogue between Jesus and His disciples late into his ministry. Jesus has asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”. “Peter said you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus then replied: “Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadeswill not overcome it” (Matt. 16:17-18, NIV).
During this conversation, Jesus revealed for the first time a statement about the future church – it was hidden in the Old Testament. He used the singular rather than the plural form of the word for Church as He is speaking of the universal Church. The disciple had no idea what He was talking about as they expected Him to establish an earthly physical Kingdom.
Most references to the church in the book of Ephesians are related to the Universal Church. We read beginning after the greeting: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love” (Eph. 1:3,4), NIV).
There are two verses in the letter to the Colossians: “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18, NIV). “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24), NIV).
In the book of Hebrews, we read: “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23), NIV).
Many people do not know who we are in Christ. Who are we? Scattered throughout the New Testament are verses that state promises, positions, and honors for those members of the Universal Church. The following is a list of some of these.
- He saved us (Titus 3:5-6).
- Washed in the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:9, 1 John 1:7-0).
- We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20).
- We are baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-7).
- We are baptized into the body of Christ – the Church (1 Cor. 13:13).
- We are indwelled by the Spirit of God (Eph 4:30),1 Thess. 5:19, Romans 8:9, and Ephesians 1:13-14).
- The Holy Spirit communicates with our Spirit (Rom 8:16).
- We are sealed by the Holy Spirit – (John 6:27), Eph. 1:13, and 2 Tim 2:19).
- We are adopted as sons and daughters of God – (Eph. 1:5).
- We have an inheritance in heaven (Eph. 1:14).
- We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17).
- The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation and inheritance (Eph 1;14).
- We will reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12).
- We will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).
- We are part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).
- We will not experience the wrath of God (1 Thess. 5:9).
In heaven, the Universal Church is the Bride of Christ and will reign with him throughout eternity.
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 realize that they thought the Messiah would come, establish an earthly kingdom, sit upon the throne of David, and reign over the House of Israel. They anticipated assisting the Messiah as members of His inner circle. It is incredible how, in such a short period, their mindset changed to the extent that they were willing to lay down their lives for Christ and 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.’And Jesus answered 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock,I will build my church, and the gates of hellshall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosedin heaven.‘” (Matt. 16:16b-19, ESV).
We will note that Jesus’ ministry was advanced when He spoke about the future Church. The Church did not exist at that time. He also tells Peter that He will give 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, 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.
Before Jesus was taken into heaven, He gave the disciples final instructions on the Mount of Olives. “And while stayingwith them, he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5, ESV).
“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:6-8, ESV).
Since the disciples were expecting an earthly kingdom, it is evident 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 celebrated the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and The Church became alive.
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and restedon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4), ESV).
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound, the multitude came together, and they were bewildered because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language’” (Acts 2:5-8, ESV)?
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 fulfilled with the Church’s birth. The two-wave loaves symbolize the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles, and the leaven symbolizes the Church is 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. He said: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:11-14, ESV).
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 transitioned from living under the Mosaic Covenant to living under the New Covenant. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds, then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more’” (Heb. 10:14-17, ESV). 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, 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 the 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 about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter said: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:38b, 41-42, ESV).
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 in Jerusalem, but soon the apostles started new churches in other cities. Quickly, the Church began to grow. “Now, many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico…And more than ever, believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:12a,14-16, ESV).
Soon after the Church’s beginning, called “The Way,” the new believers came under severe persecution from the Jewish leaders. A young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus became very zealous in 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.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1b,3, ESV). 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 commissioned 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. “And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do‘” (Acts 9:4-6, ESV).
In Damascus, Jesus spoke to a man named Ananias and told him to minister to Saul. “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at 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 instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So, Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened” (Acts 9:13-19, ESV).
Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, provides insight into His early Christian life. Later, writing to the Galatians, he said: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus” (Gal. 1:15-17, ESV).
“Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’” (Gal. 1:18-23, ESV).
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. In his book “A Case of Christ, “Lee Strobel reports in an interview with Dr. Gary Haberman, a well-known New Testament scholar, that evidence strongly points to early teaching of the resurrection. He said that almost all critical scholars recognize 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 as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Cor. 15:3-7, ESV). Then he adds: “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9, ESV).
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 Jews’ hatred 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 (see Genesis chapter twelve). As the Gentiles comingled 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 specific 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, a site was set aside for them. A wall and a spirit of hostility continually separated the two groups.
Considering the apostle Peter’s prejudiced and discriminatory mindset, God called him for a very special job. While Peter was visiting 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.
“At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day,he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, ‘Cornelius.’ And he stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ And he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea” (Acts 10:1-6, ESV).
In the meantime, God was preparing Peter for the visitors. As Peter was taking a 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 said: “’By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:14b-16, ESV).
“Now, while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had inquired about 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 ESV).
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 somewhat awkward moment occurred. 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 saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days” (Acts 10:44-48, ESV).
The message spread quickly that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit and some of the Jews were upset. “Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God” (Acts 11:1, ESV).
When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was greatly criticized for what He had done. Many in the Church believed 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. When he went into a new city, it was Paul’s custom to go into the synagogue and present the gospel of Christ to the Jews. Since many 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 their first missionary journey, they reported to the church at Antioch, and a great controversy took place within the church. Many questions about what God was doing with the Church were asked during these early days. As mentioned, some thought it was a continuation of God’s program for Israel and that all new Gentile converts must become Jewish proselytes.
When they 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.
“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them” (Acts 15:1-4, ESV).
Again, we must reflect on how slowly God revealed His plan for the Church to the disciples. Based on 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, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus so that they might bring us into slavery – to them, we did not yield in submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Gal. 2:1-5, ESV).
Paul refers to this meeting in Jerusalem, which became the first church council recorded in the New Testament. The decisions made here would determine the future doctrines and role of the Church.
And when they came to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; they reported all things God had done with them. “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Act 15:5, ESV).
“And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Act 15:7-11, ESV).
“And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name’” (Acts 15:12-14, ESV). Peter said God is calling out a new group of people different from the Nation of Israel. He calls out a people for His name, a group of Jews and Gentiles.
this, I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it, that the remnant of
mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known
from of old’”
(Acts 15:15-18, ESV).
The words from the prophet included in the above text are from Amos 9:12-13, where God promises 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 of Israel.
“Therefore, my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20, ESV).
Paul and the other apostles went into the mission field and established local churches for Jews and Gentiles. As the years passed, 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 at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to 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, ESV).
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16, ESV).
Years later, Peter confirmed the doctrine of salvation taught by the Apostle Paul. “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).
Both Jews and Gentiles have been raised to a higher plane and given greater privileges than were ever given to the nation, Israel. They must come into the Church the same way, by faith in the finished work 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 just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13, ESV).
The apostle Paul referred to the process of uniting the Jews and Gentiles into one body as a mystery 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 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 strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:25-26, ESV).
“How the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery isthat the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:3-6, ESV).
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.
Now let us pause and reflect on a question. Paul referred to himself as an apostle commissioned by Jesus. He also said that He was shown this mystery of The Church by Jesus. When did this take place? On the first missionary journey, Paul was stoned at Lystra and carried out to the city dump – they assumed he was dead.
Later, Paul refers to a man who had received a vision of heaven. “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:1-4, ESV).
Many Bible teachers believe that Paul was caught up in heaven. I also think that after Paul was stoned, he had an out-of-body experience and was taken into heaven, where he met Jesus. There he was commissioned as an apostle and given inspiration about the mystery of The Church.
Paul completed two more missionary trips before he was taken to Rome as a prisoner to stand trial before Caesar. Some believe that Paul was acquitted and later went on to the mission field in Spain. He was beheaded by Nero about 65 BC. Read the book of Acts for the entire ministry of Paul.
Paul established local churches in Western Asia and Eastern Europe during the three missionary trips. The other apostles established local churches throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and other areas of the then-known world.
Other apostles and followers also established early churches. Tradition has reported about the death of the apostles and other Church leaders. The following is a source from the internet. How much is accurate, we don’t know.
“The only apostle whose death the Bible records is James (Acts 12:2). King Herod had James ‘put to death with the sword,’ likely a reference to beheading. The circumstances of the deaths of the other apostles are related through church tradition, so we should not put too much weight on any of the other accounts. The most commonly accepted church tradition in regard to the death of an apostle is that the apostle Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18). The following are the most popular “traditions” concerning the deaths of the other apostles:”
“Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound. John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to what is now modern-day Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.”
“James, the brother of Jesus (not officially an apostle), was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from the southeast pinnacle of the temple (over a hundred feet down) when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a club. This is thought to be the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the temptation.”
“Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed in present-day Turkey and was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, being flayed to death by a whip. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. After seven soldiers whipped Andrew severely, they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.” He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died. The apostle Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church there. Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded. The apostle Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero in Rome in AD 67. There are traditions regarding the other apostles, but none with any reliable historical or traditional support.” (Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html).
The apostles faced hostiles, and most were martyred in their ministry to carry the gospel to the then-known world. Most faced opposition to their message from heresy – one of the first may have been the Judaizers. They were the group that argued that Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses before one became a member of the church. Perhaps the best example is where Paul defends his gospel message in the letter to the Galatians.
We must remember that the 27 books of the New Testament canon were not written until after 44 AD – over 30 years after Christ was crucified. However, the early churches had the “Apostles Creed” and at least some of the books from the Greek Old Testament. They also had an article of instruction called “The Didache,” which many believe was written by some of the Apostles. The Didache gave rules for Baptism, the taking of the Lord’s Supper, and possibly other doctrines.
We must remember that the 27 books of the New Testament canon were not recognized by most Christian communities until the fourth century AD, although they had been written before the turn of the first century. None of the local fellowships had all 27 books – copies were shared among the groups. Although the gospel was probably shared in all the churches, the emphasis on doctrine may have been different depending upon which books they had available or recognized as being divinely inspired and authoritative.
We might find it advantageous in our learning process if we listed the 27 books in sequence by the date, we assumed they were written.
- James (Around c. 45 – 48 AD)
- Galatians (c. 48 – 49 AD)
- Mark (Before c. 50 – 60 AD)
- Matthew (Before c. 55 – 70 AD)
- First Thessalonians (c. 49 – 51 AD)
- Second Thessalonians (c. 50 – 51 AD)
- First Corinthians (c. 53 – 55 AD)
- Second Corinthians (c. 55 – 56 AD)
- Romans (c. 57 AD)
- Luke (Around c. 60 – 61 AD)
- Jude (Perhaps c. 60 AD)
- Acts (About c. 61 – 62 AD)
- Ephesians (About c. 61 AD)
- Philippians (About c. 61 AD)
- Colossians (About c. 61 AD)
- Philemon (About c. 61 AD)
- Titus (About c. 63 AD)
- First Peter (Around c. 64 AD)
- First Timothy (About c 66 AD)
- Second Timothy (c. 66 – 67 AD)
- Hebrews (Before c. 70 AD)
- Second Peter (Around c. 67 AD)
- John (c. 80 – 90 AD)
- First John (c. 80 – 90 AD)
- Second John (c. 80 – 90 AD)
- Third John (c. 80 – 90 AD)
- The Revelation (c. 95 AD)
We need to state that the above dates are estimates, and the actual dates may differ. However, scholars generally agree that the above dates are probably close to being correct. For our observation here, they are close enough.
Few of us probably realized that the Book of James may have been written before the Jerusalem council meeting, about 50 AD, as recorded in Acts chapter 15. This was before Paul revealed that the church was a mystery hidden in the Old Testament. Therefore, James seems to emphasize works more than grace. However, Paul emphasized both grace and works. “For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10, ESV).
Paul emphasized that we are saved by grace, but we will be rewarded in heaven based upon our works that were done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that the book of Romans is Paul’s master sermon. He had never been to Rome and used the letter to present his concept of the complete gospel. In the first eight chapters, he presented the doctrine of salvation; in chapters nine through ten, he explained how the Jews fit into God’s plans; in chapters twelve through sixteen, he presented how Christians should live.
Paul’s purpose in writing the other letters was to correct doctrine, encourage the believers, edify and enhance their knowledge, express thanksgiving, and state greetings.
Now, let us look at the four gospels. Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s gospels are called the synoptic gospels. They include many of the same stories, somewhat in the same sequence and similar in overall context. However, John’s gospel is entirely different. In the synoptic gospel’s the setting is primarily in and around Galilee, whereas John’s setting is primarily in and around Jerusalem. John’s narrative, for the most part take place around feast days. Only Matthew and Luke cover the birth of Jesus; however, all four writers cover the last week of Jesus’ life before he goes to the cross – experts tell us that forty percent of the gospels focus on the last week before his crucifixion.
Why four gospels? They were written by different authors and addressed to different audiences. God knew that different people needed different instructions. A story can be told many different ways and still remain true – this is what happened here. They each had a different writing style, had different backgrounds and a different focus.
Common characteristics in the gospels were the quotes from the Old Testament, the parables, and the miracles. There are 283 direct quotes from the Old Testament in the New Testament. There are about 30 parables and 37 miracles in the gospels. The authors did not all quote the same or record the same parables and miracles. We will break this down when we look at each gospel.
Another difference was the first-hand experience. Only Matthew and John were Jesus’ disciples and had first-hand experience. Luke and Mark got their narrative from others. We need to remember that they all wrote many years later and had time to forget many things.
We must remember that these gospel writers were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John chapter fourteen: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).
We have to assume that there was a lot of writing about the life of Jesus that was never published. Notes may have been written by the disciples or others as they walked with Jesus, day by day. John says in his gospel that there was many writing about the life of Christ. “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25, ESV).
I have been writing for many years and I have many early writings and notes from years ago that I now use. One thing that I have discovered is that as I read the old writing and notes that my memory goes back to events around the time they were written. I would assume that the authors of the gospels had the same experience.
Most scholars believe Matthew and Luke worked from previous writings much closer to the time when Jesus lived among them. Seminar students have debated for years about a document called “Q”. The following is a quote from the website encyclopedia Wikipedia: “The Q source (also called Q document, Q Gospel, or Q from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) is a hypothetical written collection of primarily Jesus’ sayings (λόγια : logia). Q is part of the common material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this material was drawn from the early Church’s oral gospel traditions.”
In his book “A Case of Christ, ” Lee Strobel reports in an interview with Dr. Gary Haberman, a well-known New Testament scholar, that evidence strongly points to early teaching of the resurrection. He said that almost all critical scholars recognize a very early Apostle’s creed, attesting to the resurrection, circulated among the early church.
Let us look at each gospel and writer to better understand their focus. Note: the numbers are approximate as sources report different numbers and exact numbers are difficult to obtain.
- Matthew – Matthew wrote his Gospel about 85 AD – almost fifteen years after Mark. He was writing to the Jews and presented Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. He quoted directly, with allusions, from the Old Testament about 96 times – he quoted more prophecy than any of the other gospel writers. He frequently used the phrase “as was spoken through the prophet(s),” His gospel contains 23 parables of which 11 are unique and 24 miracles of which the first three are unique.
Matthew presents the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s point of view and tells the story of the wise men – the only one to do this.
- Mark – Mark wrote his Gospel about 70 AD and was the first to write. Biblical scholars generally agree that John Mark wrote the first gospel from information from the apostle Peter – many call it Peter’s gospel. Mark was writing to the Roman Empire and presented Jesus as a strong man serving as a servant.
Mark’s gospel is the shortest gospel as he wrote in summary form. I count 46 references to the Old Testament. Gospel of Mark contains eight parables of which two are unique and 18 miracles with two unique. Mark does not address the birth of Jesus.
- Luke – Luke wrote his gospel about 60 AD. Luke was the only gospel writer who was a Gentile and did not have first-hand knowledge of Jesus. He obtained his information through interviews and research – some believe he interviewed Jesus’ mother, Mary. Apparently, he was under contract to write for the Greek Theophilus. Luke also wrote part two, which we call the book of Acts. The book of Acts was to be a continuation of the gospel of Luke.
It was written for the Greek, the thinking man – it is in the gospel of Luke that we see the humanity of Jesus – the perfect man. Luke quotes or reference material from the Old Testament about 30 times. He reports more parables than any other writer – 24 with 18 being unique. There are 23 miracles reported in Luke with the first one being at the wedding in Cana – 14 were for healing, five for exorcisms, two for raising the dead and others. Three miracles are reported in all four gospels – the resurrection of Jesus, and the feeding of the 5000 and the healing of the blind.
A highlight of Luke’s gospel is the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story. It is reported that he got the story directly from an interview with Mary the mother of Jesus.
- John – This brings us to why John’s gospel differs from the other four. First, it was the last gospel written – probably around 95 AD – perhaps a little later. The dating of John’s writings has always been questioned – why so late? Where did John get His information? How many writings did John do before his canonized writings? Certainly, He was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Some would argue that the first three gospels present Jesus as the disciples saw him – as men saw him, but John presents Jesus as God the Father saw Him. John is writing to the Church and presents Jesus as the Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity.
How this was revealed to John we don’t know. It would appear that it was a direct revelation from heaven – perhaps a vision just as we assume Paul had. It may have something to do with the timing of the gospel and the dating of the book of The Revelation.
In reading John, we do not find many direct quotes from the Old Testament; however, we find Jesus referencing the Old Testament about his identity – reference to His interactions with Abraham and Moses, etc. There were no parables in the gospel of John. Seven miracles are recorded in John’s gospel including the feeding of the 5000 and the resurrection of Lazarus. It is interesting that Jesus turned the feeding of the 5000 into the statement “I am the bread of life”.
It is interesting that John does not talk about the birth of Jesus; however, he begins by stating that Jesus has existed from eternity – the emphases is on His divinity not his humanity.
Let us begin with the dating of the only book of prophecy in the New Testament – the book of The Revelation. This may help us date John’s gospel. The Revelation was shown to John in a vision by the living Christ on the island of Patmos, not far from the coast of Asia Minor. He had been exiled there during a time of persecution under the Roman rule of Domitian between 81 and 96 AD.
Early church fathers assumed that His vision, today called the Tribulation, was referring to the reign of Domitian. Today, many do not believe that. Because of the early belief, called preterism, the dating of Revelation was placed at the end of Domitian’s reign, 96 BC. Note: “The meaning of the word “Preterist” is one who holds that the prophecies in the Bible about the End Times have already been fulfilled.”
I realize I am bucking all of church history when I ask the next question. Could the vision of the Tribulation, written in The Revelation, based upon today’s view of the Tribulation, have been earlier in Domitian’s reign? Could it have been closer to 90 AD? Could it have been before John wrote His gospel and his three letters?
The dating of the gospel of John and his three letters is uncertain. A variation of two or three years could place the writing of The Revelation before the gospel and the three other letters.
Hal Lindsey, a great Bible and prophecy teacher, believes that The Revelation was written before John’s gospel. I would like to agree with him. However, we may be wrong, and church history says we are.
Interestingly, some scholars believe that The Revelation was written first because John’s Greek language did not flow as well in The Revelation as in His other writings.
If John met the risen Jesus and had a vision of heaven before he wrote his gospel, he would have had the same vision and insight of the church as the apostle Paul. History has recorded that Paul and John appear to be closer to the same theology than some of the other writers.
Two of the disciples of John were Ignatius and Polycarp. They are considered early Church Fathers. They knew a lot about John’s writings. Eusebius, an early Church historian wrote about the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp. If you are interested, you may want to read some of Eusebius’ writings about the life of John.
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. They teach that Paul was influenced by the teaching of the Greek philosopher Plato, and Paul influenced John.
There are three other books of the New Testament that we need to discuss. The dating of the book of Hebrews is in question because the author is unknown. Some do not believe that Peter wrote Second Peter because of writing style differences. Some questioned the Book of Jude because he used two books that have never been part of the Old Testament canon.
We will conclude this section by saying that at least some of the future canonized scripture was circulating within the local churches by the end of the first century.
Note: At this point we will use sub-modules to complete the study. This will give you the ability to study what you wish to study.
The Seven Churches of Revelation
The seven churches are representative in the second and third chapters of Revelation. They probably represented the mix of churches that existed at that time. Many believe that they are prophetic in that they represent the characteristics of the churches that have existed at specific points in time for the future history of the Church.
To study these seven churches, click “The Seven Churches of Revelation.”
Early Church History
Early Church History
At approximately 100 AD, there were many churches in the Roman Empire, and some had strayed from the beliefs and practices of the early church. False teachers had introduced heresy within the churches. In many churches, they had lost their first love and had become cold spiritually. Many had become worldly in practice, and they were deep in sin. Others were suffering severe persecution.
To study Early Church History, click “Early Church History.”
Roman Catholic Church
By 324 AD, persecution came to an end with the conversion of Constantine. The churches were divided between West and the East. The Western bloc of churches became known as the “Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern bloc became known as the “Orthodox Church. We will now look at the Roman Catholic Church and the look at the Orthodox Church below.
The Orthodox Church
We will now look at the Eastern bloc of churches and contrast the Roman Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church.
The Protestant Churches
We now look at the largest group of churches – the Protestant Churches.
To study the Protestant Churches, click “The Protestant Churches.”
The appendices add addition insights to the Church Age.
To study the appendices, click “The Appendices.”
To return to the previous menu click the windows backspace arrow in the upper left corner. To return to the site menu click; return to site.