The Scriptures speak of the church or kingdom in various phases: 1) the eternal purpose of God’s mind–Eph. 3:10-11; 2) the promise of the patriarchs and prophets–Gen. 3:15; 22:22; 3) the prophecy of the hopeful–Dan. 2:44; 4) the preparation of the greatest of prophets–Matt. 3:1-5; 5) the perfection of Christ’s work–Matt. 16:18-19 & Acts 2; 6) the perpetual presence of God on earth–Luke 8:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; and finally 7) the paradise of Heaven–2 Pet. 1:11; 2 Tim. 4:18.
This study focuses on the question “when did the church begin?”. This is an important question. The beginning of the church either proves or disproves the prophecies of God. The beginning of the church is the beginning of Christ’s reign of those on earth. It will be demonstrated that Acts chapter 2 is the birthday of the church on earth. Brother Hardeman used to tell his Bible class: “The church was not built until Jesus was reigning on His throne a the right hand of God. If so, it would have been a headless, Spiritless, and dead organization. The church of the New Testament was not in force until after Jesus died; so, there could be no church of the New Testament when there was no New Testament in effect. During the personal ministry of Christ the full Gospel could not have been preached.”
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH–THE EXPECTATION
In order to better appreciate the grandeur of our Lord’s divine institution, the church, we must examine the circumstances of her birth in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ final Passover. Before the Pentecost of Acts 2, the Bible speaks of the church of the future. After Acts 2, the church is spoken of as being present. Therefore, Acts 2 serves as the great “hub” of the Bible. It is the hinge upon which the Old and New covenants open and close.
The O.T. prophets looked forward to the birth of the church. Isaiah knew that “in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations shall flow unto it and many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of Jacob'” (Is. 2:2-3). Micah and Zechariah promised the time and place of birth of the Lord’s church (Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 1:6). Daniel saw the Romans who were to reign as the church was born (Daniel 2:44). The Old Testament closed with the prediction of John who would prepare the people for the Lord (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5; cf. Isaiah 40:3; Luke 1:17; Matthew 11:14). John prepared a people for our Lord (Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4). John and Jesus were able to say, “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Finally, Acts 2 records the the beginning of the Christian age (Acts 2:17; Acts 11:15; Hebrews 1:1-2).
Christ’s coming and earthly ministry was essential to the preparation of the church. After John’s work, Jesus began preaching the same message–“the kingdom is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus commissioned the 12 and the 70 with the same message (Matthew 10:1-7; Luke 10:1-9). Jesus taught his servants to pray for the kingdom to come (Matthew 6:9-10). Jesus promised to build his church–the kingdom (Matthew 16:18). As Jesus spoke en route to the final events of his life in Jerusalem, the church was still not yet in existence (Luke 19:11-27). Christ had to ascend to Heaven in order to receive the kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14).
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH–THE ARRIVAL
When Jesus ascended to Heaven, He ascended to be the king of the church. God promised David that his seed should sit upon his throne forever (Luke 1:31-33; Psalm 89:3-4; Acts 2:30-36). Christ occupies that position now and will until he delivers the kingdom back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). The Lord is presently ruling over his kingdom (Psalm 24:47; Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 2:9). Since Jesus is now ruling, God sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles so that they could begin to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins through His name (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38).
The promises, hope, and expectations were finally realized when Christ established his church.
Jesus assured the disciples that “some standing here will not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom come with power” (Mark 9:1). Jesus promised the disciples they would “receive power from on high” while they were waiting in Jerusalem (Acts 1:9; Luke 24:49). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came with power (Acts 1:4-12; 2:1-14). This was a sign of the birth of the church (Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2).
The church could not have been established before that Pentecost of Acts 2. If the church had been established before Acts 2, then: 1) the apostles remain under the limited commission–Matt. 10:5-6; cf. 28:19-20; 2) the law of Moses is still in effect and the NT is inoperative–Romans 7:1-4; Hebrews 9:15-17; 3) Jesus is not reigning–Acts 2:30; Ephesians 1:19-23; 4) the powerful blood of Christ had not been shed–John 19:34; Hebrews 9:22, 10:4; 8:1-4; 5) the Holy Spirit has not been given–John 7:37-39; Luke 24:26; 1 Timothy 3:16; Acts 2:1-4; and 6) the full Gospel could not be preached–1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH–THE KINGDOM AGE
The arrival of the church is the arrival of the Christian age. From Acts 3 to the close of the New Testament, the Bible speaks of the church as a present reality. Luke recorded that “great fear came upon the church” (Acts 5:11). Saul “made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3). News came to “the ears of the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 11:22). Herod “vexed certain of the church” (Acts 12:1). The church “prayed for Peter” (Acts 12:5). The church at Antioch sent out a group of missionaries (Acts 13:1-3; 14:27). Letters were written to tell individuals how to live in the church (1 Timothy 3:15).
The arrival of the church of Christ is the arrival of the kingdom of Christ. The first saints were taught that they were already in the kingdom (Hebrews 12:28; Colossians 1:13). Members of the church were members of the kingdom (Revelation 1:9). If the church is not the kingdom, then: 1) the new birth is not a reality (John 3:3, 5; 1 Peter 1:23); and 2) the church cannot observe the Lord’s Supper because it is only available “in the kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30).
The church remains and will continue until Christ comes again to receive it. The seed of the kingdom, the Word of God, remains (Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:25). Wherever that Word is sown, received, and growing you will find the church which it produces (Genesis 1:11-12). As individuals become Christians and live as Christ, they are in the “everlasting kingdom” (2 Peter 1:5-11).
We now urge all men to obey the Gospel of Christ and be added by our Lord to the church established almost two thousand years ago.
I love thy kingdom, Lord,
the house of thine abode;
The church our blest Redeemer saved
with His own precious blood.
–by Timothy Dwight