April 26, 2013 10:32 pm

The New Testament Church Part 2

Posted In: The Blog, The Church

Re- Blogged From  Dewayne Dulaney

Before the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the founding of the church is spoken of as a future event. The prophets Isaiah, and Micah had spoken of its coming “in the last days”. We saw in the first article that Peter and the other apostles were empowered by the Spirit of God, in accordance with Jesus' promise, and that their preaching in Acts 2 began to fulfill, or carry out, the promise given in Isaiah and Micah that the message of Yahweh (the Lord) would go out from Jerusalem in the last days. We also learn from Acts 2:16—21 that the prophet Joel had predicted that the Holy Spirit would work with all believers in the last days, including providing the gift of prophecy. Peter, quoting Joel 2:28—32 as he preached that first gospel sermon, affirmed that his and the other apostles' empowering by the Spirit of God began to bring about Joel's prophecy concerning the last days.

Another Old Testament prophet, Daniel, also spoke concerning the coming of the church, or kingdom. While Daniel was serving the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar after being taken into exile, God granted Daniel the ability to interpret a mysterious dream the king had one night, which God used to disclose the coming of the future kingdom. In the dream, a mysterious image represents four earthly kingdoms. In the time of the fourth kingdom, a stone strikes and destroys the fourth kingdom, and becomes a great mountain that fills the earth. “In the days of those kings” (Daniel 2:44), God would establish his kingdom. Which kings? In his explanation of the dream, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar “you are the head of gold” (of the image seen in the dream), Dan. 2:38 (NIV). In the following verse, Daniel tells the king that after him, another kingdom would arise, inferior to his. Thus, the Neo-Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar is the first kingdom represented in the dream. The book of Daniel itself indicates which are the second and third kingdoms dealt with in the prophecy: they are represented as animals in a vision which Daniel himself experienced some time later. They are shown as a ram and a goat, with the ram representing Medo-Persia and the goat representing Greece, Dan. 8:21—22. The book of Daniel affirms that Babylon did fall to the Medes and Persians (Dan. 5:25—31).

Secular history confirms that the Neo-Babylonian empire fell to the Medo-Persians, and that they in turn fell to the Greeks under Alexander the Great. This leaves the identity of the fourth kingdom, at which time God would found his kingdom. Although some have questioned it, a plain reading of the New Testament, as well as evidence of secular history, indicates the fourth kingdom was the Roman empire dominant at the time Jesus lived in ancient Palestine. Rome conquered Greece proper by 146 B.C., the Greek dominions in Syria and Palestine were taken by Rome in 63 B.C., and Egypt, the last bastion of Greek rule, fell to Roman forces under Octavian Caesar in 31 B.C. At the time of Jesus' birth, the New Testament affirms his parents were in Bethlehem in order to pay taxes connected with a census ordered by Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1). “Augustus” was the title granted to the Roman Senate to Octavian Caesar in 27 B.C. When Jesus was immersed (baptized) by John, shortly before he began to preach, another Roman emperor, Tiberius, was in charge (Luke 3:1—3, 21). It is well known that the church was founded in the time Rome ruled. Jesus was accused of sedition against Caesar, and executed by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The Apostle Paul defended his actions before Roman magistrates, and later went to Rome where he was eventually tried before Caesar; at that time, Nero was on the throne. Even secular Roman history confirms that Christianity was founded in Roman times. Writing in the early years of the second century A.D., commenting on the burning of Rome during Nero's reign, the Roman historian Tacitus, who was no friend to Christianity, noted:

But neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats—and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital. (The Annals of Imperial Rome, XV.44, [p. 365] translated by Michael Grant)

It is clear from this that Tacitus was not in favor of Christianity: he considered it a superstition, and depraved at that. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that it was born under Roman rule, just as the Bible indicated it would be, in the time of the fourth kingdom of Daniel's prophecies. Let us notice now the time sequence concerning the coming of the church, the kingdom of God, as recorded in the Gospels.

Matthew 3:1—2 has John the Immerser (the Baptist) saying the kingdom is near or “at hand”. After John was imprisoned, Jesus said the kingdom was near (Mark 1:15). Jesus' disciples, that is, Jesus' followers, were told by Christ to pray for the coming of the kingdom in Matthew 6:9—10. Later, in Mt. 16, Jesus promised to build the church, which he equated with the kingdom (Mt. 16:18f). In Mark 9:1, Jesus said that the kingdom would be established while some of the disciples were still living. In Mt. 18:3, Jesus says in effect that the disciples have not yet entered the kingdom. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples, he told them to preach that the kingdom was “near you” (Luke 10:9). During the night he instituted the Lord's Supper, he stated he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine “until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).

After the events of Pentecost in Acts 2, the kingdom is spoken of as being in existence. Christians have entered it (Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:22—28; Revelation 1:5—6, 9; 5:10). Christ is ruling over his kingdom now, because he will turn it over to God the Father when he returns (1 Corinthians 15:23—26). The church Jesus built, then, was established at the right time: in A.D. 30, some fifty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, or ten days after his ascension back to heaven.

In the next article in the series, we will start to look at how a person today can be a member of the church Jesus built.

Works Cited

MacGallery, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/1217/MacGalleryIndex.html I found the "Made with a Mac" banner here. (No copyright info listed)

Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx (Clip art and photos). I found the "Roman Librarian" image (by the "You're Invited to Comment" statement) at this site. © 2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Sundial image, next to Temple of Apollo, Pompeii, (Photographic Credit: Alison Barker), by courtesy of the VRoma

Project:http://www.vroma.org/images.barker_images/sundial.jpg; found at Classical Studies Department Homepage,

BrandeisUniversity,http://www.brandeis.edu/departments/classics/vRoma/Sundial.jpg. Copyright VRoma.org.

Tacitus, Cornelius. The Annals of Imperial Rome. Translated with an introduction by Michael Grant. Revised ed., 1971. N.p.: Dorset Press, 1984.

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