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Chapter 13 - The Church, God’s plan or a kingdom default.
Many see the beginning of Christianity described in the gospels and the book of Acts. This has led to some difficulties and contentions within Christianity with the result of appearing confusing to both Christians and non-Christians. Some of this confusion surrounds the word ‘church’. The Greek word ekklēsia is translated church. This would be more correctly translated ‘assembly’. It was used in Greek to refer to citizens of a city called out to discuss a particular issue. Because the English word ‘church’ carries with it a lot of established concepts, we tend to read into the bible the associated ideas rather than take out the simple idea of an assembly.
As a result of confusion regarding the ‘church’, some have declared that the role of Israel is finished and that the ‘church’ has replaced her. Others declare that the kingdom Israel was waiting for is now manifest in the church. Still others declare that everything regarding Israel was concluded in Jesus who is the head of the church.
For the purposes of clarification, it can be helpful to take the bible at face value. If we see the offer of the kingdom to Israel by Jesus as legitimate and the activity of the disciples described in the first part of Acts as in expectation of the repentance of Israel and the immanent return of Jesus to establish the kingdom, we get a more accurate view of events.
The demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit was insufficient to overcome both the disinterest of the general population and the hostility of the leading elite. The Lord led Peter to observe gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit as confirmation that they were now to be included in the anticipated kingdom. Several years after the offer of the kingdom to Israel saw limited acceptance, even after gentiles were included in the kingdom offer, Paul was called to be an apostle to the gentiles.
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. - Romans 11:13-14
The nation of Israel, which had a strong sense of superiority over gentiles, could not be provoked even by jealousy, to seek the kingdom. It had been the entire purpose of the formation of Israel as a nation to be used by God to bring the word of salvation to the nations. Jesus warned Israel what would happen if they neglected to serve this purpose.
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. - Luke 13:6-9
As an interesting historical note, the rebellion of the Judean zealots started in 66 AD. The Roman Army that came to put down the rebellion advanced for three years. There was a pause of a year resulting from political adjustments in Rome. Finally in 70 AD the Roman army finished putting down the rebellion with the destruction of the temple. The three year period with a year pause, and then final destruction does match the timing cited in the parable. It has been suggested that the book of Hebrews was written as a sort of last chance for the nation to repent and turn to Jesus as their Messiah and receive the kingdom.
In the shadow of the decline of Israel and their disinclination to be roused either through jealousy or even threat of destruction, there are gentiles coming to faith in Christ. What is called the church today has come to us today from this inauspicious beginning.
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