A STUDY OF CHRIST’S CHURCH AND THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY
This paper is a study of the church that Christ spoke of in Matt. 16 as “My church”, and the church of Eph. 1 called “the church, which is His body”. But before we consider those passages it is extremely important that we understand the difference between dispensational and universal truths. That is to say, some truths are true for one dispensation but not for another, those are dispensational truths. And some truths are always true, they cross dispensational boundaries and those are universal truths.
Let us consider an example of dispensational truths. We read in Isaiah 60:3, “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn”. The context will show that this is in reference to Israel in the millennium. Obviously, this is not a situation that is true of all dispensations, it is true of only one, i.e. when Christ reigns on earth.
Now let us consider an example of universal truths. We read in Rom. 6:8, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him”. It is true, of course, that this verse was written in an epistle that was written during the Acts period and therefore written to those of the previous dispensation. It is also true that this verse is equally true of believers in every dispensation. That is to say, believers of every dispensation are “dead with Christ” and, of course, will “also live with Him”.
I began this study with a consideration of dispensational and universal truths because I believe that the basic difference between Christ’s church and the church, which is His body is that the former is a church for believers of every dispensation, i.e. a church that has no dispensational boundaries, whereas the church, which is His body is a church whose members live and die in the dispensation of the mystery and in that dispensation only.
THE CHURCH OF MATTHEW 16
We read in Matt. 16:15-18 of Christ’s church. That passage reads, “And he saith unto them, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’. And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.
We must first understand the phrase “upon this rock I will build My church”. I will quote from Dr. E. W. Bullinger’s note in the Companion Bible. “This rock = Gr. petra. Petra is Fem., and therefore could not refer to Peter; but if it refers to Peter’s confession, then it would agree with ‘homologia’ (which is Fem.) and is rendered ‘confession’ in I Tim. 6:13, and ‘profession’ in I Tim.6:12. ….. Peter’s confession is the foundation to which Christ referred, and not Peter himself. He was neither the foundation nor the builder-(a poor builder, v. 23) but Christ alone Whom he had confessed….”. In other words, the rock upon which Christ’s church is built is Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Son of the living God”.
Most dispensationalists believe that the church of Matt. 16 is the dispensational church of the Gospel period and that the church which is His body is the church of the present dispensation. In my opinion, that is an oversimplification that misses great truths. One of those truths that is missed is the fact that Christ is the “Son of the living God” is not a truth of the Gospel period only, it is a universal truth, i.e., it is, and has been, true for every dispensation and age. And that is one of the reasons for my belief that when Christ spoke of “My church” He was speaking of a church in which every believer of every dispensation is a member.
But some might object that Peter’s confession that Christ is “the Son of the Living God” is not a universal truth because Christ was not God’s Son until He was born of Mary. It is true that we do not read of Christ as the Son of God until He was born of Mary, but let us understand this passage, not from our own 21st century perspective, but from the perspective of the first century Jew, to whom this passage was originally written. We read in John 5:18, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God“. My point is that first century Jews understood that the title “Son of God” meant an equality with God. What does it mean to be “equal” to God?
The Greek word translated “equal” is “isos” As we look at each and every occurrence of that Greek word in the New Testament I believe the reader will agree that it means “the same”. “Isos” is used eight times. Let us first consider the times that it is translated “equal”.
Matt. 20:12, “…These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us…”. This comes in the context of one of the parables of Jesus Christ. The parable tells of each man having received the same amount of payment though they worked a different number of hours. Each man received a penny (vs. 10). Because each man received the same amount, we must understand “isos” in this context, at least, to mean “the same”.
We will come back to Jn. 5:18.
Phil. 2:6, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. Does this verse tell us that Christ is the same as God? Let us focus on the contrast presented in this passage in order to answer that question. That is to say, Paul wrote, “but made Himself…”. So there is a contrast between the phrase before and the phrase after the word “but”. The phrase before is, ” thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. The next phrase reads, “but made Himself ….a servant and in the likeness of men”.
The contrast is between what Christ was before and after He began His earthly ministry. After He began that ministry He was a Servant and a Man. What is the contrast with the time before His earthly ministry? He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. Let us put that in the positive for clarity. If Christ had thought of Himself as equal to God it would not have been robbery. In other words, He would have been justified in thinking of Himself as equal to God. Further, if the contrast after He began His earthly ministry was that He was a Man, He must have been something other than a man before His earthly ministry or there would be no contrast. What else could Christ have been if not God?
So this passage in Phil. 2 also tells us of Christ’s equality with God. Because only God can be equal to God, I believe we may conclude that here too, “isos” means “the same“.
Rev. 21:16, “…and the length is as large as the breadth……The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal”. Given that we are told that the length and height are “as large”, I believe we must conclude that here too, “isos” means that they are the same.
Now let us consider the verses in which the word is not translated”equal”.
Mark 14:56, “For many bare false witness against Him, but their witness agreed not together”. Here “isos” is translated “agreed”. What is this verse telling us? It is telling us that the witnesses’ accounts were not the same. Again, “isos” is used to mean “the same”.
Mark 14:59 is the same use as in verse 56.
Luke 6:34, “And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again“. Here the word is translated “as much”. In other words sinners want the same amount in payment as they lent.
Acts 11:17, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He gave unto us….”. The “like gift” was the gift from the Holy Spirit. In point of fact, it was the same gift.
Let us pull all this together. Peter confessed that Christ is the Son of the living God. He meant by that statement that Christ is God. So first century Jews understood the title “Son of God” to mean the same as God.
So when Peter spoke of Christ as “the Son of the living God”, those first century Jews would have understood that he was saying that Christ is God. Christ is and always has been God which makes Peter’s statement a universal truth. (The paper on this web-site Jesus Christ Is Both Jehovah and The Manifestation Of Jehovah will prove that statement from Scripture).
Going on with Matt. 16:18 let us consider the phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. The “it” is the church upon which Peter’s confession that Christ is “the Son of the living God” is built. What do we learn from this? We learn that the gates of hell (the grave) cannot prevail against those who believe with Peter that Christ is the Son of God, i.e. God. That makes Peter’s confession the message of salvation. In other words, those who believe that Christ is the Son of God, i.e. God, are assured of resurrection because the “gates of hell cannot prevail against” them. If hell cannot prevail against them they will be raised from the grave and will be saved.
So Christ’s church spoken of in Matt. 16 is made up of all those who believe that Christ is the Son of the living God. The truth of Christ being the Son of God (or, as first century Jews would have understood it, Christ is God) is a universal truth, it has no dispensational boundaries. Therefore, the church of Matthew 16 is not dispensational, it is universal.
As mentioned above, most dispensationalists, desiring to rightly divide the Word of truth believe that this church is the church of the Gospel period but not the church of the Acts period. Let us consider that belief. We read in Acts 16:30-31 of the jailer who was holding Paul and his coworkers prisoners. When this jailer saw that his prisoners were miraculously freed from their prison cell he asked them, “What must I do to be saved? And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”. What was it about the Lord Jesus Christ that this jailer needed to believe? We read in Acts 9 of Saul’s conversion. And in verse 20 we read that “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God”. In other words, the very first message that Paul preached after his conversion was that Christ is “the Son of God”. Logic dictates that that is the message Paul wanted the jailer to understand, i.e. Christ is the Son of God.
So the message recorded in Acts 16 that must be believed in order to be saved is basically the same message as Matthew 16. In Matthew 16 the message of salvation was that one must believe in “the Son of the living God”, in Acts 16 it is that one must believe “on the Lord Jesus Christ”, i.e. that He is the Son of God. In my opinion, this suggests that the truth that Christ is the Son of God was the message that needed to be believed for salvation in both the Gospel and Acts periods.
In point of fact, it is the same message in the dispensation of the mystery. How do we know that? I beg the readers indulgence as we must consider the Gospel of John in order to prove that point.*
We read in Jn. 20:30-31, “and many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name”. The reader will note that the message that must be believed in order to “have life through His name” is basically the same truth as was expressed by Peter in Matthew 16 when Peter confessed that Christ is “the Son of the living God”. The question we must consider then, is: is John’s Gospel dispensational or universal? That is to say, if John’s Gospel is universal truth that would make the message of salvation that Christ is the Son of God a universal truth. That in turn would mean that that is the message of salvation for all dispensations, including the dispensation of the mystery.
To answer the question posed above from Scripture we must consider the God-inspired reason that John recorded some signs and excluded others. The God-inspired reason that John chose to record some miracles and exclude others was so that his readers might believe that Christ is the Son of God and believing might have “life through His name”. Who needs to believe that message? Every unbelieving person of every dispensation. That makes John’s Gospel applicable to those of every dispensation, i.e. universally.
(Most Christians believe that the message of salvation is that Christ died for their sins and rose again. There is absolutely no question but that it is true that Christ died and rose again. But that is not the gospel of salvation. The gospel of salvation is found in Jn. 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”. My prayer is that the reader will take the time to read the paper on this web-site Is There More Than One Gospel Of Salvation? for the scriptural evidence of this belief).
Let us also consider the reason John wrote his Gospel. Each of the four Gospel writers presented Christ as one of the four “branches” written about in the Old Testament. Matthew presents Christ as the King of Israel so the genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel is traced through David and coincides with Jer. 23:5 “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”. Mark presents Christ as the Servant and that is why Mark gives no genealogy, i.e. servants have no genealogy, and that coincides with Zechariah 3:8, “….I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch”. Luke presents Christ as the Son of man and so the genealogy in Luke’s Gospel traces Christ all the way back to the first man, Adam. This coincides with Zech. 6:12, “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Here is the Man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord, and He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne…..”.
The genealogy of John’s Gospel makes it abundantly clear, in my opinion, that John presents Christ as God. Jn. 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God“. The reference to the Branch is not as obvious as it is in the other Gospels, but we read in Is. 4:2, “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious“. Only God is glorious. The Branch of the Lord is Christ, Who only, as God, is “beautiful and glorious”..
Is the truth that Christ is God a dispensational or a universal truth? It is, of course, a universal truth. So we have John presenting Christ as God. That is a universal truth. And we have the reason for John including some signs and excluding others was so that his readers may come to believe in Christ and have “life through His name”. Here again, the reason and need for the signs are universal.
Let us consider one other interesting fact about John’s Gospel. On page 1511 of the Companion Bible, Dr. E.W. Bullinger has listed several words that are used more in John’s Gospel than in the other three Gospels. I would like to point out the use of the word “world” (Gr. “kosmos”) as used in the Gospels. According to Dr. Bullinger the word “world” is used nine times in Matthew’s Gospel, three times in Mark’s, three times in Luke’s and seventy-nine times in John’s Gospel. My point is that John has the world in mind, not Jews and Gentiles as such, but Jews and Gentiles apart from their national origins, just people of the world. That makes John’s Gospel of universal, not dispensational importance.
Of course, as is true of all the Gospels, John’s Gospel is a historical record of Christ’s earthly ministry. John’s Gospel does indeed speak of Israel as a nation. For example, we read in Jn. 1:11 that Christ “came unto His own, and His own received Him not”. In this context the phrase “His own” refers to Israel. My point is that John’s Gospel does mention Israel. but the reason for the Gospel, which was to present Christ as God and the reason that John chose to record some miracles and not others, is in both cases clearly universal and are not limited by dispensational boundaries.
Now let us consider Christ’s church of Matt. 16:18 in light of what we have learned of John’s Gospel. John’s Gospel presents universal truths, among them the fact that one is saved when he believes that Christ is the Son of God. As we compare that with Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of the living God, we see that it is basically the same message.
In short, I believe that “My church” of Matt. 16 is a universal church. That is to say, it includes all those who ever believed in Who Christ is, i.e. God. It therefore, is not limited to the Gospel period, nor is it limited to any period or dispensation. It is God’s church made up of individual believers of every dispensation.*
THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY
We read of the church which is His body in Eph.1:22-23. I will quote that passage beginning with verse 19, “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power. Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him That filleth all in all”.
Let us also consider another passage in Ephesians. We read in Eph. 2:5-6, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) and hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places“. Note the phrase “made us sit together in heavenly places“. This is obviously dispensational truth because believers of the previous dispensation were promised an earthly inheritance in the millennium (see Jer. 23:5), and after the millennium a city (the new Jerusalem) that would come to earth from heaven (see Rev. 21:2).*
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A CHURCH THAT IS PECULIAR TO ONE DISPENSATION?
We read in I Peter 2:9, “But ye (Israel) are a chosen generation (race), a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. This passage tells us that God chose Israel as a nation to testify of Who He is to the nations of the world. How did God testify to the world through Israel?. One example is the way in which He led Israel out of Egypt. The reader will recall the plagues about which the surrounding nations must have heard. And what must have those in the surrounding nations thought when God led Israel through the Red Sea on dry land and then caused that sea to swallow up Israel’s enemies? The point is that while it is true that God certainly worked through individuals, He worked through the nation of Israel to testify to the world of Who He is.
Israel was set aside as God’s chosen nation at Acts 28. (Please see the paper that proves that point). But God did not leave Himself without a witness. It is when Israel was set aside that the church of the dispensation of the mystery began.
It is clear that God works sometimes with individuals and other times with corporate entities. The corporate entity with which God worked in the previous dispensation was, of course, Israel. We read the passage in I Peter 2 quoted above that explains that Israel was God’s witness to the nations of the world, but in what way does God work through the church as an entity?
We read in Eph. 3:10-11, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by (should be “through”) the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”. In other words, God is working through the church to show the principalities and powers in heavenly places His wisdom. This is a dispensational truth. That is to say, we never read, and there is no reason to assume, that Israel as a nation witnessed to principalities and powers in heavenly places. In other words, the church which is His body is the corporate entity that witnesses to those spirit beings in heavenly places.*
I believe that Christ’s church of which Matthew 16 speaks is the church of all believers of every dispensation. And the church which is His body is the church through which God accomplishes those things that are peculiar to the present dispensation in the same way that Israel was God’s church through which He accomplished those things which were peculiar to the past dispensation.
I do not mean to suggest that there are two churches today. I am suggesting that some of the things that God wants to accomplish are peculiar to one dispensation and therefore, are accomplished by believers of that dispensation. We might think of the church which is His body as being included in the universal church of Matt. 16, i.e. Christ’s church.
* The bold type used in the quotations were added.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org