I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
As we stated last time, the purpose of God in the Dispensation of Grace was expressed by the words of Christ to Simon Peter:
“ And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” [Matt. 16:18]
We explored some of the nuances of this statement of Jesus in our side journey in our last post, so we won’t reiterate all of that material this time.
Because of this response of the Lord to Peter’s, “Good Confession”, the Dispensation of Grace is associated with what is often referred to as the, “Church Age.” Dispensations and the biblical ages are different studies in and of themselves. However, the Dispensation of Grace certainly is occurring during the Church Age.
The believers in the Early Church understood the plan of God for this Age, as it related to the Jewish people and the Nation of Israel. The Apostle James is recorded as saying in Acts 15:
“Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘AFTER THIS I WILL RETURN AND WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID, WHICH HAS FALLEN DOWN; I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL SET IT UP…”. [Acts 15:14 – 16]
It is God’s plan during this Dispensation to “call out” (Greek, ekklesia) a people from all nations who have been Born-Again, regenerated, sanctified, blood-washed, blood-bought, identified with the nature of Christ and the plan of redemption. The realization of this plan began with the earthly ministry of the Messiah, as He announced the formation of the Church (Matt. 16:18). After this called-out assembly is completed and taken out of the world (Eph. 5:25 – 27; II Thess. 2:7), God will once again deal with Israel as a nation (Acts 15:16, 17; Rom. 11:1 – 32). In fact, dealing with Israel to bring them back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and reveal their true Messiah, Yeshua Ha Masiach (Jesus the Messiah), is the primary purpose of the future Great Tribulation period.
As we discussed earlier, the New Testament Greek word translated most often, “church” is ekklesia, meaning “an assembly of called-out ones.” This term is used several different ways in the New Testament. It is used to describe all of the Christians in a particular city (Acts 11:22; 13:1), a local congregation of believers (1 Cor. 14:19; Col. 4:15), and the entire Body of Christ on the earth (Eph. 5:32).
Our English word, “church” is actually derived from the Greek word, kyriakos, which means, “that which belongs to the Lord.” Putting these two words, ekklesia and kyriakos together, we can see that the Church is a company of people “called out” from the world, who have been born-again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3 – 5) and who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:24).
The Church is also called the Body of Christ (I Cor. 10:16; Eph. 4:12, etc.). Although Jesus left the earth when He ascended into Heaven, He is still at work in the earth through His Body, the Church. It is important to understand that the Church is a living organism, not merely an organization! Our relationship to Christ as the Body of Christ is that we are members of His flesh and bones (Eph. 5:30). Christ is the Head of the Body in all things (Eph. 1:20 – 23; 5:23 – 27).
The Church is also portrayed in the New Testament as the Bride of Christ. I am of the opinion that the Parable of the Ten Virgins recorded in Matthew 25:1 – 13 is a parable illustrating the Bridegroom (Christ), returning for His Bride, the Church. John the beloved wrote, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom…” (John 3:29a). It is obvious here that Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church, souls brought to Christ in Covenant relationship with Him, constitute the Bride. In Revelation 21 the scripture says, “…”Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” [Rev. 21:9b] The scripture then says, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” [Rev. 21:10].
This scripture has led some Bible teachers to conclude that the Bride of Christ is the New Jerusalem. I submit to you however that the Bridegroom isn’t married to a city, He is married to a people. He is married to His Church. The New Jerusalem is the place where the Bride will reside, it isn’t the Bride.
It is important for us to understand beloved that our Lord Jesus Christ purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and a person can become a part of the Church by having their sins washed away by the Blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5). The Atoning work of Jesus Christ is a beautiful display of the Grace of God in this Dispensation. By the sacrifice of Christ the penalty for sin was paid, and the Law was fulfilled. The righteous demands of God for the redemption for mankind were met at Calvary! All sinners can now be transformed by faith in the Atonement of Christ, even as the dying thief crucified with Jesus was. You may recall that the thief said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” [Luke 23:42] Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:43] This statement of the Lord regarding “Paradise” is interesting. At this time this term did not refer to Heaven, but one of the regions of the underworld of departed spirits.
There are five separate regions, or compartments, that comprise the underworld of departed spirits. They are: 1) Tartaros, 2) Paradise (or Abraham’s Bosom), 3) Hell (Hades), 4) the bottomless pit (abyss), and 5) the Lake of Fire (Gehenna).
This is another side journey I realize, but I believe it would be a helpful and enlightening study within a study. Next time I want to pick up with a discussion of these five regions of the underworld, and see what the Bible tells us about them. Join us if you can.
Until next time,
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson