For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Christ and the Church
The church as the body of Christ
We know that the book of Hebrews sometimes contains the Word of God while our Lord was on the earth and when we read verse 5 of chapter 10, the writer of Hebrews informs us that when he came into the world he said, sacrifice and offering thou hast not desired but a body thou hast prepared for me and in verse 7 he said, behold I have come to do thy will O God. Now from these verses we know that when our Lord was on the earth, he said to the Father, a body thou hast prepared for me, behold I have come to do thy will O God.
A body was prepared for our Lord. We know very well that God had prepared this body for our Lord through Mary. Then the Word became flesh. With that body, he walked on this planet and became the friend of sinners and tax collectors. That was the way in which he approached the broken hearted. With that body, we remember how he humbled himself when many Pharisees tried to force our Lord to place judgment upon that woman of adultery. These Pharisees were so proud of their achievements and performance, but then we discover the Sinless One among them who bowed down and made himself so low and used his finger to write some letters in the ground. He stood up again and uttered these words, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." So with that body, and the language of that body, then we begin to see how humility became flesh. We all know that with that body he died on the cross for you and me. We saw how water and blood came out of his side. With that body on the cross, we saw that God is love.
Brothers and sisters, why did God prepare a body for our Lord? We should listen to his prayer. According to verse 7, "Then I said behold I have come to do thy will O God." Now through the body that God had prepared for our Lord, he was then able to say behold I have come, with that body "I have come to do thy will O God." So here we learn a lesson. The body of Christ, the body of our Lord was for a very important purpose. With that body which God prepared for our Lord, then the will of God could be carried out.
Now that was true while our Lord was on earth, but you remember that one day he ascended to heaven. But thank God, He continued to carry out His will. Out of the resurrection and ascension, on the day of Pentecost, God prepared another mysterious body which is the church.
Through the church, the body of Christ, our Lord could continue to say behold I have come to do thy will O God. So now we understand the meaning of the church as the body of Christ. You see how God prepared the body in the beginning through Mary to carry out His will. On the day of Pentecost, now God again used the body he prepared for His Son which is now church, because the church is the body of Christ. So now we know what the will of God is and how it can be carried out. That vessel is the church. That vessel is the body of Christ.
When you study the book of Acts, in the beginning of that book, when Luke mentioned the gospel, he considered that to be the first account of our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 1, verse 1, "In the first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach…" Now you know that the first account Luke refers to is the gospel according to Luke. In his gospel, as a physician, Luke had gone into a great deal of detail about the birth of Christ through Mary, of how God had prepared a body for our Lord through her and that is what the first account is about. Now with that body which God prepared for our Lord Jesus, Luke says, "all that Jesus began to do and teach." Do you understand? What was the gospel of Luke about? About all that Jesus began to do and teach. That was only the beginning of what Jesus was doing and teaching, which he accomplished through his earthly body.
But in verse 2 it says, "Until the day when he was taken up." Now that refers to His ascension. That body has ascended to heaven. But thank God, on the day of Pentecost, the church was born. What does that mean? On this earth, on this planet, you find that God has prepared another body. This is a mysterious body, a spiritual body. In Acts Luke tells us what the Acts of the Apostles are about, through this body. This is the second account. The first account was about all that Jesus began to do and teach but in the second account, now you will see the body of Christ is still on the earth, even though our Lord had ascended to heaven. When you see the church, then you realize that Jesus continued to do and teach.
In the book of Acts, what do you discover? That Jesus continued to do and teach. And more than that, when you come to the end of the book of Acts, you discover something very interesting; this book doesn't have an end. Do you see that? All other books in the Word of God have a conclusion, but in this one, you will find that there isn't. Why? Because even in the Twentieth Century, Jesus still continues to do and to teach. Then you will ask how do we know that Jesus continues to do and teach? Because the church of Christ is here. Brothers and sisters, do you see that? The church is the body of Christ and because of that, our Lord Jesus said, behold I have come to do thy will O God. Why is the church of Christ still on the earth today? Brothers and sisters, the church of God is a vessel through which God will carry out His will. Now with this understanding, lets go back to the first chapter of Ephesians.
Now in this chapter, we are clearly told the eternal will of God in two places. From these two verses we are supposed to know the mystery of His Will. One of those verses is verse 5: "He predestined us for sonship through Jesus Christ to himself according to the kind intention of his will." We already mentioned that sonship in the bible means the placing of the son. When the sons were still very young, they played with the slaves, and were even taught by them. But one day, when that son grew up into maturity, then the master of the house would invite all his friends and would go to a solemn ceremony where the father would make an announcement, "Even though my son was the heir of the family, when he was young he was among the slaves, but today he has reached adulthood and all I have belongs to him, because he is the heir of the family. Now that he has reached adulthood, I want to place him in the place of the son." Do you see that? As far as life is concerned, he is the son from the very beginning, but that life has to be matured. He not only inherits the inheritance of the father, but now he is able to manage the business of the father. Now he is going to manage the wealth of his father, because the son has matured. This is the meaning of sonship.
In other words, we are the sons of God from the very beginning when we are born again. That's why the bible says we are children of God; because we have eternal life. But there is a day that God has always been waiting for. His will is not just to get us saved or to get us to heaven. Thank God, He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. More than that, He predestined us according to His purpose and only when we reach that purpose will He be satisfied.
So brothers and sisters, what is the will of God? Sonship through Jesus Christ, according to the kind intention of His will. This is the eternal will of God, because when God made that predestination, it was done before the foundation of the world. That predestination was done according to His will, in eternity past. Now His will is that one day we will be placed as sons and because of that, we must grow toward maturity.
The universe will be summed up in Christ through the church
That's one important thought, but as we already mentioned, there are two lines of thought here, because at least twice in this chapter, we are talking about the kind intention of his will.
The second point then, in verse 9 says: "He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his kind intention which he purposed in him. With a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of time that is the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth." Now "all things" here means the universe because these are not just the things in heaven or on earth. In other words, what is the will of God? This is all according to his kind intention which he purposed in him, so now we know what the will of God is: that one day the whole universe will be summed up in Christ.
Now how can this be done? How can God reach that purpose: that one day the whole universe will be in harmony through Christ? Because after Satan's great rebellion in history, sin polluted this universe and you discover that this universe has become broken, disintegrated and is now in disharmony. There is now confusion in this world. But brothers and sisters, God's will is not only that we should be redeemed and that we should be matured and have sonship through Christ; that's only one part of the story. This whole universe must also be redeemed. Now brothers and sisters, when that happens, then you discover that the whole universe will be summed up in Christ. How can God reach His purpose?
So Paul continued to say, again in two different yet parallel lines, in Verse 11: "And we have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will." Now we are told we have obtained an inheritance; it means we are an heir with Christ, that we are the children of God. Here again it speaks of predestination. So what does that mean? Again; it is sonship. So brothers and sisters, when we talk about sonship, we are talking about our inheritance. Then Paul continues to talk about the pledge of our inheritance. So you see, this is all something to do with sonship, it all has to do with our maturity. That's why we spent so long talking about how to reach maturity; from infanthood, to adolescence through to adulthood. Remember, this is the eternal will of God.
But then we have another part of the story: verse 18, the last phrase, "What are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." Here we have the wonderful phrase, "his inheritance". This means God's inheritance. Now I think we understand our inheritance very well: Christ is our inheritance. That's why Paul talks about the unsearchable riches of Christ. But now we have something that we don't often understand: His inheritance. God also has an inheritance. But the most surprising thing is that it is His inheritance in the saints. So then he talks of the glory of his inheritance, not only a little bit of glory, but the bible speaks of the riches of the glory of his inheritance. Now that is beyond us. But don't forget, why does God speak about His inheritance? Now when we talk about our inheritance, we are talking about something we will obtain, but when God talks about his inheritance, we are talking about what He will obtain. Now you understand that the mystery of His will has two aspects: one aspect is about what we will obtain, but another is what God will obtain. That's why there are two lines here: our inheritance and His inheritance.
So Paul tried to spell out what God's inheritance is. It has something to do with Christ summing up the whole universe. When God reaches His goal, the whole universe will be summed up in Christ. After sin had entered into this world, it began to disintegrate, this universe was broken. But one day, God will reach His goal of summing it all up in Christ. Then all things in the universe will be head up in Christ. Now this is the eternal will of God. So brothers and sisters, then we ask in what way will God reach His goal? For that reason, Paul has a wonderful prayer. In that prayer, the Holy Spirit reveals the secret to us: when God has obtained His inheritance, then the whole universe will be summed up in Christ.
So we have to read on. Then we discover that there is a connection between His inheritance in the saints and the church which is the body of Christ. You must read the whole context. If you are to study the bible, don't try to interpret it by yourself; you have to interpret the Word of God by the Word itself. Now what is His inheritance in the saints? You must read the context, and in this context it ends up with the church as the body of Christ. Now why does Paul mention the church of Christ here?
Remember, the church of Christ is actually His inheritance in the saints. So in other words, the whole universe will one day be summed up in Christ through the church! The church is a very important vessel. With the body of Christ, now Christ is able to say today, behold I have come to do thy will O God. So my brothers and sisters, do you see that? There you discover the eternal will of God, which means the whole universe will be summed up in Christ. How? Through the church; through the body of Christ.
So one day, Christ will present Himself the church in its glory and that's the day that we will witness the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. No wonder brothers and sisters, if you want to know the will of God, simply speaking, it is Christ and His church. One day, God will reach His goal; on the one hand, sonship, and on the other hand, the Lordship of Christ. Then we will see Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So when you see these two sides to the will of God, on the one hand, you see Christ, and on the other, you see the church. Now you know how important the Church of Christ is. It is intimately connected with the eternal will of God.
Now if we turn to chapter 3, verse 4 it says, "By referring to this when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." That's why we are talking about two lines. Here we have the mystery of Christ. What is the mystery of Christ? If you read the context it refers to the church. So the church is the mystery of Christ. But if you read Colossians, we are told that Christ is the mystery of God. So Christ is the secret of God and the church is the secret of Christ. Christ was in the very heart of God and the church is in the very heart of Christ. So it is very clear.
Let us read verse 10, "Now in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord." So from the context here, what is the eternal purpose of God? Very simple; that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Remember the words, through the church.
So the will of God will be carried through the church. With the body of Christ, Christ is able to say, behold I have come to do thy will O God. Then what will happen? One day, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church. Now today we know the power of God, but one day the whole universe will be able to know the manifold wisdom of God, because that manifold wisdom will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. In other words, that manifold wisdom of God will be made known to the angels and to the whole universe.
Now brothers, why talk of angels? Because there was a great rebellion in the universe. One third of the angels followed Satan and from that time on, this universe became polluted and from that time on, this universe has been waiting for its redemption and liberation. Do you see that, brothers and sisters? Because of that rebellion, now the universe is no longer summed up in Christ and in God's eternal purpose. However, God's eternal purpose is that Christ be the centre of the whole universe.
Now due to that rebellion, how is God going to deal with Satan? In the beginning, when Satan rebelled against God, God was creator, and Satan was a creation. So for the creator to deal with His creation would be very simple. Sometimes we just wonder why God did not just crush Satan in the beginning. If He had, in just one second Satan would be killed. Then there would be no trouble for any of us. Why did God not do that in the very first place? According to God's power, He was able to do it in an instant and Satan would be finished. That would be very, very simple. Then the angels could say, "You are God, you are the creator, you are all powerful, you could destroy Satan in just one second." But then the angels would only see the power of God. For some reason, the angels cannot see the manifold wisdom of God.
But brothers, God's will is not only to manifest His power, but also His manifold wisdom. What is the wisdom of God? He knows it's very easy to deal with Satan just like that, because He is the creator. But thank God, through his manifold wisdom, he created Adam, he created another created being. Satan was a created being; Adam was also a created being. God now used one created being to deal with another created being.
So if Adam ate from the fruit of the tree of life, then he would have obeyed the will of God; he would have stood on the same side as God. He would have said "yes" to the Father's will. Now brothers, we know God created Adam with free will; with a capacity to say yes or no, but out of his free will, if he said yes to God and the tree of life, and no to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it would have put Satan to shame because they were both created beings. Satan rebelled against God and so if Adam really received the tree of life, God's enemy would have been shamed.
So you see brothers, the way that God dealt with Satan, the way God wanted to sum up all the universe in Christ was by creating human beings. Unfortunately, you know about Adam's fall; how he failed the will of God. Instead of standing with God now he stood against God. For that reason, our Lord had to die on the cross. And because of that, he wanted to win us back to paradise. Because of Christ's death on the cross, salvation was accomplished, and we have all been born in Christ. We are all saved, and not only so, the church of Christ was born on the day of Pentecost. Because we are redeemed, now the body of Christ is a redeemed body. We were sinners, yet saved by grace. Thank the Lord, the church of Christ is on the earth.
The body of Christ is moving on the earth. Ever since we received Christ as our life, we have taken fruit from the tree of life. Now, the church has become the chosen vessel. By saying yes to the Father and to His eternal will, that wonderful testimony truly puts the enemy to shame.
The church as God's inheritance
God wants to teach all the angels one important lesson: that they see that we are all mature in Christ; that they see the church glorified, holy and without blemish. The whole universe is watching; the angels, the rulers, the authorities in the heavenly places, and the whole universe will see the manifestation of the sons.
Paul told us, "The whole creation growns….and even we ourselves grown." (Romans 8:22, 23) Roughly twenty years ago, in Cambridge, England, there was a wonderful discovery; a great graduate student discovered a signal from the universe. In the beginning, the scientists thought they'd got a signal from outer space. They were very excited that we could finally have contact with the aliens. But later they discovered that it wasn't a signal from aliens but rather that one of the stars that God created was coming to the end of its life. Before it died, it sent out a signal, just like someone sighing or groaning.
Every few minutes, they heard this signal. Paul was right; the universe is groaning. Why? Because they are waiting for the manifestation of the sons. Now what is the manifestation of the sons? When the children of God are matured, God will put them in the place of sons. So now the whole universe is waiting for that moment. Why? Because this is part of the eternal will of God.
Now when we talk about individual lives, we are the sons of God who will be manifested, but as far as corporate life is concerned, before the Lord's return, He will present to Himself a glorified church. The church is like the moon in the sky. You know that the moon itself has no light of its own to give out. We know that the moon absorbs sunlight, and that the moonlight we see is actually a reflected light from the sun. The church is just like the moon; we have no glory for ourselves. Christ is the sun of righteousness. As the moon, we behold the sun, we absorb the sunlight and then we reflect that light. So when people see the moonlight, actually they see the sunlight. One day the church will be matured and because they have absorbed all the sunlight, they will reflect that light. We are told that the church will then be the glorified church, holy and without blemish. Now brothers, this is the moment that God is waiting for because that's God's eternal purpose.
Through Christ, when the church is matured and is His bride, when they are standing together, that will put the enemy to shame. All angels are going to witness the wedding between Christ and His bride and they will have learnt a lesson.
You know that wedding ceremonies have so many guests, and the bride looks beautiful, and the bridegroom so handsome. So when they walk up the red carpet and the many guests witness what happens there, it is a most emotional moment; it is so beautiful. No wonder some people cry. Why? Because behind that beautiful scene, there is actually a wonderful story of love. Now brothers and sisters, you understand, that one day, during the wedding feast of the lamb, all the angels will be watching. When that happens, Satan and his followers will be put to shame. Don't forget, the manifold wisdom of God will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church. So brothers, now you understand how important the church is in God's eyes.
Sometimes when we think of the church, we only think of a building. And someone says "I left my umbrella in the church." Because he thinks that the church is only a building. It is much more than that. How could you put your umbrella into the body of Christ? The church is not only a congregation, that's the Old Testament; the church is the body of Christ. When we are being built up as a church, when the church matures, when like the moon it reflects the light of the sun, then brothers, all the angels, rulers and authorities in the heavenly places will learn a lesson. What is that lesson? They begin to understand the manifold wisdom of God.
Now brothers, by that time, you know what God will say, "I have obtained my inheritance in the saints." Now brothers and sisters, when He sees the wedding feast of the lamb, then the Father's heart will be satisfied. You know when a father takes his daughter along that carpet in the wedding, there is such emotion for the father. Of course, from now on, he is going to miss his daughter. He remembers how for the last twenty years that little girl was in his family. But brothers and sisters, now he is going to give that daughter to another man; to some young man who he trusts because that young man will spell out the future of his daughter. It is a mixed feeling; the father hates to see his daughter to go, but on the other hand, he wants her to go. What does that mean? There will be a bright future ahead of them. This is not a very accurate parable, because there are many failures among marriages on the earth. But that will not be so with Christ and His church.
When all the angels are watching, when Christ and His church are standing together and walk together, you can imagine that the Father's heart will be completely satisfied. So remember, the reason the father raised His daughter from babyhood to adulthood, through many sufferings and much difficulty, was to reach maturity. So when you see the couple walk along that carpet, now you can say, the will of the Father has been fulfilled. No wonder at the end of Revelation, the Holy Spirit and the bride say "Come." What does that mean? That everybody should come and see. Now through the working of the Holy Spirit, the bride is ready. Now everybody can come. Come and see the manifold wisdom of God.
Sonship and Lordship
Now you understand why from chapter one to chapter three you have two lines of thought; the sonship and the Lordship. When heavenly bodies are moving, they always move in elliptical ways. Any body that moves in the heavenly places, according to physicists, do not simply move in circles, because that means it only has one centre. But if anything moves in an elliptical way, its elliptical orbit has two focal centers. Now that happens to every heavenly body moving in the heavenly places. So the same applies to the will of God.
Here you have two focal points; the sonship and the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when we speak of sonship, it is our inheritance, but when we speak of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it is God's inheritance. What is God's inheritance? The church glorified, the body of Christ. And what is the body of Christ? The fullness of Christ. So brothers and sisters, it is very clear through chapter one to chapter three. So if you really want to know the mystery of His will, you have to read these three chapters very carefully.
Now we come back to a very important question; how do we connect His inheritance in the saints with the church? We have to go back to the Word of God again. So let us read on from chapter 1, verse 18. "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." Do you see that the eyes of our heart are to be enlightened? Otherwise we won't see the following facts. Now one of these glorious facts is that we are able to see the glory of his inheritance in the saints. But how can God reach his purpose? Verse 19 is very important indeed.
The surpassing greatness of his power
In chapter 3 we were told that the church is the eternal purpose of God, and verse 20 told us the secret; "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us." How is God going to obtain his inheritance? Or, how can the church be matured? Don't forget, God is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. This is the Word of God. But, it is according to the power that works within us. We know how God works, He put some of His power within every one of us and that power already works within us. Now what is that power?
Now we have to come back to chapter 1. Verse 19, "And what is the surpassing greatness of his power to us who believe." So now you see that after we receive Jesus Christ as our savior, we receive the life of Christ and we also receive the power of Christ. Not only that, this power of Christ is working in us all the time. Now Paul called that, the surpassing greatness of his power.
God has two powers; in his created universe the greatest power is nuclear power. So every night when you see some shining star, you know that is all because of nuclear power.
But God has yet another power. In His work of redemption, there was another power at work which is now in you and me. Paul tried to describe how great that power is, by saying, the surpassing greatness of his power. Paul used a great word to describe it. God is going to obtain His inheritance with that power. God is going to make his church mature with that power. So now we want to find out what kind of power is within us. This power is according to the working of the strength of his might. This refers to God's might. What might is this? "Which he brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places."
What power is this which raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand in the heavens? It is the power of resurrection.
This planet's sky is like the top of a coffin and the ground is the bottom of the coffin. We were all dead within this coffin; no-one had ever left it. Now you know how strong the power of death is. The power of death tried to imprison us in this great coffin, and no-one had ever escaped from that death. This was the strongest of God's enemies. We all became prisoners of death, and no-one had ever penetrated the lid of this coffin. But two thousand years ago, there was a power, called the power of God, and with that power, God raised Christ from the dead. Christ was the first fruit, He was the only one to break through the roof and ascend to heaven.
Now you understand what the power of death is. But the power of resurrection is even greater than the power of death. So the day Jesus rose up was the day of death for death. Death had never died, but thank the Lord, on the day of resurrection, now we have the day of death for death. Who conquered death? Christ conquered death! He is the great conqueror! Yet the bible not only talks of the power of resurrection. It says, when he raised him from the dead, - that's the power of resurrection, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places - what does this mean? It is the power of ascension. He wasn't just resurrected, He also ascended to heaven.
Yet we must remember that in the heavenly places, according to Ephesians chapter 6, there is a wicked force of darkness. So when Christ ascended to heaven, He had to pass through the territory of the enemy. So if He ascended to the heavens, it means that He had somehow taken captive all the captives. Because of His victory on the cross, when He went through the heavenly places, he encountered dark spiritual powers there, because Satan and his followers are scattered in outer space. So when Christ ascended to heaven, don't forget that he crossed through the territory of the enemy. According to the bible, while He passed through it, He conquered it, He cleared the whole ground and took captive all the captives. Then you will find that all the territory has been cleared. Now He occupied all of outer space and according to Paul's terminology, when He occupied and conquered, He filled the whole universe.
Originally, it was darkness that filled the universe, but because of His ascension, the further He ascended to heaven, the more enemies He placed under His feet. Then He truly filled the universe. The territories used to be in the hands of the enemy, but by this act of ascension, He was not only victorious, but also triumphant. Now that's very important. So for that reason, we read in verse 21, "Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every name that is named. Not only in this age, but also in the one to come." Now you understand brothers, when He ascended to heaven He was far above all. That was His victorious position. Remember brothers, when you are in the heavenly position, it means that you are in the victorious position; all problems, all troubles, all enemies are under our feet. Do you see? Originally the enemy filled that space but now Christ fills that vacuum.
So brothers, now you see that this power is not only a power of resurrection but also a power of ascension. And more than that, when He ascended to heaven, " he put all things in subjection under his feet." (verse 22) Now you understand the beginning of the summing up of the universe in Christ. Why? God put the whole universe in subjection under Christ's feet. And more than that, "Gave him as head over all things to the church." Verse 22 is the explanation of verse 10. What does it mean by the summing up of all things in Christ? It is very clear here, God put all things in subjection under His feet because He ascended to heaven. Now you see that glorious, triumphant and victorious position; but more than that, Gave him as head over all things to the church. Now because everything is under his feet, our Lord became the King and Head of the universe. So when we say Christ is the head of the church, don't forget that before He is our head, He is already the head of the universe. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So after the Lord ascended to heaven, thank God, through that great power, risen power, He conquered death. He also conquered the enemies in the heavenly places, marching victorious all the way to the summit of the universe, to the highest place. That is all because of the power of God. So thank God, because of that power, our Lord ascended to heaven. Because of that power, he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things. That is a heavenly and victorious position; that is our Lord, that is Christ, that is the ascended Christ. The bible mentions his feet and also the head. When you talk about Christ and His victory, the bible mentions his feet and the head. Then it says, to the church. So what is the church? Paul told us the church is his body.
Look at the heavenly places, look at the summit of the universe. Christ is there. You see the head and you see the feet. Where is His body? Brothers and sisters, the church is his body! Where is the church? Now you discover when Christ took that position, you understand why the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost. What does it mean? What is the church? The church was born from the heavenly places; the church was born from above. Now when we say we are "born again", in Greek, it means to be born from above. Do you understand? We are all born from above as far as the individual is concerned, but as far as the church is concerned, the church was also born from above. The church is in heaven; the church is a heavenly church. The church is something that exists because of the ascension of Christ. This is a wonderful vision that Paul had never seen before.
The double purpose of Paul's prison
You remember why he was arrested. You remember the story, the last time he went to Jerusalem he met with James and the others and reported everything to them. Then James tried to give him some advice. Many thousands in Jerusalem believed in the Lord. But unfortunately, James added one sentence, "every one of them is zealous for the law." Now, in Galatians and Colossians, you remember how Paul fought for the gospel truth. Many Jewish Christians tried to mislead the churches in Galatia and in other places, and those responisble came from Jerusalem. They said, "If you believe in the Lord Jesus you enter by the Holy Spirit, however, if you want to grow you have to keep the Law of Moses." Now you see brothers that this is another gospel. Even when Peter made a mistake, you remember how Paul severely reprimanded him. Why? Because Paul knew the gospel truth: that we are only justified by faith, by grace alone, and not by faith together with the working of the law. That's gospel truth.
The apostles in Jerusalem saw how wonderful God's working was; 3,000 got saved, then 5,000 got saved. They were busy building up the church of God. Yet they forgot the words of our Lord. The gospel was to begin in Jerusalem, then it was to go on to Samaria, and all the way to the ends of the earth. But because their work was so prosperous, they had a mega church. In Jerusalem there were workers with such a wonderful blessing that they decided to stay in order to build up the church; but they forgot the Words of Christ. So finally, God used persecution to scatter God's saints and in this way, those disciples went out and the body of Christ moved on. Then the church in Antioch was born, along with many other churches. And Paul became an apostle to them. That's what had happened by that time.
But Peter, James and even John who loved the work of God wanted to build up God's church. According to the bible, by that time, James - Jesus' brother - was one of the great leaders. But he was also a Nazirite, so strictly speaking he was a typical Jew. We are even told that his knees became hard because he always kneeled while he prayed; he had what were called "camel's knees". So he was really very pious. Under the leadership of James and the other apostles, unconsciously, because men are men of tradition, despite being new creations, they were governed by their traditions. We don't fully know the power of tradition. On the one hand they all believed in the Lord Jesus, but on the other hand, every one of them was zealous for the Law of Moses. So now you can see what happened to the church in Jerusalem.
No wonder, in the eyes of the Jews or of the people in the world the church of God was just another branch of Judaism. How do we know that? Because everyone of them was zealous for the Law. The difference is this: they believed in Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Yet unconsciously, because they used to live in Judaism they were automatically influenced by their past.
Now in Judaism, do you know how people gathered together? They had two forms of meeting together: a congregation around the temple, and after their captivity, they had a synagogue system. Every ten people could form a synagogue. So they had many synagogues in Jerusalem. Now that the church of God was born, how should they gather together? How should they worship? How should they carry on? Now brothers, James was a Nazitrite, and Peter and John knew the Old Testament very well. So you can imagine that during that transition period, when the light of gospel truth was not too bright, unconsciously they were governed by their old concepts and old traditions.
For that reason, when Paul visited Jerusalem again, James tried to prove that he was not against the Law of Moses. "We have four men here who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses." (Acts 21:23-24) So when they were waiting for the completion of their purification, God could not wait any longer; this was the time God had to interfere. If Paul had finished those seven days of purification, you can be pretty sure that the church would be just another branch of Judaism. That is true in the church's history. If you study your church history, you'll find when the church was in the Dark Age, the people turned the Lord's Table into mass; the table became the altar and the cup and the bread became the sacrifice. Then the one who offered the sacrifice was called a priest. That's why you have priests in the church today. That was Judaism.
Why was Judaism brought into the church? That's church history. That's one part of it. After the reformation, then again, the people unconsciously fell back into the mode of gathering like Jews. Instead of temple worship, they had synagogues. Every ten people could become a synagogue. That's exactly what happened after the reformation. Now it's no wonder that we are divided. The temple was the centre of worship, but in the church Dark Age, it turned into Judaism and the same after the Reformation because they gathered in the form of synagogues. Every ten people: if you are all carpenters you can have one synagogue, and if you are all miners you can have a miner's synagogue. According to your taste, according to your class, if you are wealthy you are together, and if you are poor, you have your own synagogue. This is one rich synagogue, one poor synagogue, one intellectual synagogue, one without education. Brothers, here you see how easily we fall into the trap of our traditions.
God could wait no longer; He couldn't let Paul go that way; He had to interfere. From that time on, Paul was arrested, and was in chains. Brothers, Paul's suffering has two aspects: on the one hand, he was put in prison, like the cocoon for the butterfly, but on the other hand God wanted to correct him. God knew that if Paul made that mistake, then all the will of God would be gone. Because of that, thank God, Paul had to be imprisoned.
Now brothers, while he was in prison, while he was in the presence of God, he received God's revelation; the heavens opened to him. Then he began to see that the church was something heavenly and born from above as a consequence of the Lord's resurrection and ascension. More than that, the church was not just a congregation, the church was actually an organism; Christ's body. The church was not a branch of Judaism; Paul remembered the Lord's words; new wine must be put into new wineskins. Judaism is an old wineskin and if you put the new wine in the old wineskin, it will explode. Judaism cannot hold Christ; it is impossible. For that reason, God needed a new wineskin. Christ is the new wine, but the church is the new wineskin. It is a new kind of vessel. Now to Paul's surprise, the church was not an organization or a religion; the church was not part of Judaism. The church is the body of Christ.
That light liberated the church of God. Because of that light now we have a way. We know how to build the church up together. Do you see that? Being in prison, Paul found the way of the church. Now brothers, everything begins from there: the church is the body of Christ, the church is heavenly.
The heavenly Christ and church
For that reason, at the end of the first chapter, you see a heavenly Christ and a heavenly church. You see his head, and his feet. So then where do you find the body? The bible tells us the church is the body of Christ. So thank God, the church was born out of Christ's ascension. No wonder the church is heavenly, no wonder the church is victorious; if everything is under Christ's feet, everything is also under the church's feet. Do you see the wonderful position of the church? Christ is there through the power of God; the power of resurrection and ascension. Christ is there and the church is also there. But very interestingly, in chapter 1 the church is in heaven, but when you come to chapter 2, the church is on the earth.
Thank God, Christ not only ascended to heaven; now the Holy Spirit has been poured down. Why did the Holy Spirit have to be poured down? Because now God's spirit is visiting the earth and He will bring the church down to earth. When you are in the church, you are in the heavens here on earth. No wonder that this is the gate to heaven. You remember when Jacob saw that dream, after he woke up, he said "this indeed is the house of God." What is the house of God? He said, "this is the gate to heaven." From here you enter into the heavenly realms. So what is the church? The church is in heaven but it is here today as heaven on earth. This world wants to know how we can go to heaven, and if they come to the church, they discover the gate to heaven.
This is the body of Christ. This body can move on earth just like that which God prepared for our Lord through Mary two thousand years ago. Now our Lord is able to say, behold I have come to do thy will O God. So brothers, it is very interesting how Paul described our Lord's ascension, seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. That is ascension, but read chapter 2, verse 6, and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places. Now that power of ascension not only works in Christ, - according to the bible - that power of resurrection and ascension also works in us. If that is so, what is the consequence? Seated us with him in the heavenly places.
Yes we are on earth, yes we are in the prison, but thank God, at the same time, we are in heaven. Why? It is that power, like that of an eagle, whose life within will make it soar up to heaven, and swiftly dive down to the earth. No wonder in John's gospel, the bible used the eagle to describe the transcendent life of Christ. That's why in John's gospel you have phrases describing him as descending from heaven yet also in heaven. That's the life of an eagle, in one second he can descend to earth and ascend back to heaven. This is our life; the life of ascension, taking the form of an eagle: from the earth to the heaven in just one second, yet while still on earth.
Thank the Lord, the heavenly places are not only our position but also our experience. Brothers, we walk on this earth through the wilderness, full of sufferings, sorrows and tears, but thank God, we can live in heaven while on earth. Yes we are on earth, but all our pain and sufferings are under our feet, because this life will lift us up above all our problems. So there is no reason for us to be depressed. For Christians, to be constantly depressed is shameful, why? Because this life is a life of ascension to be lived on the earth.
So thank the Lord, this is Paul's wonderful revelation: the sonship, and the Lordship; our inheritance and his inheritance. Our inheritance are the unsearchable riches of Christ; his inheritance is that one day he will present himself with the glorified church. All angels, all creation, all the universe groans awaiting that moment. One day our bridegroom and his bride, his church, will walk together and on that day, our father's heart will be satisfied.
God had already made that plan from before the foundation of the world. Just like when the baby is still in the womb of the mother, the parents already dream that one day the father will lead his daughter down the aisle. It is the same for our Heavenly Father. This is the wonderful eternal will of God. So brothers, this vision will revolutionize our life. It will change our life so that we are like the wisemen who, when they see Christ, will not go back along the same route. They cannot take the same road anymore. When we go back to our cities, we will not be able to go back to our old ways.
May the Lord be merciful to us brothers and sisters, because we are so easily trapped by tradition. Christ's church has two thousand years of tradition, but now the problem is this: sometimes we want to use our methods to build up the church of Christ and unconsciously we are governed by our traditions. Even Paul was in great danger. We have to be careful.
Thank God, He could not wait any longer and had to arrest Paul and correct him. God could not allow Paul to continue along that way, otherwise there'd be no hope for the building up of the church. Christianity would have been just another branch of Judaism. What is Christianity? People would say it was one of many religions in the world. No brothers; the church is the body of Christ. It is the fullness of Christ. So may the Lord really speak to our hearts.