When Did the New Testament Start? When Did the Church Begin?
When I was a young believer years ago a brother in the Lord insisted that “the four Gospels are Old Testament not New Testament.” This struck me as odd and inaccurate, but since I didn’t have enough information at the time I didn’t contest his position. While what he said was understandable in light of the fact that the church did not technically begin until the Day of Pentecost (more on this below), I’ve since discovered that what he said was patently false. Notice what Jesus Christ Himself said on the topic:
“The Law and the Prophets [i.e. the Old Covenant] were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached”
This answers the question in plain language: The Old Testament ended with John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah via a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:2-19). With the ministries of John and Jesus the kingdom of God was preached, not the Law and the Prophets.
“The Law,” incidentally, refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—whereas “the Prophets” refers to the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Combining “the Law and the Prophets” together, like Jesus did in this verse, was/is a reference to the Old Testament in general—the Old Covenant (contract) that God had with the Israelites.
“The Kingdom of God is Near”
So the Old Testament was proclaimed until the time of John the Baptist’s public ministry. From that time forward “the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached.” The “Good News” refers, of course, to the awesome message of Christ—the gospel. Notice what John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the 12 disciples and the other 72 disciples preached:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea (2) and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go onto the road of the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. (6) Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. (7) As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ “
“If you enter a town and they welcome you, eat whatever is set before you. (9) Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ ”
As you can see, John, Jesus, the 12 disciples and the other 72 disciples all preached that “the kingdom of God is near.” Other translation say “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The words “near” and “at hand” are translated from the Greek eggizó (eng-ID-zoh), which means “extreme closeness, immediate imminence—even a presence.” Whether extremely close or even present to a degree, they preached the kingdom of God and not the Law and the Prophets, which agrees with Jesus’ plain declaration in Luke 16:16 above.
The kingdom of God is essentially synonymous with the church (Matthew 16:18-19), but only if “kingdom of God” is defined in a narrow sense, as in “a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly submit to God’s authority during this present age.” Those who rebel against God’s authority and refuse to submit to Him are obviously not part of the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of God” being the Church in this current era). By contrast, those who acknowledge the lordship of Christ and gladly surrender to God’s rule in their hearts are part of the kingdom of God and therefore part of the church.
The Four Gospels are the “Prologue” to the New Testament
So the four Gospels are not Old Testament, but are rather the “prologue” to the New Testament and therefore PART OF the New Testament, even though the church didn’t technically start until the Day of Pentecost. Notice how Christ spoke AS IF the church was already in function in this passage where he addressed dealing with offending believers with his disciples:
“If they [the offending believers] still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
As you can see, Jesus spoke as if the church was already in existence even though he didn’t die for our sins yet and was raised to life for our justification. You could say that the church was already alive but not birthed yet, like a baby in a mother’s womb.
What is “the Church”?
The word ‘church’ in the Greek is ekklesia (ee-KLEE-see-ah), meaning “called out of ” or “the called-out ones.” It refers to people who have been called out of the darkness of this world and consecrated to the LORD via responding in faith & repentance to the good news of the message of Christ (Acts 20:21) and the ensuing spiritual rebirth (1 Peter 1:3,23 & James 1:18). The church is synonymous with “the body of Christ” (Colossians 1:18) and includes every genuine believer who’s experienced spiritual regeneration regardless of what sectarian tag they favor (John 3:3,6 & Titus 3:5).*
* Always remember this about sectarian tags: Putting a label of ‘corn’ on a can of beans doesn’t make the can of beans a can of corn.
In its singular form ekklesia is always used to describe all people across the globe who know Christ and not to a specific sect—like, say, the Baptists, Nazarenes or Assemblies of God. When pluralized, the word ekklesia is used in reference to specific assemblies of believers who meet together. In the Bible this was often at a person’s house (Acts 20:20 & Romans 16:3,5). It should be noted that the word ‘church’ is never used in the Scriptures to describe either a physical facility or a human-organized group—i.e. a sect or denomination—although the people of such an organization may, of course, be the church (“called-out ones”); and usually are if it’s a legitimate (i.e. biblical) ministry organization.
No specific assembly or denomination is necessarily the “one true church” because the body of Christ is not a human-organized institution, but rather a spiritual entity comprised of those who have been reconciled to the LORD by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9 & 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Such people—no matter what structure they meet at, no matter which sect they’re a part of, and no matter what nation they happen to live in—are the true church.
Any time you hear a minister or believer talk about his or her sect/assembly as the “one true church” it’s an indication of the infection of staunch sectarianism, which is a spiritually immature mindset, as witnessed in Jesus’s disciples in Luke 9:49-50. And, worse, it’s actually a work of the flesh, as shown in Galatians 5:19-21 where “factions” is listed as one of the works of the flesh, also translated as “sects” (and sometimes dubiously translated as “heresies”). “Factions” or “sects” is a translation of the Greek word hairesis (HAH-ee-res-is), which means “a religious or philosophical sect” and the resulting division, discord or contention in the body of Christ.
With the understanding of the above, I am the church and you are the church; that is, if you’re a genuinely born-anew believer.
When Did the Church Begin?
The actual historical formation of the church occurred in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, which was 50 days after the Passover when Christ died and was resurrected three days later. Notice how Peter referred to the Day of Pentecost as “the beginning” as he testifies to Jewish believers about the Holy Spirit coming upon Gentile believers:
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them [the Gentile believers] as he had come on us at the beginning. (16) Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ ”
“The beginning” obviously refers to the Day of Pentecost when believers where empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13). So Pentecost marks the beginning of the church as the spiritual reality of the body of Christ.
What Did Jesus mean by “On this Rock I will Build My Church”?
The Messiah made this well-known statement after asking his disciples if they knew who he truly was. Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16).
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
What is the “rock” on which Christ said he would build his church? It’s not Peter whose name in Greek, petros, means “stone.” The “rock” on which Jesus will build his church is petra in the Greek, meaning “large rock” or “bedrock.” When you’re driving down an interstate highway and pass through a section with sheer rock cliffs on either side it’s obvious that the road-workers literally blasted through a big hill or mountain. When I see this I often marvel at the solid mass of rock underlying the topsoil. This is petra or bedrock. Christ figuratively said his church would be built on such bedrock—an incredible mass of solid rock. What is this “rock”? It’s the revelation of the fact that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, which literally means “anointed one.” It’s a revelation because Jesus said it was “revealed” to Peter by Father God.
What’s the big deal about having a revelation that Jesus is the Christ? Please understand that “Christ” is not the last name of Jesus. “Christ” is translated from the Greek word Christos (khris-TOS), which means “anointed one” and comes from the Hebrew mashach (maw-SHAKH) meaning “anointed” or “chosen one.” A good example of this Hebrew word used in reference to Jesus in the Scriptures is Psalm 45:7.
“Jesus” was simply the name the angel Gabriel gave to Mary, as shown in Luke 1:31. This name was specifically given because ‘Jesus’ is the transliteration of a Hebrew term meaning “Yahweh [God] saves” (or “Yahweh is salvation”). So ‘Jesus’ is the Lord’s God-given proper name while ‘Christ’ is his title, signifying that Jesus was sent from God as humanity’s King and Deliverer. With this understanding, ‘Jesus Christ’ means “Jesus the Anointed One” and could be translated as “God saves through His Anointed One.”
While the meaning of mashach—“anointed”—literally refers to the pouring of oil, it can also refer to one’s separation unto God, even if literal oil is not actually used (Hebrews 1:9). You see, when someone was promoted to a position of authority in the Old Testament, oil was smeared on the person’s head to signify being consecrated (separated) for God’s work. See 1 Samuel 10:1 for a good example. Anointing was a ritualistic act indicating God’s choosing (e.g., 1 Samuel 24:6). Kings, priests, and prophets were all set apart for the LORD’s ministry in this manner.
I explained all that so you’ll fully grasp what Peter was saying when he answered Jesus’ question. When Peter replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” he was acknowledging that Jesus was the anointed prophet that God would raise up as the savior of the world. This was prophesied repeatedly in the Hebraic Scriptures (e.g. Genesis 3:15, Deuteronomy 18:18, Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6). In short, Peter had a revelation that Jesus was humanity’s Savior. And this revelation is the “bedrock” upon which Christ would build his church, his “called-out ones.” This makes perfect sense when you understand that it’s this very revelation—this belief inspired by God—that prompts people to embrace the gospel and enables them to be reconciled to the Creator through spiritual regeneration and, hence, obtain eternal life (John 3:3,6,16,36). You can only be a “called-out one” — a member of Christ’s church — if you have this revelation, like Peter. As such, it’s the bedrock upon which Christ builds his church. Anyone who doesn’t have this revelation can’t be a “called-out one” and therefore the Lord cannot use that person to build his church. Are you with me? This explains this passage:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God
1 John 5:1
Since you have to believe that Jesus is the Anointed Savior in order to be “born of God,” this revelation is the rock upon which Christ builds his church, his called-out ones.
Why did Jesus emphasize Peter’s name, petros? Because, although Peter was a little “stone,” he would become a part of the bedrock of the church of Jesus Christ, which is comprised of all genuine believers regardless of sectarian tag. We’re all little “stones” that together make up the bedrock of the church, Christ’s body on earth!
Christ adds in verse 18 that the “gates of Hades” would not overcome his church. The “gates of Hades” was a colloquial Jewish phrase for death, which makes sense since Hades (or Sheol in Hebrew) is the realm of the DEAD and consequently a person would have to die to go there. Jesus was saying that even death, Satan’s ultimate weapon (Hebrews 2:14-15), could not stop the Messiah from birthing and unleashing his church. And it didn’t. He was raised to life and the rest is history. Furthermore, death has no power to destroy the church, period. Every Satanic attempt to wipe out believers and stop the church’s spread has failed; in fact, the blood of martyrs has always served to advance God’s kingdom rather than diminish it (e.g. Acts 7:59-8:4). In addition, when a spiritually-regenerated believer physically dies their soul doesn’t go to Hades/Sheol, the realm of the DEAD, but rather goes to be with the Lord in heaven to await his or her bodily resurrection (Philippians 1:20-24, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:10, Revelation 6:9-11 & 7:9-17).
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