"Matthew 24 - The Rapture Dilemma" (Part Two)
Was the Church Non-Existent in the Day of Jesus?
The belief that the Church did not exist at the time of Jesus, and therefore Jesus cannot have been referring to the Church when he addressed the disciples, is one of the strongest lines of defense supporting the idea that Matthew 24 is only talking about the Second Coming and contains no reference whatsoever to the Rapture.
That is a large part of the debate on Matthew 24. So I will address that remark first.
What we today call “The Church” is the company of called-out ones who believed on the Name of Jesus for salvation rather than the Law. It is the Body of Christ, Jesus Christ being the Head and we being the living members.
The Church is the Body of Christ
While he walked the earth, Jesus confirmed that he was prepared to join spiritually with those who believed in him: Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This spiritual union existed even when Jesus was incarnate on earth, but it was EXTENDED after his death since then by the Holy Spirit he could be IN them as well as WITH them:
John 14: 16 “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you”.
Righteousness by Faith in the Old Testament
Matthew 16:18 has Jesus saying to one of his DISCIPLES at the time. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. He was referring to the statement of faith by Peter, that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and Messiah. That is the foundation stone of the Church and here Jesus is applying it to something said by a JEW, Peter.
Bear that in mind as we continue.
The difference between the Old Testament covenant and the New is precisely this, that the Old Testament promise was to bless those who obeyed the Law and who offered continuing sacrifices for redemption of their sins, but Jesus came to die for the sins of the world, thus making his one-time SACRIFICE and BLOOD sufficient for salvation, to those who had faith in them.
Yet, even in the Old Testament there were those who walked with God, believed by faith (Abraham and David for example) and Israel was referred to in Acts 7:37-38 as the "church in the wilderness".
- Please read Hebrews Chapter Eleven for many examples of those who had faith BEFORE the time of Jesus.
- "The Church and Israel", differences and similarities, a useful study from Christians speaking from a Hebraic viewpoint on scripture.
And – please note: Hebrews 11: 13 “These all died in FAITH, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”.
Did they receive the promise of inheritance in the Kingdom of God? YES. For “Heb 11:39-40 says,
“these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not [at that time] the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
Has Israel Been Saved by Jesus?
A major plank in the pre-trib argument is that the Church is just a two-thousand year hiatus in history, and completely distinct from Israel so that the same method of salvation cannot be applied to both. This is called Dispensationalism, a 19th century doctrine developed by J. N. Darby.
Yet Paul (himself a very observant Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees at one time) demonstrated that it was the JEWS who first grasped the importance of the completed Covenant, and the fulfilment of the Law in Jesus Christ.
What they missed is that the Promise came by faith not by works!
The relationship between the people of God in the Old Testament and the people of God in the New Testament is better described in terms of an organic development rather than either separation or replacement. During most of the Old Testament era, there were essentially three groups of people: the Gentile nations, national Israel, and true Israel (the faithful remnant). Although the nation of Israel was often involved in idolatry, apostasy, and rebellion, God always kept for Himself a faithful remnant—those who trusted in Him and who would not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant, this true Israel, included men such as David, Joash, Isaiah, and Daniel, as well as women such as Sarah, Deborah, and Hannah. There were those who were circumcised in the flesh and a smaller number who had their hearts circumcised as well. So, even in the Old Testament, not all were Israel who were descended from Israel (Rom. 9:6).At the time of Jesus’ birth, the faithful remnant (true Israel) included believers such as Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25–38). During Jesus’ adult ministry, true Israel was most visible in those Jewish disciples who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Those who rejected Jesus were not true Israel, regardless of their race. This included many of the scribes and Pharisees. Though they were physically Jews, they were not true Israel (Rom. 2:28–29). True Israel became defined by union with the true Israelite—Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16, 29). [Source]
Who are Israel?
Those who were to inherit the promises were NOT, as Paul explained, those who were merely Jewish by culture, nation and circumcision, nor are they today.
Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Thus, Paul argues that the genuine, faithful, Israel DID receive the promises and are not divided off from the Church and redemption as if they are a totally different category of people!
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (which we see is perfect, holy, and everlasting - Romans 7:12) but to fulfil it.
Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them. For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Jesus came to abolish the curse of the Law, which was that no human being could perfectly keep it. But he became the One Perfect Sacrifice for sins, bringing redemption in his blood, instead of the blood of animals. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law, so as to pass on to both Jew and Gentile, to any who would trust in him, the redemption by his blood and salvation from the wrath to come.
One Tree, not Two
We Gentiles, though not coming from the Jewish background of commandments and sacrifices, were still ADDED IN and joined to the ONE Tree of Life, referred to as the “olive tree” below:
Romans 11:16-18 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
Romans 11:22-24 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Compare the Vine and the Vinedresser in John 15:6) And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
These members of the OT “church” had faith for salvation in the time to come, but had to wait for the Cross, wait until the New Testament (Jewish) believers were perfected in Christ, at which point they also received their reward, for Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19) at his death, and raised them with him when he ascended.
Eph 4: 8-9 “Therefore he says, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that he ‘ascended’, what is it but that he also ‘descended’ FIRST into the lower parts of the earth?”
These members of the Church of God (Acts 7:38) looked forward in time to a “heavenly city to come” Hebrews 11: 16 “they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city”.
WHO? The Old Testament saints, the ones that dispensationalism says cannot be saved by gace for that is the sole preserve of the Church. Although these men and women lived and died before the cross, yet they were “accounted righteous” by God because of their faith. They were OT saints but they were part of God’s Church!
To this pre-existing Church, were ADDED three thousand on the Day of Pentecost, proving that the Body of Christ existed BEFORE that day! (Acts 2:41).
The Calling and Anointing of the Church
Those who walked and talked with Jesus Christ on earth, his disciples – almost exclusively Jewish - not only at that time but after Pentecost and throughout the days of the early Church, those very same people (who wrote the epistles and gospels) believed in FAITH for salvation, thus making them members of the New Covenant and members of the Church.
The fact that salvation by faith, through the grace of God, is established by the New Testament gospels and epistles is proof in itself that those early disciples of Jesus were as much a part of the Body of Christ, the Church of God as we are today!
JESUS CHOOSES HIS DISCIPLES
These Jewish disciples were hand-picked by Jesus to be the foundation of the CHURCH; they were commissioned with the task of evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15), and with pastoring the Church (John 21); they received the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), they were anointed by the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), participated in the Lord’s Supper which made them one with Jesus (Matthew 26:26-28), elected elders (Acts 1:23) congregated together to praise and worship (Acts 1:13-14) and used the gifts of the Spirit in ministry (Luke 10:17).
Thus, to say the Church didn’t exist at the time of Matthew 24 is incorrect.
To those who had, have, or will in the future have faith in the once-for-all sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ, it is accounted as righteousness before God. No matter in what age or century! For God is merciful to all.
In Galatians 3:26-28 we read that there is NO DISTINCTION between Jewish and Gentile believers, before and after the Cross, for we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul (a Jew) states categorically that there is NO division into Jew and Gentile, for “the dividing wall between us has been removed”.
Not only Israel but those of any nation who believe in Jesus have become partakers of the PROMISE and the INHERITANCE, being made heirs along with Abraham’s children! What could be plainer?
Eph 2: 14-16 “For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of two one new man.”
What dispensationalism tries to do is to erect that wall again and exclude Old Testament believers from salvation through the blood of Christ!
That extends to the time (supposedly) after the Age of Grace has finished, the Holy Spirit and the offer of salvation through Jesus is withdrawn, the Church is no more, and there is a return to the old ineffective legal procedures and sacrifices that we already know can never lead to salvation (Rom 3:20).
Israel after this ‘church dispensation’ ends is condemned only to a lower form of righteousness based on good behaviour, and a lower form of inheritance based on land and buildings! They have to go back to try to achieve the impossible, to please God in the flesh and by the Law, which thing we are told “cannot be done” (Gal 3:11).
What a travesty of God’s plan for his people! It is a kind of anti-semitism, that I can see might have been prevalent in the day of Darby but surely cannot still hold today.
- Did the Church Exist in the Day of Jesus? (this page)
- Can Prophecies Refer to More than One Event?
- The Rapture or the Second Coming - or both?
- When and What is the Day of Jacob's Trouble?
- Are the Elect Exclusively Israel?
- Is the Tribulation a seven-year Wrath of God?
- Do we Need to Endure, as Christians?
- Are there Distinct and Absolute Dispensations of History?
- Replacement Theology
© 2016 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website: http://www.birthpangs.org/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.