The Hope of the Ages — Part 2 – by Dr. Mike Stallard –
This article is the second in a multi-part series outlining the Bible’s message of prophetic hope as it pertains to the future of this age, the Church, the nation of Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, and the created universe. In particular, it will expand upon the discussion begun in the last article concerning prophetic hope as it pertains to the Church. However, before we sketch out the hope of the Church, it is necessary to show the distinction between national Israel and the international body called the Church. In this way, it will be harder to make the mistake of confusing the prophetic hope for these two distinct institutions within God’s overall masterful plan to bring history to its divine goal.
While Israel and the Church share some important things, such as the Messiah and a place of rulership in the coming kingdom, these are nonetheless two distinct institutions in God’s overall plan. Notice the contrasts below:
• Israel is an ethnic nation; the Church is a non-ethnic body.
• Israel is political; the Church is non-political.
• The promises to Israel are tied to a specific piece of real estate centered in Jerusalem; the Church has no land promises.
• For Israel, there is the framework of the Jewish Law (Gentiles are included by surrender to the Law); for the Church, there is a framework for life apart from the Jewish Law (Gentiles included apart from the regulations of the Law).
• Another way to say it is that for Israel, life is based upon regulations during Old Testament days; for the Church, life is based upon the presence of the Spirit for divine enablement.
• The focus of Israel’s position is the earth; the focus of the position of the Church is heaven.
• For Israel in the Old Testament, there is no baptism of the Spirit; for the Church in the New Testament, there is a baptism of the Spirit.
• Israel is composed of Jews and Jewish proselytes; the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles.
• Israel is founded in the book of Genesis; the Church is established in Acts 2.
The distinction between the two comes from a clear understanding of what the Bible says about each. In the Old Testament, Israel is an ethnic, political, national entity that has been promised a particular piece of real estate centered around the city of Jerusalem (Gen. 15; Isaiah 2, 11; Dan. 2, 7, 9). The Church is a body of believers in Christ that is international in scope and non-ethnic, non-political, and heavenly-centered in orientation (Eph. 1-3, Gal. 3:28).
It is quite easy to show that the Church is something brand new even without referring to the Ephesians passages which are quite strong by themselves on the matter (especially Eph. 2:11-3:10). The Church is a new institution, which began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. It is not a continuation of, or replacement for, Israel in any sense. To demonstrate that the Church began on the day of Pentecost involves the following line of reasoning:
1. Both the baptism of the Spirit and the start of the Church are viewed as a future event in the Gospels (Matt. 3:11; 16:18; Acts 1:5). The last passage (Acts 1:5) notes that the baptism of the Spirit will occur in a few days from that time.
2. The Holy Spirit comes in power in Acts 2. Its seems likely that this event fulfills the Acts 1:5 prediction. However, neither the baptism of the Spirit or the Church are explicitly named in Acts 2.
3. Peter’s rehearsing of the events surrounding the preaching of the gospel to Cornelius looks back to the day of Pentecost as the beginning of the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 11:15-16).
4. The Apostle Paul teaches that the body of Christ is formed by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). In this way, the placing of individuals into the body of Christ by the Spirit is part of the definition of the baptism of the Spirit.
5. The body of Christ is referred to as the ecclesia or Church by Paul in Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18. In this way, the baptism of the Spirit can be clearly associated with the Church. Thus, when Spirit baptism begins, the Church begins. Then, according to # 3 above, Pentecost is the start of the Church.
Thus, the Church is a brand new institution, which God births into existence on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts chapter two.
We can now look at the unique elements of prophetic hope, which are associated with this extraordinary international body of Christ. Two essential areas of hope can be discussed with respect to the future expectations of the Church. The first is the rapture of the Church. This refers to the catching up of Church Age believers in the air to meet the Lord prior to the seven-year tribulation period. The word rapture comes from the Latin word meaning to catch up. This idea is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. When we say that Church Age believers are the ones raptured, it is clear that both Christian believers who have died during the Church Age as well as those alive when the Lord comes to rapture them will be included in this astounding event.
The rapture of the Church is referred to in the New Testament as the blessed hope (Tit. 2:13). Why is it an event of great hope for the Church? First, it is a time when Christians will be forever united with the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3; I Thess. 4:17). Second, it brings comfort to those who suffer at the present time (I Thess. 4:18; cp. John 14:1). Third, it is a deliverance from the time of God’s wrath which is to be poured out on the earth during the tribulation period (I Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:10). Finally, it is the first phase of a two-phase Second Coming of Christ, which programmatically ushers in the kingdom of God on earth (see below).
The last point above transitions to the second essential area of hope with respect to the future expectations of the Church. This second area is the actual Second Coming of Christ to earth. In this event at the end of the seven-year tribulation period, Christ will return to earth with the Church saints who had been raptured earlier. In part one of this series, we had noted both Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians and Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter which steered the suffering Christian to the Second Coming as a source of hope in the midst of overwhelming persecution. Here we want to be more specific about the nature of that hope. Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, this hope is described in terms of relief (rest) that is given to believers at the Second Coming. Of course, there will be immediate relief for tribulation saints who have come to Christ during the time of the awful Day of the Lord judgments during the seven years. However, all believers, including Church Age saints will experience this sense of rest as well even though they did not participate in the tribulation period. This is highlighted in the passage by the idea of vindication which seems to take place at the Second Coming. When Christ comes, He will be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:10) when it is publicly known once and for all who will be the ones who will enter the kingdom. On this basis of future hope, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to allow Christ to be glorified in them during the present time (2 Thess. 1:11-12).
The Second Coming of Christ is also a time when Christians will receive rewards and rule with Christ. The delay parable of Luke 19:11-27 expresses the notion that while Christ is away, His servants (Christians) should make the most of what He has given them (expressed as the giving of minas or money). When He returns, he will reward each one based upon how well he did in using the minas during the absence of his Master. The rewards are expressed in terms of ruling. The one who did well with ten minas will rule over ten cities (Lk. 19:17). The one who did well with five minas will rule over five cities (Lk. 19:19), etc. This reward given in terms of administrative status in the coming kingdom shows the concrete, earthly nature of the kingdom as well as of the rewards themselves. Thus, it is in harmony with the same teaching about the role of believers in the kingdom in Daniel 7:22, 27 and Revelation 20:4-6. In this way the Church looks forward to the Second Coming as the time when it shares with Christ in sovereignty over the world. Indeed, all of the above discussions strongly show that the Church’s best days are yet to come. In this fact all believers in the present age can place their confidence and hope. Thus we pray with John the Apostle, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).