The church in God’s eternal purpose

The Bible tells us that Jesus came to the earth to establish His church. Matthew records an occasion when Jesus was questioning his disciples, and he asked them who people thought he (Jesus) was. After a couple of erroneous answers. Jesus asked the disciples:

And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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.’ – Matthew 16.15-18

Some people believe the church was established because Jesus failed in His mission to establish His kingdom. But the Bible says that the kingdom and the church are the same thing – and that Jesus established His kingdom on earth, exactly as God had planned. Jesus’ plan was to build His church – a church that belongs to him. And he built this church on the foundational fact that Peter confessed: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God!

The church began on the first Day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles, and thousands were baptized in response to Peter’s sermon (recorded in Acts 2). When people responded to this message and did as Peter instructed them in Acts 2.38, they became disciples of Jesus, and of particular importance, God did something that only God can do:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2.47

Yet, some people still believe the church was established as an optional plan, because God did not expect the Jews to reject Jesus and kill him. In fact, the church was established on the Day of Pentecost exactly as God had planned.

God’s Purpose

All through the Old Testament period, God’s chosen people were the physical family of Abraham – the Israelites. But it was always part of God’s plan to someday include people from all nations to be His chosen people. This plan was a mystery for a very long time. But when Jesus established His church, the mystery was revealed. The apostle Paul was one man who was chosen to reveal this mystery, as he writes:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3.1-6

Paul explains this mystery – that God now intended to include Gentiles as part of his chosen people, and “members of the same body” who would be “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” This gospel message would be for Jews and Gentiles alike – that is, for all people – and Gentiles would have the opportunity to be part of the body (the church, cf. Colossians 1.24).

Paul further explains this mystery as he continues in Ephesians 3… how the church has always been part of God’s eternal purpose and plan to save mankind from sin. Paul was selected as an apostle and a preacher to go to the Gentile nations and share with them…

… the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord… – Ephesians 3.8b-11

Paul played an important role in revealing this mystery by his teaching to the saints (especially Gentile saints), revealing God’s wisdom to them. God made all of this known by revelation, that is, by divine communication through the Holy Spirit, God told man of His plan, and this plan was recorded by the writers of the New Testament so that all men everywhere could know of God’s plan and the blessings and promises they may receive through it. Paul further indicates this plan was eternal – it was always God’s plan to save man in this way, add him to the church when he obeyed, and save the church by the blood of Jesus. Paul says the church thus displays God’s wisdom and power – how God took worthless materials (sinful human beings) and molded them into a family of holy saints. He did this through his Son, who changes us from sinful lost creatures into holy, righteous saints through the washing of his blood when we die with him in baptism. Notice:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. – Ephesians 5.25-26

May we all give thanks to God that, before he even created the universe, he already had a plan in place that by his love and mercy and grace he would save those who responded in love to this amazing offer.

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

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