Last week, we got a brief start into Paul's parenthesis which is the interruption in his train of thought, but which is also a gap in time, what we call the Church Age. We looked at Ephesians 2:2-6 and dealt with the question of what a dispensation, is and then the concept of the Mystery of God's will, which had not been explained in the Old Testament. We decided that the Mystery of God's will involves the way God would redeem man, and includes the new idea that Gentiles would be fellow heirs with Jews. Gentiles would no longer have to come through Judaism to have fellowship with God.
As we wrapped up our lesson last week, you may remember that I showed a slide recounting:
If you study prophecy in the Bible you will clearly see that after the Rapture, only Jews and Gentiles remain, because The Church will have been removed from the earth.
As I was preparing that slide, the thought occurred to me that several aspects of that discussion are pretty well understood and accepted by most of us in this class, but you might or might not be surprised to know that many, if not most, modern Protestant denominations do not agree or accept that these things are going to happen. Many denominations do not really expect Jesus to come back to earth, literally. Many do not expect the Jewish Nation to be used again by God.
This Week, A Detour:
Because of this difference of opinion, and because of my strong belief that the Bible is crystal clear on it, I took a detour to look at this confusion and how it could be. Since I took a detour, you get to come along on this detour with me.
It would be worth your while to do an in-depth study comparing the role of the Jewish nation with that of The Church. Many people make the mistake of believing that The Church replaced Israel. However, I think that close study will convince you that The Church did not replace Israel but in fact is a different class of people with a different assignment and a different purpose. You need to understand the distinction between the call of the Jews and the call of The Church.
I am convinced that the critical point of error can be identified. There was a great tragedy that occurred in the history of The Church that you need to understand in order to appreciate the difference between what the Bible teaches and what most modern Churches teach. This tragedy started in the fourth century when Constantine allowed Christianity to be legal. In a document called the Edict of Milan, he outlawed the persecution of the Christians.
The Conversion of Constantine
You might want to know a little about Constantine. He was a Roman emperor who started his reign in 307 A.D. and died in 337 A.D. He headed up the eastern Roman armies and ultimately established his capital in the city of Byzantium on the straights of Bosporus. Byzantium was renamed Constantinople in his honor. Constantinople is today named Istanbul, Turkey.
One of the famous stories told about Constantine is that of his vision from God on the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. Maxentius, the Roman emperor in Italy, had gathered a great number of legions in defiance of Constantine. Galerius had decided to tax the citizens of Italy, who had been exempt from taxes ever since Republican days. Naturally, the Italian citizens resented this and proclaimed Maxentius emperor in an effort to get the odious taxes removed. Constantine was not at all sure of his chances of victory. According to legend, Constantine saw the symbol of Jesus Christ's power in the clouds and a message written in Latin reading IN HOC SIGNO VINCES, meaning "by this sign shalt thou conquer." Immediately, Constantine placed the sign of Christ on his standards and had it painted on his shields. Constantine won the day with a decisive victory and Maxentius, thrown from the Milvian Bridge, was drowned when the weight of his armor caused him to sink into the mud and ooze at the bottom of the River Tiber. His body was recovered the day after the battle.
Constantine then issued the Edict of Milan outlawing the persecution of Christians. In A.D. 325, Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea. Bishops from all over the Roman world gathered together to have Constantine help them decide on the nature of God. They worked out the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were found to be equal persons in one God.
The Arian Heresy
Also, the Arian heresy was denounced at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians believed that Jesus Christ was somehow of a lesser importance, and had been created by, God the Father. Constantine increased the role of the Catholic Church in the Roman government by placing bishops in high political office, where they soon became quite powerful. Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, the first Roman emperor to receive the Christian faith.
Two years later, dark intrigue and tragedy struck the house of Constantine. Constantine's wife, Fausta, had accused Constantine's eldest son Crispus of adultery with her and plotting to seize the throne. Without checking the truth of these accusations, Constantine had his son murdered. It is thought that she made the accusation in order to place one of her own sons in line for the throne, as Crispus was Constantine's son by a previous marriage. When Constantine discovered that he had been lied to, he had Fausta suffocated or boiled alive in her bath by slowly running up the temperature of the water.
Constantine died on May 22, 337. After his death, his second successor made Christianity the official religion of the government, of the Roman Empire.
Up until then, The Church was preaching the literal return of Jesus to rid the world of its evil rulers. But when those rulers became Christian that was not a popular message. It was not politically correct to teach that Jesus was going to come back to rid the world of such rulers.
A theologian by the name of Origen had set down a philosophical basis to allegorize the Scripture. Origen was one of the most distinguished of the Fathers of the early Church. He was born probably at Alexandria, about 182 A.D. and died at Caesarea not later than 251 A.D. Origen's conception of God is entirely abstract. To him God is a perfect unity, invisible, transcending all things material, and therefore inconceivable and incomprehensible. God to him was the "essence of essences" and "idea of ideas." He taught that the Scriptures were concepts and principles, not literal.
Then Augustine picked up on this philosophy for interpreting the Scriptures and chose to make many of the Scriptures allegories to soften the message that said Jesus would return to eliminate all the earthly and evil rulers.
Augustine was born in 354 A.D. and died in 430 A.D. He was raised in a Christian family and was doing great until he had to delay his trip off to college while his father raised the money to pay for it. During that year of idleness, he did what most teenagers do, he got in with the wrong crowd and took up all the vices he could find. When he did finally go off to study, he dived into the pagan culture and ended up getting a girl pregnant. He then became infatuated with the eastern Chinese religions. He followed that with study of the Platonic teachings, including those of Origen.
He ultimately returned to Christianity, maybe, and became a Bishop of Hippo. It was as a Bishop that his teachings play a part in this theological disaster. He taught that Jesus wasn't going to come back literally, he was just going to come to rule in our hearts, etc. A whole theology and eschatology arose around that and that became the concept within the Roman Catholic Church. That included the concept of a-millennialism, which says that since Jesus wasn't really going to come back to rule on earth, but that the Second Coming was a concept was some kind of a spiritual allegory, and there would be no millennial period.
When the Reformation came along they did an enormously effective job of refocusing on the concept of Salvation which is based on faith alone. That was the rallying cry of the Reformation and the cause for which many Christians willingly died at the stake. They did a marvelous job of resurrecting this important concept. But they also had some theological failures.
They failed to re-examine the eschatology [doctrine of end times]. And so as a result, the mainline Protestant denominations, which were derivations from the Reformation, carried with them this erroneous eschatology from Augustine and others which led to the fact that even today many mainline Protestant denominations cast doubt on the literal nature of the Scriptures. They don't really believe that Jesus will in fact come back to the earth -- and all kinds of other confusion. Included in this erroneous teaching was the concept that Israel forfeited all of the promises of God because they failed to recognize and accept Jesus as the Messiah -- that the promises in the Old Testament made by God to the nation of Israel were forfeited. It turns out that if you examine many of the promises made by God to the nation of Israel, you will find that they were unilateral, unconditional promises made by God without any condition of performance by the nation Israel. So the nation of Israel could not forfeit these promises even if it wanted to. So there is a false teaching prevalent in many Churches today that The Church has replaced Israel in God's program.
You need to study that yourself and establish your own understanding of how false such teaching is. Israel and The Church have different origins, different missions and different destinies, and if you have any question about that you should study this for yourself to reinforce this conclusion. You will have no chance of understanding the book of Revelation if you have any question about this. You have to understand the Jewishness of the book of Revelation. Paul in his definitive statement of Christian doctrine which we call the book of Romans hammers away for three chapters: 9, 10 and 11, that God is not through with Israel yet and that Israel is going to be God's primary vehicle when The Church is complete. So it is a very important issue for you to understand.
It is interesting to see that both Israel and The Church are prodigal sons. Each has stumbled in its own way, and yet despite all of this through God's grace there is a destiny for both of them. Quite different, both interesting and important but quite different.
Israel has temporal blessings in earthly places. It is clear in Deuteronomy 28 that the promises to Israel are on this earth. Israel is God's chosen earthly people and God has not negated his promises to Israel as the first 12 verses of Romans 11 stresses.
The Church has spiritual blessings in heavenly places as its destiny, as we learn in the book of Ephesians and elsewhere. It is the heavenly bride of Christ in Revelation 21 and so on.
In the Millennium, Israel will be blessed under the rule of Jesus while The Church will reign with him over the entire universe. Israel inherits the earth, The Church inherits the universe. Very different things. God's program today is not the headship of Israel as described in the first 13 verses of Deuteronomy 28. That is yet to come. Today we are in the headship of Jesus over his Church or if you will excuse the expression The Church Dispensation, different from that of Moses and the Prophets and we must be careful not to confuse what God has clarified in the Bible. The Church is not the same as Israel and The Church is not the same as the Kingdom. The Church is a unique fellowship and is the most privileged body of believers that you read about in the Bible.
The other mistake we often make is that we put all believers in the same bucket, the same category. And yet in Matthew 11 Jesus says that no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. Wow! That is quite a statement, and yet in the next breath he says that he that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John. What? Is John not saved? Of course he is. The clue comes when you begin to realize in Luke 16:16 and other verses that the Old Testament closes not with the end of Malachi, which is the last book in the Old Testament, but with John the Baptist. We've dealt with that in this class in earlier lessons. The New Testament expressly says so in several places. Luke 16:16 is just one. That's when you begin to realize that all believers are not created quite the same. The believers in the Old Testament have their benefits. The believers in The Church have a unique array of benefits and after the Rapture many people will be saved. Many scholars make the claim, with some foundation, that after the Rapture more believers will be saved than before in all time before the Rapture. The Church came into being after the rapture of Jesus, which was a prerequisite. It was formed by the Baptism of the Spirit and will be completed at the Rapture.
So my challenge to you is to take a look at this whole question and try to get your mind around it so that it is no longer in your way of understanding the Bible and particularly the prophecies of the end times.
...we will get back to the text of Ephesians Chapter 3. We will pick up where we ended last weed, with Ephesians 3:7.