July 25, 2010 – July 31, 2010
“Each of the ancient prophets spoke less for their own time than for ours … their prophesying is in force for us … Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel … spoke of things that … reached down to the future, and to what should occur in these last days.” Selected Messages, Book 3, 338, 419, 420.
As a result of renewed apostasy, what did the professed church in Christ’s day look like? How was the situation of the church in Christ’s day comparable to the church during the time of the Babylonian captivity? What were the contrasts?
Here the story gets even more complicated. The Jewish leaders in Christ’s time seemed to understand, at least by way of terminology, that the purpose of God’s church was to bear children—and that’s exactly what they claimed to be, the children of the true church. This is what they claimed when they said, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.” It may seem simple in hindsight to see that they missed the most obvious spiritual applications of the seed bearing church, but it was missed nonetheless. In reality, and contrary to the claims of its leaders, the professed church of the Jewish nation in Christ’s day had actually returned to a Babylonian type captivity—a captivity that contrasted physically and paralleled spiritually the ancient Babylonian captivity.
The Jewish church had become spiritually bankrupt—in aggregate an old wine bottle such as Jesus referred to in Luke 5:37–39. A new church arose alongside the decaying edifice of the Jewish church before anyone, either founders of the new or guardians of the old, fully understood what was happening! Let’s proceed to highlight a few of these details.
“The Pharisees opposed the teachings of Jesus with all their force, and Jesus turned from the recognized religious leaders to find in others new bottles for the new wine. In the untutored fisherman, in the publican at the market-place, in the woman of Samaria, in the common people who heard him gladly, he found his new bottles for the new wine. …
“God’s people must go on from light to a greater light, or they will become, as did the Pharisees, unwilling to receive additional light. They will find themselves in the condition represented by withered, dried-up bottles. In their religious faith they will be unmovable, inflexible, like the withered fig tree dried up by the roots. …
“The lessons which Jesus taught in the parables should be carefully studied; they contain instruction for his people in these last days … Christ, the consolation of Israel, had come unto his own, but his own received him not. He must find new bottles to contain his new wine.” The Signs of the Times, September 19, 1892.
1 What did the Jewish church look like in the time of Christ? How did the experience of the Jewish church in Christ’s day parallel the experience of the Babylonian captivity? In what ways was the experience in contrast to the Babylonian captivity?
Review and Discuss:
The captor nation now in question was Rome. (It is interesting to note in this context that Peter later was to refer to the capital, Rome, as “Babylon.” I Peter 5:13.)
The nation/church of Israel was in near complete captivity to Rome—its civil and spiritual leaders, vassals to Rome, as Zedechiah and his immediate predecessors had been to Nebuchadnezzar. Yet instead of reducing the church to rubble, the captors had helped to beautify and embellish the temple. (Despite outward beautification, the church, as in the time of Jeremiah, was desolate—destitute of the Spirit of Christ. Matthew 23:38.) The temple church had become a “den of thieves.”
Once again, God’s people were in complete denial about the fact that they were in bondage! Note the claim made by one faction of the leaders of the professed church to Christ: “They [the Pharisees] answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” John 8:33.
There now seemed to be many pastors (priests), but yet there were no shepherds! “… Jesus … was moved with compassion for them [multitudes], because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.” Mark 6:34.
Unlike the previous Babylonian captivity, there were now schools for religious instruction associated with the churches—yet not in any of them was there found a place fit for proper instruction! “In the days of Christ the town or city that did not provide for the religious instruction of the young was regarded as under the curse of God. Yet … tradition had in a great degree supplanted the Scriptures. … The principles of the law were obscured.” The Desire of Ages, 69.
As in Jeremiah’s time, a false trust was placed in the professed church—in the ordinances and buildings that had been dedicated by and to God. The forms of religion continued despite the deep divisions of a conservative and liberal class.
The forms of this church carried on, largely uninterrupted clear past the zenith of the early Christian church. The Jewish temple-church soldiered on after the gospel had gone to every person in the world (Colossians 1:23)! It continued on after the key leaders of the early Christian church; Stephen, James, Peter and Paul all had been martyred for their faith.
2 Did Christ also profess to be the head of the church? Was it the same church described above? See Matthew 16:18; John 10:1–9, 11, 16; Matthew 23:32–39; John 15:1, 5, 7, 8; John 8: 34–36.
Christ also professed to be the leader of the true church. It consisted largely of outcasts, but anyone and all were invited to join: foreigner or Pharisee; fisherman or lawyer; man, woman, or child. Here are some of the claims of Christ regarding this: “on this rock [Christ] I will build my church” and “I am the door. … I am the Good Shepherd … other sheep I have … there will be one flock and one Shepherd … my sheep hear my voice.” Christ explained captivity and the church’s purpose of bearing fruit and bearing children in terms like these:
“I am the true vine … you are the branches … if you abide in Me, and my Words abide in you … you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” and “you must be born again” and “whoever commits sin is a slave … a slave does not abide in the house forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
3 What did the prospects for this new church look like in Christ’s day? What was their experience?
Review and Discuss:
Christ’s own people reject Him (Luke 4:16–30).
The glory Christ brought to the temple was unrecognized.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while, I will once more shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. … ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.’ ” Haggai 2:6, 7, 9.
An apparent early victory by the Sea of Galilee is followed by a massive shaking among Christ’s followers! Nearly all forsake Him (John 6:60–68).
“Christ sifted His followers again and again, until at one time there remained only eleven and a few faithful women to lay the foundation of the Christian church. There are those who will stand back when burdens are to be borne; but when the church is all aglow, they catch the enthusiasm, sing and shout, and become rapturous; but watch them. When the fervor is gone, only a few faithful Calebs will come to the front and display unwavering principle. These are salt that retains the savor. It is when the work moves hard that the churches develop the true helpers. These will not be talking of self, vindicating self, but will lose their identity in Jesus Christ.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 130.
Christ’s disciples are nearly completely confused about which church they belong to (Matthew 17:24–27; Matthew 16:6–12).
Christ, at the last left by all, treads the winepress of God’s wrath—alone (Isaiah 59:14–17)!
Peter, a key disciple, publically disavows connection with Christ and His church.
On the cross, seemingly a failed traitor of the church, Jesus cries out: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46.
With unspeakable sorrow and bitterness, Christ’s disciples see an end to all they understood to be of Christ’s church (Luke 24:21).
4 Do the above descriptions of the Jewish church and Christ’s church complete the story?
Christ predicted the above situation, and the reversals that came, and so had the prophets before Him. Notice here again how Jesus is consistent with the Old Testament imagery of the purpose of God’s church when He tells His disciples, “A woman when she is in labor has sorrow, because her hour has come: but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy. … Therefore you now have sorrow: but … your heart will rejoice.” John 16:21, 22.
5 Although unrecognized by nearly all, what was the true situation of the Jewish church?
Review and Discuss:
Unrecognized, Christ comes a last time, seeking fruit from Israel (Mark 11:11–22).
Unrecognized, probation closes on the Jewish nation-church (Matthew 23:32–39).
Unrecognized, spiritual bondage is at last followed by physical bondage and destruction.
Unrecognized, a new church of spiritual Jews was born to replace the old.
6 And what was the position of the Church that Christ was raising?
Review and Discuss:
Christ declared that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). The work of Christ prior to and on the cross of Calvary had indeed prepared the new church for victory in the midst of defeat! At the very close of Christ’s agony, Ellen White writes:
“Well, then, might the angels rejoice as they looked upon the Saviour’s cross; for though they did not then understand all, they knew that the destruction of sin and Satan was forever made certain, that the redemption of man was assured, and that the universe was made eternally secure. Christ Himself fully comprehended the results of the sacrifice made upon Calvary. To all these He looked forward when upon the cross He cried out, ‘It is finished’ [John 19:30].” The Desire of Ages, 764.
With Christ’s victory in Gethsemane, at trial, and on Calvary, the church was prepared to fulfill the purposes for which she was ordained:
Bearing the fruit of Spiritual rebirth, at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Bearing the fruit of offspring (converts) on the day of Pentecost.
Representing the name of God to the world (Christian).
The promised triumphs of the church by Old Testament prophets were indeed fulfilled. But no one, not even the disciples, recognized the omens of coming victory. In parallel, the promised decimation of the church by Old Testament prophets was also fulfilled, first spiritually and then physically. Very few of God’s originally called and professed people had any part of the triumph, while most experienced the fulfillment of prophecies of destruction! God’s new Christian church had triumphed, had been born, unrecognized as such by the Jewish nation, from a gathering of all nations. (Note: Even this triumph, though, could have been more complete, had Jewish nationalism among the disciples been seen for what it was earlier, and completely put away (Galatians 4:19–31; Ephesians 2:10–22; Acts 9, 10; Romans 9, 10, 11). Christ looked forward to this birth of a new church when:
In these strangers (the Greeks who came to the temple) He (Christ) saw the pledge of a great harvest, when the partition wall between Jew and Gentile should be broken down, and all nations, tongues, and peoples should hear the message of salvation. The anticipation of this, the consummation of His hopes, is expressed in the words, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” John 12:23. The gathering in of the Gentiles was to follow His approaching death.
The new church was indeed formed by a combination of Jew and Gentile. Praise the Lord for the power of the gospel to make the true Christian church from: Jew (Paul) and Gentile (the Ethiopian eunuch); former Pharisees (Simon): former harlots (Mary), Roman centurions (Cornelius), and former zealots (Simon).
Reader, an understanding of what is really happening in the above parallel mingling of triumph-tragedy for the professed Jewish church and tragedy-triumph of the Christian church is critical to an understanding of Old Testament prophecy. The Old Testament prophecies themselves are, on a large scale, a grand-parallel mingling of stunning triumph in the face of disaster and monumental defeat in the face of misplaced confidence. This history of the church in Christ’s time gives us the tools to understand how these seemingly contradictory prophecies can be fulfilled simultaneously.
Studies prepared by John T. Grosboll PE. John T. is a mechanical engineer living near Vancouver, Washington. His secular employment includes several years of experience in primary metals and transportation-related industries. He, along with his wife Teresa, is actively involved in the work of the Historic Message Church in Portland, Oregon. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.