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THE SIXTH SEAL, PART 2

 

 

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:12–17.

 

At the opening of the sixth seal there was a great earthquake, which we learned involved the rediscovery of the biblical teaching of the church. Not only did Jesus build His church; this church was and is a real church, not a theoretical church.

The reintroduction of the biblical teaching of the church exposed the humanness and earthliness of the visible church-at-large as it ended the fifth seal. The truth about the church dawned gradually as the Restoration or Primitive Church Movement developed its understanding of the biblical teaching. While the Restoration movement originated in this country around 1800, the message of the biblical church was not limited to this movement. In Ireland during the 1820s, a movement calling themselves the Brethren separated themselves from denominationalism, at first meeting informally to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Not wanting to call themselves a “church” they believed in the fellowship of all the children of God which is to be guided only by the Bible.

Preceding the Restoration Movement, John Huss, the noted Bohemian martyr, wrote a book titled The Church in 1413. While having to wrestle with the Roman Catholic Church, his understanding of the biblical church is sympathetic to what is taught in the NT and was revealed later under the Sixth Seal. This book was the basis for the charges of heresy leveled against Huss, which lead to his martyrdom. Approximately 100 years after Huss, Martin Luther made this observation in one of his sermons: “For why is it that so many sects have already gone forth, this one making a hobby of one thing in the Gospel and that one of another?”[1]

As light on the biblical church became clearer under this sixth seal, there came a real separation from denominationalism as people understanding the truth of the biblical church left their churches. Because of this the visible church-at-large became defensive against the biblical teaching choosing to retain their individual identities and practices in spite of the truth. In essence, the visible-church-at-large took the position that it was obeying Christ by disobeying Him—not in so many words, but in substance. In reality, by denying the church as part of the salvation experience, they actually denied Christ and the graces of salvation enjoyed by the redeemed.

The dawning of the light on the biblical church came slowly over 80 years. As we progress in the sixth seal, we find that there is a calling out and a sealing of people to whom this light is revealed. Before we progress in our study of this sixth seal, it is best if we take a moment to understand the biblical teaching of the church for ourselves.

 

The Biblical Church

 

The biblical church is not a denomination, a movement, or a group; it is the body of Christ, the church He built upon Himself. The word church is a compound of two Greek words: Ek, a preposition denoting origin; and Kal-eh-ō, meaning to call. Together these words mean a calling out. The fundamental teaching of Jesus regarding the church is found in Matthew 16:13–19,

 

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to 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 also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

 

There is so much to learn in these words, so let us take the time to understand the salient points. There were questions arising among the Jews as to who Jesus is and the general opinion was that He was a resurrected prophet of some kind. The reason behind this opinion had to do with the authority with which He preached. When Jesus asked the disciples who they say He is, Peter, speaking for them all, said that Jesus was more than just a prophet, He is indeed the Son of the living God. The difference between the two opinions is this: The Jews were making pious assumptions—guesswork based in the authority of Jesus’ words. The disciples saw Jesus as the Son of God because of a divine revelation: “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus then declares that upon this rock, this revelation and fact of Who He is, He will build His church: His ecclesia—all people that He personally is calling out. Jesus uses an interesting play on words as He talks to Peter. He says to Peter, “You are Peter”; Peter being the Greek word petros meaning a piece of a rock. And then He says “upon this rock I will build My church”, the word rock being the Greek word petra meaning a mass of rock. Clearly, Jesus is not saying that He would build His church on the Apostle Peter. Peter is just a piece of a rock and he cannot possibly be THE rock. We learn more about this Rock in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4,

 

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

 

Christ is the Rock, the petra, the mass of rock. The word petra is never and never can be applied to the Apostle Peter. Christ is the petra, and He definitively states that He will build His church on the petra, Himself. What does it mean that He will build His church on Himself?

First we understand that what makes Jesus the Rock is the fact that He is the Son of the Father in heaven. This is significant because in John 6:44 Jesus tells us, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” In coming to Christ, people come to His body, the church.

Building the church is a cooperative work of the Father and the Son, which also includes the work of the Holy Spirit as we find in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” That one body is the one body of Christ, the church He built on Himself.

In placing these facts together, it is not difficult to understand that the church Jesus built is actually God calling out of people from sin to the work of salvation. This is clearly expressed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” And to return to the point Jesus made that His church is built on Himself, we read in Ephesians 1:23, (CEV) “The church is Christ's body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.”

Jesus also tied the church to the kingdom of heaven when He told the disciples “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The “keys of the kingdom” is a metaphor for preaching the gospel of salvation from sin. Adam Clarke tells us the obvious:

 

By the kingdom of heaven, we may consider the true Church, that house of God, to be meant; and by the keys, the power of admitting into that house, or of preventing any improper person from coming in. In other words, the doctrine of salvation, and the full declaration of the way in which God will save sinners; and who they are that shall be finally excluded from heaven; and on what account. . . .This prophetic declaration of our Lord was literally fulfilled to Peter, as he was made the first instrument of opening, i.e. preaching the doctrines of the kingdom of heaven to the Jews, Acts 2:41; and to the Gentiles, Acts 10:44–47; 11:1; 15:7.

 

The statement about binding and loosing things has been much abused, suggesting they give Peter and the church power to determine who can go to heaven and who cannot. The problem is that the verb tense is not correctly expressed in most English versions of the Bible. The New American Standard Bible correctly renders Jesus’ words as “and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

We as the church do not actually loose or bind people in relation to sin; that is determined by the foreknowledge of God. When someone repents and is saved from sin, we may have preached the sermon, but it has been God that has been moving the person giving him faith to believe for salvation. On the contrary, when someone rejects the gospel, it is because they have convinced God they do not want it; in rejecting the church, they are bound in sin because they have convinced God that is what they want. There is a real sense in which salvation, the church, and the kingdom of God are the same thing; not identical, but so closely related that there cannot be one without the others.

 

The Biblical Church Is Real

 

The church, the called out assembly, is not a nebulous ethereal kind of body, it is the visible aggregate of people in an area that are saved from sin. Because the church is essentially the experience of salvation, it is first and foremost a spiritual entity. But as it is real people that are saved from sin, the church consists of real physical people that meet together in some real, physical place.

The church Jesus built on Himself through the atonement was established on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter 2. That church consisted of real people as we read in verses 41–42, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Here we have the first mega-church, over 3000 people. Notice that they assembled together for four things: doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers.

It was necessary that these people meet somewhere for their worship, instruction and fellowship; verse 46, “So they continued daily with one accord in the temple. . .” this was the only location large enough to accommodate the crowd. The identification of the church with the experience of salvation is made obvious in verse 47 “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Notice it was the Lord adding to the church, not the preacher or some membership committee. Membership in the church was enacted only through the experience of salvation.

That the church Jesus built involves assemblies of people saved from sin is further demonstrated in several situations mentioned throughout the New Testament.

 

Romans 16:5. Likewise, greet the church that is in their house. (Priscilla and Aquila).

 

Romans 6:23. Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. (The Living Bible renders this I am his guest, and the church meets here in his home.)

 

1 Corinthians 16:19. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

 

Colossians 4:15. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.

 

Philemon 2. to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.

 

Clearly we see from Scripture that the church is both spiritual and physical; actual assemblies of people that have experienced salvation. No one can join the church Jesus built. Jesus adds people to His church through the experience of salvation. Anything other than this is not the church Jesus built.

The church Jesus built has a name. This name is not a corporate name, it is a family name. It is appropriate to say the church is the church of Christ but that is not its name. It is Christ’s church because He built it and purchased it with His blood. The term “churches of Christ” appears only once in the New Testament, Romans 16:16 where Paul relays greeting to the church at Rome: “The churches of Christ greet you.” Peter echoes this greeting in slightly different words in 1 Peter 5:14, “Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus.”

The first place in the New Testament where the church is addressed by name is found in Acts 20:28, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

The name church of God is the identifier for the church Jesus built because this church, the assembly of those saved from sin, was purchased by the blood of Jesus in the atonement.

The church at Corinth was identified as the church of God as we see in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”

The name church of God appears 8 times in the New Testament and churches of God appears 3 times.

 

The Day of the Lamb’s Wrath

 

The question might be asked, Why would teaching the biblical truth of the church have caused a problem? Wouldn’t all Christians want to be one in Christ?

The Reformation brought about many churches that either came out of Roman Catholicism or were birthed independently by people that progressed in the light of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the Scriptural teaching about the church took something away from the Reformation churches—it took away their justification for being separate and antagonistic churches.

In spite of the teachings of justification by faith and entire sanctification, the shadow of Romanism still covered much of the visible church-at-large during the Reformation in that the church was believed to be the means of grace. In simple terms, the church, whatever denomination it may be, was treated more as the grantor of salvation rather than the product of salvation. Modes of membership, such as baptism and confirmation, were deemed to be essential for salvation in addition to saving faith.

Very few churches of this time saw saving grace as the only means of salvation and entrance into the church or the kingdom of heaven. The few that did were rejected by Protestantism as heretical and schismatic. The common belief was that in practice the church produces salvation rather than salvation produces the church.

The advent of the biblical teaching and understanding of the church under the sixth seal destroyed the legitimacy of the denominations. As light on this truth began to dawn, those brave souls that saw this truth and began to practice it were ridiculed and considered to be fanatics by the established churches. The biblical truth of the church attracted sincere Christians who were grieved by enforced separation from and prejudice against other Christians.

As the light dawned, it became a day of the Lamb’s wrath as people began to understand that Jesus built His church with His blood and nothing else is required—church membership is a spiritual red herring, something giving a false hope and sense of spirituality. People found that through salvation they were already members of the body of Christ, the biblical church, and no other kind of church membership was necessary. Once this truth became light, the natural thing was for God’s people to start leaving the established churches to be nothing more than the church of God.

 

Conclusion

 

Denominations, church groups, and individual churches do not become the church of God just by taking the name legally or putting it on the church building. It is appropriate for congregations of saved people to call themselves church of God as opposed to taking some other name. In doing so, we do not intend or mean that we as a church are “it” and all other Christians are wrong if they attend or are members of a denominational church.

The church consists of all the redeemed and by taking the name church of God we are testifying that we are among the redeemed. Furthermore, we are saying that we fully accept all that have a true profession of faith and real experience of salvation as members of the body of Christ along with us. Charles Naylor, in his hymn “The Church’s Jubilee”, expresses what it means to profess to be the church of God, the ecclesia or called out ones of God:

 

We reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one.



[1] Luther. Sermons 1.2:111