Head to the Assembly

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The second point I desire to bring before you is, that Christ, as man in glory, is thus “Head over all things”; is Head, not over, but “to the assembly.” You will mark strongly that He is never said to be Head over the church, but to it. We will look at it in its other aspect, as “His body,” again.
Now I may surprise some (who have grasped the truth of the church being the body of Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven at Pentecost), by saying that the thought of the “assembly” was well known in the Old Testament scriptures, and familiar to the order of things in Israel. Thus we find the word where it has perplexed some, in learning that the church, as we know it now from scripture, began its existence after the ascension of Christ and descent of the Holy Spirit. I refer to the passage in Acts 7, “The church [assembly] in the wilderness,” referring to Israel in their Journey from Egypt to Canaan. The whole congregation of Israel as they came out of Egypt, in its corporate unity, as well as its gathering together, is treated as the assembly. In Exodus 22 we read of “the whole assembly of the congregation.” In the expression “the tabernacle of the congregation,” it is another word in the original, and should be rendered “tabernacle [or “tent”] of meeting,” and signifies the place where they met Jehovah. I need hardly say that, comparatively, there were but few true saints of God amongst that great congregation.
But in its corporate unity as a nation come out of Egypt, and the assemblage of the people it was termed and treated as the “assembly” of Jehovah. You know how they defiled His dwelling-place; for He had brought them out of Egypt that He “might dwell among them” (Ex. 29:45-4645And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. 46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:45‑46)), so that finally He removed His glory or presence from their midst (Ezek. 8-11).
Let us carry the thought with us that Israel, as a nation, was the “assembly” of Jehovah. They corrupt themselves wholly in this position, and God has two great controversies with them in His dealings by-and-by, when He takes them up again.
Isaiah 40-48 gives His first great controversy with them (especially Israel) for idolatry, ending with the words, “There is no peace, saith Jehovah, unto the wicked.” The second is more specially with the Jews, than with Israel as a nation. It is from Isaiah 49 to 57, and ends with the somewhat similar words, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” This is for the yet deeper guilt of the rejection of Jehovah-Messiah, come into their midst in grace. The general testimony of Isaiah, as of the other prophets, is that a remnant only would be spared and saved, when God would turn His hand to deal with them once more.
I may here mention, what has been noted, that the book of Isaiah, exclusive of the historic interlude in Isaish 35-38, is divided into two great portions, chapters 1-34, giving their external history in the midst of, and with relation to, the nations with whom they have to do (outside of those embraced in the Gentile empires, to whom the throne of the world was given, when God removed the glory from the earth; these we find in the book of Daniel). Then, after their external history (chs. 1-34), and the historic interlude, of parabolic significance (chs. 35-39), we get their internal or moral history discussed (chs. 40-66).
What is now to be the remedy? Jehovah of Hosts will become a man! This was now the resource. The virgin would bear a Son (Isaiah 7:1414Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)) and Jehovah of Sabaoth becomes Emmanuel-God with us! In Isaiah 8:12-1812Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. 13Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. 16Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:12‑18), He becomes a stumbling-stones and rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, and historically He was in the Gospels (compare Matt. 21:42-4442Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. (Matthew 21:42‑44)), but a sanctuary to the remnant who attach themselves to Him. “He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense, to both the houses of Israel: for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him” (vss. 14-17).
Thus, we find that Christ became a stumbling stone to Israel, but a small remnant of the people attached themselves to Him — who were “for signs and wonders” in Israel. (Compare Heb. 2:1313And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. (Hebrews 2:13).)
I will now trace shortly the history of this remnant, while Jehovah hides His face from Israel. You find it distinctly in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 4 He goes out in Galilee, and calls around Him Peter and Andrew his brother; then James and John, and so the company of His disciples. Mark what Isaiah 8:1616Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. (Isaiah 8:16) says, “Bind up the testimony, and seal the law amongst my disciples.” He began to do that in the Sermon on the Mount; but when we go on to Matthew 16 Peter confesses Him “Son of the living God,” and Jesus says, “On this rock I will build My assembly. Israel having nationally failed as the assembly of the Lord, He now unfolds that He would replace it by an assembly which He was about to build; which still was a future thing.
Now turn with me to Psalm 22 and you will find definitely the position in which this remnant is placed by redemption. You have there the great question of good and evil solved by Christ on the cross. All the evil that is in man’s heart brought out; all the cup of divine and righteous wrath against sin poured out upon the devoted head of Jesus! The cross of Christ surpasses in moral glory all that this universe will ever behold! It is a necessity, because of a holy and righteous God, that sin must be judged. But what necessity was there that the holy, spotless Son of God should be treated as sin, and left to endure the judgment of God due to it? None, but that of His own sovereign grace “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” This the cross reveals. God whose holy nature cannot allow sin to remain unjudged, to spare the sinner, and give expression to all that was in His heart, did not spare His Son. He was left to be forsaken of God, as we learn from that solemn cry bursting forth from His heart at that surpassing “hour,” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There the great question of good and evil has found its eternal solution. Where man was, in evil at its culminating point and sin receives its righteous judgment, there all that God was in goodness lies found its infinite revelation in Him who devoted Himself for this to His glory at all cost to Himself. The turning point is reached in verse 21, “Yea, thou hast heard Me from the horns of the unicorns.” Then His first thought is, “I will declare thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the assembly [compare Heb. 2:1212Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. (Hebrews 2:12)] will I praise thee.”
Israel, as we saw, was originally the assembly of Jehovah. The whole thing fails, on the one hand sinking back into idolatry; on the other, rejecting Jehovah-Messiah, come in lowly grace. The remnant, which was to form the nucleus of the new assembly, is delivered and attached to Christ, and instructed by Him. It did not get the name “assembly” until His resurrection, save in the announcement of His yet future purpose to Peter; but when the Lord had passed through the judgment of the cross, as described in Psalm 22 and He is heard from the horns of the unicorns — a figure of the transpiercing judgment of God — His first thought is to declare the name of His deliverer-God to His brethren, now owned thus for the first time; for divine love was free now, so to speak, to act according to its own dictates.
Historically this was fulfilled in John 20. The judgment of the cross was passed in John 6 and in John 20. He is standing forth in resurrection. The whole question of sin has been gone into and settled — not a shadow of it left on our souls, who believe. The first man’s history is closed under God’s judgment fully executed. I thank God, every Christian here can say, and should without hesitation be able to say, there is not the weight of the smallest cloud on my soul, that Christ has not removed. The second Man is able to associate us with Himself in all the place He enters into as risen from the dead.
He turns to Mary (vs. 17) saying, “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and unto My God, and your God.” That is, the Son of God places the disciples on the same platform as Himself by redemption: He is not ashamed to call them “brethren.” The finest message that ever passed through mortal lips is sent to them through a woman, who, ignorant if you please, could break her heart for Christ! The Son of God is not ashamed to call them brethren.” — now named such for the His time — because they stand in all His own acceptance before the Father! His Father is their Father; His God is their God! He thus declares His name, and pronounces “peace” twice; and breathes on them “life more abundantly,” as the last Adam — a “quickening spirit.” “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” In life He had declared His Father to them: in resurrection He presents, them to His Father as sons!
Thus, you have the “assembly,” now definitely in its place for the first time — composed of the same remnant of Israel, and Christ in their midst — proclaiming peace and declaring His Father’s name.
Now mark, all this is on earth, and Christ is still there. Psalm 22 goes no further than resurrection. So that as yet we have no Holy Spirit come down from heaven, and consequently the “body of Christ” not yet formed.
Now, if we turn to Acts 1, another truth comes out. They were to remain in Jerusalem until they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit, “not many days hence.” His earthly work of the cross was over; all its fruits will be accomplished in due time. His heavenly work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit — so frequently spoken of in the Gospels — was yet to come. He says, “For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” That of “fire” is omitted, because it is yet to come. The fire of judgment will yet cleanse His kingdom of every stumbling-block and them which do iniquity. It has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit’s appearance in tongues of fine on the day of Pentecost.
This baptism was to change the relationship of this “assembly” into one not yet revealed or accomplished. They are the “assembly,” but not yet “His body.” I wish to keep these two thoughts distinct in your mind, before they become interchangeable by the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit, as in Ephesians 1:22-2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23).
In verse 9 the Lord ascends to heaven, and a cloud receives Him out of their sight. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit personally* descends from heaven, and they were all baptized of Him. He sat upon each of them, and filled all the house — dwelling thus “in them,” personally, and “with them,” collectively. This assembly is now God’s habitation through the Spirit. The one hundred and twenty disciples — thus baptized — are technically named the “assembly” from that moment (Acts 2:4747Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47)).** The Holy Spirit now dwells on earth for the first time, and consequent on redemption. He had wrought before He came to dwell, as in Old Testament days.
(*The reader will do well to consult John 14-16 as to the personal presence of the Holy Spirit upon earth, consequent on the work and departure of Christ. “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:3939(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:39)). John 14:1616And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:16), “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever”; not for a few years, as He who was then about to leave them. The world would not receive Him, but He would not be only “with them” as Jesus, but “in them.” Read the last, clause of verse 17 thus, “For He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you.” Not only is this rendering correct, but the context proves it to be the thought. Then verse 26, the Father would send Him in the Son’s name; and in John 15:2626But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: (John 15:26), the Lord would (as gone on high) send Him from the Father.
John 16 shows the Comforter’s presence on earth, and what He would be when Christ was gone. It was expedient that He should go (vs. 7); until then the Holy Spirit would not come; “If I depart I will send Him unto you.” Verses 8-15 show what He would be, and how He would act when come, with regard to the world and the disciples. He would glorify Jesus on earth (vs. 14), as Jesus had glorified the Father on earth. (John 17:44I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4).)
It is the unfolding of the actions of a divine Person on earth in company with the disciples.
In 1 Peter 1:11-1311Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 13Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:11‑13) we find three steps of much moment, marking the presence of the Holy Spirit, sent down from heaven as the special truth of Christianity. The Spirit of Christ in the prophets, prophesied of things not yet come, but to be ministered to us (vs. 11). The glad tidings of the accomplishment of these things — Christ having suffered and gone on high — were preached to us by the Holy Spirit, sent down from heaven, a mediate thing between the sufferings and the glories that were to come (vs. 12); and then these things were to be brought in at the revelation of Jesus Christ, now hidden in the heavens.)
(**If the word “assembly” in verse 47 be questioned, we find that a separate and distinct company was formed and recognized (see Acts 4:2020For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)); and they are termed Ulm “assembly” in Acts 5:1111And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:11), before the breaking up of the whole thing externally in Acts 8.)
The “temple” in Jerusalem was an empty house, and Israel an “untoward generation.” The assembly was now the “city of refuge” for the “slayer of blood,” where those who bowed to the guilt of their Messiah’s blood could flee.*
(*The “assembly of God” is ever since, the “city of refuge” for the poor Jew — guilty of His Messiah’s blood; and, fleeing to it, he is safe from the avenger of blood. When the death of the high priest; anointed, with the holy oil, takes place, that is, in the antitype — when the Lord Jesus finishes His present intercessional Priesthood on high; the poor Jew may then, and only then, return to the land of his inheritance. (See Num. 35.))
It was an analogous state of things, as in 2 Samuel 5-6, when the ark was in delivering grace on mount Zion with David; and the tabernacle at Gibeon, with no ark or presence of Jehovah. Analogous, too, to the pitching of the tent outside the camp by Moses (Ex. 33), and every one that sought the Lord went out to it.
Now, to this “assembly” the Lord added such as were being saved from the destructions about to fall on the nation of Israel. This is the force of Acts 2:4747Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47). It does not raise the question of their ultimate salvation; nor is it a description of their state as “saved ones,” but is rather the characteristic or technical name for a class of persons (the three thousand, for instance, on that day) which were being saved from the judgments about to fall on the nation. They were all Jews. See also Luke 13:22-2322And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, (Luke 13:22‑23).
In Acts 3* Peter proposes that Christ would return and bring in all the blessings of the kingdom, as spoken of by the prophets, and thus all the kindreds of the earth — the Gentiles — would be blessed.
(*This is an interesting point. In Acts 3 you have nothing at all about the “assembly.” Peter goes back to the fathers of Israel, and proposes — by the Holy Spirit come down, and in answer to the intercession of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” — that if they would bow and repent He would return, and the times of restitution, and all that the prophets had spoken, would ensue. Thus God was bringing in the responsibility of Israel; while His purpose was working under all for the “assembly.” The two principles of responsibility and purpose are worked out in the wisdom of God, as from the beginning.)
In Acts 4 you get the answer of Israel to the proposal. It was wholly refused! They put the two apostles, Peter and John, in prison, and in Acts 5 the whole twelve. Then Stephen (Acts 6-7) sums up their whole history in responsibility, from Abraham’s call till that moment. Despised promises, a broken law, slain prophets, a murdered Christ, and a resisted Spirit is the terrible tale! (Acts 7:51-5351Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51‑53)). Stephen seals his testimony with his blood, and commits his spirit to the Lord, and all is over.
The “assembly” is scattered to the four winds; and Saul of Tarsus, the most determined of opponents, “made havoc of the assembly, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison.” The whole external thing is dispersed, and Saul heads the persecution that brings it about.
The blessing goes down to Samaria in Acts 8. But in Acts 9 the man who was the most terrible opponent and leader in wasting the assembly, is converted. Called out by the mighty power of God — apart from all earthly intervention, apart from the twelve apostles — a heavenly light appears to him, “above the brightness of the sun”; and the first sentence spoken to him by the Lord of glory conveys the truth of the union of these scattered saints with Him in glory, as not now merely His “brethren,” but “me!” “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” They are united by one Spirit to Christ in glory, and He owns it!
This leads us now to the third point which I desire to bring before you, that is, The body of Christ.