The Church

Acts 2  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 10
We have already traced the history of God’s house from Exodus until the close of the Mosaic dispensation. During the life of our Lord on the earth there were, however, premonitions of the coming change. Speaking to the Jews He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.... But,” the evangelist tells us, “He spake of the temple of His body” (John 2:19,2119Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19)
21But he spake of the temple of his body. (John 2:21)
). He said to Peter, moreover, on his confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood bath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:16-1816And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:16‑18)). If we pass now to the day of Pentecost we shall see that God commenced then to dwell on earth in a new and a twofold way: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-41And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1‑4)).
Now this took place according to the express promise of the Lord to His disciples: “And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with Power from on high.” And again: He “commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence” (Luke 24:4949And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:49); Acts 1:4-54And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. (Acts 1:4‑5)). The Holy Spirit then came down at Pentecost according to the Lord’s word, and the effect was that God made His temple by the Spirit in the individual believer (see also 1 Cor. 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)); and that He made His habitation with believers collectively, even as Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). Believers therefore now were, as their Lord had been while on the earth, God’s temple, and the house of God, which is the church of the living God, was now formed. It is the latter truth which is to occupy our attention, and with this object we propose to examine more closely the teaching of this chapter (Acts 2).
Speaking generally, we have in this scripture three things the building of God’s house, the mode of entrance, and the occupations of those who are within, or, to speak more accurately, of those who form it.
1. The building of the house. We read concerning Solomon’s temple, that “when it was in building, it was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer, nor ax, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house, while it was in building” (1 Kings 6:77And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building. (1 Kings 6:7)). The same thing is seen precisely in respect of the house of God which was built at Pentecost. The disciples were all with one accord in one place; and who were they? They were the one hundred and twenty mentioned in the previous chapter, all of whom (for Judas was no longer of the company, having by transgression fallen that he might go to his own place) were living stones which had been by the grace of God brought into saving contact with Christ, and thus made participators of everlasting life. And the same divine power which had saved them through faith in the Lord Jesus, brought them on this day together, and put them silently in their appointed places mi the one foundation-stone to form the habitation of God on the earth through the Spirit. Thus the building was raised. Christ, according to His Word, had built His church, and made it ready for its divine Inhabitant. Hence just as when Moses had completed the tabernacle, and also as when Solomon had finished the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the house of God (Ex. 40; 2 Chron. 5), so here, there came suddenly a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. God manifestly took possession of the house which had that day been erected. Others might come in, and would indeed be brought in, to form part of the house (“ And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (vs. 47)); but still the house of God was built. The apostle could therefore say to the Ephesians, “Ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit;” and to the Corinthians, “Ye are the temple of the living God.” In this aspect the house of God is always looked upon as complete, and yet other believers are continually brought in to occupy their appointed places in the building. This will be at once understood if for one minute we change the term and use “church” instead of “house.”
And that the Lord Himself looked upon the house as now built is seen from the connection between the second and third chapters. At the commencement of Acts 3 we read of Peter and John going up together into the temple at the hour of prayer; but the Lord had a lesson for them as well as for us in what occurred to them by the way. There was a man, lame from his mother’s womb, who was carried and laid daily, not inside, but at the gate of the temple, to beg of those who entered for prayer or worship. He asked an alms of Peter and John, who were, like many others, about to go into the temple. The Spirit of God used the circumstance by leading Peter to heal the lame man, as a testimony to the power of the risen Christ, and for the apostles’ and our instruction. The man, be it repeated, is outside the temple, and it was there—outside—that he received the blessing. The new house of God had just been formed, and now the Holy Spirit testifies that blessing is outside of the old house and in connection with the new, a lesson which Peter and John may have failed to apprehend at the moment, but one which has been written for the edification of all whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God. Yes, there in Jerusalem, and on the feast-day, with no sound of hammer or ax or any tool of iron, in the midst of an unbelieving generation, and while Herod’s temple was there before their eyes, and the object of the veneration of their carnal hearts, the true Solomon had built His Church of precious stones, whose luster and beauty could only be appreciated by Him who had laid them in their appointed place upon the chief corner-stone.
It is also to be remarked that here there were none but living stones, inasmuch as the house in this chapter is of the Lord’s own building (vs. 47). So far therefore, the body of Christ, although the revelation of this truth was reserved till another day—until its appointed minister had been called and qualified—and the house of God are co-extensive. That is to say, every stone of this building was also, though this was not yet understood, a member of the body of Christ; for on this day, including the three thousand souls that repented under the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of Peter, not one was brought in who was not really converted. All were genuine believers. It was they who received the Word who were baptized, and it was those of the same character whom the Lord afterward daily added. This fact must be distinctly stated, and firmly maintained.
2. The house of God having been built, we find the way very plainly indicated by which souls were to be brought into it. One simple remark may perhaps clear away a difficulty for some before we enter upon this part of our subject. It is often hastily assumed that God brings souls secretly, as it were, into His house; that is, that if He converts a soul, that soul is thereby brought into His habitation on earth. Let us then for one moment change the term “house” for a “company of believers,” for remember it is the company of believers who have a very distinct and separate existence in Acts 2 that form God’s house, and then we may ask if a soul who is born again is brought thereby into the company of believers? Nay, he may be unknown to them, and in that case could not be said to form one of their number. That God knows such an one as a believer is another thing; but the question is, as we have seen, concerning God’s habitation on earth. And since it is on earth, there is, as we shall also see, an appointed way into the company which compose this habitation.
Let us look, in the first place, at the different classes brought before us. There are the one hundred and twenty who have this day been formed into the Church—God’s assembly. There are the Jews standing round about them—the “Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (vs. 5), those to whom Peter afterward preached. Then, lastly, there were those to whom Peter refers in his address—“All that are afar off,” a well-known scripture term for Gentiles. We have then that threefold division which the Spirit of God elsewhere makes—the Church, the Jews, and the Gentiles (1 Cor. 10:3232Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: (1 Corinthians 10:32))—a representation therefore of the whole world.
Now it was in connection with this inner circle, this central company, the church of God, that Peter, standing up with the eleven, rendered his testimony to Christ. The manifest operations of the Spirit—manifest even to the unbelieving Jews—had produced perplexity in the minds of some, and became for others an occasion of derision and mockery. Peter then, as led of the Holy Spirit, addressed himself to the multitude that came together. First of all, he explained from the Scriptures the character of the manifestations they had witnessed (vss. 16-21); then, he testified of “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him, in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” He told them of God’s counsel as to His death, and their wickedness in His crucifixion; of His resurrection, which had been foretold in their own scriptures, and of which Peter and those with him were witnesses (vss. 22-32). Then he concluded with these remarkable words: “Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (vss. 33-36).
This was a very distinct testimony. Jesus of Nazareth, rejected and crucified by man, had been raised from the dead, exalted by the right hand of God, and made both Lord and Christ. What a contrast between the mind of God and the mind of man! And what could more plainly demonstrate man’s guilt and man’s condition? Truly the cross of Christ brought everything to the test, and not only told out what was in the heart of God, but what was also in the heart of man. This testimony of Peter was carried home to the consciences of those who heard, and, pricked in their heart, they said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (vss. 37-39). Now it is this answer of Peter to these penitent Jews that requires our careful attention. Two things were then to be done, and consequent on this there were two blessings to be received. They were to repent, and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Let us suppose for one minute that these Jews had truly repented, and yet refused to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Is it not plain on the very face of this scripture, that in such a case, whatever their state of heart before God, and notwithstanding that they might be truly born again, they could not have been received into the company of believers that stood before them—that, in other words, they could not be brought into the house of God on earth? For what was involved by their baptism in the name of Jesus Christ? “Know ye not,” says the apostle Paul, “that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ” (Christ Jesus, really) “were baptized into” (unto—εἰς) “His death” (Rom. 6:33Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)).
It would be, therefore, not only to believe the testimony concerning His death, resurrection, and present place at the right hand of God, but it would be also their identification with Him in His death; so that, accepting death for themselves, they would thereby, in figure, be dissociated from man, and brought upon the ground of association with Christ’s death, so that they henceforward would accept for themselves the place of being dead—dead with Christ—in this world. The apostle, therefore, could write to the Colossians—“If ye be dead with Christ.... why, as though alive in the world?” (Col. 2:2020Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Colossians 2:20)). And this death with Christ is Christian ground, and inasmuch as baptism is the divinely-appointed mode of entrance upon it, there is consequently no other way into the house of God on earth. It was therefore necessary that these Jews should repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The former would be produced by the Spirit of God working through the testimony they had heard; by the latter they would be publicly separated from the nation that had crucified the Lord Jesus—would from that moment cease to be Jews, and be brought into the number of those who were His followers on earth; and these, as we have seen, composed the house of God.
Upon their repentance and baptism two blessings were promised. The first was remission of sins, and the second was the reception of the Holy Spirit. These two things are connected, as a word or two will show. The remission of sins here is, we apprehend, that which the apostles were empowered to administer on repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. On the profession of this, and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins was not only entered upon as before God, connected by Him with repentance and faith, but also authoritatively declared by His servants. (See John 20:2323Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23); Acts 22:1616And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)). Further, there was the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we have already said, these two things are connected. Everywhere in the Scriptures the gilt of the Holy Spirit is consequent upon the forgiveness of sins. Cleansed by the precious blood of Christ (as seen in figure also in the consecration of the priests and the cleansing of the leper (Ex. 29; Lev. 14)), God seals (anoints) those so cleansed with the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 10; Rom. 5; 2 Cor. 1; Eph. 1, and so on).
Let us recall the divine order here presented. On repentance towards God there was baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, whereby those so baptized were brought out from among the Jews who had rejected their Messiah, and brought into the number of those who formed the house of God. Forgiveness of sins was announced to them from God, and, now in the sphere where God dwells by the Spirit, they themselves received the Holy Spirit; and then they were not only a part of the house of God, but also, as we see with the disciples in the beginning of the chapter (vs. 4), they were indwelt by the Spirit. The Lord’s words to His disciples were in this way fulfilled: “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; [even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with yaw, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-1716And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16‑17)).
There was yet more in the abounding grace of God. “For,” said Peter, “the promise (the promise of these blessings which have been considered) is unto you (you Jews), and to your children (these were not to be excluded), and to all that are afar off (the Gentiles; see Eph. 2:11-1311Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11‑13)), even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The Church—the habitation of God—having been built, the gift of grace is proclaimed both to Jews and Gentiles, and the way was declared by which the Jew and the Gentile, in the sovereign grace of God, could pass out from the two outer circles—both of which were in the kingdom of darkness, where Satan reigned—into that new sphere which had that day been formed, where the Spirit of God acted and dwelt.
3. We call attention now, more briefly, to the occupations of those who form, and are within, the house of God. For this purpose we may add a passage from 1 Peter. The apostle says: “Ye also, as lively” (living) “stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:55Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)). Inasmuch as Peter deals with the priesthood of believers—the new order of priests, who take the place on earth of Aaron’s family—a dignity which now attaches to all saints without exception, he is led to point out their occupation with the sacrifice of praise. It is no longer sacrifices of bulls or goats, but spiritual sacrifices suited to the spiritual house of which they formed part, as well as to those who worshipped God in spirit and in truth. They were indeed to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of their lips, giving thanks to His name. Perpetual praise and adoration were to be heard in this new and spiritual habitation of God. (Compare 1 Chron. 9:3333And these are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night. (1 Chronicles 9:33).)
Turning back to the Acts, we have another aspect of the employment of the saints. It says, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:4242And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)). They persevered in learning the mind and will of God as communicated by His servants (for at this time none of the New Testament scriptures were in existence), and hence they were brought into enjoyment of fellowship with the apostles (compare 1 John 1:33That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)), in which those newly-converted souls delighted to be found. Then together they were gathered around the Lord at His table to commemorate His death, that death which was the foundation of all the blessings into which they had been introduced; and together also they persevered in assembling to pour out their hearts in prayer to God.
As we gaze upon this beautiful picture of the house of God, of the energy of the Holy Spirit, producing constant praise and prayer, as well as obedience to the Word, we can truly say, in the language of the psalmist, but with another meaning, “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts?... Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be still praising Thee.”