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THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
By Norman Manzon
The Universal Church is one study of a compendium of extensive and detailed biblical expositions of the doctrinal statement of The Association of Messianic Congregations. All studies that that the Compendium currently contains, plus more, may be accessed by clicking the links in sequence on the Site Map or the Home Page.
In this study, we will examine the universal body of Messiah. In our next, the local congregation. Each sentence of our Statement will be examined in detail, though not necessarily in its order of appearance.
The "body of Messiah (or Christ)" is a biblical designation of what is commonly referred to in the Brit HaChadashah (New Testament) as the church. Colossians 1:18: And He is the head of the body, the church.
There had been perhaps 1300 or 1400 Pentecosts prior to the days of Yeshua (Jesus), but the body of Messiah began on the first Pentecost after His ascension. This sequence of points demonstrates this:
1. Previous to Yeshua's death, resurrection and ascension, He declared that His body or church was still future.
The body was formed when the first believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit.
By combining the above points we see that Spirit baptism, which initiates the formation of the body of Messiah, was future to Yeshua's declaration prior to His death, resurrection and ascension.
3. After Yeshua's ascension He commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized by the Spirit.
Spirit baptism had not yet occurred even at this point in time after Yeshua's ascension. The formation of the body was yet future.
John 7:38-39 also declares the futurity of Spirit baptism after Yeshua's ascension. Though Spirit baptism is not specifically mentioned here, it should be clear after our sequence of points that it is included in the giving of the Spirit spoken of here:
4. The believers were filled with the Holy Spirit on Shavuot or Pentecost.
A breathtaking event accompanied by audible and visible signs from Heaven occurred on this first Shavuot after Yeshua's ascension. The Spirit filled the believers; but were they baptized by the Spirit? The terms are not synonymous. Let's look further.
5. About twelve years subsequent to that Shavuot, the believers in Cornelius' household were baptized by the Spirit.
In Acts 11:15-16, Peter described his experience to the church council in Jerusalem: 15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16. And I remembered the Word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter's declaration shows that what Cornelius and his household experienced was Spirit baptism.
6. Peter identified the Spirit baptism of Cornelius' household with that which occurred on the first Shavuot after Yeshua's ascension.
As Acts 1 is preparatory to Acts 2, we can conclude that the beginning was the events of Acts 2. What happened to Cornelius' household was Spirit baptism. Thus, what happened to the Jews on the first Shavuot after Yeshua's ascension was Spirit baptism.
The body of Messiah, the church, began to form on the first Shavuot after Yeshua's ascension, for that is when believers were first baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Beginning with the Gentile proselytes to Judaism who were baptized by the Spirit along with Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10: Jews and proselytes), God has been calling Gentiles out of the world and adding them to Yeshua's body to be a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). This will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles has comes in (Romans 11:25). God will continue adding Jews and Gentiles to His body until the full number of Gentiles that He has foreordained has been reached. When the last Gentile will be added, the body of Messiah, the church, will be fully formed.
The body began to be formed on Shavuot, and its formation will cease when the fullness of the Gentiles has comes in.
Once Messiah's body is fully formed, God will resurrect all deceased members of the body and remove them and all living members from the earth and into His presence in Heaven in an event known as the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:12-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18); and so shall [they] ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Only those in Messiah will be included (1 Corinthians 15:18,19,22; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). In Messiah (In Christ) is a phrase that is used exclusively of believers in Messiah's body. Old Testament saints (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) and deceased Tribulation saints (Revelation 20:4) will be resurrected immediately or very shortly after the Great Tribulation.
There are countless local congregations, but there is only one universal body of Messiah. Ephesians 4:4-6:
The passage also shows that all in the one body are necessarily saved: even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; 5. one Lord, one faith....
A local congregation may be referred to as a local body and is expected to function as a body, but the term and the concept must not be confused with the universal body of Messiah. The body of Messiah is a designation which Scripture reserves for the universal church, which is composed solely of believers, and of all believers corporately, from Shavuot to the Rapture (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12).
This will be shown in a sequence of two points:
All believers are in the body, and each is considered a member. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the significance of each being called a member is threefold:
There were believers in the promise of Messiah before the Day of Pentecost, and there will be new believers during the Great Tribulation and Kingdom Age. They will all experience the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom and the eternal ages to follow, but are not considered part of the church, the body of Messiah.
Understanding that the body of Messiah began at Shavuot and will be removed from the earth at the Rapture is critical for rightly dividing many portions of the Word of Truth. It enabled us to see who will and will not be raptured. It also enables us to rightly divide between those under the Law and those not under the Law; between Israel and the church; between believers in Heaven and believers on earth during the Great Tribulation; and more.
We've seen that Ephesians 4:4-6 shows that all in the body are necessarily believers: even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; 5. one Lord, one faith. one baptism.
John 3:18 corroborates this: He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
Condemnation in this context refers to eternal damnation. It is reserved for those who do not believe in Messiah. However, the body will be brought into the Lord's presence at the Rapture, and faith in Messiah qualifies one for entry into the body. If all believers are baptized into the body, and all unbelievers are condemned to Hell, it is inescapable that entry to the body is solely and exclusively by faith in Messiah.
We know that the body of Messiah is distinct from Israel for a number of reasons. Here are a few:
The body is described as one new man (v. 15) composed of both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah
Israel and the Gentile nations had already been in existence when the body of Messiah was formed, and the body is referred to as a new man. If it is new, then it is distinct from Israel as well as from the Gentile nations. Furthermore, Israel is a nation by natural generation, whereas the body of Messiah is a new man by virtue of regeneration, which is of the Spirit.
Another reason we know that the body is distinct from Israel is because no Gentile who joined himself to Israel was ever called an Israelite (for example, Ruth 2:2,21; 4:5,10), whereas all Jews and Gentiles who join the body of Messiah are called by the same designations: believers, Christians, saints, etc.
Another reason is because Israel is referred to as the married, then divorced, and yet to be remarried Wife of Jehovah (Jeremiah 3:1,20; Ezekiel 16:15), whereas the body of Messiah is referred to as the betrothed and yet to be married Bride of Messiah, the latter of which will be discussed below. There is no way to join the two metaphors into one.
Another is that only a small handful of Israelites under the dispensation of the Law had the Spirit "with" them (rare exceptions had Him "in" them, as well), whereas Scripture indicates that all believers from Shavuot to the Rapture have the Spirit "in" them. Furthermore, the Spirit did not always rest on those few Israelites permanently, whereas the Spirit is said to be with all members of the body of Messiah forever. The contrasts summarized: a few, all; with, in; temporarily, forever: (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; Numbers 11:17-25; 27:18; 2 Kings 2:9-12; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11).
Another distinction is that the deceased in the body will be resurrected at the Rapture (see above), which will take place before the Great Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:2-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-13, etc.), whereas all Old Testament saints, including all Old Testament Israelite saints, will be resurrected after the Great Tribulation (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).
Another is that the entire body of Messiah will be with the Lord in Heaven during the Great Tribulation (1 Corinthians 15:51-52), but only those Israelites saved between Shavuot and the Rapture will be in Heaven during the Great Tribulation.
Another is that the entire body of Messiah will spend an eternity in the blessed presence of the Lord, but only a minority from among Israel, a remnant (Isaiah 1:9, 10:22; Romans 9:27), will be saved.
It is true that the New Testament refers to Israel under Moses as the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) baptized (immersed) unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2); but the Greek word translated church simply means an assembly. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary, "Ecclesia, the Greek word for church, originally meant an assembly called out by the magistrate, or by legitimate authority." The "legitimate authority" that called out Israel from among the nations, and the body of believers from the world system, is the same: the Lord. However, the Israelites in the wilderness were an assembly by virtue of natural birth and location, and the body of Messiah is an assembly by virtue of the Spirit's call and organization. Sharing the word assembly in no way indicates that they are part of the same group any more than the Mickey Mouse Club and the Communist Party can be considered identical because they can each be called a group. Furthermore, the idea behind baptism is identification. No Israelite needed to be immersed to be identified with Israel or Moses, and they weren't. They were Israelites by birth, and became distinctly identified with the leadership of Moses when they made a clean break from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea. They were not immersed in the Red Sea. They passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. It was the Egyptians who were immersed in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16-29). The pillar of cloud also identified the Israelites with Moses as it was only they whom the cloud guided and protected, which is illustrated beautifully when the cloud guided the Israelites to the Red Sea, and then moved from in front of them to behind them to shield them from Pharaoh's army (Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19).
Israel and the body of Messiah are on two different tracks in the plan of God with a multitude of differences in the details. They are not one and the same, though there is some overlap. Jewish believers from Shavuot to the Rapture are simultaneously members of Israel and the body of Messiah.
Certain scriptures interpreted outside their contexts seem to say that the body of Messiah is now the "true Israel" or "spiritual Israel" or the "Israel of God" or that all of its members are "inward Jews." However, this is not actually the case. Let's look at one example.
Such translations as they are not all Israel give the impression to some that there are others besides Israelites that are of Israel; but let's look at the expression in various other translations, including two literal translations: not all those of Israel are Israel (Modern King James); all the [ones] of Israel, these [are] not Israel (Analytical-Literal Translation); not all those of Israel are Israel (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible). The passage speaks of subtraction, not of addition or replacement! It starts out with the entire nation of literal Israelites, and then eliminates some! But what is it talking about?
The important thing to see is that the focus is on the salvation of Israelites. This is established by the enclosing declarations of Romans 9:3-4 and 10:1. 9:3-4: 3. For I myself was wishing to be accursed from Messiah for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4. who are Israelites. 10:1: Brothers, truly my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is for it to be saved. Everything sandwiched between the two statements has to do with the salvation of Israelites. Even those passages in Romans 9 that speak of God's dealings with Gentiles are related back to Israel by Paul's line of reasoning.
Romans 9:33 sheds light on they are not all Israel, that are of Israel. 9:33: even as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. Interpreted in the same context, it, too, deals with the salvation of Israelites. It distinguishes between Jews who believe and Jews who do not. Those Israelites that believe on him shall not be put to shame, and those Israelites who do not believe on Him shall be put to shame. It is the closing verse of the chapter, and is an explanation of the opening statement, which is 9:3-4. They are not all Israel, that are of Israel distinguishes between Jews who believe and Jews who do not. There is no denial that Jews who do not believe are part of Israel, and no addition of believing Gentiles to Israel. It merely distinguishes between Jews who believe and Jews who do not believe.
To bring us back to the point, passages such as this do not make the church Israel or the "Israel of God" or "inward Jews" or a part of Israel or a replacement for Israel in any spiritual or physical sense.
To sum up,
Like Israel, the church is a people of God, but Israel and the church are on different tracks in the plan of God. To confound the two identities is to confound the two tracks, the doing of which has caused much misery for Israel and makes it impossible to rightly divide the Word of truth.
The new man is distinct from Israel and from the Gentiles, but becoming a member of the new man does not obliterate one's Jewishness or Gentileness. Membership in Israel or in a Gentile nation is based on natural generation. Membership in the new man is based on regeneration, which is of the Spirit. There is no conflict between membership in the two, nor mutual exclusion. The apostle Paul identified himself as being of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), and he addressed Roman believers as you Gentiles (Romans 11:13).
No nation is cut off at the boundary of the body. It extends into the body as far as its membership does. When passages that seem to say otherwise are scrutinized in their contexts, it is seen that they do not contradict this. For example, when Galatians 3:28 says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, it is simply saying that national distinctions have no bearing on, and do not constitute a fissure within, the unity inherent in the body: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Messiah Yeshua. All one in Messiah is the context in which the passage must be understood. In fact, all indicates that there's more than one kind among whom the unity exists. In other contexts, distinctions are clearly maintained among believers. Paul identified himself as a Hebrew, and the Roman believers as Gentiles. Other passages distinguish between believing masters and slaves, and believing men and women within the body (1 Timothy 6:1-21; 1 Corinthians 11:3-16).
The body of Messiah, the one new man is composed of Jews and Gentiles who remain Jews and Gentiles forever (Revelation 21:24,26). Even the ascended Messiah in His glorified, spiritual, heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:43,44,48) is referred to as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).
Jewish believers are members of Israel and the body of Messiah. Being included in the Abrahamic covenant by natural generation, they are to confirm their membership in Israel by making sure that they are circumcised if male, and by circumcising their male children (Genesis 17:10-12). However, their primary identity is in Messiah, and their primarily loyalty ought to be to Him.
These members refers to all members of Messiah's body.
Ephesians 4:3-4: 3. endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4. There is one body and one Spirit....
John 13:35: By this all shall know that you are My disciples, if you have love toward one another.
This is a good context in which to examine...
As the human body is a coordinated organism under the control of the head, so also is the body of Messiah. Yeshua is the Head, and we, His community of believers, constitute His body under His control.
Colossians 1:18: And He is the Head of the body, the church, who is the Beginning, the First-born from the dead, that He may be pre-eminent in all things.
Yeshua said, I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). To bring that to pass certainly does demand sovereign control.
Colossians 3:14-15: 14. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. 15. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you also are called in one body, and be thankful.
We are the body of Messiah. Each of us, in a coordinated, peaceful and loving manner under the control of Messiah our Head, is to serve the body that it may grow in numbers and maturity.
The universal church, pictured as the body of Messiah, is also pictured as the bride of Messiah yet to be presented as a pure virgin to Messiah (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Revelation 21:9: And one of the seven angels who had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.
The designation bride of Messiah illustrates the depth of love that Messiah has for His body (Ephesians 5:22), that He will bring her sanctification to completion as a pure virgin (Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15), and that He is yet to wed her (Revelation 19:6-9) and escort her into His heavenly glories (Revelation 20-21). It also implies that the bride is to be subject to her Groom in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).
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