RPM, Volume 17, Number 1, December 28, 2014 to January 3, 2015

The Biblical Theology of the Church

By Edmund P. Clowney

Emeritus professor of practical theology and former president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Do Christians need to think again about the doctrine of the church? Many would answer, 'No!' Mention the church and they begin to smell the musty odour of churchianity. It rises from the crypts of institutional religion, and permeates the seat-cushions of formal traditions. Martin Luther thanked God that even a child of seven knows what the church is. 'Let the church focus on the gospel, preach Christ and him crucified, and the church will become part of the answer instead of the problem'. That is the way Luther's point is often made today.

Others would add that Luther's child of seven has had plenty of help in the last few years. If the teaching of the Bible about the church has been neglected in past centuries, that neglect has certainly been more than remedied. Few cathedrals have been constructed in the last half century, but theologians have launched a building boom of their own. The publishing skyline is full of books about the church. 1

Not all of those books are theological, to be sure. Some writers assume that we cannot expect Scripture to answer the problems of the computer age. The Apostle Paul did not have to face Marxism nor deal with the problems of colonial exploitation and its aftermath. He was not troubled with the internecine warfare of rival denominations and non-denominational agencies. Nor did he have to plant churches in a tribal cultural setting. He worked within his own culture and could ordain as leaders, even in the Gentile churches, men who had been instructed in the Scriptures as adherents of the Jewish synagogues. With such considerations the contemporary ecclesiastical pundit eases the Apostle to the Gentiles into his place back in the Hellenistic age. He is then free to display his own grasp of sociometrics, group dynamics, structuralist anthropology, and political hermeneutics. 2 It would be foolish, of course, to suggest that the behavioural sciences should be set over against Biblical understanding. In applying the teaching of God's Word, we must surely understand as fully as we can the circumstances to which it is applied. Yet even in that understanding, we seek to manifest the mind of Christ. Certainly we cannot begin our understanding of the church with sociological analysis. We must begin with the teaching of the Bible, and return to the Bible again and again to deepen and renew our understanding. Theology is reflective; we do understand God's revelation better as the context of our own experience widens and varies our perspective. But the church rests upon the foundation of apostolic teaching. The authoritative words of the inspired witnesses chosen and endued of the Spirit communicate to us the full and final revelation of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:39-42; Heb. 2:2-4; Rev. 22:18, 19). The doctrine of the church is not the most fundamental doctrine of Scripture. J.C. Hoekendijk may be right in saying, 'In history a keen ecclesiological interest has, almost without exception, been a sign of spiritual decadence...'3 At the Third World Conference on Faith and Order held in Lund in 1952 the conferees acknowledged: 'In our work we havebeen led to the conviction that it is of decisive importance for the advance of ecumenical work that the doctrine of the church be treated in close relation both to the doctrine of Christ and to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit'. 4

Indeed, the doctrine of the church is not only closely related to the doctrine of the Trinity, it flows from it. The promise of God's covenant is, 'I will... be your God, and you will be my people' (Lev. 26:12; 2 Cor. 6:16). God's people are his own possession, those whom he has formed for himself that they might set forth his praise (Is. 43:21). The focus of Scripture is on the living God, of whom, through whom, and unto whom are all things, not least the people he has redeemed and claimed as his own.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Biblical doctrine of the church is directly related to God's revelation of himself. As we trace the history of redemption recorded in the Word of God, we find that the church comes into view as the people of God, the disciples of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Yet these views of the redeemed do not simply succeed one another; far less do they exclude one another. The Apostle Peter, writing to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, calls them 'a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God' (1 Pet. 2:9). To be sure, they were once 'not a people', but now they are 'the people of God' (v. 10). The language that described the calling of Israel in the Old Testament Peter applies to the New Testament people of God. On the other hand, Christ is central for the Old Testament as well as for the New, and Paul, reflecting on the experience of Israel in the wilderness, affirms that 'the Rock that followed them was Christ' (1 Cor. 10:4). That same leading of Israel through the desert is ascribed by the prophet Isaiah to the Holy Spirit (Is. 63:9¬14).

To gain the richness of biblical revelation, we do well to trace the unfolding of the theme of the church through the history of God's saving work. In doing so we are instructed by the transformations of that theme as well as by the underlying unity of the purpose and work of God. To focus our consideration, we may reflect on the calling of the church. The church is called to God, called to be his people. By that relation to God the being of the church is defined. The church is also called, by that very relation, to a bond of life together. It ministers not only to God, but also to those who make up its company. The church is also called in the midst of the world. Its ministry is therefore threefold: it ministers to God in worship, to the saints in nurture, and to the world in witness.

In systematic theology the doctrine of the church is often presented under the rubrics of the Nicene Creed: the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet these attributes of the church flow from the more fundamental teaching of the Bible regarding the nature of the church as it is related to the Lord himself. Ecclesiology is part of theology. We gain the clearest light on the issues that the church now faces when we reflect on the calling of the church by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This trinitarian approach to the doctrine of the church may then be structured in relation to its calling to minister in worship, nurture, and witness.


A. God's Worshipping Assembly

Matthew's Gospel reports the words of blessing that Jesus spoke to Simon Peter in response to Peter's apostolic confession. Jesus then said, 'And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it' (Mt. 16:18). Matthew uses the common term for 'church' in the New Testament, the term ekklçsia. It was once the habit of critics to question the authenticity of Matthew's report. Jesus spoke of the kingdom, and knew nothing of the church, they said. 5 Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there has been a belated acceptance of the genuineness of the saying. The scrolls are full of the concept of the community, understood as the congregation of the saints awaiting the coming of the Lord. Further, the thought of the congregation being established upon the confession of the truth is also prominent in the Dead Sea writings. 6 So is the figure of the rock, and of the building established upon it. 7 The parallels between the language of the Dead Sea sectaries and the words of Jesus do not, however, indicate that Jesus was dependent upon the Essenes. The background to both is the Old Testament.

1. The People of God Constituted as God's Assembly

The concept of the people of God as assembly has its Old Testament roots in the gathering of Israel before the Lord at Mount Sinai. God had demanded of Pharaoh, 'Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert' (Ex. 7:16b). That service was to be a specific gathering for worship ('a feast unto me', Ex. 5:1). Of course there were further implications of that demand. Pharaoh regarded the Israelites as his slaves, subject to his own divine claims. His lordship was directly challenged by God's claim. The worship, the service of the Lord on the part of Israel, would mark them as his people, his sons (Ex. 4:22, 23). It would be a covenant-making ceremony in which the claim of God upon his people and the claim of the people upon God would be ratified in worship.

The term ekklçsia describes an actual assembly, a gathering of people together. The same is true of the Old Testament term qâhâl that is translated by ekklçsia in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. 8 The words themselves do not have the restricted meaning of our word, 'church'. Yet, when Jesus said, 'I will build my church' (whether he spoke Greek, or used in Aramaic a word that could be so translated), he was not simply saying, 'I will bring together a gathering of people'. Rather, he was using a well-known term that described the people of God. The 'assembly in the desert' (Acts 7:38) was the definitive assembly for Israel, the covenant making assembly when God claimed his redeemed people as his own. In Deuteronomy it is spoken of as 'the day of the assembly' (Dt. 4:10 LXX; 9:10; 10:4, 18:16).

The key to the meaning of 'assembly' is found in God's command to Moses: 'Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children' (Dt. 4:10). The assembly is a gathering to meet with God. God declares, 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself' (Ex. 19:4). God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt is indeed an act of liberation. God strikes off their yoke and enables them to go upright (Lv. 26:13). But liberation from slavery in Egypt is not the final purpose of God's saving work. God brings them out that he might bring them in, in to his assembly, to the great company of those who stand before his face. The Lord who assembles the people to himself is the Lord of hosts. His heavenly assembly is composed of the mighty ones ('elohim), the holy ones (qedoshim), the sons of God (benei ha'elohim) over whom he reigns as King (Jb. 1:6; Ps. 82:1; 1 Ki. 22:19; Dn. 7:10). When the Lord descends at Sinai, the tens of thousands of the heavenly holy ones are assembled with the congregation that is gathered at his feet (Dt. 33:2; Ps. 68:17). The earthly assembly, too, is composed of the saints of the Lord (the same term can describe saints or angels). The Dead Sea community had a vivid awareness of this Old Testament panorama. Those who were added to the community became members of God's eternal assembly. They gained a place with the holy angels (1QS 2:25; 11:7-9; lQH 3:21; 11:11, 12).

God's assembly at Sinai is therefore the immediate goal of the exodus. God brings his people into his presence that they might hear his voice and worship him. 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me' (Ex. 20:2, 3). Standing in the assembly of the Lord, hearing his voice, the people gain their identity from the self-identification of the Lord.

Later Assemblies

The assembly at Sinai could not remain forever in session, however. It was succeeded by other covenant-making assemblies. Deuteronomy, the second giving of the law, provides the account of the renewing of the covenant in another great assembly before the death of Moses. When Joshua brought the people into the land, he convened a great assembly between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, and read the blessings and curses of the covenant from the law (Jos. 8:34, 35). David convoked an assembly to secure the succession of Solomon (1 Ch. 28:2, 8; 29:10, 20). Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Hezekiah summoned assemblies of covenant renewal (2 Ch. 20:5, 14; 23:3; 29:23-32; 30:2-25).

After the exile, the great assembly under Ezra and Nehemiah was gathered to hear the Word of God (Ne. 8). This assembly was regarded in later times as the prototype of the synagogue. The reading of the law in the synagogues and the prayers that were offered found their precedent in this post-exilic assembly.

In addition to these assemblies of renewal on historic occasions, there were other assemblies of Israel. The law required that the people gather three times a year at the appointed place of worship (Lv. 23). These were festival assemblies: the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At this last feast every seventh year the law was to be read and the covenant renewed (Dt. 31:9-13).

To be a member of the people of God was to have the privilege of standing in the great assembly before his face. To be sure, worshipping Israelites could rejoice in fellowship with one another as they assembled together. They could sing, 'How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!' (Ps. 133:1). But even that joy is a blessing that flows down from above, like the dew of Hermon, or the ointment running down the beard of the high priest (Ps. 133:2, 3). Israel is bound together as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Israelites are a nation formed for worship, called to assemble in the courts of the Lord, and to praise together the name of the Most High.

The Future Festival Promised

Israel failed woefully in this priestly calling. The unity of worship was broken when Jeroboam set up the image of a calf at Bethel to bar the pilgrimage of the northern tribes to worship at Jerusalem. In the temple at Jerusalem, the whole purpose of the assembly was shattered by idolatry. And so in judgment God scattered the people in exile; yet he did not forget his calling to a priestly nation. The prophets proclaimed a new assembly of the people of God. It would come in the glorious future when God would again manifest his presence. Isaiah pictures a great feast, spread on the mount of God, to which not only the remnant of Israel but also the remnant of the nations would be gathered in (Is. 2:2-4; 25:6-8; 49:22; 66:18-21; cf. Jer. 48:47; 49:6, 39). Zechariah sees a new Jerusalem, transformed into a holy city by the presence of the Lord (Zc. 12:7-9; 13:1, 9; 14:7, 8, 16-21).

Pentecost Fulfillment

Jesus promised that he would build his assembly by his death and resurrection. After he rose from the dead, he commanded his disciples to remain together in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit. That gift was poured out as they were assembled together. It was at Pentecost, and the theme of the feast of Pentecost was fulfilled. Pentecost was the time of the first-fruits, the beginning of the great harvest of redemption. Peter preached the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. The Spirit had been poured out, the worship of the new age had been ushered in. The church, the assembly for worship, was praising God. The great eschatological feast had begun. Jesus in his parables had spoken of the feast prepared, and of his mission as the Servant of the Lord to call to heaven's feast the host of poor and. broken sinners who filled the byways of the earth (Lk. 14:15-24). Now the ingathering had begun.

The gospel call is a call to worship, to turn from sin and call upon the name of the Lord. It is no accident that the New Testament church is formed by the coming of God the Spirit in the midst of an assembly gathered in praise. The church in any city is composed of those who 'call upon the name of the Lord' in that place (Acts 9:14; 1 Cor. 1:2). Peter writes that the church is the people for God's own possession, 'that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light' (1 Pet. 2:9).

The Assembly on Mount Zion

The picture of the church as a worshipping assembly is nowhere more powerfully presented than by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (ch. 12:18-29). He contrasts the worship of God at Mount Sinai with the worship of the New Covenant. The worship at Sinai was an overwhelming experience. Even Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear' (v.21). Yet the fear of Moses was inspired by merely physical phenomena -a fire that could be touched (v.18). In con¬trast, the church of the New Covenant comes to the full reality: 'our God is a consuming fire'. If Moses feared the earthly manifestation of God's presence, how much more should we be filled with reverence and awe? We do not come to Mount Sinai in our worship, but to Mount Zion. That Zion is not the earthly, but the heavenly Zion, the sanctuary of the eternal city of God. For the author of Hebrews, this is not a figurative way of speaking. The heavenly Jerusalem is not a Platonic abstraction. It is as real as the living God, as real as the risen body of Jesus Christ. In our worship in Christ's church we approach the throne of God the Judge of all. We enter the festival assembly of the saints and the angels. We gather in spirit with the spirits of just men made perfect. We enter the assembly of glory through Christ our Mediator, and the blood of his atoning death. For that reason we must hear and heed the word of the Lord, and 'worship God acceptably with reverence and awe' (v.28).

Just as the great assembly at Sinai defined the covenant people of the Old Testament, so does the heavenly assembly define the church of the New Covenant. The principle is the same, the saving purpose of God is the same. Moses and the other heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 are among the 'spirits of righteous men made perfect' who gather with us in the heavenly assembly. Yet they without us could not be made perfect (Heb. 11:40). We now enjoy with them the worship for which they longed by faith.

Does the tremendous reality of that heavenly worship make our earthly behaviour irrelevant? Can we think, 'Since nothing can stop the heavenly hallelujahs, our feeble little gatherings on earth are of no consequence'? That argument has often been advanced. 'Since the church invisible is one, earthly divisions are not too serious.' 'Since the heavenly church is holy, we need not worry much about either personal holiness or church discipline.'

The author of Hebrews draws the opposite conclusion. Precisely because we do approach the heavenly assembly in worship, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25). Precisely because we have the faithful promise of the city of God, we are to provoke one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).

Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God. It is not a form of group behavior to be accepted just because of its long tradition or its acceptability in many cultures. Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly. The glory of God is that to which and for which the church is called.

The Word in Worship

We may not lose sight, either, of the importance of God's Word in the assembly of worship. The description of the heavenly assembly in Hebrews 12 comes to a focus in the admonition to hear him who speaks. God spoke from Sinai; the worship of the people responded to the Word of the Lord. In the assemblies of the new covenant, the Word of God is no less central. God is not only present in the midst of his people. He speaks. The ministry of the Word of God in worship partakes of the solemnity of the occasion. Solemnity does not mean joylessness, for the Word calls to praise. Yet the authority of the Word of the Lord remains central for Christian worship. This is the Word of him who speaks from heaven (Heb. 12:25). God spoke in many different ways to the fathers through the prophets, but now he has spoken finally and conclusively through his own Son. It is that word of the Lord that 'was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will' (Heb. 2:3, 4).

Multi-level Assembling

Another consequence of the definition of the church as a worshipping assembly is the extreme flexibility that the New Testament shows with respect to its use of the term 'church'. On the one hand, the term is applied to the church universal. This is the church which is the people of God and the body of Christ without qualification (Mt. 16:18; 1 Pt. 2:9; Eph. 1:22,23). It is the church as God alone can see it, the whole company of those who have been, are now, or ever will be gathered to God in Christ. Some who perceive this New Testament concept have gone on to deny that any local gathering can be called in a full and proper sense the church. Such a gathering may form a congregation of the church, no doubt, but the church by definition must be the church universal. On the other hand, there are those who isolate what the New Testament teaches about the local church. Paul does speak of the church at Corinth as the church of Christ. In the book of Revelation, Jesus addresses letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Congregational theologians have therefore limited the church by definition to the local assembly. Anything beyond the local assembly, they say, should not be spoken of as the church, but as an association of churches. 9

In the New Testament, the question is further complicated by the fact that local churches are spoken of in more than one sense. At least, local churches come in surprisingly different sizes. The church in Laodicea is a city church, but apparently there was also in Laodicea a house church, meeting in the house of Nymphas (Col. 4:15). So, too, Paul can in one breath speak of the churches of Asia and of the church in the house of Aquila and Prisca (1 Cor. 16:19). The Westminster Divines noted the house churches that existed along with city churches in the New Testament and argued from this evidence for a presbyterian system of government. 10 The city church corresponded to the presbytery, and the house church to the local congregation. This line of reasoning recognized smaller and larger gatherings of the church, and further recognized that one could exist within another. The presbytery, however, was a gathering of the ministers and elders, not of the whole membership of the city church. Another difference emerged from the development of congregational structure in the cities. Village churches were swallowed up in growing metropolitan areas. They became parish churches -gatherings of a size that was larger than the house church, surely, but perhaps smaller than some of the city churches of the New Testament.

We may ask, however, if the full flexibility of the New Testament view of the church is adequately recognized today. Because the church is defined by the heavenly assembly for worship, there is no one size of assembly on earth that is ideal or normative. Those who call upon the name of the Lord together may do so in larger or smaller assemblies. Such a recognition does not mean that smaller assemblies may be disorderly, or that assemblies at any level exist apart from the exercise of gifts of teaching, ruling, and diaconal service. But it does suggest the possibility of fuller expressions of the worshipping assembly in large city gatherings, as well as the recognition of the important place of the house church, not as a rival form of organization, but as an expression, in a more immediate setting, of the fellowship of those who call upon the name of the Lord in one particular place.

2. The Church as God's Dwelling

The picture at Sinai of the people of God as a worshipping assembly is heightened by God's provision of the tabernacle. God not only met with the people as they were assembled before him. He also came to dwell among them. In the wilderness where they lived in tents, God's house would be a tent, too. When they entered the land and had fixed dwellings, God would put his name in a place, and sanctify the temple of Solomon as his dwelling. The figure of the tabernacle made the presence of God more immediate and permanent.

The immanence of God's presence with his people is a continuing theme in the Pentateuch. The Lord who walked in the garden of Eden to talk with Adam and Eve continues to address the patriarchs in the land to which he called them. The altars that they built witnessed to the presence of the Lord. This is particularly dramatic in the case of Jacob at Bethel, where God descends the stairway of Jacob's dream to repeat the sure promises of the covenant to the exiled patriarch. (Genesis 28:13 should be translated, 'And, behold, the LORD stood over him...' See Genesis 35:13, where the same preposition is used, 'Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him'.) In the morning Jacob marvels at the presence of God: 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven' (Gn. 28:16, 17).

How important for the people of God is the dwelling of God among them? Moses gives an eloquent answer in a time of crisis before the tabernacle was built in the wilderness. While he was in the heights of Mount Sinai receiving the law of God and the plans for the tabernacle, Israel at the foot of the mountain committed idolatry before the golden calf. When Moses came down from the mountain and was confronted with the sin of the people, God proposed another plan for his relation to Israel (Ex. 33:1-3). God was too holy and the people too sinful for God to dwell among them. His presence was too great a threat. Surely, as the Holy One, he must consume them in a moment to remove their iniquity from his presence. God proposed, therefore, that the tabernacle not be built. God would not dwell in the midst. He would go before Israel in the angel of his presence, drive out the Canaanites from the land, and give them the inheritance he had promised. But instead of living among them, he would meet with Moses in a tent set up outside the camp (Ex. 33:7-11). The elaborate plans for the tabernacle would not be necessary, since God would not have his dwelling among the people.

The reaction of Moses to that alternate plan shows how crucial the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel really is. Moses was distraught with grief. He mourned, and Israel mourned with him. Moses cried, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here!' (Ex. 33:15). God's presence among the people was the whole point of the exodus deliverance and of the inheritance of the land. Significantly, Moses prayed for God to reveal his glory. What Moses asked was the very blessing that the alternate plan would have removed: the immediate presence of the living God and the vision of his glory. God did appear to Moses, and proclaimed his covenantal Name (Ex. 33:17-34:7). Although Moses was permitted to see only God's back, he did see the glory of the Lord. His request was granted. God did make his dwelling among Israel, and Moses could pray that God's presence in the midst would bring not swift judgment, but the forgiveness of sins. He could pray, too, that God would not simply give the people their inheritance in Canaan, but that he would take the people as his inheritance, claiming them as his own (Ex. 34:9).

Moses' prayer was answered and the tabernacle was built. It symbolized both the threat of God's dwelling in the midst of Israel and the grace by which God's immediate presence was possible. The tabernacle was a dwelling in which the presence of God was both screened off and revealed. The curtains of the holy of holies, of the holy place, and of the tabernacle enclosure screened off the Holy One from the camp of sinful Israel. The curtains insulated, as it were, the holy presence of God. But the plan of the tabernacle also symbolized a way into the holiest place, an avenue to the throne of God. After the blood of atonement had been shed at the sacrificial altar, the priest could wash at the laver, enter the holy place, and present the prayers of the people. Once each year, on the day of atonement, the high priest could enter even the holy of holies to sprinkle the ark of the covenant with blood.

Christ the True Temple

The New Testament presents the fulfillment of this symbolism in Jesus Christ. He is Priest, Sacrifice, and Temple. 'Destroy this temple', he said, 'and in three days I will raise it up' (Jn. 2:19). The temple that he spoke of was his own body. 'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth' (Jn. 1:14). The outward picture of God's dwelling among his people becomes a reality in the incarnation. 11 Further, since God is present in Christ, and Christ is present among his people, they, too, become a dwelling for God. Christ, who promises to prepare a dwelling place for his disciples, promises also that both he and the Father will come and take up their dwelling with the disciple that loves him (Jn. 14:2,23). Both the individual believer and the church are spoken of as the temple of God because of the presence of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16).

The coming of the Holy Spirit fulfills the promise of the Father and makes actual the presence of God. The spiritual relationship portrayed by the temple figure includes permanence as well as intense immediacy. The epiphany of Pentecost was not a passing phenomenon, but the advent of the Spirit, no less central for the understanding of the church than the advent of the Son. Through the finished work of Christ the hour came when neither Mount Gerizim nor Jerusalem were holy places any longer (Jn. 4:21). In his words to the Samaritan woman, Jesus does not deny the legitimacy of the temple at Jerusalem. Salvation, he says, is of the Jews. Nor does Jesus simply state that because God is a Spirit, he cannot be worshipped at a holy place. Jesus cleansed the temple, called it his Father's house, and violently affirmed its sanctity. What changed everything was the fulfillment of the temple symbolism in Jesus himself. Worship in truth could begin. It would be 'true' worship in the sense of being real, unobscured by the shadows of symbolism, as the Jerusalem temple worship had been. The coming hour of which Jesus spoke was the hour of his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. True worship is not temple-less: it is worship at the true Temple, the One raised up on the third day. Because the reality has come, the symbols are fulfilled. Worship is now spiritual — in the Holy Spirit (the living water promised by Jesus). Worship is now true — in Jesus Christ the Truth (Jn. 14:6).

B. God's Chosen People

1. The Election of Israel

The church, then, is both the assembly of God and the dwelling of God. God leads his people from the convocation at Sinai to the land of their inheritance, where God will dwell in the midst of them. In addition to these great figures, God speaks directly about the people as his own. The covenantal affirmation 'I will be your God, and you shall be my people' makes explicit this relation. The prayer of Moses, 'Take us for your inheritance', is inspired by the Lord who claims Israel for himself. 'The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession' (Dt. 7:6). God purposes to make his people 'in praise, fame and honour high above all the nations he has made' (Dt. 26:19).

God's election of Israel follows upon his election of the patriarchs. It is God who calls Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees; it is God who chooses Isaac, not Ishmael, and Jacob, not Esau (cf. Rom. 9:11-13). Yet God's choosing was not only an expression of his purpose of blessing toward his elect. God promised not only to bless Abraham, but to make him a blessing. In him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gn. 12:3). The table of the nations in Genesis 10 prepares for the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. So, too, Israel is called to be a light to the nations: 'May God be gracious to us and bless us... that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations' (Ps. 67:1, 2).

It would be a serious mistake, however, to deny the status of Israel in order to affirm the mission of Israel. Israel is called first to fellowship with God, to be his treasure people; and only as that people does Israel witness to the nations, that they, too, might be drawn into the worship of the true and living God. God does not choose Israel just in order to use Israel. Certainly Israel is not chosen for its utility. 'The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers...' (Dt. 7:7, 8).

Election in Love

Here is the language of love: 'The LORD set his love upon you, because... the LORD loves you'! The Lord pours out his love for his people in rich language. Israel is God's son (Ex. 4:23; Ho. 1:10; 11:1-3; Is. 45:9-11), God's bride (Ho. 1-3; Is. 50:1; Ezk. 23). God's consummation joy over Israel will be like the joy of a husband over a bride (Zp. 3:17). Israel is God's vineyard (Je. 12:7-9), the apple of his eye (Dt. 32:10). They are a people near to him (Ps. 148:14), borne on his shoulders (Dt. 33:12), engraved on the palms of his hands (Is. 49:16).

Yet God's delight in Israel is of his sovereign good pleasure, the 'favour of him who dwelt in the burning bush' (Dt. 33:16). God's people are chosen, not choice (bachir, not bachur).

Sadly, the chosen people prove themselves unworthy of God's favour. God's judgment is immeasurably more severe because of the privilege that Israel despised and forfeited. The adulterous wife will be stoned (Ezk. 16:40); the rebellious son will be cast out (Ho. 11:1, 8; 12:14; 13:1); the pleasant vineyard will be laid waste (Is. 5:5, 6); the planted vine will be uprooted and burned (Ezk. 19:10-14; Ps. 80:12-16). Redemptive history in the Old Testament is full of the realization of these dire predictions. The temple itself, where Israel had worshiped idols, is destroyed by the armies of Babylon. The people are carried into exile. Ezekiel sees the hopelessness of the exiled nation in his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezk. 37).

Grace in Judgment

Yet that same vision is the Lord's message of hope. 'Son of man, can these bones live'? Well does the prophet answer, 'O Lord Jehovah, you know'. God's promises will not be void, his purposes will not be frustrated.

Two great principles are given to the prophets: first, the destruction is not total. God has preserved for himself a remnant. Even if the remnant is as hopeless as dry bones in a valley, or as the scraps remaining from a lion's kill (Am. 3:12), a remnant nevertheless it is. The second principle is that of renewal. To the dry bones life will be given. If the glory of Israel is like a cedar that has been felled by the axe of Gentile powers, nevertheless a stump is left in the ground. God promises that the stump will send forth a shoot; that shoot will be an ensign to which the nations will be gathered (Is. 10:33-11:5).

The remnant will be the faithful people of God, the true Israel. By God's renewing grace, their hearts will be circumcised. They will know the Lord. God will make with them a new covenant (Je. 31:31-34). Paul explains this theology of the prophets. As the doctrine of the remnant shows, there is an election within the election of Israel. 'For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel' (Rom. 9:6). The true and spiritual seed are the heirs of the promise. Further, the new Shoot that grows from the felled cedar is the Messiah. He is God's servant Israel, in whom God will be glorified (Is. 49:3). In him the mission of Israel will be fulfilled and the status of Israel will be established in a way that surpasses all imagining. Not only will he restore the remnant of Israel, he will also be a light to the Gentiles, 'that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth' (Is. 49:6). The prophets describe the ingathering of the preserved of the nations along with the remnant of Israel (Je. 48:47; 49:6,39; Is. 66:19-21). Paul explains how Christ fulfills the ministry of the circumcision: 'For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy...' (Rom. 15:8).

Jesus Christ indeed comes to gather the remnant, the 'little flock' of God's good pleasure who are given the kingdom (Lk. 12:32). But Jesus is more than the Sent of the Father. He is the Son of the Father. He is the Vine as well as the Shepherd, and he brings salvation in himself. The people of God are claimed at last by God himself, coming in the person of his Son. He claims them by joining them to himself as their Lord and their life. Both the status and the mission of the people of God are therefore now defined in Christ. In his Sonship they are made sons of God; as the Father has sent him into the world, so Christ has sent them into the world (Jn. 17:18).

C. God's New Nation

1. The Bond of God's Covenant

The tie that binds God's people to their Lord binds them also to one another. The bond of Israel's nationhood was not ethnic but religious. It was the covenant at Sinai that forged Israel into unique nationhood. Strangers and sojourners could be admitted to the assembly and people of God. They could gain an inheritance in Israel (Ex. 12:47-49; 23:9). On the other hand, to reject God's covenant was to be disinherited from Israel. Not only did God judge covenant-breakers with death; the Levites were commanded to execute God's judgment upon their brethren (Ex. 32:26, 27). If a son in Israel blasphemed the name of God, his own father was to denounce him (Dt. 13:6-11). For apostasy a whole generation could perish in the wilderness, and all Israel be driven into exile. The promise of the prophet Hosea recognizes the justice of God's disinheriting judgment. Those who once were the people of God have become Lo-ammi, 'no people' (Ho. 1:9). If they are again to be called Ammi, 'my people', it can be only by the mercy of divine re-adoption, not by the claim of ethnic nationhood. For that reason, Paul can appeal to Hosea's language to defend the inclusion of Gentiles among the people of God (Rom. 9:24-26). All were disinherited by sin; all were Lo-ammi. But by the grace of God in Christ, those who were no people have been made the people of God.

2. The Church of the New Covenant

In Christ the New Testament church is the new and true Israel, one with the Old Testament saints in the spiritual ethnicity that defines the people of God in all ages. When Peter calls the Gentiles of Asia Minor the diaspora (1 Pet. 1:1), he is viewing them as the true people of God scattered in the world.

The Apostle Paul in the same way claims that Gentiles are made members of the people of God. Writing to Gentiles as the 'uncircumcision', Paul says, 'At that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world' (Eph. 2:12). Note the parallels from which the Apostle argues. To be separate from Christ is to be outside the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to God's covenant. But Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition that preserved the distinctiveness of the circumcised.

What, then, is the situation of those who are no longer separate from Christ? 'But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ' (Eph. 2:13). Christ has brought them within the community from which they were once excluded by the wall of separation. In Christ they have the same access to the Father as do all the true people of God. They are no more strangers from God's covenant promises; they are his covenant people. They are no more aliens from the commonwealth of Israel; instead, they have been made fellow-citizens with the saints of that commonwealth (Eph. 2:19).

Indeed, if the Apostle to the Gentiles had not taught this, the circumcision controversy described in the New Testament would never have taken place. Paul's Judaizing antagonists would have had no objection to Paul's organizing a church that was quite distinct from Israel. The rabbis were already making provision for the 'God-fearers' who had attached themselves to the synagogues but who did not wish to be circumcised or to become Jews. If Paul had merely been organizing such devout Gentiles, there would have been no objection from the zealous Jews. But what infuriated even many Jewish Christians was that Paul was claiming to bring Gentiles into the covenant, into the number of the people of God, without circumcising them. It is notable that Paul never dropped or lowered his high claim in order to meet Judaizing objections. He never said: 'Of course I am not circumcising these Gentiles. I am not adding them to Israel, but to the church. They are therefore being baptized into a proselyte status, but not added to the covenant people'. 12

Instead, Paul said the exact opposite: 'For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh' (Phil. 3:3). Paul could say nothing else, because of his glorying in Christ Jesus. If Jesus is the true circumcision, the heir of all the promises of God, and if we by faith are united to Jesus, then in Christ we are Abraham's seed, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).

3. The Church as a People: Spiritual Ethnics

The new Israel of God is not less a nation because it is spiritually constituted. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who rejected him, 'The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit' (Mt. 21:43). Like Israel, the New Testament church is a theocracy, subject in all things to the word of the Lord. But unlike Israel of old, God's people are no longer to bear the sword to bring God's judgments on the heathen, nor to defend a territorial inheritance in the earth. Jesus commanded Peter to put away his sword, and declared to Pilate, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place' (Jn. 18:36).

To this church Christ gives, not a sword, but the keys of the kingdom. The authority so sanctioned is not less, but greater than the power that the state exercises with the sword. Not temporal, but eternal judgments are pronounced in the name of Christ. Those who are judged by Christ's word on earth are judged by that same word in heaven. On the other hand, penitent sinners who are welcomed in his name have heaven opened to them (Mt. 16:19; 18:18-20; Jn. 20:22, 23). It is because the church invokes eternal rather than temporal judgment that the sword cannot be its instrument. The day of judgment has not come, but the longsuffering grace of God is revealed. Although the sentence of the church is so solemn, it is not final. Church discipline is to be exercised with a view to the reclamation of the offender, as well as for the vindication of the name of Christ, and the holiness of his church (1 Cor. 5:5).

4. Church and State: the Power of the Sword

The sword that is given to the state is not that which is denied to the church. That is, we may not suppose that Christ denied to his apostles the right to bring in his kingdom with the sword, but conceded that right to Pilate. Pilate is a ruler. He has authority given to him by God (Jn. 19:11). But Roman power does not continue the theocratic authority that was Israel's and which now passes in spiritual form to those who are the servants of Christ ('my officers', v.36). Nor is the church denied the sword because its concerns are more limited: the conduct of public worship, for example. God's kingdom of salvation is not administered in different departments, of which the church is one and the state another. To be sure, the new humanity in Christ is to serve him in all the spheres of human life. Christ is Lord of all; we must do all to the glory of God. But the church is the form that Christ has given to the people of God in the world. They may not reincorporate and take up the sword to anticipate his judgment or to see that God's will is done on earth as in heaven. 13

Worldly power, enforceable by the sword, is associated with territory. But the church is catholic, universal. It cannot be confined to any area nor defend boundaries. 'Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city which is to come' (Heb. 13:14). It is of the very nature of the New Testament church to be scattered among the nations of the world. We are pilgrims and strangers, the new diaspora of God. The relation of the church to the state therefore resembles that of Israel in dispersion. The exiles were warned by Jeremiah to realize that their captivity would be the length of a generation. They were not to look for a speedy return, but were to settle down in the land of their dispersion. 'Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper' (Je. 29:7). The words of the prophet are echoed by the Apostle. He exhorts Timothy to encourage prayer for kings and all in high place 'that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness' (1 Tim. 2:2). He adds that this is acceptable to God, 'who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth'. As C. E. B. Cranfield has pointed out, such prayer is not only a Christian responsibility, but can even be said to have an evangelistic outcome. 14

The church, then, may not use the sword, but it is not without a weapon. Paul says, 'The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God' (2 Cor. 10:4, 5). The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit, and the truth of the gospel can accomplish what no sword can achieve, the turning of men's hearts to God. The enemy of the church is the Devil and the spiritual hosts of wickedness. No sword can strike Satan but the sword of the Spirit.

The temptation to repeat the Crusades remains with the church. Others would create another Geneva, or gather another community in the wilderness, or perhaps even, one day, in literal world-flight, colonize another planet. Still others would seek to capture some political state and make it a new Israel, the earthly political form of the kingdom of God. It seems difficult to accept a calling for the state that is so limited: to preserve peace and order, to protect and support human life. Many rightly recognize that the expression of God's saving kingdom must go beyond personal piety, and they look to the state (or to a new revolutionary order) to crush social evil and bring in divine justice. But the state is not called to bring in the kingdom, nor to enforce the rule of God's absolute righteousness. Yet there stands another nation, the church of Jesus Christ, to be not only a witness and a refuge, but a people among whom the power of the kingdom is already at work, and Christ's final salvation already realized. Until the church manifests in corporate form the meaning of the coming of the kingdom in the Spirit, its witness will be hindered. It will not appear as a city set upon a hill. Not only will it fail to manifest the social dimensions of God's saving righteousness: it will diminish the gospel message that it seeks to proclaim.

5. The Fellowship of the Covenant

The church, then, is a 'new nation under God', and the bonds that unite it are God-given. Clearly, God did not bring Israel out of Egypt to give them the opportunity to become acquainted with one another so that the social graces could flourish. He brought them to himself, and claimed them as his sons and daughters, so that their relation to one another might be grounded in their relation to him. Hittite treaties of the period required that vassals of the same suzerain refrain from hostilities against one another. 15 Certainly the servants of the Lord, joined in covenant with him, must live at peace with each other. But the God-centered character of covenantal religion required much more. Because God was the Father of Israel, the people were also a family, a 'fatherdom' (Eph. 3:14, 15). The electing love of God made Israel his people. They, in return, must not only love the Lord their God with heart and soul, they must also love their neighbour as themselves (Lv. 19:18). They are not free to enslave their brothers or sisters; they must not hate them in their heart (Lv. 25:35, 55; Dt. 15:12; Je. 34:8-22; Lv. 19:17). The underlying motive for that respect and affection was the joy of sharing together in the redeeming power and love of God. The Psalmist put it eloquently: 'I am a friend to all who fear you' (Ps. 119:63).

The Israelites were neighbours geographically because of their shared possession of the land of promise. Each man had his inheritance within the bounds of the tribal allotment, and the whole land was an inheritance received from the Lord. To belong to the people of God is to have a share in the inheritance (Dt. 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1). The New Testament concept of 'fellowship' (koinonia) contains this same thought of sharing, of having in common the blessing, the inheritance given by God. God himself is the inheritance of Israel, the portion of his people (Ps. 16:5; 73:26: 119:57; 142:5: La. 3:24).

The prophets denounced the sin of Israel in the breach of love within the family of God's people. Those who oppress the widow and the orphan or defraud their neighbours are not merely guilty of anti-social conduct. They have broken God's covenant. No one who hates his neighbour in his heart can rightly love God. The theme that John expounds in his First Epistle is firmly grounded in the Old Testament teaching regarding God's covenant with his chosen people.

Fellowship and Separation

There is another side to the coin. The bond that joins Israel to the Lord and to one another also separates them from the nations. The people of God are not to be numbered with the nations (Nu. 23:9). They are distinct religiously, for they are to serve the Lord, and no other God. He is their God, and they are his own possession, his inheritance, although all the earth is his (Ex. 19:5). They are also to be distinct morally. They must not practise the abominations of the heathen nations around them (Lv. 18:24-30). That ethical separation is symbolized in the ceremonial distinctiveness of Israel. The motif of cleanness and its opposite enforces the separation. Sources of uncleanness are not only forbidden foods, dead bodies, certain skin diseases, and bodily emissions, but also marital alliance with Gentiles (Ex. 34:12-17; 1 Ki. 11:2). The geographical separation of Israel gave practical support to the concept of Israel's distinctiveness.

In the New Testament the spiritual separation of the new people of God is heightened as the geographical and ceremonial forms of separation are fulfilled and transcended. No longer are the people of God to be barred from certain foods. In the cleansing of Christ's atonement, the ceremonial pictures are realized (Acts 10:9-16, 28; 1 Cor. 8:8; 10:23-27; 7:14). The removal of the dietary restrictions, and of the ceremonial sanctions that separated Jews from Gentiles — even more than the termination of the geographical distinctiveness of the new Israel — opened the door for the mission to the Gentiles. This was the evident effect of Peter's vision on the house-top in Joppa. He was freed to associate with the Gentile soldier Cornelius, to be a guest at his table, and also to baptize him into the membership of the church (Acts 10).

Yet the separation of the New Israel remains, and is intensified. Paul does not hesitate to use the language of separation from uncleanness in quoting from the Old Testament. 'Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty' (2 Cor. 6:17-18). The religious and moral separation of Israel now has a new depth. All defilement of flesh and spirit is to be cleansed away as the Christian church perfects holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). The quest for holiness among the New Israel is both individual and corporate. Not only must each Christian pursue holiness: the church must grow together in the image of Christ, and must exclude from its fellowship those who are heretics or impenitent sinners (Rom. 16:17f; 1 Cor. 5:9-13). Paul was concerned not only to present every man perfect in Christ (Col. 1:8), but also to present the whole church 'as a pure virgin to Christ' (2 Cor. 11:2). Christ sought a renewal of love from the church at Ephesus, but he commended them for exposing and bringing to trial false apostles. Other churches are warned of the danger of tolerating the Nicolaitan heresy (Rev. 2:2, 14, 20).

The overflowing love and grace of God radically renew the community of the covenant. The church that has been purchased with Christ's blood cannot ask 'Who is my neighbour?' With a view to limiting the circle of those to whom the love of compassion must be shown. Yet the love that reaches out in Christ's name to the lost does not deny the reality of lostness. It calls men to enter the fellowship where the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, but the bond of that love can be forged only in union with Christ.

A City Set on a Hill

1. Israel's Calling before the Nations

God's worshipping assembly, his chosen nation, is also a city set on a hill. As we have seen, God calls Israel to bear witness as well as to worship and to live in brotherhood. Israel is set before the nations to make known the saving work of the living God. The whole history of Israel is interwoven with its calling to witness. God's judgments on Egypt in delivering the people from bondage are a memorable witness to his redeeming power (Ex. 9:16). So, too, will the conquest of the land manifest to the nations the power of God (Ex. 34:10). Israel did not enter the land as invaders, but as inheritors. On the one hand, Israel was commissioned by God to execute his judgment upon the wicked inhabitants. The Israelite incursion was providentially delayed until the iniquity of the Amorite and Canaanite inhabitants was ripe for judgment (Gn. 15:16; Lv. 18:24-30). God's people were his avenging judges to bring the day of judgment, in a figure, on the rebellious inhabitants of the land. On the other hand, the land had been given by God to the descendants of Abraham; in the sight of the nations, Israel received her inheritance from God.

When Israel rebelled in the wilderness, Moses pleaded with God to withhold his judgment so that the Egyptians would not mock God's deliverance (Dt. 9:28f.). Joshua made the same plea when Israel suffered defeat in Canaan: 'What will you do for your great name'? (Jos. 7:9). When the kingdom had been established through the wars of David, Solomon constructed the temple. In his prayer of dedication, Solomon eloquently acknowledged the blessing to the nations that must flow from the place of God's dwelling on earth. 'As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name — for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm… hear from heaven your dwelling place… so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel' (1 Ki. 8:41-43).

The Nations Share in Israel's Blessing

The ingathering predicted in Solomon's prayer did begin in his reign. Indeed, the blessing of wisdom that God granted to Solomon became the catalyst for that ingathering. A passage that describes the depth and breadth of the wisdom of Solomon concludes, 'Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom' (I Ki. 4:34). The visit of the Queen of Sheba is described as a case in point. The Gentiles are drawn to the king of Israel, and to the God who so richly blessed him and his people (I Ki. 10:9). The gifts of the queen represent the freely brought tribute of the nations as they see what God has wrought among his chosen people.

2. Judgment and Blessing

From this zenith of blessing Israel rapidly drops into the nadir of apostasy and judgment. Solomon's wisdom becomes folly, for he fails in faith. To gain security and peace for Israel, he trusts not in God, but in marital alliances with the heathen nations. He builds altars for the gods of his wives: Ashtoreth, Milcom, Molech, and Chemosh (I Ki. 11:1-8). Picture Solomon standing on the Mount of Olives, his back to the glory of the temple of the Lord, dedicating the high place he had built for Chemosh, the god of Moab!

God's judgments begin. Solomon's kingdom is divided; both Israel in the north and Judah in the south refuse the warnings of the prophets, and cause God's name to be blasphemed among the nations because of their apostasy. Eventually both kingdoms are destroyed and the people carried into exile. Yet, even in the midst of judgment, God continues to make his name known among the nations. The very severity of his wrath against Israel is a sanctifying of his holy name, but God will also sanctify his name among the nations by delivering Israel, as he had done in Egypt (Ezk. 20:9, 14, 22, 39, 44; 36:20).

The Nations Blessed in Israel's Judgment

Further, the nations are blessed in Israel's judgment. When God withholds rain from Israel, his prophet Elijah becomes a blessing to a widow in Zarephath (1 Ki. 17; Lk. 4:26). Elisha heals Naaman, a Syrian general whose task it is to fight against Israel. He also prophesies that Hazael will be King of Syria, knowing well that this spells grief for Israel (2 Ki. 8:7-13). The most dramatic Old Testament account of how judgment on Israel brings blessing to the Gentiles is found in the prophecy of Jonah. Jonah's reluctance to go to Nineveh is understandable. Nineveh, under Shalmanezer III, had already subdued Israel, and forced Jehu to pay tribute. 16 Jonah well knows that Nineveh is the great threat to the security of Israel. The message that God gives him is that in forty days Nineveh will be destroyed. God's wrath is about to fall on that savage military power. Only Nineveh's repentance can stop this judgment, and Jonah, knowing God's mercy, fears that his call to repentance may be all too effective (Jon. 4:2). Since Nineveh cannot hear without a preacher, Jonah flees the scene. He is willing to be accursed so that Israel might be spared. But Jonah is taught that salvation is of the Lord, and that God has determined to bring the promised blessing to the Gentiles not only in spite of his judgment on Israel, but even through it. Jonah becomes a figure of the Servant of the Lord, raised from death to proclaim repentance to the nations.

Israel Blessed by Judgment on the Nations

On the other hand, the nations, too, must be judged. God uses the nations as his axe and saw to cut down the pride of Israel (Is. 10:5, 15). But the nations are not God's obedient servants in accomplishing his will. They trust in their own might, and worship their idols. Their arrogance will be punished. God will deliver the remnant of his people from their power. In the great day of his salvation he will again set his people free (Mi. 7:14-20; Is. 10:5-27; 63:1-6). As judgment on Israel brought blessing to the nations, so now judgment on the nations will bring blessing to Israel.

Blessing Shared: Israel and the Nations

This picture broadens to a vast eschatological horizon. Israel's blessing will be shared by the nations. A remnant of the nations will be saved with the remnant of Israel (Je. 48:47; 49:6, 39), and in that glorious day the enemy nations Egypt and Assyria will be God's chosen people along with Israel: 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance' (Is. 19:18-25).

Consummation Blessing: God Comes!

Such incredible blessing can be given only because God himself will come to bring his promises to fulfillment. The vision of the prophets sees the Lord coming in glory, delivering his people by a second exodus, and so filling his people with his glory that all the nations will be drawn at last to share in the blessing. The first covenant will be transcended in a new covenant, and God will make all things new (Is. 25:6-8; 40:1-11; Je. 31:31-34; Zc. 2:11-13; 12:8; 13:1; 14:20, 21; Zeph. 3:9).

The Psalms had celebrated God's dwelling in Zion, calling on the nations to join in the praises of the Lord (Ps. 57:9; 65:2; 67). With prophetic vision the psalmists also look forward to the day when a new song will be sung, when God himself will come and the trees of the field will sing for joy before him (Ps. 96:12, 13). In that day the peoples of the earth will be gathered to be the people of the God of Abraham (Ps. 47:9). The Lord will write the names of Babylonians, Philistines, Tyrians, Ethiopians among the citizens of Zion (Ps. 87).

God's coming is associated with the coming of the Messiah, through whom all these blessings will be brought.

The witness of the people of God will be restored by the God of their salvation. He must come to deliver them and to make his promises of glory come true. He will not only gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but will be a light to the nations, that they may see the salvation of God (Is. 42:6, 7; 49:6).


1. A brief preliminary bibliography accompanies this essay (pp.303-4). See especially D. A. Carson, ed., Biblical Interpretation and the Church: Text and Context (Exeter 1984).

2. In spite of his wealth of analysis and perception, Gibson Winter's prescription for the church is sociological, not theological: The New Creation as Metropolis (New York 1963). So, too, Marxist presuppositions shape the view of Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll 1973).

3. J. C. Hoekendijk, 'The Church in Missionary Thinking', IRM 41 (1952) 325.

4. Oliver S. Tomkins, ed., The Third World Conference on Faith and Order Held at Lund, August 15th to 28th, 1952 (London 1953) 22.

5. Alfred Loisy, for example, said that 'Jesus announced the kingdom of God, but what appeared was the church'. L'Evangile et l'Eglise (Paris 1902) 11. See the account of the change in scholarly opinion in Oscar Cullman, Peter (Philadelphia 1953) 166-167. See also the essay and literature cited by Gerhard Maier, 'The Church in the Gospel of Matthew: Hermeneutical Analysis of the Current Debate; in D. A. Carson, op. cit. 45-63.

6. 1QS 5:5; 8:1, 2, 5-10; 9:3; 11:8. Ps. 18:17, 32. See Otto Betz, 'Felsenmann und Felsengemeinde…' ZNW 48 (1957), 49-77. See also E. P. Clowney, The Biblical Doctrine of the Church (Phillipsburg, N.J. 1979) 87-107.

7. 1QH 6:24-26.

8. George Johnston, The Doctrine of the Church in the N. T. (Cambridge 1943) 36 n.2. J. Y. Campbell, 'The Origin and Meaning of the Christian Use of the Word ECCLESIA', JIS 49 (1948) 133.

9. See the discussion of Presbyterianism and Independency in James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (Edinburgh 1868) ch. 5, pp. 296-331. See also, for the view of congregational independency, Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God's Program (Chicago 1972) 114-119.

10. The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, and of Ordination of Ministers; Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, etc. (Philadelphia 1745; reprint, New York 1880).

11. E. P. Clowney, 'The Final Temple', WTJ 35 (1973) 156-189.

12. W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London: SPCK, 1965) 113-114.

13. On the church and the kingdom see Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia 1962) 334-396. R. T. France, 'The Church and the Kingdom of God', in D. A. Carson, op. cit. 30-44, emphasizes the dynamic use of the term in relation to God's saving power.

14. C. E. B. Cranfield, 'The Christian's Political Responsibility according to the N.T.', SJT 15 (1962) 176-192. Cf. David H. Adeney, 'The Church and Persecution', in this volume, pp.275 302.

15. G. Mendenhall, 'Covenant', IDB 1, 714-723.

16. The black obelisk of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum shows Jehu doing obeisance, followed by a caravan of tribute. See R. D. Barnett, Illustrations of Old Testament History (London 1966) 48, fig. 25.

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R. Newton Flew, JESUS AND HIS CHURCH. N.Y.: Abingdon, 1938.

J. A. Heyns, THE CHURCH. Pretoria: N.G. Kerkboekhandel, 1980.

F. J. A. Hort, CHRISTIAN ECCLESIA. London: Macmillan, 1900. George Johnston, THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943. Alfred Kuen, JE BATlRAI MON EGLISE. Saint-Legier sur Vevey, Switzerland: Editions Emmaus, 1967.

R. B. Kuiper, THE GLORIOUS BODY OF CHRIST. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d. Hans Kung, THE CHURCH. N.Y.: Sheed & Ward, 1967. Ralph P. Martin, THE FAMILY AND THE FELLOWSHIP: NEW TESTAMENT IMAGES OF THE CHURCH. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

E. L. Mascall, CHRIST, THE CHRISTIAN AND THE CHURCH. London: Longmans, Green, 1955. Paul Minear, IMAGES OF THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950. Jurgen Moltmann, THE CHURCH IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT. London: SCM Press, 1977.

J. Robert Nelson, THE REALM OF REDEMPTION. London: Epworth Press, 1951. Lesslie Newbigin, THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD. London: SCM Press, 1957. Anders Nygren, CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH. Philadelphia: Westminster P ress, 1956. Wolfuart Pannenberg, THE CHURCH. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983. Lloyd M. Perry, GETTING THE CHURCH ON TARGET. Chicago: Moody Press, 1977. John H. Piet, THE ROAD AHEAD: A THEOLOGY FOR THE CHURCH IN MISSION. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970. Karl Rahner, THE SHAPE OF THE CHURCH. London: SPCK, 1974. John A. T. Robinson. THE BODY. Boston: Regnery, 1952. Robert L. Saucy, THE CHURCH IN GOD'S PROGRAM. Chicago: Moody Press,1972. Edward Schillebeeckx, THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH. N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1973. Rudolf Schnackenburg, THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TEST AMENT. W. J. O'Hara, trans. N.Y.; Herder & Herder, 1965. Hans Schwarz, THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1982. Juan Luis Segundo, THE COMMUNITY CALLED CHURCH. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1973. Howard A. Snyder, THE PROBLEM OF WINESKINS. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977. Howard A. Snyder, THE COMMUNITY OF THE KING. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977. Alan Stibbs, GOD'S CHURCH. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1959. Thomas F. Torrance, ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1955.

David Watson, I BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978. Claude Welch, THE REALITY OF THE CHURCH. N.Y.; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958. Colin Williams, THE CHURCH. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

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