Was The Church Foreseen In Old Testament Prophecy?

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

There is a view among some Christians that the Church was never foreseen by the prophets of Israel. Those who teach this view claim that since Paul called the Church a mystery that was not made known to men in other generations (Ephes. 3:2-6) there couldn’t have been any prophecy about it, since prophecy is the opposite of mystery.

They take this to mean that there are actually 2 gospels in the New Testament. First, there’s the Gospel of the Kingdom, taught by Jesus, the original Apostles, and James, Jude, and whoever wrote Hebrews. It was intended for Israel only. Then there’s the Gospel of Grace taught by Paul and meant for the Church. They say the rest of the New Testament doesn’t apply to us, and that the Church didn’t begin with Jesus, or even on Pentecost, but not until after Paul began teaching his new Gospel.

Some who follow this line of thinking conclude that having rejected the Gospel of the Kingdom, which they say was preached only to Israel up to the time that Paul came on the scene, Israel has no further place in God’s plan for man and therefore its rebirth fulfills no end times prophecy. But most believe that the Church is an un-prophesied pause in the Dispensation of the Law which has 7 years to run after the Church is gone. (Daniel’s 70th Week).

What Was The Question?

So the question is, “Was The Church Foreseen In Old Testament Prophecy?” Because if it was, then this view is not correct. People usually think of Genesis 12 for an answer first, because there the Lord promised to bless all the nations through Abraham’s offspring.

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Admittedly this is a vague reference and we probably wouldn’t even connect it to the Church if we didn’t already know there was such a thing, and that Jesus was the offspring God was talking about. But it does tell us that right from the start God’s intention was to bless everyone, Jew and Gentile, through a descendant of Abraham’s.

But Wait, There’s More!

The prophecies of Isaiah clearly mention the Gentiles and can’t be dismissed so easily.

This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” (Isaiah 42:5-9)

These are words that the Father spoke to the Son and had Isaiah record for our learning. The Messiah’s mission was both to personify God’s covenant with Israel and bring light to the Gentiles, opening their eyes to God and freeing them from their captivity to sin.

In announcing this He reminded us that His former promises had all come true, and now He was declaring something new, in advance of its happening. We should expect His promise that He would reach out to the Gentiles to come true as well.

I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:12-13)

Once God has made up His mind about something, no power in the universe can change it. Comparing recent events in Russia with the fall of the Soviet Union is a good example. I remember back in December of 1991 when the Soviet Union officially ended its own existence. Lots of people were asking, “What’s going to happen to Ezekiel 38?” According to Isaiah, the answer is, “Nothing. The Lord’s prophecies will be fulfilled just as He has ordained them.” Commentators are now announcing the return of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, as Russia again takes center stage in world news. What was the Soviet Union is now Russia but God’s word remains the same and His prophecies are just as reliable as ever.

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isaiah 46:9-10)

There is no such thing as an un-prophesied event on God’s calendar. The only problem is man’s understanding. You can’t blame Israel for thinking that the Lord’s outreach to the Gentiles would come through them and in a way it did, in the person of the Messiah. They just didn’t realize that their nation would temporarily disappear in the process. At the Council of Jerusalem, the one question on the agenda was, “Can a Gentile become a Christian without first becoming a Jew?” But in the back of everyone’s mind was another question, an unspoken one that was perhaps even more important to early Church leaders who were all Jewish. “If so, what’s to become of Israel?”

James, the Lord’s half-brother and head of the Church at Jerusalem, clarified it for them. He said that first, the Lord was going to take a people for Himself from among the Gentiles (the Church) and after that He would turn once again to Israel. (Acts 15:13-18) In effect, this explained the gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel’s prophecy to Israel (Daniel 9:24-27) but it also revealed how the Lord was going to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the Gentiles.  Yes, there would be a pause, but the prophecy had been there all along.  Only the methodology was missing.

But just because the Church took Israel by surprise doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have expected it. In Amos 3:7 the Lord promised, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.” If the Church is an un-prophesied event, then He was not truthful with Amos.

In His clearest prophecy on the Messiah’s responsibilities the Lord had Isaiah say this:

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” (Isaiah 49:1-4)

Israel was given four tasks to perform for God; to transmit the Scriptures (Isa. 42:9), to be a witness for Him (Isa. 43:10), to showcase His blessings (Isa. 49:3), and to be the channel for the Messiah (Isa. 49:5). The Lord has Isaiah prophesy that they would consider themselves to be failures in accomplishing these things, because these four verses are spoken as if by Israel.

And now the LORD says— He who formed me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength. He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5-6)

But Israel was not a failure and did accomplish great things for God, the greatest of which was to bring forth the Messiah, who is speaking in verses 5-6. He said God instructed Him to not only restore Jacob (the unfaithful) and Israel (the faithful) to Him, but to bring His salvation to the Gentiles as well. And just to make sure we would know who God was appointing to this task, He had Isaiah put the Messiah’s name right in the prophecy. (The Lord’s Hebrew name, Yeshua, appears in the Hebrew text of this passage. It means “God brings salvation” and is translated “bring My Salvation” in Isaiah 49:6)

Joy To The World, The Lord Has Come!

Skip forward 750 years to the time of the Lord’s birth. God had promised a righteous man named Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. Then He gave Simeon a special gift. At the proper time, the Holy Spirit would come upon him and enable him to recognize the Messiah. As His earthly parents brought Jesus into the Temple courts for His obligatory presentation before the Lord, called the Redemption of the Firstborn (Exodus 13:2), the Holy Spirit moved Simeon to enter the Temple courts as well. When he got there he took Mary’s child in his arms and prayed,

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

There’s a tradition that Simeon had been a priest in the Temple, perhaps even the High Priest. If so it’s interesting that he was not only looking for the Messiah, but also knew that when He came the Messiah would bring the revelation of God’s salvation to the Gentiles. He could only have known this from his study of the Old Testament.

Was the word church specifically mentioned in the Old Testament? No, the first mention of the word is in Matt. 16:18. But when Jesus told the disciples He would build His church upon the rock of Peter’s confession, no one asked Him what a Church was. The Greek word simply means an assembly of people called to a specific place.

One Gospel Or Two?

Proponents of the two Gospel view point out that the Apostles, especially Peter, stressed the idea of repentance as a necessary preliminary to becoming a believer, while Paul did not. They say this difference proves that Peter’s gospel was different from Paul’s. But the problem lies with our misunderstanding of the word repent. It means to change one’s mind. Peter’s messages in the first part of Acts were primarily to Jews who had been raised to believe that salvation came from obeying the Law. They needed to change their minds and realize that keeping the Law could never save them.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

The endless list of names who couldn’t save them included their own. Unless they changed their minds and abandoned their quest for self-righteousness in favor of a righteousness imputed to them by faith, they would never see the Kingdom.

But Gentiles had no such preconceptions. They weren’t bound up in the Law, and hadn’t been taught the incorrect idea that they could save themselves by the way they behaved. Many of them had no idea about salvation at all, so once they were taught this they had only to accept what the Lord offered, the free gift of pardon. So there aren’t two gospels, just two audiences. Jesus was right. The only work God requires of us, Jew or gentile, is to believe in the One He sent. (John 6:28-29)

Once again, the problem lies not with God’s word, but with our understanding. Selah 08-30-08