The Family and Nation of God

The Vine

Paul had spoken powerfully regarding all the spiritual blessings with which God had blessed Christians in Jesus, having been elected and predestined to obtain the hope of salvation and righteousness in Christ, superabundantly receiving grace and mercy in Him (Ephesians 1:1-14). Paul prayed for Christians to gain understanding from God in the heart to know the great hope in which they have been saved and His great power at work in those who believe, since Christ has been established above every authority, especially over His body, the church (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul would go on to explain the nature of this salvation and how it came about, first to Israel, and then to all who would come to God in Christ.

Paul continued his theological explanations by establishing the need and value of salvation secured in Christ, and man’s purpose before God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul did not shrink from laying out the ugly truth about the need for salvation: all were dead in their sins, having walked in the way of the prince of the powers of the air, living according to lust, as children destined for wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God, rich in mercy and love, made believers alive in Christ and raised us up with Him to sit in the heavenly places in order to continually demonstrate the riches of His grace, for Christians are saved by grace through faith, not because of anything they have done to earn it (Ephesians 2:1-9). And yet Christians are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This whole message works together for a reason, just like in Titus 3:3-8: Christians need continual reminders about their need for salvation and God’s display of grace and mercy in Jesus so that we may be productive in good works. We cannot imagine that we are superior to other people; we have sinned and deserved condemnation like all the rest. But God loved us, would not give us the condemnation we deserve (thus showing mercy), but would give Jesus and salvation, we did not deserve (thus showing grace). We did not, nor could not, earn or merit this salvation, but are called upon to receive it humbly through faith and trust in God in Christ. We can then serve God and encourage our fellow man in good works so as to glorify God.

Paul then specifically focused on God’s welcome of Gentiles and how it came about (Ephesians 2:11-18). He identified Gentiles as the uncircumcision, those separated from the covenant between God and Israel, the nation of Israel, and as without God or hope in the world; such is the state of mankind without God, and it is quite unpleasant (Ephesians 2:11-12). And yet through the blood of Jesus Gentiles who were far away could draw near, for Jesus in His death broke down the wall dividing the Jews from the Gentiles, the Law (Ephesians 2:13-15a); one is given reason to imagine the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem, an actual, physical wall cordoning off Gentiles from coming any closer to the Presence of God. But it is not as if the Gentiles would become Jews: Jesus has created one new man in Himself, and in this way makes peace, killing the hostility which existed between Jews and Gentiles, preaching peace to those near and those far off (Ephesians 2:15b-17). Both Jewish and Gentile Christians now have access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We must appreciate the radical nature of what Paul is suggesting: for 1,500 years, Jewish people identified themselves in contrast to those of the nations. In response, those in the nations tended to look upon the Jewish people as oddities and best, and with contempt and hatred at worst. The only way to eliminate the hostility was to kill it, and Jesus did so on the cross, giving the Jewish people no more right to presumption of election and giving Gentiles equal access to God in the Spirit. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish while Gentile Christians remained their various ethnicities, but the faith and hope they shared in Christ was of far greater value and consequence than their worldly identities; no earthly division ought to separate them. So it remains to this day, and not merely between Jewish people and Gentiles: all people have access to God in the Spirit through Jesus, and there is no worldly division which ought to separate the people of God, for what they share in Jesus is greater than any challenge, difficulty, or division in the world.

Paul had formerly spoken of the church as the body of Christ, given to Jesus under His authority (Ephesians 1:22-23); having established the means of salvation for all people, especially the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-18), he now affirmed that Gentile Christians were no longer strangers or aliens, but fellow-citizens and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Mixing his metaphors, Paul considers that household as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:20-22). Through these powerful metaphors Paul reinforced the instruction he had just provided and explained for those who would hear how the people of God are to view one another and their relationship with God. As citizens of God’s Kingdom they are to uphold their responsibilities to accomplish His purposes (cf. Philippians 1:27); as fellow members of God’s household, they consider each other as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father, equal in standing before Him, and restored in relationship with Him and each other (cf. John 17:20-23, Romans 8:11-17). Temples are places in which it is believed that a deity himself, or a manifestation of a deity, is present; thus, Christians are to consider themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit individually and collectively, and are therefore to conduct themselves in holiness so God, who is holy, can maintain His presence in their midst (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:13-16). The temple is founded upon the teachings of God in Christ as made known by the apostles and prophets; the cornerstone, providing alignment for everything else, is Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). In this way Christians are to be a holy family of people who love and care for one another and seek to do good for all people, always cognizant of their need for salvation and thankful that God has provided it in Christ. May we all participate in God’s household in the Kingdom of Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Resurrection

The Vine

It seemed that everything had gone wrong. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed forever. Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed was the Christ of God, was crucified. Then, when the disciples were in despair, attempting to figure out what went wrong, they hear that Jesus of Nazareth was alive again, resurrected from the dead (cf. Luke 24:19-24). The tomb was empty. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. While Jesus’ birth, life, and death are significant in and of themselves, without Jesus’ resurrection, they are all ultimately meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19). The Christ crucified and resurrected was the theme of the message of the Apostles, and the resurrection was the basis of the future hope of transformation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. After Jesus died, His soul went to Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), and His body was sealed in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-cut tomb after it was wrapped in linen and covered with seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes. On the third day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the women came to finish the anointing of the body of Jesus, and found the large rock in front of the tomb rolled away. Two angels were there, informed the women of what has taken place, and told them to go and make it known to the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw it empty with the linen cloths carefully folded to the side. They believed; they just did not know what happened! Mary, meanwhile, spoke to someone whom she believes is the gardener, wanting to know where the body of Jesus was taken. He responded to her; He was no gardener, but Jesus Himself, resurrected from the dead!

The idea of resurrection in the New Testament is not merely life after death; instead, it involves “life after life after death.” Mary and the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus in a bodily form (cf. Luke 24:39). Nevertheless, Jesus’ body is not the same as it was before since He can now transcend space and time restraints; it has been transformed somehow. The resurrection therefore involves the re-animation or re-creation of the physical body, the return of the soul to it, and the transformation of that body into something “trans-physical” or something of the sort.

Jesus will later appear to Simon Peter, two disciples walking to Emmaus, ten of the disciples, all eleven disciples, James His brother, and 500 brethren at one time over the period of forty days after His death. He instructed them regarding Himself and the mission for the Kingdom that they would soon begin. After that forty day period, Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). At that point Jesus, as the “one like a Son of Man,” received an everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14); Stephen, in a vision, saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God when he saw Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:55-56); Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and based on it considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 9:3-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:4-9). In the 60s CE, long after Jesus’ ascension, Paul spoke of Jesus as still presently human (Greek anthropos, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus therefore remains fully God and fully man, having died never to die again (Romans 6:8-11): He remains in the resurrection body, and thus remains the Son of Man and Son of God, and will return thus one day (Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:11).

The Bible’s claims regarding the resurrection of Jesus are startling, and yet they represent the foundation of the belief that Jesus really is Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Since Christianity stands or falls on the legitimacy of the resurrection, many throughout time have attempted to discredit it by positing alternative explanations. Those explanations, however, never account for all of the evidence. Both the “swoon theory” and the “wrong tomb theory” require more faith to believe than the Bible’s claims. The “hallucination theory” cannot explain why people would claim to see Jesus only during a forty day period. The “stolen body theory” is inconsistent with the transformation of the disciples and the testimony of their lives. The “spiritual theory” cannot make sense of the claim of the empty tomb. In the end, the only story that makes sense of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the transformation of the disciples is that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by the power of God!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles proclaim that God made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus conquers death through the resurrection, giving us hope that we also can conquer death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). With sin and death defeated through Jesus, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything! Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond doubt that there will be a day of reckoning for all mankind (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection shows that Jesus is the first fruit: as He was raised from the dead, so we now can look forward to the day when we also will rise from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). In the resurrection, a new creation is able to burst forth into the old: even though we may still suffer on account of sin and death, we can spiritually die and be raised again through baptism and be new creatures in Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately we cherish the hope of our own resurrection based on Jesus’ resurrection: on that day we will be like Him, and will abide with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 John 3:2).

Jesus, in His resurrection, demonstrates that death is not the end. Hope is able to spring anew. Jesus is Risen! Let us praise God, and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Church

The Vine

For a lot of people, “church” evokes unpleasant experiences. We have all seen many examples of churches and their leaders not acting like they should. Maybe you grew up in a church and found it to be boring and/or irrelevant to the things you were going through in life. Perhaps you visited a church service that featured some great performances but you walked away feeling just as empty as you did before.

In a lot of places, “church” focuses on a building, the Sunday services, and maybe a Bible study or two, and that is about it. It’s like a social club: people come together, wearing nice clothes, acting like they have everything together, no matter how broken things really are on the inside. They sit for the standard rituals, exchange platitudes, and then continue on with life as normal. It all seems so fake and contrived! Little wonder, then, that so many people are no longer identifying themselves as part of a church. People still like Jesus; far fewer like the church!

Why would anyone want to be a part of such a group? Is such a group what Jesus had in mind as the church that He said He would build (Matthew 16:18)? What is the point?

It is sad that the condition of many churches has come to this, for it was never God’s intention for churches to act like social clubs. Instead, God intended for the church to be one of the greatest blessings in our lives!

In the New Testament, the “church” never refers to a building or a denominational organization. The “church” always involves the people who believe in Jesus and seek to serve Him (cf. Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:22-33). While all obedient believers are considered the one church (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Revelation 21), the believers in a local area would meet together and represent the church in that area (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Whenever possible, those local churches would be guided by qualified men who served as elders (Philippians 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-4), yet in all things, Jesus was considered the real authority in the churches (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:22-33). In the New Testament, there was the “universal” church, and local congregations of God’s people; there were no organizational structures in between!

God declares in Scripture what the church is supposed to be all about through three images: the church as a Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-5), the church as a body (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28), and the church as a family (1 Timothy 3:15).

The image of the church as a Temple shows us that God is interested in people becoming more holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Temple is the location where the presence of God dwells; it is not in a building anymore, but within and among Christians. Christians, individually and together, are to reflect God’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, both in doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, based in what God has revealed to us through Christ and His Apostles (cf. Galatians 5:17-24, Ephesians 2:20-22).

The image of the church as a body shows us how God expects the church to function. As a human body has many different parts that work independently and together, so the church is made up of people who work independently and together. As a human body is governed by the dictates of the mind, so the church is governed by what Christ its Head has said. As a body is made up of different parts, some public, some private, having different functions, yet all important and necessary for proper functioning, so the church is made up of different people who serve the Lord, some in more public ways, others in more private ways, and they all are important and valuable in God’s sight. And just as body parts compensate for one another in times of weakness, so Christians are to strengthen each other in moments of weakness (cf. Galatians 6:1-2).

The image of the church as a family underscores the strong relationship that should exist among God’s people. God is understood to be our Father (cf. Romans 8:15), and Jesus as our older Brother (Hebrews 2:11, 17). We are to appreciate and value our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 John 3:14). As people are supposed to find warmth, acceptance, and love within a properly functioning family, so the church should be the place where all who seek to serve the Lord find warmth, acceptance, and love (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 John 1:7).

All of these images point to what God expects the church to be, powerfully displayed in Ephesians 4:11-16: a group of people who share in relationships with God and one another, loving and strengthening one another according to the message of God in Christ, learning how to serve God and all men through Christ, and all so that the church can grow in the glory of God. A lot of that work is done when Christians come together on Sundays to strengthen one another through praying together, singing together, giving together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and learning more about God’s message together through preaching and teaching (cf. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-26, 14:16-17, 26, 16:1-4). Yet just as Christianity is much more than what is done on Sunday morning, so also the church is more than just its assemblies: we show hospitality to one another, finding ways to get to know one another so that we can bear one another’s burdens, give to each other as needed, and strive to be a constant source of strength in each other’s lives (Romans 12:10-13, Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 4:9).

We, the members of the Venice church of Christ, believe that the church as God wants it to function has an important part to play in the role in the lives of every believer. We are not perfect people and we do not claim to have everything figured out, yet we still seek to reflect God’s intentions for His church, to be the Temple, body, and family that honors God by strengthening one another. We welcome you to learn more about our family and hope that you will consider joining us so that we can strengthen you and build you up in your faith! If you would like to talk more about the church and how to become a part of it, please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here; we also invite you to visit with us at our assemblies and Bible studies. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.