I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
In the God-given dream of Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, which was interpreted by the prophet Daniel, we have revealed from God an overview of world history touching the four major empires of the Middle East, portrayed in a giant statue. The last empire mentioned is the statue’s legs of iron terminating in ten kingdoms that were part iron and part clay. This is evidently the Roman Empire, for it fits the description and chronology of the succession of empires in the dream—from the Babylonian to the Medo-Persian to the Grecian to the Roman (Daniel 2:1,31-451).
In Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s dream, there comes a point in the prophecy when the “stone cut without hands” smote and destroyed the ten toes, bringing to an end that whole succession of empires. “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (v.44). And it is said of this kingdom, that “the stone that smote the image [upon his feet] became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (v.34-35).
The King of the World
We know who the King of this stone-kingdom is: he is the King of kings, the mighty Lord Jesus Christ himself (Revelation 19:15-16). For only he could ever be the King for whom the God of heaven would set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. As it is written elsewhere, “all things were created by him, and for him”(Colossians 1:16-17).
It is also written of the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
The Messiah (the Christ) now sits upon the throne of David. The apostle James understood well what Christ is accomplishing there—and here: “James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 13b-18).
The Saviour of the World
As Jesus himself (whose very name means “God saves”—see Matthew 1:21) affirmed: “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). This is the solemn vow of our almighty sovereign Lord himself.
Though we do not see him while he is seated on the throne at the right hand of God in heaven (Mark 12:35-37; Hebrews 12:2), yet our Lord Jesus is even now reigning on earth—and this is why his government is still increasing in the earth—or in other words, this is why the “great mountain” is still being built.
The Lord Jesus is not called the “Saviour of the world” and the “Saviour of all men” for nothing (John 4:42; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 4:14). These very titles of Christ are prophetic—of this we can be certain!
Death shall be swallowed by the victorious Christ’s victory, which God has given to the Lord’s people (1 Corinthians 15:54,57). Christ SAVES his people from their sins, giving them back all that they had lost in Adam—and so much more—indeed every spiritual blessing (see Ephesians 1:3).
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).
The apostle Paul teaches that the “fullness of the Gentiles” shall be brought into the kingdom of God, and that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26,27)2. When this has all been accomplished, as it surely will be, then the great promise made to Abraham shall have been fulfilled—by adoption of all nations into his covenant family (Genesis 18:17-18; Galatians 3:8-9). This completed Church will be a great multitude that no mere man can number, gathered in from every tongue, tribe and nation. (Revelation 5:9; 7:9-10).
While this increase of the kingdom of heaven progresses on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ is also expecting that all his enemies shall become the footstool for his feet (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-35), in order that “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). The Lord Jesus Christ truly is “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15b-16).
The End of the World
Though we do not see him now, we shall. When the number of the Church is complete, then our Saviour will return. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him” (Revelation 1:7a). And among those eyes there shall be Christian eyes. This was promised to us by angels who were present at his ascension and (physical) departure from this world. “And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6-11).
Whether or not we are in that last generation of Christians—we shall see our Lord’s glorious return to earth.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).
Our Saviour shall return. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28). He shall come again “without sin”, for when he came the first time, he came to bear all our sins, and when he returns he does not come to bring our sins back again, or to hold them against us. No, for he comes “unto salvation”, to complete that salvation of his people, to deliver them from all evil and to raise them to the promised glorified state, body and soul.
The entire Church, meaning all the people of God from every generation since the beginning, are saved by the one and only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. There are not two (or more) peoples of God but one—one Bride of the Lamb, one new Jerusalem, adorned for her Saviour Priest-King (see Ephesians 2:11-22; Romans 11:17; Revelation 21:1-2, 9-14.).
Are We Winning?
There will not be perfection in the Church of Christ or in any Christian on earth, in this age. Here and now, we Christians are not perfect—not yet—and neither are our churches.
Individually, we are a mixture of saint and sinner in our one person, old and new nature at perpetual spiritual war, bearing fruit unto God even while groaning within ourselves for the redemption of our bodies and the final and full mortification of our flesh (Romans 6:22; 7:18-25; 8:13-14,18-23; Ephesians 2:21-24). In this spiritual warfare God is at work in us, by the Holy Spirit, enabling us “to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Our prayer for the church in the world should be the same as what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews prayed for his readers: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
What we are individually is how the Christian church at large has always been, and will continue to be until the coming of our Lord. The enemy has sown tares among the wheat of God’s church throughout the world, and these tares will remain a corruption in the church until the harvest at the end of the world (Matthew 13:24-30). There yet remain branches that shall never bear fruit and which God himself will break off and cast into the fire (John 15:1-6).
There are wolves in sheep’s clothing who are in our midst, who will not spare the flock (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-30). Worst of all the “many antichrists” that have been with us throughout this “last time” (1 John 2:18) is that Antichrist, “that man of sin [who shall] be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He has elevated himself up as the head of all the church, thereby appearing to usurp the throne that belongs to Christ alone. Yes, the church has enemies within as well as those who encompass her round about.
This “mystery of iniquity”, which the apostle exposed as already working in his day, has been working ever since throughout the centuries. Many will believe this “strong delusion”—but the Lord’s people will be taught the truth: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-14)
The Lord Jesus Christ warns us that throughout the history of the Christian Church, some who seem to be Christians at first wither away or have their apparent life “choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Matthew 8:14). He also warns us, that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:12,13). Some church-goers will succumb in the “perilous times” of apparent godliness in churches that are, in reality, full of immorality (e.g. see 2 Timothy 3:1-8). And numerous times the apostle warns of professed Christians departing from the faith, falling away, not enduring sound doctrine (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3).
So, there will be setbacks. Some churches will languish, perhaps for many generations, but they will become revived and reformed by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Other churches will become so compromised that all true Christians should “come out of her”, that they be not partakers with her evil deeds—and of their judgment to come (Revelation 18:4ff). As a local church or denomination, there may come a time when their candlestick must be removed by the Lord (compare Revelation: 2:5). And the members of these churches where Christ is not known, he will say of them, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). Being devoid of all light and salty savour, will be cast out to be trodden under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).
All such troubles within the Church on earth come from the world, the flesh and the devil (Matthew 13:18, 39; 1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:9) and not from Christ. We must resist these worldly enemies within the Church, and we must resist our own still-present “old man” of sin within us (Ephesians 4:22-24; Hebrews 12:3-4; James 4:7). And we must remain faithful to Christ even in the face of haters of Christ and Christianity, who would wipe out the Church entirely if they could (John 15:19; Revelation 20:9). So, put on your spiritual armour, brothers and sisters in Christ, and “stand” (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Are we still standing, in this sense?3
Then yes, we are winning!
To be continued.