October 2008 • Volume XII, Issue 6
Christ Will Build His
Last time, we saw that God’s church is not built on
the person of Peter as confessed by Rome, but on the Person of Christ as
confessed by Peter.
First, Christ is the "rock" as a divine Person: "Thou
art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). He is
the unique Son, infinitely higher than any other son: "the Son of
the living God." This glorious truth was revealed to Peter by Christ’s
Think of all the millions and millions of God’s elect
over many centuries. Who can support them but Christ, the foundation of
the church, who is fully God? A holy man, such as Peter, cannot support
them; never mind sinful men, like the popes. This truth of Christ as the
eternal Son of God, yet also fully man, is set forth in our ecumenical
creeds, especially the Nicene (325) and Chalcedonian
(451). All those who turned aside from this, such as the Arians,
Eutychians and Nestorians, left Christ the only rock and foundation of
the church. Therefore, Christ did not build their churches; the devil
built them as "synagogues of Satan" (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).
Second, Christ is the "rock" as God’s anointed
servant: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt.
16:16). "Christ" means anointed, anointed to His three-fold office as
the servant of the Lord, as prophet, priest and king.
He is the anointed prophet who declares His
infallible Word in OT and NT. All who add to or take away from the Word
of God (Rev. 22:18-19) or whose traditions contradict and obscure the
Word of God (Mark 7:6-13) depart from Christ, the anointed prophet and
foundation of the church. Is Christ, the great prophet, your rock and
the foundation of your congregation? Then you are being built on Christ
as part of His church.
Christ is the anointed king who rules over His
people. Do you honour and obey Him (by His grace)? Does your church?
Then you are founded on Christ the rock. But professing churches and
Christians who do not submit to Christ’s Word but follow instead the
foolishness of the world (free will, political correctness, feminism,
evolutionism, etc.) are not part of His building, the church. "If ye
love me, keep my commandments," Jesus said (John 14:15).
Christ is the anointed priest who offered himself as
a blood sacrifice for His elect people. All those who turn to unbloody
sacrifices (like the mass) or who make His sacrifice depend for its
efficacy upon the alleged free will of the sinner are not founded on
Christ, the rock of the church.
Christ’s words, "I will build my church" (Matt.
16:18), refer to His one, universal church (singular), rather than the
many instituted churches (plural). Here we have a biblical image for the
church, that of a building. Christ is the foundation and the true church
is a building erected on that foundation. Clearly, the church is being
built according to a plan, a divine plan. How many living stones will be
laid on this foundation? When will they be laid? For God has not only a
plan but also a building schedule for the construction of His church,
determining when each elect sinner will be added to the structure. One
day the church will be completely built, and it will be glorious! There
may be some beauty in a building partially constructed but it is as
nothing compared to the beauty of the completed structure, the holy
temple of the Lord in the new world!
Matthew 16:18 speaks not only of an image of the
church (a building) but of the increase of the church ("I will build").
This does not teach that one day the majority of people on earth will be
living stones, never mind that everybody will be converted to Christ’s
church. Instead, it means that Christ will build His church (on earth
and in glory) so that it will increase over time, from its beginning
until the last person is converted before Christ’s return. Christ builds
His church by regenerating and sanctifying His elect.
This building of the church is wholly a divine work:
"I will build my church" (18), not "Man and I will
build my church." Christ alone gathers, preserves and defends His
church. All this is His unchanging promise: "I will
build my church." Believe this, dear saint, and press on in the good
fight of faith!
Christ says, moreover, "I will build my church; and the gates of
hell shall not prevail against it" (18). The gates of hell are all
the forces of Satan—his evil angels, the wicked world and the false
church—presented as a mighty city in constant warfare against the church
and kingdom of God. Thus Christ will build His church in spite of, and
even through, persecution (which purifies the church), martyrdoms (which
increase the church in heaven) and apostasy (which removes hypocrites
from the church institute, and tests and tries true believers). Christ
even builds His church despite the sins of church members and
office-bearers. After all, if Christ cannot build His church on earth
unless His people are entirely holy, He could not build His church at
all! Christ’s building His church includes the progressive
sanctification of its members and the preservation and perseverance of
all the saints such that not one living stone is lost! Rev. Stewart
Different Tribal Lists
A reader asks, "Scripture contains several
Israelite tribal lists (e.g., Eze. 48; Rev. 7:4-8; Gen. 35:22-26). No
two are identical. Is this carelessness?"
The Bible mentions the tribes of Israel in various
places. In Genesis 49, we read of the blessings that the patriarch
Jacob pronounced on his twelve sons. Each of the twelve are mentioned
by name, and the list is concluded with the words: "All these are the
twelve tribes of Israel ..." (28).
Ezekiel 48 mentions thirteen tribes: all the sons
of Jacob, except Joseph, though Joseph’s two sons (Ephraim and
Manasseh) are included. Levi is also mentioned, but as having no
inheritance in the land, for the Lord is his inheritance; that is, the
Levites were appointed to serve in the tabernacle and, later, the
temple. But the borders of the tribes, which are also given, are very
different from the borders recorded in Joshua 13-19, which chapters
describe the inheritance given the tribes by lot after the conquest of
Revelation 7:4-8 presents another list, given in
connection with the sealing of the 144,000. From each of the twelve
tribes listed, 12,000 are sealed. Joseph and one of his sons,
Manasseh, are included, but not Ephraim, another son of Joseph. Levi
is mentioned as a separate tribe, even though Levi had no actual
possession in the land of Canaan. The one son of Jacob that is omitted
from this list is Dan.
Yet another list is found in Genesis 35:22-26. Here
only the twelve sons of Jacob are mentioned along with their mothers.
A few general remarks about the tribal lists should
be made. Although Jacob had twelve sons from Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and
Zilpah, there were actually thirteen tribes, for Ephraim and Manasseh,
the two sons of Joseph, had separate inheritances in the land of
Canaan. But only twelve of the thirteen tribes received an
inheritance, for Levi, as I mentioned above, did not receive an
The birthright blessing was an important part of
the life of the children of Israel. It included the right to rule over
the other children, especially the sons (this is why Joseph’s dreams
of lordship were so obnoxious to his brothers); a double portion of
the father’s possessions; and the covenant blessing, that included the
promise of Christ.
Although the rule in the line of the covenant was
that the first-born should receive the birthright, God intervened in
order to demonstrate that His blessing was on those of His sovereign
choice. This came out especially in the case of Esau and Jacob, for,
although Esau was the first-born, God instructed Isaac and Rebekah to
give the birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:21-26).
In the case of Jacob’s sons, the birthright was
divided. Reuben, the first-born, did not receive the blessing, for he
had forfeited it by incest (49:3-4); nor did the next two sons, Simeon
and Levi, receive it, for they had cruelly slaughtered the Shechemites
(5-7). Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, received the birthright (8-12), and
Joseph received the double inheritance for both Ephraim and Manasseh
were included in the twelve tribes.
Yet, the lists of the tribes in Ezekiel 48 and
Revelation 7 do not pay much attention to the rules of the birthright,
at least as far as the order is concerned.
Why these different lists in Scripture? It is not
because of carelessness on the part of the writers, for such a
conclusion would lead us to a denial of the infallible inspiration of
Scripture. Rather, God wanted the tribes listed in just the way they
are found in the sacred text.
To ask the reason why the lists differ is to ask
the reason why God wanted these different lists in these different
places. That question is not so easily answered, and, in fact, can
probably be answered in detail only by a consideration of their
For example, why is Dan not mentioned in Revelation
7? The figure 144,000 in Revelation 7 is the multiple of 12 tribes
times 12,000 from each tribe. In Revelation, the number 12 is a
symbolic number referring to the election of the church, for 12 is 3 x
4, or the action of three upon four. If three is the number of the
Triune God and four the number of this earthly creation including man,
then the action of God on His world in sovereign election would be
intended. Dan would then be omitted from the list because Dan, not
content with its God-given inheritance in Canaan, moved outside Canaan
proper as given to the twelve tribes (Judg. 18). So Dan is also
omitted from the 144,000 because this number is symbolic of the entire
church of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit so that none will be lost
during the terrible days of persecution prior to Christ’s second
I am not saying that all this is absolutely
correct, and one can easily question some of it; but it does
illustrate the need for exegesis of the history of the tribes and the
context of the passage where the Israelite tribal lists are found.
But, in general, I am persuaded that an answer can
be given to the question. We cannot have any doubts about the fact
that Israel as a nation was a picture of the whole church of Christ
(Gal. 6:16). Taking this into account, we may conclude that from the
very beginning of Israel’s history, the number twelve was an imperfect
twelve. Israel never did consist of exactly twelve tribes in all its
history, and every mention of these twelve tribes is defective in some
It is striking that the same is true of the twelve
apostles. There never really were twelve. Before our Lord’s death,
while the disciples numbered twelve, Judas was a traitor. After our
Lord’s ascension into heaven, the eleven who were left were
supplemented by both Matthias (Acts 1:26) and, later, Paul.
The reason is that the perfect realization of the church,
pre-figured by Israel, and built upon the foundation of the apostles
and prophets (Eph. 2:20), is found only in heaven where all the elect
will be gathered in everlasting glory. The earthly types and symbols
are just that, imperfect figures of a perfection yet to come, an
imperfect twelve pointing to a perfect elect church. Prof. Hanko
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