Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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October 2008 • Volume XII, Issue 6


Christ Will Build His Church (3)

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 Father (17).

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 Canaan.

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 inheritance.

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 contexts.

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 coming.

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 respect.

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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