The Bible is about God and
His covenant people, whom He had chosen from before the foundation of the world
(Deut 7:6–9; Eph 1:4) and who will enjoy everlasting fellowship with Him in the
new heavens and the new earth (Isa 65:17–18; 66:22). This is more than a return
to Eden, in that our bodies will be transformed through God’s redemptive
program, and death utterly defeated by resurrection. The original creation,
with the son of God created out of dust, is finally and permanently restored.
Israel and the Church
Israel was the Old Testament elect. The church—comprising Jews and
Gentiles—is the New Testament elect.
God’s eternal purpose—our
election in Christ (Eph 3:11; 1:4–11)—unravels in time and space through
Abraham and his seed (Gen 12:7; 13:15; 24:7). The repeated use of the singular
“seed” in the Genesis narrative is explained by Paul as a reference to Christ,
in whom we receive the status of co-heirs (Gal 3:16, 29; Rom 8:17). The story of
Israel, and God dwelling among them, is thus a pattern for the church. This is
further attested by the allusion to Isaac and Jerusalem (Gal 3:22–28).
The exodus from Egypt
resulted in the birth of Israel as a nation, with God dwelling in their midst
(Ex 25:8; 29:45–46; Lev 26:11–12). The divine Presence in the tabernacle was
evident throughout the wilderness journey and later in Solomon’s temple (Ex
40:34–38; 1 Kgs 8:10–11). Likewise, the church as the “dwelling place of God in
the Spirit” (Eph 2:22) is filled with glory.
We then see a progression in
the way God dwells among His people—from a physical sacred space in the
tabernacle within the camp, to a physical temple within the city of Jerusalem,
and finally, under the new covenant, God dwells directly within the redeemed
human community itself. This is described by Peter as a “spiritual house” built
up with “living stones” (1 Pet 2:5).
The chosen people in the Old
Testament were known as the “assembly [qahal, Hebrew] of God” (Neh 13:1; Deut
23:3). The Hebrew qahal for “assembly” is conceptually identified with the
Greek ekklesia, translated as “church” in the New Testament. Hence, when Jesus
establishes a new covenant with us, He re-organizes a new assembly of the
chosen, comprising both Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2: 11–18; 3:6, 10), which He
calls “My church” (Mt 16:18).
The Church’s One Foundation
God’s church in the New Testament is founded on the works of Jesus
Christ and apostolic teaching.
Towards the end of the
apostolic era, sectors of the church were only alive in name but were in fact
dead, and others were ready to die (see Rev 3:1–2). The post-apostolic church
went through considerable syncretization. Simple home gatherings centered on
prayer and the Scriptures (Acts 2:42) gradually morphed into elaborate
liturgies with incense, candles and even images. Daily prayers in the temple
(Acts 2:46–47) were replaced with daily rituals in buildings filled with icons
and statues. Baptism in natural living water was brought indoors and
embellished with ritual; with this deviation from scriptural prescription, the
sacred ordinance became divested of the efficacy of Christ’s blood brought
about by the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit evidenced by
glossolalia—speaking in tongues—was substituted with ritual conferment of the
Spirit through the imposition of hands by bishop or priest.
But revival would certainly
take place, for Jesus Himself declared that “the gates of Hades shall not
prevail” against the church founded on solid rock (Mt 16:18). The solid
foundation, the works of Jesus Christ completed in His lifetime and enshrined
in apostolic teaching, was fully laid during the apostolic era (Eph 2:20).
Thankfully, the form of doctrine, the pattern of sound words (Rom 6:17; 2 Tim
1:13), has been perfectly preserved in the canon of the Scriptures, comprising
the Old and New Testaments. The apostle Peter attests that apostolic doctrine,
or the New Testament, is built upon the Old Testament, and is in fact the sole
interpretive authority for the Old Testament. This is because Jesus, as the
beloved Son who came to fulfill Old Testament Scriptures, speaks with final
authority (2 Pet 1:16–21; 1 Cor 15:1–4; Heb 1:1–2).
Since the foundation of the
church is Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, revival does
not involve laying the foundation all over again. Nothing needs to be added to
Christ’s work or to the Bible, and the faith that was once for all delivered to
the saints (Jude 3) can be rediscovered within the pages of the Holy Writ. We
just have to build on the existing foundation. The church is revived once we
return to the Bible, specifically to the gospel that accords with apostolic
doctrine in its fullness. Baptism in Jesus’ name, as preached by the apostles,
traces its roots to the Old Testament ablutions and makes the important link to
real effective cleansing based on the Old Testament concept of atoning blood
(Heb 6:1–2; 10:19–22). With the return to efficacious biblical baptism comes
the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38); thus, members of the revived
apostolic church only need to ask in faith to receive the Holy Spirit, with
tongue-speaking as evidence.
The Temple and the Church
God’s church—typified by the latter temple—is built over two stages:
foundation-laying during the apostolic era, and revival in the present era.
Intrinsic to our affirmation
that we are the revived true church is that we are the final restoration,
leading to the consummation of all things. But how can we be assured of this?
Understanding biblical prophecy is the key to discerning the times.
Interestingly, in Matthew Chapter 16, Jesus mentioned the signs of the times
and the sign of Jonah just before talking about building His church (Mt
16:2–4). He then moved on to announce His death and resurrection (Mt 16:21) as
well as His kingdom (Mt 16:28,
19). Clearly, the sign of Jonah is the sign of His resurrection, the most
important milestone in God’s restoration of Israel.
The resurrected body of
Christ is identified with the church as a body of believers resurrected in
Christ through baptism (Eph 1:20–2:1; Col 2:12). The unmistakable link between
the temple and the church, uttered by Jesus Himself (Jn 2:19–22), was well
understood by New Testament writers (Eph 2:19–21; 1 Cor 3:6; 2 Cor 6:16; Rev
21:2, 10, 22). They saw the church in their era as the real temple, fulfilling
the shadows of Old Testament temple rites (Heb 8–10) as well as exilic and
post-exilic prophecies about God dwelling with His people (2 Cor 6:16; Ezek
37:27–28; Zech 8:8–9). Since the body of Christ is the real temple made without
hands, it will last till the end of time; it will not be destroyed and there
should be no need for rebuilding. As explained earlier, despite the downward
spiral of the post-apostolic church, the dark ages of apostasy, and the current
fragmentation of denominations, the foundation remained intact. The finished
work of Jesus Christ cannot be undone, and the Bible has perfectly preserved
the apostolic exposition of salvation by the cross.
Exilic and post-exilic
prophets projected into the distant future in their prophecies surrounding the
second temple. Careful study in this regard gives us a clear picture of how the
True Jesus Church fits in.
“I will shake
heaven and earth…I will shake all nations…and I will fill this temple with
glory. …The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former.” (Hag
This prophecy does not refer
to the temple Zerubbabel built, but to a future temple built with living
stones—in other words, the church of Jesus Christ to whom salvation came (1 Pet
1:10–12; 2:5), whose foundation was laid during the apostolic age (1 Cor
3:10–11; Eph 2:20). The fact that the apostolic project did not promptly result
in a worldwide spread of the gospel and the destruction of Gentile kingdoms
(Hag 2:20–22; Zech 14:8–9,17–19) is no reason to doubt that Jesus of Nazareth
was indeed commissioned by God, whose disciples constitute the eternal temple
to which all Gentiles will turn (Acts 5:38–39). The Jews stumbled at a
crucified Messiah, because they did not understand that He shall come a second
time in glory. Thus, we should learn to recognize the two stages in the
construction of the church: the foundation-laying stage during the apostolic
age, and the revival stage in our times. Only at the end of revival will the
church have greater glory than Solomon’s temple—when she shall be adorned for
her husband, reflecting the very glory of God (Rev 21:2, 10–11). Since death
could not restrain the crucified Christ (Acts 2:24), the church would certainly
be revived in time, even though she seemed to have descended into abysmal doom
after the apostolic age.
Zerubbabel and Temple-Rebuilding
Zerubbabel eventually completed the second temple, despite some
temporary disruption. In the same way, Jesus Christ, who raised the True Jesus
Church as the revived apostolic church, will surely bring the restoration to
As the temple-rebuilding was
used prophetically to refer to the church being the final dwelling place of
God, we must pay attention to the key figure, Zerubbabel, who led the
delegation of rebuilders to Jerusalem for this great task (Ezra 2:2; 3:8). Of
Davidic descent, he was made governor of Judah (Hag 2:2; Mt 1:1, 12).
Concerning Zerubbabel, the
word of the Lord came to Haggai, saying: “I will take you, Zerubbabel My
servant, the son of Shealtiel…and will make you a signet ring; for I have
chosen you” (Hag 2:23). This is of utmost significance, because Zerubbabel was
a descendant of the second last king of Judah, of whom the Lord through
Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand,
yet I would pluck you off. …
For none of his descendants shall prosper,
Sitting on the throne of David,
And ruling anymore in Judah.” (Jer 22:24, 30)
Zerubbabel, the governor of
Judah, was never installed king over Judah. Hence, Haggai’s prophecy of the
choice signet refers to a later fulfillment in the Messiah, whose virgin birth
averted the curse upon Coniah. Hence, “the Lord God will give Him the throne of
His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His
kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:30–33).
As for the temple,
Zerubbabel’s hands were frustrated after the foundation was laid, and the work
ceased for about fifteen years (Ezra 4:4–5, 23–24). Nevertheless, the
prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah brought about a revival and the rebuilding
work resumed (Ezra 5:1–2). Likewise, throughout the worst of times encountered
by the post-apostolic church, the foundation that was laid through the apostles
was preserved in the Scriptures. And in God’s own time, He brought about a
revival, with the True Jesus Church continuing to build upon the apostolic
foundation. Therefore, the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel is especially applicable
to us today:
“Not by might
nor by power, but by My Spirit…
Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ” (Zech 4:6–7)
Looking at the trajectory of
the apostolic church’s rise and fall, some may wonder whether the True Jesus
Church will also and eventually fall away from the truth. The answer is that we
will not if we are truly the continuation of the work of the eschatological
Zerubbabel—Jesus Christ—building on the very foundation He laid when He first
established His church (Eph 2:20). Since the gospel of salvation we preach is
the very “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), then
we can claim the Scripture saying: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the
foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it” (Zech 4:9)!