The Pauline doctrine of the true spiritual Church is second only in importance to the doctrine of salvation by grace. That salvation of which he wrote leads to and provides the supernatural material out of which the true Church is formed. The two taken together constitute what the Apostle termed “my gospel.” Both of the doctrines which composed his Gospel were a revelation to the Apostle directly from the glorified Lord (Gal 1:11, 12; Eph 3:1-6). Each revelation concerned hitherto unannounced and, up to the Day of Pentecost, nonexistent conceptions*.
Exception to this general statement may be found in the doctrinal patterns set forth by certain OT types which foreshadow phrases of truth belonging to the Church alone and as well by the first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel in which Christ is held up as a Savior which was afterwards gained through His actual death and resurrection. That the true Church was only anticipation during the earthly ministry of Christ may be demonstrated in various ways.
Christ Himself declared it to be future (Matt 16:18); a crucified and risen Savior had not yet become the Object of saving faith (Gal 3:23-25), and no one could believe in or preach the present grace-salvation at a time when he did not believe that Christ would die or be raised from the dead (Luke 18:31-34). There could be no Church until it was purchased with His precious Blood (Eph 5:25-27), until He arose to give it resurrection life (Col 3:1-3), until He ascended to be the Head over all things in the Church (Eph1:20-23), or until the Spirit came on Pentecost through whom the Church might be formed into one Body and through whom the Church might be coordinated by His indwelling presence.
Seven figures are employed in the NT to set forth the relation which exists between Christ and the Church. In connection with each figure and as its parallel, there is a similar truth to be observed regarding Israel. (1) Christ is the Shepherd and Christians are the sheep. Israel, too, was the flock of God and the sheep of His pasture. This language brings out Christ’s shepherd care and the helplessness of His sheep. (2) Christ is the true Vine and believers of today are the branches. Israel was Jehovah’s vineyard. This comparison speaks of Christ’s strength and life being imparted, without which nothing could be done to enhance His glory.
(3) Christ is the chief Cornerstone and Christians are the building. Israel had a temple, but the Church is a living temple for the habitation of God through the Spirit. Here the figure conveys the thought of interdependence and indwelling. (4) Christ is the High Priest and NT believers are a kingdom of priests. Israel had a priesthood; the Church in its entirety is a priesthood. This introduces truth respecting worship and service. (5) Christ is the Head of the Church which is the Body. Israel was a commonwealth, an organized nation; the Church is an organism very much alive by reason of partaking of one life being related to its living Head. This comparison speaks of vital relationship and gifts for service.
(6) Christ is the Head of a New Creation and Christians are with him in that Creation as it vital members. Israel was of the old creation and attached to the earth; the Church is of the New Creation and related to heaven. This figure dwells upon the believer’s marvels and of position, since he is in Christ at the Father’s right hand. (7) Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride. Israel was the repudiated (yet to be restored) wife of Jehovah; the Church is the espoused virgin Bride of Christ. This relationship for Christians is all of another sphere and future. What marvelous things are wrought in this company of believers that they should be made suitable as a bride for the Second Person of the Godhead and such a one as will ravish His heart throughout all eternity!
- L. S. Chafer
“Which in other ages was not made known unto, the sons of men ... That is, which mystery of Christ, and of the Gospel, was not made known to men in general, nor so clearly as under the Gospel dispensation. Some hints were given of it to Adam, immediately after his fall; and the Gospel was before preached to Abraham, Moses, and David, and others knew something of it; and it was still more fully dispensed in the times of the prophet Isaiah, and other following prophets: but then the knowledge of it was not so extensive, nor so clear as now.
“It lay hid in types and shadows, in obscure prophecies and short hints. Moreover, this may have respect particularly to the calling of the Gentiles, as appears from the following words; this was, in some measure, made known, as that in Christ all the nations of the earth should be blessed; that when Shiloh came, to him should the gathering of the people be; that the Messiah should be an ensign of the people, and to him should the Gentiles seek, but then this was not known to many, and the time, mode, and circumstances of it were but little understood, and comparatively speaking, it was not known.”