Was there a church in the Old Testament?
Many people think of Israel as the church and the New Testament as the continuation of this. This is a category mistake that needs to be corrected because a number of false teachings are its offspring and introduced to people in the church.
Israel is a nation, a people that were Jews or converted to Judaism. The prophets spoke of a coming Messiah who would come to his own people first. When he came, he came to his own the house of Israel.
Luke 9:22: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
Luke 17:25: “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
Mark 12:10: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
The temple was built and would soon discarded, but before this happens the new temple built with Christ being the cornerstone was not physical but spiritual (1 Pt.2:4-5).
Even when Jesus was here the disciples who were told to spread the gospel were told to avoid the gentiles.
Matt 10:5: “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.”
It was only after Pentecost when the Spirit was now to indwell man that they were commissioned to go bring the Gentiles the good news.
Mark 16:15: And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
To Joseph was prophesied that Jesus would be “A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
After Jesus died for sin and was resurrected He ascended and began a new work, one that he said would be accomplished after Israel rejected him. He sent the Holy Spirit to birth a new entity, the church. Called the Church of God which he had purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28). He would take those who were Jews that believed and were willing to follow Him to use them to reach out to the Gentiles (all non Jews) to bring them together in a gathering of newborn people of the Spirit. The Greek word is ekklesia (which is used 114 times in the New Testament) which means a called out assembly (Ek = out of, Kaleo= to call).
In the Old Testament one had to convert and become a Jew to be part of the covenant God made with Israel. In the New Testament both Jews and Gentiles must be reborn of the spirit to become part of the church, a new entity which is the body of Christ. Gal. 3:26 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” both Jews and Gentiles are spiritual brethren in the body of Christ.”
One of the proofs that the church was not in the Old Testament is that its inception began on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) with the disciples and the Jews that believed their message. They did not join Israel or become part of the temple, they were called out from that. And we become part of this same Church today the same way they did, by spirit baptism, by being born again of the Spirit (Jn.3:5). The Church is built upon what Peter said Christ is - The Son of the living God - the eternal one who came in human flesh. Thus it could not exist in the Old Testament, since it is the body of Christ.
Gal 3:8 “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”
This makes it clear the Gentiles were not included in the covenant of Israel until faith came. And we find that when faith came the Spirit was given.
Gal 3:14: “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
A transition from the law to the operation of faith was necessary; this came by the New Covenant. Gal 3:23-25: “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”
There were only a few who were given the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. Only when God had a specific purpose did he anoint a man. In the New Testament all who believe the gospel are anointed, given the spirit.
After the Spirit was poured on the Jews; Paul is saved, specifically sent to a group of people God had not focused on, But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
Peter went to open the door to the Gentiles to enter the body of Christ at Cornelius’ house, then Paul was able to minister to the non Jews he was called to. Acts 11:1 “Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.” This was unusual; in the Old Testament the other nations and peoples did not want the law that was given to the Hebrews. But now the way is open to all people.
Paul and Baranabas were continually rejected by their brethren that they said “everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46)
The New Testament Church is never confused with Israel, this is why it is not spoken of as continuation from the Old Testament into the New Testament. Believers do not become Jews; both gentiles and Jews participate together in the New Covenant.
Eph. 2 addresses the middle wall of partition being broken down and God making a new entity. The church is neither Jew or Gentile but consists of both. The two put together make one “new man,” a third entity that is neither Israel nor gentile.
Eph 2:13- 22: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
While we are in the church age, an age of grace being offered through the gospel to all, this will end one day as the number of Gentiles are completed. Rom. 11:25: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
When we enter the Tribulation period God will again concentrate on the Jews in the same manner he concentrated on the Gentiles in this church age.