The Kingdom in Metaphor – Jerry C. Brewer

Jerry C. Brewer

The church Jesus built and His kingdom are two terms applying to the same institution. We now embark on a study of metaphors applied to the church, and the various aspects of it embodied in them.

The Body of Christ

This term is descriptive of the fellowship feature of the church. The term “fellowship” is from the Greek koinonia, which means “joint participation.” As the human body functions as one unit through the joint participation of its many members, so does the body—or church—of Christ. Paul delineates that principle in the following language:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many…Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (1 Cor. 12:12-14; 27).

As the human body functions at the will of the head, the body of Christ functions at the will of Christ who is the head of it. (Eph. 1:22-23). Notice also Paul’s statement that, “the body is one, and hath many members.” The church is one. Jesus promised to build only one (Matt. 16:18), gave Himself for only one (Eph. 5:25-27), purchased only one with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and will save only one (Eph. 5:27).

The extant notion among denominational industrialists is that each separate denomination constitutes the one body of Christ. If that were so, then the body of Christ is a monstrosity that bears no resemblance to a single body. Christ is the only head of His church, but the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormon Church has a President as its head, the Monarch of England is head of the Anglican Church, Southern Baptists have a Convention President, and the list goes on and on among denominations. If each of them constitutes a part of the church of Christ, then Jesus created a multi-headed Hydra and He is not the head, but one of many.

The claim is often made that Jesus’ statement in John 15:5-6 refers to Himself as the head of His church with the branches being the various denominations of men.

I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

But Jesus has no “branch churches.” He has only one. The branches to which He refers in the above passages are individual members of the church, as Paul pointed out in First Corinthians 12. Note Jesus’ statement in John 14:16: “If a man abide not in me…” He is speaking of an individual member of His church—a “man.” Men are the branches, not denominations. The body of Christ, which is His church, is one.

The House of God

In his first epistle to Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The term “house of God” illustrates the familial nature of the church. Its members bear the relationship of children to God and He is their Father. One’s “house” is his family. Of Cornelius, it was said that he was, “one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Cornelius’ “house” in this passage was not his the domicile in which he lived, but his family. That’s the same use of the term Paul made in First Timothy, where he explained that the “house of God” was the “church of the living God.” Describing the Ephesian Gentiles’ relationship to Christ when they obeyed the gospel (Acts 19), Paul wrote, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (Eph. 2:19), and the Hebrews writer describes members of the church as God’s house (Heb. 3:9).

There are only two spiritual households—or families—in the world and every person on earth is in one or the other. They are the family of God and the family of the devil. “In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil. “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:10). God is the Father of the righteous and Satan is the father of the wicked.

Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, we be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God…Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and bode not in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:41-44).

We thus conclude that, 1) all of God’s children are in His family. 2) God’s family is the church. 3) Therefore all of God’s children are in the church. In view of that conclusion, consider the implication when one asserts that God has children in all churches. Not all churches are God’s. He has only one. Therefore, to say God has children in other churches is to say God has children outside of His own family. That conclusion is blasphmeous, making God an adulterer! Those who are not in Christ are not God’s children. One becomes a child of God in Christ by faith. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).

The Temple of God

The kingdom of God—the church—is also metaphorically called, “the temple of God,” expressing its feature as the place of acceptable worship. The church is to the people of God in the New Testament age what the tabernacle, and later the temple, were to Israel in the Old Testament. It is the spiritual sphere where God meets His people and accepts their worship.

In every age of the world, God has always specified the acceptable place and method of acceptable worship offered to Him. That is illustrated in the Patriarchal Age when God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering:

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you (Gen. 22:1-5).

God specified Abraham’s method of worship—“Take now thy son…Isaac…and offer him for a burnt offering” and He specified the place—“…the land of Moriah upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” It was not left to Abraham to choose the “worship of his choice.” Nor was it left to his judgment concerning where his worship was to be offered.

The same was true under the Mosaic Law. At the inauguration of that law at Mount Sinai, God instructed Moses to construct the place where He would accept Israel’s worship.

And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it (Ex. 25:8-9).

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, saying, What man so ever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or a lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, and bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord: blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people: to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the Lord, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest, and offer them for peace offerings unto the Lord” (Lev. 17:1-6).

But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all of your tribes, to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither shalt thou come (Deut. 12:5).

The above references are explicit concerning the place where God would accept Israel’s worship. They were not given a choice as to where their worship was to be offered, but were required to offer it at the tabernacle, and later in the temple Solomon built. Neither are men given a “temple of their choice” today. Paul said, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Rom 15:4) and the above passages relate to the place of acceptable worship in our day. That place is the temple of God in this present age and that temple is the church.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in who all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye are also builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22).

Paul uses two metaphors of the church in the above passage—“the household of God,” and “a holy temple.” It is the latter metaphor that we are concerned with here. The church is the temple of God in which He figuratively dwells today, as He figuratively dwelt in the tabernacle in the wilderness and later in Solomon’s temple. We know God’s indwelling in His temple is figurative because of Solomon’s words at the dedication of the temple he built. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” (1 Kings 8:27).

As God designated the temple of Solomon as the place where He was to be worshipped, so He has designated his spiritual temple, the church, as that place today. The church—His temple—is what Paul calls “a habitation of God, through the Spirit.” That language does not mean God dwells in His temple through the Spirit, but that His dwelling place was built through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. Nor does the statement that they were, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” mean the apostles and prophets are the foundation. Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church which was laid by inspired men in the first century. Paul said, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). From the laying of the church’s foundation as the temple of God, through the erection of its superstructure, all was accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration at the direction of God.

The stones of the temple’s superstructure are Christians who not only constitute the spiritual stones of the temple of God today, but are also priests within that temple who offer acceptable worship to God. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house,, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Having specified that acceptable worship is offered within the confines of His temple, the church, God accepts none from those who are outside of it. Outside of God’s temple no acceptable worship to Him can be offered. The church of Christ is the spiritual temple of God where He has placed His name, where He dwells, and only where He accepts men’s worship.

The Vineyard Of The Lord

The church is also metaphorically a “vineyard.” That word is synonymous with a field of labor, indicating that the church is that sort of field in the spiritual realm. As an agricultural figure, a vineyard indicates a place where seed is sown and cultivated to grow grapes. The parallel as it relates to the church is that the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11) is sown by workers (Christians) who are in the Lord’s vineyard. Jesus illustrated that in the parable of the sower in Luke 8. Life is in the seed—placed in all seed by the Holy Spirit at creation. The Law of Biogenesis says that everything reproduces from seed after its own kind. That was God’s law from the beginning.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the her yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:11-12).

The same law of reproduction exists in the spiritual realm where the word of God is designated as spiritual seed. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Against this background of spiritual life contained within God’s word, as a parallel to physical seed, Jesus spoke the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9. In that parable, He explained that the word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), indicating that the work given to the church as the vineyard of the Lord is to sow that seed in the hearts of men. That was the final order Jesus gave to His apostles just before His ascension (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16) and that is the sole mission of the church. In Matthew 20:1, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard.” There are at least three things to notice in His words. First, He said the householder, “went out early in the morning,” indicating the urgency of the work. Second, He went out early to “hire laborers.” Labor for the Lord in His vineyard will be rewarded. Jesus said, “And behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). Third, labor for the Lord must be done in His vineyard. The householder of the parable represents the Lord and it was into his own vineyard that he went out to hire laborers, not into another’s. No acceptable work can be done for the Lord if one is not in His vineyard.

None of those metaphorical references of the church—the body of Christ, the house of God, the temple of God, and the Lord’s vineyard—allow for any which are plural. He has only one church.

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Author: Editor

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