The Church in Preparation by John and Jesus – David Ray

David Ray

The church is easily the most valuable institution ever established on earth. This is seen in Acts chapter 2, verses 38 and 47 when, as the church began, those people who were being added to it were the ones whose sins were being forgiven. Having one’s sins forgiven equals salvation. Therefore, salvation is in the church! It is the one and only institution in which a person can be saved. Every saved person today is in the church, and nobody outside of it is saved. This makes it more valuable than any amount of money, possessions, power, authority, or ability.

In Matthew 16:18, in reference to Peter’s confession of the fact that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” This shows us that the church belongs to Him and not to any human, that it would be built by Him and not by any human, and that there would be (and is) only one church, not many churches. And, as the value of anything is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it, so the church’s value is seen in the price Jesus paid for it (Acts 20:28 – “which he hath purchased with his own blood).

Also, in the following verse (Matthew 16:19), Jesus continued, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven….” This equated the church (v. 18) with the kingdom (v.19). This is a very important fact that needs to be understood by every serious Bible student: the kingdom on earth is the Lord’s one church, which is also called His body (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24).

This singular institution that provides salvation, being as vital as it is, certainly didn’t spring onto the scene out of nowhere and unannounced, and we wouldn’t expect it to. It was prophesied centuries in advance (Isa 2:1-4). Jesus died to establish it, and this sacrifice was planned before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20). And both John the Baptist and Jesus preached in the first century its imminent arrival by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17, respectively).

John the Baptist operated as a forerunner to Jesus and the church. And the importance of this man is seen in the fact that he didn’t just show up out of nowhere, but his arrival and work were prophesied four hundred years earlier in Malachi:

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts (3:1).

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (4:5-6).

The Messiah would come but would be preceded by this man, Elijah. He was not the literal prophet Elijah, but one who would go before in the spirit and power of Elijah (cf. Luke 1:17). He would prepare the way for the Messiah. His job is further described in Isaiah 40:3-5:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

His job would be similar to that of one who went ahead of a king and prepared a smooth, straight road for him, cutting down trees, bushes, etc. as necessary (valleys raised and hills lowered, figuratively). His purpose would be to turn the hearts of the people to Jesus, and “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). No doubt John would be an immensely important character in the salvation story of mankind. And as an integral part of this job, he preached the coming kingdom (the church)!

John was beloved and respected as a prophet by the people of Israel (cf. Matt. 21:26), and he identified Jesus of Nazareth as “the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This would turn the attention of the truth-seeking Israelites to Jesus instead of anyone else, including John himself (cf. John 3:30—“He must increase, but I must decrease”). This preparatory work of John included Christ’s coming church. It was about salvation (as he said in John 3:36—“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life”), and this salvation is found only in the one church of Christ.

Matthew’s account introduces us to John by saying, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-2). This “at hand” kingdom is the church (cf. Matt. 16:18-19, where the two are used interchangeably). Therefore, what John did and taught was in preparation for the coming church.

John’s water baptism was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). While there was a clear difference between the baptisms of John and Jesus in what the one being baptized understood about Jesus (cf. Acts 19:4), John’s was the same baptismal process as Christ’s baptism, which forgives sins and places the recipient into the church (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 12:13). We can therefore see that even John’s baptism (that for which he is best known, as his appellation demonstrates) was a forerunner to Christ’s and His entrance into His church.

Jesus, upon beginning His ministry of teaching, said the same thing John had said: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Contrary to popular premillennial belief, this kingdom clearly would not be something we would still be waiting for almost two thousand years later. John and Jesus both declared it to be “at hand,” which means “near, approaching” (Strong’s). Hence, as we noticed in Matthew 16:18-19, this kingdom is His church, they are one and the same, there’s only one, and it was coming very soon (it would have its beginning in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost).

One of the first things Jesus did was to recruit disciples whom He would eventually name His apostles. Continuing in Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus began by choosing Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and told them to follow Him. The reason they were to follow Him was so that He could “make you fishers of men” (v. 19). The church is not a building; it’s the people. And from the beginning of His ministry, Jesus was about teaching the people and finding men who would teach the people after He was gone.

Notice that, immediately after choosing these men, the text says, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom (v. 23). Again, His concern was the kingdom, i.e., the church. The gospel, or good news, is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3) and the spiritual benefit (i.e., eternal life) that is available to all of mankind because of it. And this good news of salvation is “of the kingdom.” Outside of the church, there is no such opportunity to take advantage of this good news. Jesus was preparing the church for the people by preparing the people for the church.

In Matthew 13, Jesus’ parables discourse, He gave several analogies of the church, saying, “The kingdom of Heaven is like unto….” Each of these taught different aspects of the coming church (leaven, mustard seed, treasure, pearls, a net). Clearly Jesus’ concern throughout His three-and-a-half-year ministry was preparing people for the church that He would establish shortly after His death. The reason is this would be the one and only institution wherein a person can be eternally saved. Jesus said in John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” And this will be ultimately fulfilled in the end, “when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15:24). The church of Christ is the only kingdom that Christ will deliver to the Father when He returns one day and ushers in eternity.

Near the end of John’s life, an event happened that also demonstrates the importance of the church in light of the preparatory work of John and Jesus. In Matthew 11:1-15, Jesus described John as “a prophet…and more than a prophet. Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist….” This is high praise from anyone, but especially from the Son of God! However, He then said, “notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom is greater than he.” Remembering Matthew 16:18-19, we know that the church and the kingdom are the same. Jesus’ point was that, as great a man as John was, he died prior to the kingdom’s (or church’s) arrival, so he himself was never in the church. Therefore, anyone who is in the church (even the “least” in the church) is greater with God than the greatest of men who outside the church (even John). This expresses the greatness of the church and its members.

The real question for every reader of this article is are you in the kingdom, the one church for whom John and Jesus did their preparatory work and for whom Jesus died in order to purchase and establish? As we’ve noticed, repentance is required in order to enter it. One must be willing to change, to sacrifice his own will in order to submit to Christ’s (Luke 9:23). He must also publicly confess Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), then be immersed in water for the wonderful, undeserved, unearned purpose of having his sins washed away (Acts 22:16), never to be remembered again by God (Hebrews 10:17). It is at this point that God adds this soul to His Son’s church (Acts 2:47), and he now walks a new life (Rom. 6:3-4), committed to following Christ’s word in all his decisions. Each reader is encouraged to make this choice today.

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Author: Editor

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