Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33

Did Jesus overcome the world by participating in politics or by taking part in any of the activities which were current in the Roman world of his day?

We think not.

The Church and Its Purpose

LET us examine the Bible’s testimony as to what the church is supposed to be, and to do. The word ‘church’ as used in the Bible is from the Greek word, ekklesia, which means a calling out, or more literally, a called-out class. This emphasizes the New Testament teaching that the church in reality is made up of those who have been called out from the world. (John 15:19; 17:14,16) That the Lord should give this name to his people as a group also denotes that he did not expect that the whole world of mankind would one day become part of the church, for then the church would no longer be a called-out people.

When Jesus last appeared to his disciples he instructed them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel as his witnesses. (Acts 1:8) Later, at an apostolic conference in Jerusalem, James, quoting from Peter and the prophets, clarified the purpose of this worldwide witness work. He said that “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.” It is this group called out from the world to be a people for God’s name which makes up the church, the called-out class. They become members of God’s family, his sons, through the lifegiving power of the Holy Spirit. These are identified in Revelation 14:1 as having the Heavenly Father’s name written in their foreheads. In the resurrection, when all are united with Christ as members of his ‘bride’ they will possess the Lord’s name in this still further sense.—Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9,10; 22:17

So this people, called out from the world, are a people for His name, just as James explains; but it was not the divine intention that the whole world of mankind should become the bride of Christ. From God’s standpoint, the work of proclaiming the Gospel throughout the world has never been for the purpose of converting the world. However, as Paul foretold there came a great “falling away” from the faith once delivered to the saints by Jesus and the apostles.—II Thess. 2:3

This foretold falling away from the true faith and practice of the church began soon after the apostles fell asleep in death. Indeed, as Paul explained, the spirit of error was beginning to work even in his day. (II Thess. 2:7) But later it flourished. Leaders of the Lord’s called-out people became ambitious for numbers and power, and within a few centuries a church-state system was formed, ultimately to dictate the affairs of state, even to the point of crowning and uncrowning kings.

Jesus’ admonition to his followers to rejoice in the tribulations which would come to them because of holding aloof from the world was forgotten in practice, and the professed church of Christ, instead of striving to overcome the world and its selfish spirit in their own hearts, set out to conquer the world. They almost succeeded in accomplishing this and the darkest period of history—the Dark Ages—ensued as a result.

Later there came the Reformation, but only partial reforms were accomplished. None of the reformers recognized the error that the work of the church was to convert and conquer the world. While through that dark period of the Middle Ages, Christianity had been established throughout Europe, it had been accomplished by the power of the sword. A nation would be conquered by military might, and forthwith the people of that nation were obliged to accept the religion of their conquerors.

Under these circumstances the general public throughout Europe had little or no understanding of the new religion they were forced to adopt. There were no Bibles for them, the only available Bibles being for the use of the clergy. Under these circumstances, the then professed Christian world was in no position to know the difference between truth and error. And the Reformation did not help them very much. It did, in some countries, succeed in throwing off the political and civil cords, but in many of the European states the reformers established their own church-state systems of governments.

Almost without exception the errors which took the place of the pure truths of the Gospel as a result of the great falling away from the faith were carried over into the reformed churches. Torment in hell-fire, the trinity, the inherent immortality of the soul, and the ultimate destruction of the earth by fire did not come under effective protest.

Even those religious groups which did not ally themselves with civil governments failed to comprehend God’s real purpose in the church. They still thought, and continue to think, that their divine commission is to influence and convert the world for Christ. Today the majority of them have united in one way or another to give themselves more influence and power in the world. They decide themselves on the burning issues which confront the world; they send lobbyists into lawmaking circles with the hope of getting better laws enacted; they participate in this and that effort to make the world a better one, but give no evidence at all that they have any faith that God has his own plan for the establishment of righteousness in the earth. And, indeed, they do not have such a faith, as the reading of church periodicals and books clearly reveals.

So today the church that is recognized by the world is not at all like the church of the apostles’ day, nor does it have the same aim. The worldly church of today is in reality a part of the world. It has not overcome the world, but the world has overcome it. It is looked upon, at least in the western world, as a friendly ally to civil governments, an institution which exercises power for good, and therefore is more or less respected and appreciated.

But how different is the church of God, the people who are called out from the world to be separate and distinct from its affairs! This church is not recognized by the world. Indeed, it cannot be identified on the earth at all today. It is not an organization in the worldly sense of the meaning. It is made up of individuals who are wholly devoted to the Lord and to the doing of his will. Only the Lord knows who these are, and they win his approval by their loyalty to him and to the doing of his will. They understand that the Lord wants them to bear witness to the Gospel, to lay down their lives for the brethren in Christ, and, by emptying their hearts of selfishness, to be brought day by day more and more under the influence of his love.

Some may ask how God can accomplish anything through an arrangement of this kind. So far as the conversion of the world is concerned, this has not yet been accomplished. But what is generally overlooked in seeking to understand God’s ways is the fact that he has set aside another age in his plan for the conversion and blessing of the world, and this will, indeed, be accomplished by the church—not the church in the flesh, but the church in glory, associated with her Head, and heavenly Bridegroom, Christ Jesus.

As we have noted, the Lord has commissioned his people throughout the present age to proclaim the Gospel. It is the power of the Gospel that attracts one here and were to turn his back upon the world and its splendor, and to walk in the footsteps of the Master. But what is the Gospel? The answer to this question reveals God’s purpose in the church—his true church, that is. Paul informs us that God preached the Gospel to Abraham when he told him that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gal. 3:8) But Paul says more. He identifies Jesus as the promised seed of Abraham, and then explains that all who are truly Christians, accepting Jesus as their Head, are also part of the promised seed of Abraham.—Gal. 3:16,27-29

And what is God’s purpose in the seed of Abraham? It is, as expressed to Abraham, the blessing of all the families of the earth. In other words, the church—the ones called out from the world—is being selected and prepared to share with Jesus in the future blessing of all the families of the earth. This future blessing of the people will include their enlightenment, and the giving to them of an opportunity to accept Christ, obey the laws of righteousness, and live forever in a worldwide paradise.

The future work of converting and blessing the world will not depend upon the feeble efforts of men, such as the would-be church is attempting today. It will not be through the dictatorial powers of church-state governments. It will be by the exercise of divine power through Christ and his glorified church. When Jesus was raised from the dead he was highly exalted to the divine nature. He promised his disciples that they would be with him, and share his home and glory. (John 14:3; Rom. 2:7) Many have concluded that the promises pertaining to this future position of the church are to be understood to mean that all good people go to heaven when they die, and that all others go to a hell of torment.

But this false notion is due to the great “falling away” from the faith foretold by the Apostle Paul. There are, indeed, heavenly promises for the faithful followers of Jesus, but these heavenly promises to the church do not reveal God’s plan for the whole world of mankind. They reveal that the church will be in a position, when raised from the dead, to exercise invisible power and influence throughout the world to bring about the enlightenment and blessing of the people.

The expression, ‘the Gospel of Christ’, has the same meaning as the ‘Gospel of the Messiah’. Messiah is the same word in the Hebrew language as Christ is in the Greek language. (John 1:41; 4:25) The use of the word Messiah takes us back to the promises of God as recorded in the Old Testament. (Rom. 1:16) Paul refers to the Gospel which was proclaimed by the prophets, calling it “the Gospel of God.” (Rom. 1:1,2) The seed promised to Abraham was, primarily, the Messiah. Many promises of God recorded in the Old Testament indicate that the promised blessing to reach the people through the Messiah would be administered through a governmental arrangement called the kingdom—the kingdom of the Messiah, or Christ.

Jesus will be the king in this kingdom. His church will be associated with him, also reigning as kings—not as humans, but as divine beings exalted to the divine nature. (Rev. 20:6; II Pet. 1:4) There will also be ‘princes’ in this kingdom. These will be the Ancient Worthies, the faithful ones of past ages who will be brought forth from death to human perfection right here on earth in what the Bible describes as a “better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35,40; Ps. 45:16) Being human these will be visible to the human race, and, as representatives of the divine Christ in glory, will administer the laws of that new age.

Through this wonderful, divinely produced organization all the families of the earth will truly be blessed. The knowledge of the Lord will then fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, and the people will have an opportunity, upon the basis of full enlightenment, to accept the provisions of life made available through the redemptive work of Christ.

God’s kingdom will solve all the perplexing problems of our times, and those of the past as well. It will abolish death, which means that all tears will be wiped away. (Rev. 21:4) It will mean the restoration of those who have died. Today thought is being given to the idea of freezing those who die, in the hope of preserving them until science has developed a cure for the malady which killed them. They could then be ‘thawed out’, revived, and the new remedy applied. Such are the feeble dreams of men to perpetuate life, but God’s way is better! Through his way, all the families of the earth will be blessed with life eternal.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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