Some regard the church as a mere human construct. Scripture presents a different view. A story spanning centuries unfolds from the Old and New Testaments containing the fingerprints of God.
Daniel stood before a terrified king. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a giant statue composed of four sections that was destroyed by a rock frightened him.
Daniel explained that God had revealed to Nebuchadnezzar what would happen in the future. The statute represented four earthly kingdoms that started with himself, the king of Babylon. In the time of the fourth kingdom, “a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. … But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:34,35).
Daniel clarified that the stone not cut by human hands signified God would set up a kingdom in the days of the fourth empire that would never end (Daniel 2:44). And so in the days of the Roman Empire, the fourth kingdom from Babylon, an angel informed Mary she would have a son. The angel told her, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 2:32,33).
Not only did Jesus teach that God’s kingdom would come in the days of his listeners, he also identified the church with God’s coming kingdom (Luke 9:27; Mt. 16:18-19). Following his death, Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand to rule as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:30-36; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). People would enter into the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). The time had arrived for Christ to rule over the hearts of people.
No human hands created this church. Christ’s death made it possible. Afterward the Holy Spirit set himself to support the growth of the church and to overcome every barrier opposed to this fledging community.
For starters, Jesus had foretold his apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them on Pentecost (Acts 1:8). One aspect of the Spirit’s work involved empowering the apostles’ ministries.
The message of Messiah crucified should never have taken root within Judaism. It announced an offensive message. Yet, the powerful outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost as well as the necessity of the Spirit’s prophetic message to be fulfilled persuaded the Jews on Pentecost to accept that God had made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. Three thousand responded to the good news.
- When the religious authorities attempted to squelch the gospel, the Spirit emboldened the disciples (Acts 4:31).
- When members within this community of disciples thought they could treat the church with contempt by lying to the Spirit, they fell dead (Acts 5:3,9).
- When people bound by illnesses or evil spirits were brought froward, God’s power provided healing confirming their message (Acts 5:14-16; 8:6-7).
- When people opposed the gospel, sometimes they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit of the speaker (Acts 7:51). At other times, the Spirit powerfully silenced them (Acts 13:9-11).
- When the early Christians were content to speak to the Jews only, the Spirit pushed them to speak to other peoples (Acts 8:27-29; 10:44-45).
- When Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch, the Spirit designated them to engage in missionary work spreading the gospel (Acts 13:2,4).
- When some Jewish Christians desired to make it more difficult for Gentiles to become Christians, the leadership understood that the Spirit rejected that proposal (Acts 15:8,28).
The message is clear. The church, its establishment and its growth was the work of God and not of man. As foretold to Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom of God had spread and was filling the earth. Jesus reigns over a kingdom not made with human hands.