Mystery of the Ages Synopsis, Part 6: Mystery of the Church
The subject of God’s Church is of supreme importance to Jesus Christ because He had to risk His eternal life to establish it. Talk about high stakes! God expects us to place similar value on the truth about His Church.
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That’s quite a statement by Christ: I will build a Church that is never going to die. The Bible describes the one true Church as a little flock. Because it is so small, God’s Church remains a mystery to the world.
In his greatest book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about the five-pronged purpose for Christ’s time on Earth:
He had come 1) to qualify, where the first Adam failed, to replace the former archangel Lucifer on the throne of the earth, ruling with the government of God. He had come 2) to announce the future establishment of the kingdom of God and teach that prophetic good news (gospel) to his chosen future apostles. He had come 3) to take on himself, as our direct Creator, the penalty for our sins by his death on the cross—that we might share in that world. And he had come 4) to be resurrected from the dead by God, making possible eternal God-life for the people of God and after his Second Coming for all who are willing, of all humanity, who have ever lived on this Earth. And he had come 5) to establish God’s Church, to be trained to rule under him.
To understand this fifth objective, we must study Chapter 6 of Mystery of the Ages: Mystery of God’s Church.
The Titanic Battle
“When Jesus was about age 30, He was ready to begin choosing his apostles, and proclaiming and teaching them His message from God to man—His gospel,” Mr. Armstrong continued. “But first, it was imperative that He qualify to replace Satan and set up the kingdom of God, by overcoming the devil.”
Christ’s five accomplishments on Earth are intertwined and chronological. Before Christ could set up His Church, His first priority was to conquer Satan. “This perhaps was the most important, momentous, decisive confrontation and battle ever fought in all time in the universe” (ibid).
Before teaching and training the apostles, Christ had to ensure that He won this titanic war against Satan. Otherwise, it would be all over for every human being. Christ couldn’t sin and still be our Savior. The outcome of this war would determine whether Christ would replace Satan as ruler of the Earth at His Second Coming (2 Corinthians 4:4).
To prepare to fight Satan, Christ fasted for 40 days—a long time to go without food and water. At the start of the battle, Satan attacked man’s most vulnerable spiritual weakness: vanity. Sneering at Christ, Satan said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3).
A regular human would have been insulted by this challenge. What do you mean, if I’m the Son of God? Christ didn’t retaliate. He was perfect spiritually.
In the second half of Matthew 4:3, Satan attacked man’s second-most vulnerable weakness: hunger. After fasting for 40 days, Christ must have been ravenous. But His response was flawless: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Even during a moment of unbearable weakness physically, Christ kept His focus on spiritual food: God’s truth. He set the ultimate example for us.
“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:5-7).
“If thou be the Son of God.” Again, Satan tried to appeal to Christ’s vanity, but Christ doesn’t have any vanity. Satan also twisted the meaning of the scriptures that he quoted. Only the mind of Christ in us can prevent deception.
Christ’s reply came from Deuteronomy 6:16. The Bible was Christ’s defense against Satan’s ambush. Notice, Christ quoted the Old Testament; He did not come to Earth to do away with it!
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-9). This was Satan’s last chance during this battle to cause Christ to sin.
“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (verses 10-11).
Christ didn’t deny Satan’s claim; Satan was indeed in charge of all Earth’s kingdoms, and thus could give them away as he pleased. Christ knew that He would inherit the Earth anyway at His Second Coming approximately 2,000 years later. So He commanded Satan to leave. Satan must obey the authority of God.
Jesus Christ, the second Adam, had qualified! Never until that minute could the good news of the coming kingdom of God be announced to the world. Now the Son of God resisted and conquered Satan—had qualified to reestablish God’s government and set up the kingdom of God on the earth! (ibid).
Before this titanic battle, Christ was not guaranteed to rule the Earth at His Second Coming. This struggle qualified Him to take over Satan’s throne, as long as He continued to remain sinless during His ministry and crucifixion. What a victory!
“But now the Church must also qualify to rule with him!” Mr. Armstrong continued. That’s right! Christ has allotted about 2,000 years for His Church to qualify to help Him rule the Earth and universe. How? The same way He did: by conquering the devil. Our daily battles are nowhere near as hard as Christ’s confrontation with Satan.
The second that Christ beat Satan, He could go out and preach the gospel, the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. This evil world will soon be replaced by something much better.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:1, 14-15).
Most people today don’t know what repentance is. They don’t understand the message that Christ taught. God’s Church is a mystery to them.
Jesus Christ set the example for God’s Church. We must proclaim the gospel message of Christ, not about Christ. We must tell the world that God will give every person who has ever lived an opportunity to be a part of His Family forever. God’s incredible step-by-step plan for man is pictured by His annual holy days. (Request Mr. Armstrong’s free booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? to learn more.)
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). This is an exhortation to God’s Church in the end time. We must overcome as Christ overcame. Christ prevailed over Satan, the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Now, it’s our turn. We must conquer Satan to rule with Christ on His throne for all eternity.
“And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). We will be kings and priests. God sees us as kings and priests already, if we are following Him (1:6). In other words, we will be over physical nations and the spiritual Church. We will rule alongside Christ with a rod of iron, real authority and direction, so we can teach people in love but also enforce God’s law.
The word Church comes from the Greek word ecclesia, meaning called-out ones. God’s Church is a select group of people preparing now to marry Jesus Christ and to rule with Him over this world for 1,000 years. That is a staggering reward, but we must qualify. How could we become kings and priests without preparation? God’s people are fed, nurtured and protected spiritually inside God’s Church until that time comes. God even gives us His mind (Philippians 2:5).
The Lost Century
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). Christ delivered that message to the world in the first century. He is saying that the gospel message won’t be preached to the entire world again until just before He returns to Earth! If this had been accomplished in 1100 or in 1550, then Christ would have returned at that time.
“It is a fact to stagger the mind of the reader that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not proclaimed to the world from about a.d. 50 until the year 1953,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. (Request The True History of God’s True Church for proof.)
Why not? Satan hid this precious truth from the world! “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7).
God’s Church had already turned away from the true gospel a mere 20 years after receiving it directly from Jesus Christ! This is why we must overcome the devil. We are in a war.
Something horrible must have happened in the first century to stifle the true gospel. Mr. Armstrong calls the period that followed the lost century.
Secular sources agree. “The scanty and suspicious materials on ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the Church,” wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
“The thirty years which followed the close of the New Testament canon and the destruction of Jerusalem are in truth the most obscure in the history of the Church,” wrote Samuel G. Green in A Handbook of Church History.
Lectures on Ecclesiastical History says, “Over this period of transition which immediately succeeds upon the era properly called apostolic, great obscurity hangs.”
The Roman Empire ruled the world during the first century. Much of the history of the true Church was blotted out. The Apostle John preserved a small amount of this history in His biblical epistles. (For insight into John’s epistles, request The Last Hour.)
God’s Church today has a dual responsibility: to proclaim the gospel and a warning to the world, and to strengthen the members within the Church. God commissions one man to do this job, but it would be impossible without a loyal support group backing him up. God’s people today expose the evil being behind the suppression of the true gospel.
In his June 24, 1983, sermon, “From Sardis to Laodicea,” Mr. Armstrong read a statement from a German theological school about the lost century. He said that in this period, a “‘violent contest was going on between two gospels. Some wanted the gospel of Christ,’ which means the same gospel Christ preached, the gospel of the Kingdom. ‘And others wanted a gospel about Christ.’”
The Bible tells us which gospel won out. “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:3-5).
Christ foretold many false teachers preaching about Him, saying, “I, Christ, am Christ.” These deceivers will not call themselves Christ; they will say that Christ is Christ, or focus entirely on Christ the man instead of the message He preached. This is why God’s truth and God’s Church are a mystery to most people!
The Bible is Jesus Christ in print. To remove the mystery from the Bible, we must live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). We must focus on Christ’s message, not on the person of Christ or some shallow acceptance of Him.
Physical human beings cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). God’s Church prepares a small group of people to qualify for that reward right now, if we are willing, and to be born as spirit beings into God’s Family!