Why did Jesus Christ establish His Church? Most people cannot answer that question. But it is vital that we understand it. It was supremely important to Jesus Christ. He risked His eternal life to establish His Church! That is how high the stakes were.
Jesus told His disciples, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). That is an extraordinary statement: The Church that Christ established would never die! That means this Church is around even today.
Scripture describes several characteristics of this Church. Here is a telling one: Jesus Himself called it a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). This one statement—though most people overlook it—reveals that God’s true Church is small compared to so many churches of this world. It isn’t meant to be a massive global organization in this age. Because it is small, God’s Church remains a mystery to the world.
Yet if you follow the Bible and have the understanding God has revealed to His servants, then you can know where to find the true Church today. The mystery can be solved.
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about this subject in great detail in his book Mystery of the Ages. In that book, he made some truly profound statements we should consider deeply.
Mr. Armstrong wrote about the five-pronged purpose for Christ’s time on Earth: Jesus “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, study Chapter 6 of Mystery of the Ages, titled “Mystery of the Church.”
The Titanic Battle
Christ’s five accomplishments on Earth are intertwined and chronological. Before He could set up His Church, His first priority was to conquer Satan.
“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 didn’t start teaching His disciples or delivering God’s message before fulfilling this crucial objective.
The head-to-head battle between Jesus and Satan is recorded in Matthew 4, Mark 1 and Luke 4. “This,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “perhaps was the most important, momentous, decisive confrontation and battle ever fought in all time in the universe.” It was so decisive because if Christ didn’t conquer Satan, then God’s plan for mankind could not proceed! Had Jesus sinned, He could not be our Savior. The outcome of this war would determine whether Christ would replace Satan, now the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), as ruler of the Earth.
Satan used multiple tactics to tempt Jesus Christ. But Christ would not be tempted. To one temptation He responded, “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). Christ kept His focus on the spiritual, setting the example for us by knowing and living by every word of God—even in this battle with Satan!
At one point, Satan also quoted scripture (verse 6)—but, as Mr. Armstrong wrote, “he misapplied it, twisted its contextual meaning, just as Satan so frequently influences scholars to do.” We must be close to God so we can respond the way Christ did and prevent deception.
“Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (verse 7). 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!
Christ used Scripture to repel Satan the devil, and we can do the same. Of course, that means we must know our Bibles.
Finally Satan took Christ up to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the Earth. “And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (verse 9). 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.
“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” (verse 10). Upon Christ’s command, Satan slunk away. Satan must obey the authority of God!
“Jesus Christ, the second Adam, had qualified!” Mr. Armstrong wrote about the conclusion of this titanic battle. “Never until that minute could the good news of the coming Kingdom of God be announced to the world.”
Before this 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, though our daily battles are nowhere near as hard as Christ’s confrontation with Satan.
The moment that Christ beat Satan, He could preach the gospel, the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God …. 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. Even most professing Christians don’t know what the true gospel is. And God’s Church is a mystery to them.
Yet 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.)
But the Church has a role to play. “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. Now, it is our turn. We must conquer Satan to rule with Christ on His throne for eternity.
God has given His Church a dual responsibility. First, we must proclaim God’s gospel message to this world. God tells the Philadelphia Church of God to “prophesy again” (Revelation 10:11), which includes the truth of the good news of the coming Kingdom of God.
Second, God gives us the responsibility to “feed my sheep”—speaking of the members of God’s Church (John 21). There is a person proclaiming the gospel, but he needs support. It is a team effort. The Church is called the Body of Christ, and it should function according to the mind of Christ.
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 a thousand years. God views the members of His true Church as kings and priests, if they are following Him (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). In other words, we will be over Church and state—both the spiritual Church and physical nations. We will rule alongside Christ with a rod of iron, possessing real authority and giving righteous direction.
That is a staggering reward, but we must qualify. How could we become kings and priests without preparation? Christ’s bride, the Church, prepares herself (Revelation 19:7). She must qualify for that lofty position. Those in God’s Church today must be learning now how to teach people in love with a certain amount of authority. God’s people are fed, nurtured and protected spiritually inside God’s Church until that time comes.
This is biblical truth that very few people understand! Satan truly has blinded the minds of those who believe not (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has made this wonderful, precious truth of God a mystery.
There is coming a time when God will open the minds of everybody in this world (John 7:37-38). But it is not that way today.
The Lost Century
Christ told His disciples, “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). The gospel was preached around the world in the first era, and Christ was saying it would not be preached again until the very end time, just before He returns! When you see the gospel being preached again—then you know that the end is near. If that had happened in a.d. 700, 1100 or 1800, then the end would have come then.
“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 (ibid). (Request The True History of God’s True Church for proof.) Why not? Because 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 strongly indicates what an intense spiritual warfare we face, and why we must overcome the devil.
Something horrible 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 30 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.
William Fitzgerald wrote in Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, “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.)
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.
The True Gospel
“And as he [Jesus] 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).
That is a phenomenal prophecy. 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 a big reason why God’s truth and God’s Church are a mystery to most people! They focus on Jesus Christ rather than the message of Jesus Christ!
The Bible is Jesus Christ in print. To remove the mystery from the Bible, we must live by every word of God. We must focus on Christ’s message, not on the person of Christ or some shallow acceptance of Him.
The Kingdom of God is not the Church as many today believe. Physical human beings cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). The Kingdom is spiritual. It is a family that we are born into if we qualify.
God’s Church prepares a small group of people to qualify for that reward right now, if we are willing. And as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7), they will help their Husband in bringing salvation to the rest of humanity after His return.
That is the transcendental purpose for the Church!