This phase involves God working through a group of people—the Church—who are spiritually transformed by the Holy Spirit. God chooses them not only to receive salvation for themselves, but to carry out His work for the ultimate benefit of all humanity.
On what foundation has God built the New Testament Church?
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).
By calling and training His disciples—His students—for 31/2 years, Jesus prepared them to be His apostles (messengers) and a major part of the foundation of the Church. The writings of the apostles continue to teach and support the Church, as do the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament who are also part of the Church's foundation. Both are important (see 2 Peter 3:1-2).
How and when did the New Testament Church begin?
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they [Jesus' disciples] were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).
Miraculous signs marked the beginning of the New Testament Church and God's giving of the Holy Spirit. God wanted to draw attention to this event, to call a sizable initial base from which the Church would expand into all the world.
Why was it necessary for God to give His Spirit to people?
"So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:8-9).
Without God's Spirit we are not Christ's. Yet the Church is described as belonging to Christ—it is His Body and Bride—a spiritually transformed people. The Spirit makes that change possible, as was discussed in Lesson 9.
What happened during and after that momentous Pentecost?
"Now when [the people in the crowd] heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ...' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them ... And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:37-38, 41, 47).
God called many to repentance, and the disciples baptized many. The Church grew rapidly in the beginning, with excitement and fervor evident in the Church's early history. The book of Acts reports on later times of persecution and scattering, as well as the growth of individual congregations throughout the Roman Empire as the apostles spread the gospel.
In spite of its rapid initial growth, does the Bible refer to the Church as a small, often-persecuted flock?
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are fewwho find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:13-16).
"Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).Jesus predicted His flock would remain small and beleaguered down through history. False prophets would even arise within the Church, dividing it and diluting its message.
Did Jesus and the apostles predict that false teachers and false teachings would creep into the Church, eventually producing a distorted, counterfeit Christianity?
"And Jesus answered and said to them: 'Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ," and will deceive many'" (Matthew 24:4-5).
"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:22-23).
"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed" (2 Peter 2:1-2). The later writings of the apostles as well as secular history show that these prophecies indeed came to pass. False teachers introduced a host of differing doctrines and practices into the Church. The Bible shows that Satan, the being ultimately behind this counterfeit Christianity, has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and that his ministers usually appear as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Acts 8 gives an example of a false teacher faking conversion and seeking the powers the apostles had, but for his own gain (verses 9-23). As Christ said in Matthew 7, lawlessness—an opposition to God's law—has gained a following among professing Christians.
What did the apostle John say a false minister did to true followers of Christ?"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church" (3 John 9-10). Satan's in roads into the Church were so rampant at this stage, near the end of the first century, that true Christians were actually being excommunicated from some congregations.
In spite of such persecution and heresy, did Christ say His Church would continue until His return?
"And I also say to you ... I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, New International Version).
Although Satan has repeatedly attacked and tried to destroy it, the Church has not died out. Though the details have often been hard to find in history, God's Church has survived the worst persecutions of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages as well as the attacks of more recent times. Somewhere on earth members of the small flock have always continued to serve God to the best of their understanding and ability. Today the Church continues as a small but active and faithful body, striving to spread God's good news in a faithless world. (For more details about what the Church has had to endure to survive, be sure to read the booklet The Church Jesus Built.)
After they face all the trials of this age, what does the Bible say will happen to faithful Church members when Christ returns?
"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:1-2).
"To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:21-22).
In Revelation 2 and 3 the apostle John records Christ's messages to seven Church congregations in Asia Minor. Those messages and promises are applicable to the Church down through the ages. (To better understand these messages and what the book of Revelation prophesies about the Church, be sure to read or download the booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled.)
After overcoming the trials and deceptions Satan throws at the Church, members will have their physical bodies changed to Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:50-53). They will be prepared to help Christ care for the world. An awesome future awaits us!