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The Place Of The Ecclesia in God's Purpose
Part 2 - The origin of the ecclesia

by John H. Essex


 
 

IN STUDYING A SUBJECT, it is well to begin at the beginning. We have to go back a very long way indeed to find the beginning of the ecclesia which is the body of Christ.

In Ephesians 1:3, Paul tells us that we were chosen "in Him before the disruption of the world." This is the only time that Paul uses that phrase, "the disruption of the world," and he does it in order to place the origin of the ecclesia before it. This is something that we hope to examine in more detail later in this series.

In his second letter to Timothy, however, Paul takes us even further back when he writes, "...God, Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian."

This is as far back as it is possible for our minds to travel. The Scriptures refer to no time prior to this. Even such absolute expressions as "All is out of God" lie within the concept of the phrase, "before times eonian." If we think of "God alone"— a stupendous thought—before creation came into being, we are still "before eonian times." What then is the meaning and significance of this phrase? An answer to this double question will throw much light upon the origin and designation of the ecclesia.

The eonian times are specifically related to the purpose of God. In Ephesians 3:11—a supremely important passage—we have the expression, "the purpose of the eons." The eons thus define the limits of the purpose of God, which, like the eons, has both a commencement and a consummation. They were created in order to confine His purpose within set bounds, for it could not be left free to come to no conclusion in the boundlessness of eternity. That is why it is wrong to speak of an eternal purpose of God, as the King James Version implies, but rather of an eonian one.

Anything that is "before eonian times" is therefore antecedent to God's purpose. In saying this, we do not necessarily mean that it is prior to His purpose being determined within the recesses of His own mind, but it is certainly prior to its being put into operation. And this is of prime importance in the case of the ecclesia, for, as we hope to show as this series of articles proceeds, God's purpose is made to depend upon the special relationship which exists between Christ and His ecclesia. It requires both to bring about its glorious fulfillment. For if Christ is the means by which God achieves His ultimate goal, the ecclesia is the medium through which He achieves it. Hence Paul prays that God may have glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons. Amen!

The gift referred to in 2 Timothy 1:9 is not a general one made to all creation, or even to all humanity, but is specifically given to "us in Christ Jesus," and the "us" is defined in the earlier part of the verse as we us who are called "with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian." Now a gift cannot be made unless there is someone to receive it, and it is made abundantly clear that the gift is to "us in Christ Jesus" and not to "Christ Jesus on our behalf." Therefore we, that is, the ecclesia, must have been in existence before the eons began, though this existence was not as a separate entity, but as perceived by God in Christ Jesus.

This second letter to Timothy is the last of Paul's recorded epistles, written when the period of his dissolution was imminent (4:6). It is instructive to observe a progression of thought as we move through his writings.

In his earlier letters, he sees believers as those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus; we are baptized into His death (Romans 6:3). We are chosen from that which is not, that God should be discarding that which is, so that no flesh at all should be boasting in His sight (1 Cor.1:28,29). In Ephesians, the first letter of the prison group, we are chosen in Him before the disruption of the world. By the time we come to the end of his writings, we are seen as having been in Christ before times eonian.

How do we reconcile all these positions? Let us go right back to the beginning and trace the matter through.

THE SON OF GOD'S LOVE

The very beginning of all is God. There was a time when He was alone, for out of Him is all. At some point in the dim and distant past, His vast love—that feeling which was the essence of His very self—longed for love responsive. It yearned for someone to return His own feeling. Out of that intense longing and yearning was created the Son of God's love (Col.1:13).

That Christ is a created Being is made clear from several scriptures. Revelation 3:14 speaks of Him as "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, and God's creative Original." 1 Corinthians 8:6 declares, "Nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father, out of Whom all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we through Him." In this passage the distinction between God and Christ is made clear. God is before Christ, and all is out of Him. All is not out of Christ, but through Him. Christ Himself is out of God, for He is God's Complement.

This distinction is again made clear by comparing Romans 11: 33-36 with Colossians 1:12-17. In the former scripture, which speaks of God, we read that " out of Him and through Him and for Him is all." In the latter, which speaks of Christ as the Son of God's love, we learn that "all is created through Him and for Him," but not out of Him.

This description of Christ as the Son of God's love is most profound and most illuminating. God's Son is the evidence and the expression of the full outpouring of the Divine affection. God's love desired a response, and found a complete satisfaction in the One He brought forth. And latent in this One, Who now added His sublime splendor to the glory of His Father, lay the Divine concept of the ecclesia, which in turn was to become the complement of Christ.

When God wishes us to understand the spiritual, He often gives us the natural as an illustration—in this case the relationship between the first man and the first woman. When humanity was created, we are told, "And creating is the Elohim humanity in His image. in the image of the Elohim He creates it. Male and female He creates them." Again, in Genesis 5:1,2 we read, "in the day the Elohim created Adam in the likeness of the Elohim He made him. Male and female created He them. And blessing them is He, and calling their name Adam in the day they are created." Thus from the very moment of Adam's coming into being the woman was associated with man in the Divine purpose. She was a reality in God's operations.

The same is true of Christ and the ecclesia. The ecclesia is as long existent as is Christ Himself. Though concealed in the Son, it was sufficiently a reality as to be the recipient of a gift of grace in Christ Jesus.

THE MEANING OF GRACE

Grace has two distinct aspects in Scripture. We generally think of it as favor bestowed on one who deserves the opposite. This is how it is used in Ephesians 2:5,8 "In grace are you saved." This is how it is applied to each of us individually. But this is not the meaning of the word as used in Philippians 2:9, "Wherefore, also God highly exalts Him, and graces Him with the name that is above every name." There is no suggestion here that Christ deserved any other appellation than that which God bestowed upon Him; the word "wherefore" discounts this.

The basic meaning behind the word charis, translated "grace," is "joy." The Greek word chara actually means "joy," and charoo is the verb form meaning "rejoice." So charis (grace) is defined in the Keyword Concordance as "an act producing happiness," and this is its first meaning. "A benefit bestowed upon one who deserves the opposite" is a secondary, though immensely important, meaning of the word.

As a result of Christ's obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, God graces Him with a name which is above every name, and the resultant happiness is made evident in the words that follow, "that in the name of Jesus, every knee should be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God, the Father" (Phil.2:10). In this particular bestowal of grace by the One Who is in all things Supreme, there ensues a special happiness to Christ Himself, for by His exaltation with its accompanying acclamation by all creation, He is assured of the wholly satisfactory outcome of His toil and travail on the cross.

There also ensues a happiness to every creature in the universe, for it is in the name of Jesus that every knee shall bow, and the word "Jesus" implies salvation (Matt.1:21). But above all, a special happiness accrues to God Himself, for through this bestowal of grace on His Son, the universe, temporarily estranged from its Creator and Sustainer, is brought back into reconciliation with Himself, peace having been made through the blood of Christ's cross (Col.1:20). Thus the whole operation is "for the glory of God, the Father."

Now, when the gift of grace was bestowed upon the ecclesia before eonian times, this too was in the nature of "an act producing happiness." It is not, in this connection, "a benefit bestowed on one who deserves the opposite," for nothing had occurred at that time to evoke estrangement or opposition to God. And the happiness that this gift produces is not confined to the ecclesia itself, for as we shall see in later studies the ecclesia is designed to be the medium through which the reconciliation of all will be completed (Eph.1:23).

Thus we have so far reached a situation in which we are able to assess that the ecclesia was originally created in Christ as a result of God's love desiring to express itself, and was given a gift of grace as a consequence of God's longing to bring happiness to all His creatures. What a privileged position!

But if this is so, where has the ecclesia been throughout all the period covered by the Hebrew Scriptures—indeed, throughout half the period covered by the eons—the part prior to the cross?

ADAM'S COMPLEMENT

We can best answer this by again looking at our natural illustration, and noting the sequence of events in Genesis 2:18- 25.

"And saying is Yahweh Elohim, 'Not good is it for the human for him to be alone. Make for him will I a helper as his complement.' And furthermore Yahweh Elohim, having formed from the ground..." We pause for a moment and ask, What did God form from the ground?

Was it a woman that He formed? The answer is, No. We continue, "...having formed from the ground all field life and every flyer of the heavens, He is also bringing it to the human to see what he will call it." We may ask, Whatever has this to do with finding a complement for Adam? But wait. Let us read on. "And whatever the human living soul is calling it, that is its name. And calling is the human the names for every beast and for every flyer of the heavens, and for all field life. Yet for the human He [God] does not find a helper as his complement."

Now do we see the force of this scripture? That out of all which had been created, there was not one that could be found to be a complement for man. All could be brought to him to be named, and the names that he gave them could be associated with them for perpetuity, but there was no one to which the name of complement could be given. Why? Because all these were external and of different species, and the one that was to be his complement must come from within, and be of the same kind. The word "complement" means "that which fills up," and there could be no filling up if the place were not first made vacant. Adam, before the woman was taken from him, was complete in himself; afterwards, the woman made him complete.

CHRIST'S COMPLEMENT

Now this teaches us a very great scriptural truth with regard to Christ and His ecclesia. The analogy is the same. Our Lord, we know, created all things; He was God's Executor; without Him not one thing came into being which has come into being. Everything received its name and its character from Him. And yet, in all the magnitude of creation, among all the hosts of heaven that inhabit the vastnesses of space (and heaven is not short of inhabitants) there were none who could rightly be termed His complement. There were none of the same kind. No, His complement too must come from within, and that is why we have it, "chosen in Him before the disruption of the world.

This is the aspect of the ecclesia which is ever before the eyes of God. He sees it preeminently, not as a multifarious conglomeration of individuals, chosen from without, to be brought into Christ (although, from another aspect, this is indeed a fact), but God views it as a single entity, holy and precious, and chosen from within.

It is on this "within" aspect of the ecclesia that we desire to ponder. It is this "within" aspect that entitles it to be called, "the ecclesia which is His body," and which gives it an absolutely unique position in the whole universe. It is the most exalted position that can be held by any of God's creations apart from Christ Himself; it is also the most intimate position in its relationship to God. The standing of the ecclesia before God is influenced and determined only by the standing of the Son of God's love in the eyes of His Father. The relationship of the ecclesia to Christ, the bond that exists between them, and the strength of the love which Christ has for His complement are things that can only be appreciated, even faintly, by those whose minds are constantly dwelling on things above.

THE COMPLEMENT NOT A BRIDE

If only believers in general understood the true relationship between Adam and the one who was made his complement, they would much better understand the nature of the tie which exists between Christ and His ecclesia. Adam never had to seek a bride. He never had to woo anybody. Indeed, as we have seen, there was no one among all creation that could be found as suitable for his complement. It was left to God to find one for him, and God did not form another being from the soil of the ground. Such a one might have become a companion for Adam, but could never have functioned as his complement. No, God provided Adam with a true complement, taken from within himself.

And so it is with Christ. To find the ecclesia, which is His body, the Lord never comes to earth as a Bridegroom seeking a bride. He never comes to seek a complement from without: He leaves it to God to provide one from within.

If, as we say, believers in general only understood this, they would not sing such a hymn as "The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord," without, among other things, altering the lines, "From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride." It is good poetry, and a favorite hymn, but it is simply not true in connection with the ecclesia which is His body.

It is correct, of course, that the Lord is pictured in the Scriptures as a Bridegroom, but that is in connection with His relationship to the nation which He served when He came to earth. The faithful in Israel will be the bride, and ultimately the wife, of the Lambkin; there is no such term as "the Bride of Christ" in the Word of God. The position of the ecclesia about which we are writing, is infinitely closer and more gloriously connected to its Lord and Head than ever the Israelitish bride of the Lambkin can be.

How then did Adam obtain his complement if he did not go forth to seek her? The answer is given in Genesis 2:21 and 22. "And falling is a stupor on the human, caused by Yahweh Elohim, and he is sleeping. And taking is He one of his angular organs and is closing the flesh under it. And Yahweh Elohim is building the angular organ which He takes from the human into a woman, and bringing her is He to the human. And saying is the human, 'This was once bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh. This shall be called woman, for from her man is this taken.'"

Who did this? Who performed this miracle? Yahweh Elohim. Adam was quiescent throughout the whole operation. And so, for a similar reason, we find Paul saying, in Ephesians 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world."

And so, to answer our earlier question, all down the centuries covered by the Hebrew Scriptures the ecclesia was hidden, as it were, in Christ, oblivious of the passage of time, oblivious even of its existence, unknown and unseen by anyone. It was, however, from the very beginning a great reality in the mind and purpose of God. In due course, God caused a deep stupor to fall upon His Son, the stupor of death. For three days He lay in the tomb, and was then roused by the mighty power of God, and from that time, in God's sight, the ecclesia began a separate existence—a glorious celestial existence to accord with the status of her risen Lord, for its realm is "inherent in the heavens" (Phil.3:20)—and she is to be presented to Christ, without spot or blemish, as His complement—that without which, even in His highest exaltation, He would not be complete.

CHRIST'S LOVE FOR HIS ECCLESIA

Adam's sleep was for his own sake, it is true, that he might have a companion, but in a special sense it was for the woman, that she might have a conscious and separate existence. Christ's death was, as we know, for all, but in a very special sense indeed it was for the ecclesia, that it, too, might have a conscious and separate existence. And so we read, "according as Christ also loves the ecclesia, and gives Himself up for its sake...that He should be presenting to Himself a glorious ecclesia"—an ecclesia in which, through its union with Christ, God Himself would be able to find glory throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons. Amen!

Thus, not the least of the blessings accruing to Christ as a result of His being obedient unto death is the fact that He now has a complement, the ecclesia, which He dearly loves (Eph.5:25), and which should be reciprocating that love.

We close this section of our study by quoting Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14.

On this behalf am I bowing my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after Whom every kindred in the heavens and on earth is being named, that He may be giving you, in accord with the riches of His glory, to be made staunch with power, through His Spirit, in the man within, Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, having been rooted and grounded in love, should be strong to grasp, together with all the saints, what is its breadth and length and depth and height—to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love of Christ—that you may be completed for the entire complement of God.


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