Larry Ray Hafley

Queries and Explications

When Was the Church Established?


QUESTION: (1) "I believe the church of Christ was founded in Jerusalem in Acts 2, but I have a problem with this, because in Acts 7:38, the Lord's church was already built in the wilderness during Moses' time. What is your biblical answer about this, sir?

(2) "According to the Seventh Day Adventists, the church began in the garden of Eden, because the church consists of those who obey the commandments of God. Is this true also, sir?"


There are many theories about when the church, the kingdom of God, was established. It has been said: That the church was established before the foundation of the world; That it began in the garden of Eden; That it had its beginning in the days of Abraham; That it began during the mission of John the Baptist, and/or during the personal ministry of Jesus; That it began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2; That it has not yet been established. How shall we respond to these varying views?

First, according to Daniel 2:44, the kingdom of God was not "set up" at that time; hence, it did not begin before the foundation of the world, in the garden, nor in the days of Abraham.

Second, according to Matthew 3:1, 2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; and Luke 10:9, the kingdom was still "at hand" in the days of Jesus and John the Baptist; hence, it did not commence prior to that time.

Third, according to Matthew 6:10, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Thy kingdom come," hence, it had not "come" or arrived at that time.

Fourth, according to Matthew 16:18, 19, the kingdom had not yet been built, for Jesus said, "I will build my church." John the Baptist was dead when Jesus said this; therefore, the church was not built or established during the days of John the Baptist. (If the kingdom did exist, the keys of entrance into it had not been distributed!)

Fifth, according to Mark 9:1, though the kingdom had not yet come, we learn that it would come during the lifetime of some of those who were then present. Since all of those men are dead, it cannot be true that the kingdom has not yet been established. So, either the kingdom (which had not come prior to this time) was set up during their lifetime, or Jesus was wrong about it, or there are some men who are 2,000 years old who are still waiting for the "kingdom of God" to "come with power"!

Sixth, according to Luke 19:11, ten days before Jesus was crucified, the kingdom still had not appeared.

Seventh, according to Luke 22:18, the kingdom of God had not "come" on the eve of Jesus' death, for Jesus spoke of an event that would not occur "until the kingdom of God shall come."

Eighth, according to Mark 15:43, the kingdom of God had not come immediately after Jesus died on the cross. If it had, why was Joseph waiting for it?

Ninth, according to Acts 1:6, the kingdom had not been set up forty days after the resurrection of Christ (Cf. Acts 1:3, 8; Mk. 9:1; Acts 2:1-4).

Tenth, according to Luke 24:49-53 and Acts 1:6-12, the kingdom had not been established at the time of the Lord's ascension into heaven. The kingdom was to "come with power," but the apostles had not been "clothed with power" at the time Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father (Mk. 9:1; Lk. 24:49-51; Acts 1:8-12). Thus, the kingdom was not established prior to that time.

If The Kingdom, The Church, Was Established Before Acts 2:

If, as some contend, the church was established before the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, note some things which must be true--If the church was set up before Acts 2, then:

  1. The church had no head, for Christ did not become head of the body, or king of his kingdom until after his death on the cross (Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:8-11; Col. 1:13, 14, 18-20).
  2. The church had no apostles in it. Apostles were not " the church" until after Jesus ascended into heaven (Cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:8, 11). They were called to be apostles before Pentecost, but they were not set in the church until then; they were not given the keys of the kingdom until then (Matt. 16:19; Jn. 20:23; Acts 2:38).
  3. The church had no Spirit in it (Jn. 7:39). The Spirit was not given until Jesus was "glorified." He was not "glorified" as late as the night before his crucifixion, for he prayed that he might be glorified (Jn. 17:5). He did not enter "into his glory" until after his death (Lk. 24:26; 1 Tim. 3:16). According to the Spirit in the Old Testament prophets, it was "glory that should follow" the "sufferings of Christ" (Cf. Isa. 53:9-12; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). Hence, the Spirit was not given until after Jesus' death on the cross. Therefore, if the church existed prior to his death, it existed without the Spirit!
  4. The church was under the limited commission (Matt. 10:5-7). As such, it could not have preached the gospel to "every creature," but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This does not fit the world wide scope of the kingdom of which the prophets spoke (Isa. 2:3; Dan.7:13, 14; Lk. 24:47).
  5. The church existed before Christ had "all power," all authority (Mat. 28:18). He did not have this power until after his death on the cross (Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11). Christ did not have possession of the throne of David until after his resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:30-36; Cf. Lk. 1:32, 33). So, if the church existed before the resurrection of Christ, it existed without Christ having any power or authority. (On the other hand, if the kingdom has not yet been established, then we have Christ sitting on a throne with all power, but without a kingdom over which to rule!)
  6. The church was filled with unredeemed members (Heb. 9:15-17). None are redeemed except by the blood of Christ; so, if the church existed before Christ died, it was filled with unredeemed souls!
  7. The church was not allowed to preach Jesus as the Christ (Matt. 16:20). That being so, it preached a gospel that differed from the gospel Paul preached (Acts 9:20; 17:2, 3). Hence, those who preached it were to be "accursed" (Gal. 1:8, 9). Imagine a church in existence whose members are "accursed" when they preach!
  8. The church existed without having been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Its members had not been "bought" by the blood (1 Cor. 6:20; 2 Pet. 2:1).
  9. Disciples, members of the church, had no cross in which to glory (Gal. 6:14).
  10. Members of the church did not believe in the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 16:22; Lk. 24:11). As such, they did not believe the gospel, nor could they preach it (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
  11. Christ was not the High Priest, therefore, members of the church could not approach the Father through him (Heb. 7:11-8:4; 10:10-14).
  12. The church was under the Old Testament, hence, not under law to Christ (Eph. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14-16). That being so, it was not under the New Testament (Heb. 9:16, 17). Hence, if it existed before Acts 2, it could not have been the "New Testament church." Too, if under the law of Moses, the church was "in bondage," and not "free."
  13. The blood of Christ was not in it (Heb. 9:22, 23; 10:1-4, 10-14). (Imagine the body of Christ without the blood of Christ--Eph. 1:7; 2:13, 16; 5:25, 26)!
  14. The church did not have a foundation, a tried stone, a chief corner stone (Isa. 28:16). The sure foundation was rejected. The chief cornerstone could not be set or laid in the foundation until it had been rejected. Jesus was rejected when he was crucified (Isa. 53:3-7; Mk. 8:31; Acts 4:10,11; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). If the church existed before the death of Jesus, it existed without a "chief corner stone" and without "a sure foundation."
  15. No one knew it! The Pharisees did not know the kingdom was already existent (Lk. 17:20). The Lord did not know it (Lk. 22:18). The thief on the cross did not know it (Lk. 23:42). "Jesus' disciple," Joseph, did not know it (Matt. 27:57-60; Lk. 23:51). The apostles did not know it (Acts 1:6). How can men today claim that the kingdom was set up during the personal ministry of Christ when no one back then knew anything about it?!

Pertinent Points Pointing To Pentecost

Observe certain and certified facts which point to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 as the time when the kingdom, the church, was established.

PERIOD: "In the last days," the kingdom of God was to be established (Isa. 2:2). The prophet, Joel, and the apostle Peter, speaking "as the Spirit gave (him) utterance," said that Acts 2 was the right time, i.e., "the last days" (Acts 2:4, 16, 17; Cf. Heb. 1:1, 2). All the prophets, Peter said, spoke of "these days," which were "the last days" (Acts 3:24). Therefore, Acts 2 was the right period of time for the kingdom to come. Peter later referred to it as "the beginning" (Acts 11:15). The "beginning" of what? Let those who say the kingdom was not established in Acts 2 answer that question.

PLACE: "Jerusalem" was the city where the church, the kingdom, was to be established (Isa. 2:3; Lk. 24:47, 49; Acts 1:4, 5; 2:5). The Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles "at the beginning" "in Jerusalem" (Acts 1:4, 5; 2:5; 11:15, 16). "Beginning at Jerusalem" said the Lord, said the prophet Isaiah, said the Holy Spirit (Isa. 2:3; Lk. 24:47, 49; Acts 2:5). "Where" do you say the kingdom began? Where did the church of which you are a member have its beginning?

PERSONS: "All nations shall flow unto it" (Isa. 2:2; Lk. 24:47). This kingdom, therefore, was not the one God made when the children of Israel came out of Egypt (Ex. 19:6; Deut. 7:6). That covenant and kingdom was not made for all nations, but the kingdom of God, the church, God's "holy nation," includes "every creature," "all nations," both Jews and Gentiles (Ex. 31:17; Eph. 2:11, 12; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:47; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5-9). Acts 2 marks the beginning--"devout men out of every nation" (Cf. Acts 2:5, 9-11, 21, 39; 10:2, 34, 35; 13:26).

POWER: "Power" was to be given to the apostles when the Spirit came (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:1-8). The kingdom of God was to "come with power" (Mk. 9:1). So, when the Spirit came, the power came, and the kingdom came. This occurred in Acts 2. Observe the logical progression: When one admits that the Spirit came upon the apostles, he admits that they received power (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4). When one admits that power was given, then he admits the kingdom came, for it came "with power" (Mk. 9:1). The conclusion is inescapable. To deny it is to deny the testimony of Scripture, and that it is infidelity.

PROMISE: "Promise" was made--"the promise of the Father" was what the apostles had heard of Jesus (Acts 1:4). What promise? When had they heard it? They had heard it in John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13. They had "heard" it in Luke 24:49. Jesus promised them power when theSpirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). It was the promise of the Spirit. That promise was fulfilled in Acts 2:4 when the Spirit came (Cf. 2:33b.).

Another "promise" had been made--"I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). The promise made was the promise met. The Spirit came. The power came. The kingdom came. In this way, in Acts 2, "the promise of the Holy Spirit," with all its implications and ramifications, was fulfilled.

PROCLAMATION: "Proclamation" is another way of speaking of the divine declaration of "the word of the Lord" which was to go forth from Jerusalem; that is, "beginning at Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3; Lk. 24:47). Yes, Luke and Isaiah speak of the same thing. How do I know? Look at Luke 24:46--"Thus it is written." Where? Where was "it written"? Isaiah 2 is where "it is written" that the word of the Lord was to emanate or go forth from Jerusalem. And when did those promises converge and emerge, and when were they fulfilled? "At Jerusalem" in Acts 2 (Acts 2:5; Cf. Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38). The word for all nations, i.e., repentance and remissions of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, began in Acts 2, just as Jesus and Isaiah said it would!

POTENTATE: "Potentate," or "the King of kings, and Lord of lords," is Jesus the Christ (1 Tim. 6:15). Jesus refused earthly kingship and denied that his kingdom was of this world; that is, he denied that it was a civil, worldly, political, military kingdom (Jn. 6:15; 18:36; 1 Pet. 2:5-9).

At the announcement of his birth, Jesus did not yet have his power, his kingship, "the throne of his father David," for the angel said the Lord God "shall give" it unto him; hence, the throne was not yet given unto him (Lk. 1:32). His throne was not given unto him as late as Matthew 23:2, 3, near the end of his life on earth, for he yet recognized the authority of the law of Moses.

It was in Acts 2, for the very first time, that Jesus was proclaimed as Lord and Christ, both Ruler and Redeemer (2:30-36). Jesus was not to rule as Lord until seated at the right hand of the Father (Psa. 110:1). He was not seated at the right hand of God until after his death and until after his ascension (Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22). The initial announcement and official pronouncement of his exaltation, glorification, and coronation at the right hand of God was not made known until Acts 2:33-35. Thus, he became our "Potentate" on Pentecost in Acts 2.

But What About "The Church In The Wilderness"?

The word, "church," may refer to any kind of assembly, whether sacred or secular. We read of an "assembly" (or church) in Acts 19:39, 41. Obviously, that "church" or assembly was not a gathering or congregation of the Lord's people. Yet, it is the same word which is translated "church" in Matthew 16:18 and Acts 7:38. When Luke spoke of the "church" in the wilderness, he was speaking, not of the New Testament church, or body of Christ, but of the congregation or assembly, the aggregate, corporate group of those who had been brought out of Egypt under Moses (Acts 7:36-38).

"The Church of Christ did not exist, in fact, before the day of Pentecost. The people of Godduring the Old Testament dispensation were in the kingdom of God as established at Mount Horeb by the Old Covenant, and there was an Old Testament congregation, a Church of Yahweh; but the Church of Christ came into being first with the establishment of the New Covenant and the gift of the Holy Spirit by the enthroned Messiah" (Charles Augustus Briggs, General Introduction To The Study Of Holy Scripture, footnote, No. 1, p. 36).

Spiritually, we may think of the church as the Lord's army (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17; 2 Tim. 2:3, 4). Yet, when I read of the physical, material, and military army of the Lord in the Old Testament, do I think they are the same thing (Cf. Deut. 24:5; 1 Chron. 12:22; 2 Chron. 26:11-13)? No (Jn. 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3, 4). As one can distinguish between the physical and spiritual army and armor of the Lord, so he ought to be able to separate the physical assembly in the wilderness from the "general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven."

Those Who Obey Commands Are The Church?

While it is certain that the disobedient do not constitute the church of God, it is not true, as we have shown, that the church of the New Testament has been in existence since the garden of Eden (Rom. 2:8, 9; 2 Thess. 1:8). It is equally certain that only the obedient comprise the church of the Lord "in the last days" (Jn. 3:21, 36; 14:15, 21-23; Rom. 1:5; 6:17, 18; 10:16; 16:26; Rev. 21:27; 22:14). Not every obedient person in every age has been a member of the New Testament church. (a) Abel was obedient, but the blood of Christ speaketh better things than the blood of that righteous man (Heb. 11:3; 12:24, 28). Abel did not received the kingdom which we have received (Heb. 12:23, 28).

(b) The rich, young ruler had kept the commandments of the Lord from his youth (Mk. 10:20). Yet, he was not in the Lord's kingdom (Mk. 10:23-25). Though he kept the commandments of the law of Moses, he was not fit for the kingdom of God. Thus, the fact that some have kept God's commandments all through the ages does not mean that the church has existed all that time.

(c) Abraham and Noah obeyed God; they kept his commandments (Gen. 6:22; 7:1; 22:18; Heb. 11:7, 8). However, they were not members of the church, the kingdom which we have received (Heb. 11:13; 12: 23, 28). Therefore, they do greatly err who say the church has existed whenever and wherever men have been obedient to God's commands.

Jesus promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18). He spoke of the kingdom being "at hand" (Matt. 4:17). It did not begin before Acts 2. Beginning in Acts 2, we read of "the church" and of those who were in the kingdom (Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1, 3, 12; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9). Are you in it? Have you been born again in obedience to the truth (Jn. 3:3, 5; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Pet. 1:22-25)?

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