South African Bible Believers
Where and how should Christians
Christians lack discernment as to the believer's call on earth. They think that
everything is settled when a sinner has come to God with confession of guilt and
then knows that his sins are forgiven on the basis of the atoning work of the
Lord Jesus Christ. As to the Gospel, they adhere emphatically to the Word of
God, but give less consideration to that which concerns life after conversion,
not considering the fact that in this also the Bible is to be our sole
9-state that:"ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God"
Conversion comes first, for the natural man cannot serve God (Rom.3: 10-12), but
service for God follows. It is not conversion then, which is God's purpose for
man, but conversion is the indespensable means for reaching that purpose,
namely,"to serve the living and true God"
We find this
also in the epistle to the Romans. After an exact description in the first
eleven chapters of the way in which a sinner can draw near to God, we read in
chapter 12:1,that it is our reasonable or intelligent service to present our
bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. And in verse 2 we
are exhorted to prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of
It is an
undeniable truth that the"will of God" is only to be found in the "Word of God"
and that therefore we must examine the Word of God if we want to know how,
according to His will, we should serve the "living and true God". The Psalmist
says.(Ps.119: 99, 105) "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,and a light unto my
path" and "I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies
are my meditation."
When we think
of God's service we must first of all occupy ourselves with the gathering place
for believers, since it is there that they mutually come into direct contact
with God, whether it be in the worship service where they offer Him thanks for
what He has done, in the prayers meeting where they ask Him for what they need,
or in the ministry of the word where He comes to them to instruct them. In all
of these gatherings he wants to be in their midst (1 Cor.14: 25 and Matt.
find in the Bible that instructions with regard to gathering have an important
place in the Old as well as in the New Testament. How much for example, is
spoken in Exodus and Leviticus about the Tabernacle of the congregation (tent of
meeting) and the service thereof! Also in the New Testament, after the epistle
to the Romans which develops the doctrine of salvation, we find the Epistles to
the Corinthians which contain the divine principles dealing with the gathering
It is therefore astonishing that in no other sphere does there exist such diversity of opinion as precisely about this point. One is of the opinion that he must gather only with those who think exactly as he dose with reference to a part or several parts of the truth, another with such as form a State or National church. A third thinks he must stay where, in his own opinion, he receives the most blessing. Does the Word of God then speak with so little clarity on this point, or does no definite instruction exist? Let us examine this important matter and at the same time bear in mind that"obedience is better than sacrifice" (1Sam .15:22.
The Israelites in the wilderness
of all, a remark about the value to us the Old Testament teachings. In 2 Tim.2:
16 it is written, "every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for
teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". In
1 Cori.10: 11 we are told that all that Israel encountered in the wilderness
served them as types and happened for our admonitions. Finally, in Heb.9: 23 we
are informed that the visible things in the Old Testament are images of the
heavenly and spiritual things of which the New Testament speaks. In the Old
Testament we thus find God's thoughts on heavenly things expressed in visible
pictures. So the sacrifices in the Old Testament are types of the Person and
work of the Lord Jesus, and the Tabernacle and Temple, the House of God on
earth, give for the natural eye visible representations of the spiritual House
of god, about which the New Testament speaks (1Pet.2: 5; Eph.2: 20-22 and 1
cori.3: 16). The Apostle Paul also shows us in 1 Cor.9: 9 that the simplest
material instructions have a spiritual meaning. Let us therefore consider the
Old Testament in this light.
Genesis the gathering of believers is not spoken of. There we always see only a
single person serving God, surrounded by men who are godless. But it is
noteworthy that as soon as God begins to separate a people for Himself, He gives
indications that He wants to dwell in the midst of His people and that His
people should draw nigh to Him there. As soon as Abram arrives in Canaan, he
calls on the Name of Jehovah at Bethel (House of God). The word of God uses the
name Bethel here, although the place was at that time called Luz and it was only
162 years later that it was named Bethel by Jacob. And the moving away from
Bethel brings hunger and hardship, which soon disappear when Abraham turns back
to Bethel and the Altar which was located there.
chapter 28, God appears to Jacob at the same place as the latter is on his way
to Haran where his sons are to be born and the beginning of the nation seen. God
promised him at Bethel that it is to be the great nation. In chap.35 we see that
God brings Jacob there again, and reveals Himself to him in that very
these are but indications. The real treatment of the subject we find from Exodus
19 onward.it is true, that Moses speaks in the presence of Pharaoh about the
people offering sacrifices in a collective way. But these cannot be offered in
Egypt. First, the Passover-lamb must be slain (Cha.12), the people must be
redeemed, and all connection with the Egyptians be broken off (Chap.14). It is
then, when God has declared that Israel is His people, he can dwell in the midst
of them and have a place there where the people gather with him."And they shall
make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them "(25:8) and from chap.25 -40 we
find, almost exclusively, instructions and commandments pertaining to the
Tabernacle and its service. The tabernacle is called:
1. - a habitation - (Exodus 25:9. See New Translation Margin)
2. - the tent of meeting - (Exodus 29:42. New trans)
3. - the tent of the testimony - (Numbers 17:7, New trans)
names clearly indicate the meaning. It was (1) the House of God -, the
habitation. - (Chap.25: 8-9), the place where god dwelt in the midst of His
people. But in the habitation the people (2) met together, with God. And
furthermore it was (3) God's testimony on earth. Here God was seen in His
holiness, but also in His love and grace.
to that place that all men had to come three times a year, and there it was that
the first fruits had to be taken (34:23 and 26). To that place the offerings
were brought (Leviticus 1-7) and there the priest were ordained (8and 9). Yes,
even all animals that were slaughtered to be eaten had to be brought there first
there have been any doubt in the mind of an Israelite who knew the Word of God
as to the gathering place? What joy it must have been for God to have a people
who had heard His instructions, and because of this came with a willing heart
and a voluntary spirit to follow them (Exodus 35). God did not demand, but
expected a joyful sacrifice. And what a glorious answer the people gave! No one
was missing but all came with a willing heart to give to God the best they had.
Women gave their jewels and mirrors (38:8), men their precious material, gold
and silver. No selfishness no fear of dishonor from men, no craving after profit
could even for one instant hold them back from acting according to God's mind.
Not everybody could give the same. Some women who had a wise heart could do more
than others. But all came to give with a willing heart what they had! Does that
not make us think of the first period of the Assembly as described in Acts
what answer did God in His goodness give to this sentiment? As soon as the
tabernacle had been set up according to God's mind, He came in a manner visible
to all into the midst of His people in order to dwell there (Exodus 40), and
from His habitation He talked to them and communicated to them all His wonderful
taught them how they could approach Him and have fellowship with Him in eating
of the same sacrifice (Leviticus 3:11 and 7:19); how Aaron's sons were to attend
to the Lord's charge at the entrance of the tent of meeting (8:35) and help with
the work of atonement (9:9). They were instructed how each one could preserve
his purity (Chap.11), and how a person having become unclean could be cleansed
again (Chap.12-15).He taught them the feasts which they were to
celebrate(Chap.23) and He gave them instructions which made it impossible for
one to lose his inheritance (Chap.25).He gave each one his place and service in
the midst of the people, so that the whole became a well-fitting unit where all
was done in an orderly way (Num.1-4). And what wonderful things He revealed to
them besides in the seven weeks between Exodus 40:1 and Numbers 10:11!
Sadly enough the people did not stay long in this good condition. God complains in Amos 5:25 and 26 that they did not sacrifice to Him in the wilderness but that they took up the tabernacle of Moloch. They forgot the one gathering place and went to other place where God was not.
The Israelites in the Land of Canaan
Deuteronomy we find new teachings. At the end of the 40-year march through the
wilderness, the people have arrived at the Jordan in order to enter the promised
land, and God gives them instructions as to how they should behave
divisions of this book are clearly understandable. The first eleven chapters
pass in review the people's history and God's ways of grace with them. Chapter
12 begins the "statutes and judgments" (or "ordinances") that have were to
observe, while Chaps, 30-34 give a prophetic vision of the people driven from
the land, as a result of their disobedience.
already said, the first 11 chapters pass in the review the wilderness journey.
But it is not merely a repetition of what we find in Exodus and Numbers. Above
all it is demonstrated that God's love and faithfulness have kept them, and that
all hardship, yea, the whole 39 year trip "through all the great and terrible
wilderness" were but the consequences of their disobedience. If they had
hearkened to God's commandment they would have reached the land after an 11 day
journey (Deut. 1: 2). This part ends with Chap. 11 where once again great
emphasis is laid on the fact that only full dependence on and obedience to God's
Word can keep them in the blessings of the inheritance which God wanted to give
their hearts have thus become willing to listen, God, in Chaps. 12-29, presents
to them His statutes and judgments. And as always, here too the first point in
the gathering of the people to serve God. The people were entering a land where
all spoke of idolatry, that is, demon worship (1 Cor. 10: 20). The human heart
is inclined to adapt itself to its surroundings; we see that in the later
history of the people and alas, just as clearly in the history of Christendom.
That is why God from the very beginning clearly declares to them the fact that
divine worship is incompatible with demon worship, both as to the object and t
the manner in which it is conducted. There are many demons and that is why the
heathen adore many gods in many places; on the high mountains, on the hills and
under every green tree! In contrast, the principal thought of the Old Testament
is The Lord (Jehovah) our God is one Lord (Jehovah) (Deut. 6: 4). They knew Him
as the creator God, the Almighty and as Jehovah (Yahweh). That is why there can
be only one place of adoration, only one manner in which to render divine
service. There can be no accord with idol worship. Extra stress is laid upon
this in Chap. 12: 2 - 7, yes, even in the whole of Chap. 12 and in many other
places in the following chapters.
God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth the Almighty, Jehovah, Israel's God of the
covenant, claims the right to determine where and in what way His people, who
live in His land, can approach Him. That is why we find that six times in this
chapter the place is spoken of, which "the Lord your God shall choose" and also
further on, in chapter 14-17, 18, 26 and 31, in all, a total of 21 times. Does
that not give an overwhelming impression of God's supremacy, and also of the
value He attributes to the place in which his people
wants His people to be ONE practically, as He at all times sees them as one in
the twelve cakes or loaves of show bread in the Holy Place (Lev. 24: 5), and in
the two onyx stones of the shoulder piece, and the twelve stones on the
breast-plate of the high priest's robes (Exodus 28: 9-11). We see the same unity
symbolized later in the twelve stones get up after the crossing of the Jordan
(Josh 4: 1-10), and in Ezra's day by the twelve he-goats offered as a
sin-offering for ALL Israel (6: 17).
practical unity is formed through the possession of a common goal, a mutual
object of worship and through oneness of thought (see 1 Cor. 1:10). The name of
our God possesses a wonderfully unifying power. Statan knows this and fears
nothing so much as this power. That is why he constantly endeavors to destroy
the unity. Many believers do not see this. Godless Jeroboam saw it very well. He
knew that common worship connected with "the Name of the Lord" would irrevocable
annual the dissension. That is why he established a worship separated from "the
place which the Lord had chosen to place his name there" (Kings
Deuteronomy 12 everything is arranged so as to strengthen and to realize the
practical unity of the people. God knew the richness of the inheritance that He
wanted to give to His people. And He expected and desired that His people with
thankful heart should return some of this wealth to the Giver. That is why there
are named here so many free-will offerings. Only the tithes and the offering of
the first fruits were obligatory sacrifices. God wants everything that is
consecrated to Him through voluntary, thankful and obedient hearts to be brought
to that place where He Himself is. He wants, so to speak, to receive it
personally from their hands and collectively enjoy it with them. A part of the
sacrifices was to be His "food" (or "bread" as it can also be translated)
(Leviticus 3: 11 and 16) and the remainder was for His people, with their sons,
and daughters, man-servants and maid-servants and the Levites, as they gathered
with a glad heart before His face (Deut 12: 7, 12, 18). Was a more wonderful
service thinkable, for an earthly people, than that presented to us here? Yet it
was only for hearts in which abided the love of God and therefore valued
communion with Him. The elder son in Luke 15 attached no value to happiness in
communion with his father. He wanted to be gay with his friends without the
presence of his father. That was practically idolatry. What a contrast to Isaiah
26: 8 where it is said that "the desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the
remembrance of Thee" and to Deuteronomy 18:6 where a Levite is spoken of who
shall "come with all the desire of his mind unto the place with the LORD shall
the following chapters of Deuteronomy we see the important we see the important
place which the divinely chosen location occupied in the life of the people.
That cannot be otherwise. The life of god's people must be dominated by the fact
that God dwells in their midst. In chapters 14 and 15 we find the eating of the
tithes and the first fruits. Chap. 16 speaks of the sacrifice of the Passover,
the Feast of the Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. In chapter 17 the setting
of all difficult differences is dealth with, and in the 18th chapter the service
of the Levites finds its place. In chap. 26 the basket with the fruits is
brought before God and in chap. 31:11 the command is finally given that each
year of the jubilee (year of pardon) the law should be read in the presence of
Kings 11:36 we know that the place referred to in Deuteronomy was Jerusalem.
Psalm 78:68 shows us that God chose Mount Zion, which He loved, to place His
Sanctuary there. Farther on we se (verse 7) that God made this place known in
connection with His servant David, the type of the Son of David who in Matt.
18:20 speaks about the place connected with His Name, where He wants to be in
the midst of His own.
132 lets us see that David already in his youth had searched for the place where
God desired to dwell. He found it first where Caleb found his inheritance (Josh.
14:17), and where the sons of Korah found smoothed ways in the desert (Psalm
84:5), that is, hi his heart. And if we do not find it there first, that is to
say, if we do not accept God's words concerning this place by faith and in full
dependance, and thereby our hearts know this place, then we shall never find it.
But only after a humiliating experience did David learn to know Mount Zion as
that place, which god had chosen. In 1 Chron. 21 and 22 we find that God's
judgment had first to fall on his pride, and only after he had paid the full
price did God reveal to him the place for the Lord's house. If always costs
something and calls for sacrifice to look away from all natural things and to
act solely according to God's thoughts.
Unfortunately, Israel did not obey these commandments of the Lord. As soon as the eyewitnesses of God's great works had died, the people rapidly turned away and served idols (Judges 2:7-13). And in Hosea4: 13 God complains that they sacrificed on the tops of the mountains and burnt incense on the hills, under the oaks and poplars and terebinths; doing precisely what God had strictly prohibited in Deuteronomy 12. Even a Godfearing man like Solomon burnt incense on the high places, until God gave him "a wise and understanding heart" (1 King 3), and against nearly all the kings, as God-fearing as they may have been in other respects, God had to direct this same complaint. As always, in this also, man has spoiled what God has entrusted to him.
After the Babylonian Captivity
and Nehemiah we find a new period in Israel's history. As a consequence of the
people's unfaithfulness, the terribleness of which Ezekiel 8 gives us a picture,
the Glory of the God of Israel had left Jerusalem. Jerusalem was “the place
which the Lord had chosen to cause His Name do dwell there”. In it was “the
throne of the Lord” (1 Chron. 29:23). Nevertheless, it is now called by God an
“adulterous wife” and a “harlot” (Ezekiel 16:32 and 35). The ten tribes had been
led to Assyria into captivity by Shalmaneser. 134 years later the kingdom of
Judah was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the inhabitants of Judea were led into
captivity, the majority of Babylon.
grace God remembered the faithful remnant and moved the heart of Cyrus, the king
of Persia, to allow the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem after the seventy
years' captivity, as Isaiah had prophesied 150-200 years before (Isa. 45). Only
a small part of Judah and Benjamin made use of this opportunity. According to
Ezra 2:64 there were some 42000 who returned with Zerubbabel. If we take into
consideration that there were times when Judah and Israel together had an army
of 1 200 000 men (2 Chron. 13:3), we can see how small the returning remnant
was. The majority had no longing for the God-given land nor for Jerusalem where
the temple had stood. Others (like Daniel) were hindered by their position or
age from going along.
But God was with the small remnant. He encouraged and strengthened them. He protected them from their enemies and bestowed His help and favour upon them. Not that God restored them to the same position that Israel had taken before: God is not indifferent to any unfaithfulness and does not operate any restoration to a situation that man through his sin and unfaithfulness has lost. God did not restore Adam to the paradise of Eden. Even Christians to whom the value of Christ's work is imputed: a work through which God is infinitely more glorified than Adam and all his descendants have dishonoured Him, even they will not be transplanted into the paradise of Eden again, although their place is infinitely higher and more glorious. This remnant must do without the visible presence of the Lord. The throne of God is no longer in Jerusalem. A Zerubbabel, the prince coming from the kingly race of David does ascend the throne, but is only a governor for the Persian world-rulers. God has withdrawn His glory from Jerusalem, and given the direct government of the world to the Gentile nations (see Joshua 3:11; 1 Chron. 29:23; Dan. 2:28; Isaiah 45:1). God recognizes the sovereign rights of the heathen empires. The dates in the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah are indicated according to the reigning years of the heathen kings. God works in favour of His people, not in destroying their masters, but in that He instills in the hearts of these kings a good disposition toward the Jews.
remnant had spoken as so many do today, they would surely not have returned to
Judea. Over 1000 years had passed away since Moses had made known the “statutes
and judgements” in which God had established the only place of worship for all
the twelve tribes and in which the priestly functions were expressly determined.
Five long centuries had gone since Solomon had built his magnificent temple and
arranged everything according to Gods thoughts, as revealed to David. Never had
unbelief more reason to excuse disobedience to God's Word. Was it now necessary
after one thousand years, now that the circumstances were so different, to still
act according to what God had laid down in the books of
God Himself abandoned Jerusalem and permitted the temple and city to be burnt?
Had He not blessed the Jews who lived in Babylon and other lands? Let us think
only of Daniel and his friends, of Esther and Mordecai. Was that not proof that
those who stayed in Babylon were on the right way? And should they now return to
Palestine, devastated and inhabited mostly by enemies; to Jerusalem, where no
liveable house stood any more, where there was no alter for the sacrifices, no
temple for worship, and no wall of defence against the enemies; and for the
exclusion of evil? It was utterly impossible to reinstate the old
not necessary to take consideration the teachings of history? Throughout the
centuries actually only two tribes had served God in Jerusalem. In the last
seventy years everything had changed, and under God's government a completely
different situation had come about. And now only a handful from Judah and
Benjamin, with a few priests and Levites were going back. Was this little group
the only one to know it? Did the more than 90% who were not returning, among who
were people like Daniel, all act wrongly?
a shadow of doubt many must have spoken that way. In no other way can it be
explained that the Scriptures tell us that only 42000 men, hardly 5% of the
total, returned to Jerusalem.
faith does not let itself be guided by considerations, as reasonable and correct
as they may appear to be. It does not look at their circumstances. It does not
judge the accuracy of a course entered upon according to the apparent results.
It does not count upon the number of people making common cause with it. It does
not let godly instructions be judged by history, but judges history according to
obedience towards God's commandments. It is concerned only with what the Word of
God says, without reckoning on their things. God's Word had said that Palestine
was the promised land, that Jerusalem was the place that “He had chosen to cause
His Name to dwell there”; that His house, in which His people could approach Him
was there. And thus, as soon as they had heard God's message, the believing
remnant went to Jerusalem. Certainly there were dangers on the way. The enmity
of the people that lived around Jerusalem was great enough, but they didn't take
them into account, they were not even mentioned. And what zeal they developed
when they arrived!
test was made to see if their descent as Israelites, or eventually as priests,
could be proven. In normal times that had not been necessary, as it was known
who was an Israelite, a priest or a stranger, and it was not necessary to
establish an inquiry as to descent. But in times of disorder and ruin this is
necessary. In Babylon a stranger could easily slip in. And through their
dispersion among the peoples, and unfortunately even their mixture with them, as
well as also through the fact that strangers lived in the land, it was possible
for a stranger to pass himself off as an Israelite, and that a priest was not of
pure descent. The mere claim of descent by the person in question was not
sufficient. In times of ruin somone who lays claim to a title must prove his
right to it. Not that Zerubbabel questioned the claim. That, he left to God.
“The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). But the could only decide on
clear evidence. If later a high priest should be raised up with the Urim and
Thummim (Lights and Perfections), then the final decision as to their claims was
to be made according to the knowledge of the Omniscient God (Ezra
soon as it was established who belonged to God's people and who could exercise
the priesthood, the first thing was to gather for worship. There existed no
doubt as to where they had to gather. They “gathered themselves together as one
man to Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1). There was no differenc of opinion as to what was
to be done. Surely, the instructions of the Word of God are of inestimable value
and in Nehemiah 8: 2-13 we find how great a place they occupy with the remnant.
The first act of this people delivered and restored by the Lord is to sacrifice
to God, to praise Him and to worship Him.
There was not even the slightest doubt entertained by the people as to where this worship must take place. There was but one place “that the Lord had chosen to cause His Name to dwell therein”, and that was Jerusalem; only one altar on which according to God's will they could sacrifice: the altar at the threshingfloor or Ornan, in the porch of the House of God, the temple.
course the temple was no longer standing, but the ruin still existed. The altar
no longer stood there, but the spot which it had occupied remained. There they
rebuilt the altar, and this altar in the old place, on the old spot, is called
by Malachi “The Lord's Table”. There on the Lord's altar, in the outer court of
the Temple ruins, they offered burnt offerings “as written in the law of Moses,
the man of God”. There they celebrated the feast of the Tabernacles “as it is
written” and brought the prescribed offerings for this feast “according to the
instructions”. Could anything whatsoever exist more inclining the heart to act
only according to the Word of God than worship in the place where the Lord's
Name dwells, in His house?
after they have obedient in everything, God gives them more light and greater
willingness. They can no longer contemplate the ruins of the Temple without
feeling a strong urge to build. Certainly the Temple is devastated and no more
to be established in its old glory. Those having seen the first House wept as
the foundation of the new one was being laid. They could not forget that the ark
of the covenant with the tables of the law and with the pot of manna no longer
existed; nor that the propitiatory or mercy seat was no longer there, on which,
every year, on the great day of atonement the high priest had to sprinkle the
blood (Lev. 16), nor that there were also no cherubims between which the Glory
of Jehovah abided; nor that the Urim and the Thummim no longer existed, also,
with their small number, and in their poverty, the surely could not build the
Temple with the same magnificence with which Solomon had built
weak as their efforts may have been, as miserable and different the edifice may
have appeared in the eyes of men, in God's eyes it was wonderful. He saw the
feelings of the hearts. He noted the obedience toward His Word in their hearts,
and that was wellpleasing to Him. That is why He encourages them indicating to
them that in His eyes it is the same Temple as that built by Solomon; and that
the final glory of this House would be greater than the first. Solomon's temple,
Zerubbabel's temple, Herod's temple and the temple in the Millennium (Ezek.
40-43), in His eye are one and the same. There is only one House of God. “The
latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith Jehovah of
hosts” (Hag. 2:9, New Trans.).
Not that the remnant in itself was better than their brethren who had stayed in Babylon. They belonged to the same people that had merited God's wrath. We read in Ezra and Nehemiah of so much weakness and so much sin, that we can only wonder that God did not destroy them in judgment. God had to complain through the prophet Haggai that they lived in ceiled houses and did not think about the building of the Temple. In not less than four chapters we find that, in complete disobedience to God's Word, they had mixed with strange people (Ezra 9 and 10; Nehemiah 9 and 13:3 and 23), and that the high priest Eliashib had taken the lead in this. We see that the nobles oppressed the poor and even sold them as slaves. Perhaps in some things their practical conditions was worse than that of many in Babylon or in Persia; we need only to think of Mordecai. Nevertheless God sees them alone as the representatives of His people. He lets their history be taken down and raises up kings to help them. To them He sends His prophets and gives His promises. The others are only spoken of in-so-far as their circumstances are in connection with the remnant, as for example, in Esther, where it is a question of warding off the destruction of the entire people as well as that the remnant. In them God finds, in spite of all the weakness and defects, a principle of obedience. They inquire, (although even this they sometimes forget to do), as to God's mind, how they were to act and how they could serve God according to His thoughts. That was the principle on which they acted, and by which they reached the one place of gathering according to His mind, the place “that the Lord had chosen of cause His Name to dwell therein.” For all times the saying holds true: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15: 22).
The New Testament
Gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus
every attentive reader will confirm, the Lord Jesus is presented in Matthew's
Gospel as the King who comes to His people Israel in order to set up His
Kingdom. In the genealogical table His descent from King David is emphasized,
and in chapter two we find the homage which the wise men of the East pay to Him
kingdom is called here "the kingdom of Heaven", in that, although on earth, it
is to be governed by heavenly principles. In chapter 4: 17-25 we find the
powerful message of the Lord "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand..."
When as a result of His miracles great multitudes follow Him, the Lord, in the
sermon on the mount (Chaps. 5, 6 and 7), gives the fundamental law, the
principles of the kingdom, or to be more exact, the character of those who are
to partake thereof. But these principles were opposed to the proud thoughts of
the Jews, and in chapters 8 to 12 we find His rejection by the people. Then, in
chapter 13, we have the new character of the kingdom: a kingdom whose king is
absent, where tares are sown among the wheat, and the meal becomes throughly
levened by the leaven (compare 1 Cor. 5: 6-8), but that is not restricted to the
Jews alone: the field is the world. In chapter 16 we then have the completely
new thing that is to come: the Church or Assembly, which is to be built by
an important point. Peter confesses Christ not only as the Son of God, but the
Son of the living God, of whom and in whom is life and life-giving power.
Christ, who at His resurrection broke through the gates of Hades, and was thus
declared to be the Son of God with power (Rom. 1: 4), builds the Assembly of the
living God (1 Tim. 3:15) on Himself as the Son of the living God. Hereby an
entirely new situation is introduced. Not that Israel is rejected for good.
Chapter 17 shows us that the Son of Man will some day set up His kingdom in
glory. But for the time being the Assembly has taken the place of Israel as
God's testimony on earth.
chapter 18 we find this more fully developed. The decision in disciplinary
question no longer rsides with the synagogue (John 9:22, 34) but with the
Assembly. And the authority of the Assembly rests on the fact that she is
gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus and that He Himself is in her
It is clear that the Lord here speaks of the time after His ascension. When He was the earth He decided all questions. In Chap. 16 we have also seen that the Assembly did not exist, but was to be built. 1 Co. 12:13 and other passages teach us that the Lord began to do this on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Matt. 18: 20 is the only place in the New Testament where the Lord promises to be in the midst of His own. It is true that He had promised since the days of yore to be with each believer. But that is something completely different. Here He wants to as one of them in their midst, as He has prophetically stated in Psalm 22: 23, "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee." That is why, as a preliminary condition for His presence, it is said here that they are gathered to His name. He promises His disciples who gather as the Assembly that He will be in their midst if they are gathered to His Name.
As this text is sometimes erroneously construed, it will be good to emphasize the correctness of the above -written. We must keep in mind the fact that we can only grasp the true meaning of a text, if we read it in connection with the passage in which it appears. A text removed from its context is but a pretext. Otherwise I should be able to "prove?" all I wish, and, alas, this is often done.
whole chapter the Lord teaches us that we should act in a spirit of humility and
grace. From verse 15 onward He applies this to the case in which a brother
should sin against me. But what must I do if my action in grace is without
result? To whom should i turn? There is a resource: The Assembly which was built
by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself on Himself has the authority to give judgment
in all questions between brethren. If she, on earth, makes a decision, binds or
unbinds, it is recognized in Heaven. And if on earth she will act in dependence
and grace, the Father in Heaven will give here what she asks. And so that it
should be clear and understandable to the disciples, on what this promise rests,
the Lord adds, "Where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am
I in the midst of them." If the Assembly is gathered to the Name of the Lord
Jesus, He is in her midst and her decisions are clothed with His authority (See
1 Cor. 5: 4, 5).*
or more believers live in different localities, and agree to pray at an
appointed hour about a definte matter, verse 19 cannot be applied to this.
Certainly God, who hears the prayer of each believer, will also hear them! But
that has nothing to do with this verse. And if two or more believers gather for
a spiritual purpose, be it for worship, for the preaching of the Word, for
prayer or whatever other character the gathering may have, this with nothing
more is not a gathering where the Lord Jesus is in the midst. For that, it is
necessary that the Assembly be gathered to His Name. Only thus does the Lord
give this promise that He will be in their midst.
for this two preliminary conditions:
the Assembly gathers as such. In verse 17 is not written "an" but "the"
Assembly. Chapter 16 also speaks of "the" Assembly. There is but one Assembly,
the Assembly of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15). All true believers who live in a
given locality are the local expression of the unity of that one Assembly, yes,
they are for me, the Assembly. That is why the apostle Paul writes to "the
Assembly of the Thessalonians", "the Assembly of God which is in Corinth,"
Scriptures do not recognize the existence of two or more Assemblies (apart from
the local gathering which are to expressions of the whole). There is but one
body of Christ. That is why it is an absolute preliminary condition for the
presence of the Lord in the midst of the two or three, that they gather on the
basis of the one Assembly. Perhaps not all who belong to the Assembly are
present. Some may be ill or weak, or may be hindered for other reasons. Many may
stay away in order to gather on another ground than that of the one Assembly.
They find the ground too narrow, and add to the belonging to the one Assembly
other conditions. But the two or three are gathered at the place where all
believers belong. And even if their hearts are grieved "because few appear",
their eyes of faith, in spite of it, see them all together as members of the one
body of Christ. They are gathered as the Assembly.
second conditions is that they are gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ. His Name must be the sole centre, the only thing that characterizes
them. They are gathered unto this name. This Name is the Host. But that means
everything is regulated through Jesus' name, and that it is not the gathered who
determine how the course of the gathering should be, which gatherings should
take place, how the worship should be practiced, in short, how everything in
connection with the gathering should be regulated. The Lord Jesus should
regulate everything, and the two or three gathered to His Name alone should do
nothing else but ask, "Lord, what wilt Thou have us to do?" They should
carefully study His Word, and, without personal thoughts and without criticism
they should seek to put into practice His "statuts and judgments". (Deuteronomy
12). "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and
receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But
be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James
believers are thus gathered, even if it be only two or three, then they are
gathered to His Name,and He is in their midst. What blessed place and what a
privilege thus to be the guests of the Lord Jesus Christ! But also what a
responsibility for each believer, as to what he does, whether he occupies this
place close to the Lord Jesus, or another place which he has chosen himself,
where however the Lord Jesus is not in the midst of His
Does not Matt. 18: 20 immediately remind us of the "place which the Lord your God will choose to cause His Name to dwell there" (Deuteronomy12)? Here also we find "the Name" as the gathering place. The Son of the living God who transforms dead sinners into living stones, and with them, builds His Assembly (Matt. 16: 18; 1 Peter 2: 4, 5), wants His Assembly to gather in (or better "to" or "unto") His Name and binds His presence to it. Here then we have the only place of gathering for all who belong to the Lord Jesus.
Worship in Spirit and in Truth
Comparing Matt. 18:20 with Deut. 12, the question might be
raised as to whether in both cases the same place is referred to. In Deuteronomy
a geographically designated place is named, that is, Jerusalem. Is it so also in
Matt. 18: 20? John 4: 20-26 gives the answer.
Samaritan woman had seen, through the saying in which the Lord Jesus revealed
her moral conditions, that He was a prophet. She asks what He thinks about the
great controversy between Jews and Samaritans: Is Mount Zion or Mount Gerizim
the place where God must be adored? Naturally the Lord answers the controversial
question in the spirit of the Word of God. Jerusalem is "the
But now beginning with the Old Testament worship. He proceeds to show that through His coming to earth, everything is to be changed. Since Israel has rejected Him and thus lost the present fulfilment of the promised earthly blessings, the Lord extends His field of activity to the whole world (Matt. 13:38), and out of it gathers His assembly (Matt. 16: 18). The blessings of the latter are not earthly (material) but spiritual. It is itself a heavenly and a spiritual body, founded on Jesus Christ who died on earth but who is now risen and glorified and in which God the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3:16). Those Who belong to the Assembly, not only know God as LORD (Jehovah), but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is their God and Father. They also have the spirit of sonship through which they cry "Abba, Father"! (Eph. 1:17; 3: 14; John 20:17; Rom. 8:15). Therefore their worship also should be an entirely different character: they should worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
"In spirit" indicates the changed character. It was not any more to be in an earthly manner, adapted to the natural thoughts of man on earth: a locally designated place; a temple built out of the most precious materials that are found on earth; sacrifices from all that the earth produces; a service in which man can give the best and the highest that he possesses in wonderful music and costly vestments; in short, a service in which earthly man approaches God as if His thoughts also were earthly.
Henceforth the true worshipers should draw nigh unto God in the full
knowledge of who and what God is, "God is a spirit" and the true worshipper is
able to approach Him in the power of the new life which he has received at new
birth (John 3: 5-8). This is done, not now with external means, which at best
are but figures of the heavenly (Heb. 9: 23, 24), but in a spiritual
"In truth" means in conformity with the way in which God has revealed Himself. Thus, it is no longer as the Israelite standing before Jehovah, the God of the covenant: "to the mount that might be touched and was all on fire, and to obscurity, and darkness, and tempest, and trumpet's sound, and voice of words; which they that heard, excusing themselves, declined the word being addressed to them any more..." (Heb. 12:18:21, New Trans.), but as a child standing in relationship to his father; "The Father seeketh such to worship Him" (John 4: 23; Rom. 8:15; 1 John 3:1).
This change is also stressed in Heb. 13: 10-16). The whole epistle deals
with the difference and the relation between the law and the worship united with
it, and the Person of the Lord Jesus as the substance and centre of Christian
worship. And the result is that in each chapter, the old, which at best is an
earthly type of the Heavenly Lord and His service, disappears, and the Lord
Jesus alone remains, as we see at he close of the epistle in chapter 13: 18,
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
That is where the inference in chapter 13:10 is drawn from: those who
serve the Tabernacle, a service by which access to God was not revealed (Chap
9:8), have no right to eat from the Christian altar. Only such can eat from it
as have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Chap.
10:19). Whoever wants to be with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit accepts this as a
foregone conclusion in every Christian, must either be actually in heaven (9:12)
or "go forth unto Him without the camp," that is, outside the system of earthly
worship. In Chap. 13:12 all doubt is excluded that for the believing Jews, to
whom the epistle was addressed, "the camp" was Jerusalem, the city which under
the old economy was "The place the Lord had chosen to cause His Name to dwell
there". The Lord Jesus is now the centre around which all His own gather, in
separation from all that is called worship which is performed in an Old
In Heb. 13:10 the Holy refers to the portion of the offering, that if it
were a sin - or meat-offering it could be eaten only by the priest and
eventually his family, but if it were a peace-offering it could be eaten,
provided he were clean, by each Israelite (Lev. 6:8 to 7:38). A part of the
peace-offering was for God and is called "Jehovah's food (or bread)" (3:11). The
rest was for the one sacrificing and the sacrificing priest, yea, for each
Israelite who was clean. And the altar on which the offering was brought was
called "the Lord's Table" (Malachi 1: 7-14).
The Christian altar is also called "the Lord's Table" (1 Cor. 10:21).
This is not arbitrary. There is no type in the Old Testament which corresponds
to the Lord's Supper as presented in 1 Cor. 10 more than the peace-offering and
the burnt-offering connected with it (Ex. 29: 19-33; Lev. 8:31).
In 1 Cor. 11 the Lord's Supper is seen in its first meaning which the
Lord revealed concerning it, namely, a simple memorial meal of a Saviour who has
died: "This do in remembrance of Me". That is why here everything is personal
and the emphasis is laid on the personal condition and the responsibility of the
In 1 Cor. 10: 16-22, however, a very different aspect of the Lord's
Supper is presented. Here we see Christ on the Altar as the Saviour who has died
and the offered nourishing himself from Him, having fellowship therein with all
his fellow believers and also with God Himself. The blood is mentioned first
here, and absolutely only here, in order to show that the accomplished work of
atonement is the only basis on which this fellowship could come into being. Thus
communion (fellowship) comes entirely to the front and all that is personal
In verse 16 we see that when we drink from the cup we have communion with
the blood of Christ. Not I alone have this, but "we", all the believers, and so
it is also with the bread. It is the cup which we bless and the bread which we
break. All believers who celebrate the Lord's Supper have fellowship with it and
with one another. In verse 17 this is again emphatically established: "We, being
many, are one loaf, one body for we all partake of that one loaf". (New Trans).
When therefore we celebrate the Lord's Supper collectively, we clearly express
that we have fellowship with the blood and the body of the Lord, and that we
form with all believers, one bread, one body of Christ (1 Cor.
In the following verses it is explained that it is possible to bring
those holy things into contact with what is unholy. Taking the Jewish and
Heathen altars as examples, the apostle notes that those who eat of the
offerings have fellowship with the altar, yea, with the God to whom the
sacrifices are brought. And he adds the serious word of admonition: "Ye cannot
drink the Lord's cup and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the Lord's cup
and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the Lord's table, and the table of
demons. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor.
10: 17-22 New Tans). Solemn words that should fill us with holy respect and that
we might realize how important the holiness of the Lord's Table is for
In this part we have seen that the Lord's Supper must be celebrated in the consciousness that we are one with all believers, yea, that we, through the partaking of the cup and bread, clearly express that we all together from the body of Christ, and that it must be celebrated at the Lord's Table, in separation from all that is not an agreement with it. It is not the one congregation that gathers at the Lord's Table the same as in Matt. 18: 20? Here also the believers gather on the ground of the unity of the Assembly, at the Lord's Table, where the Lord is host and determines who may partake there and how things should be done, and where He Himself is the centre and the object of the heart of the Assembly. There is, therefore, only one gathering-place or the Assembly, not only for the celebration of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 10: 16-22 and 11:18, 20), but also for the ministry of the Word (14: 23).
Gathering in times of ruin and apostasy
Assembly, the House of God, has been built by the Lord Jesus out of living
stones (Matt. 16: 18, 1 Peter 2: 4-7) and is without any defect. How could the
hands of the divine Builder produce a defective
Cor. 3: 9-17, however, where the House of God is also spoken of, we do not find
the Lord as the master-builder, but Paul. He has laid the foundation and it is a
good foundation. But others are to build after him and have to take heed how
they do it. It is God's house entrusted to man's responsibility, and they just
give an account of their work. By fire, the divine means of testing, their work
will be tried. We see the result of this building in Christendom, a construction
not only built of living stones (believers born of the Holy Spirit), but for the
most part of dead material (nominal or false Christians). Some builders have
attacked the foundation and tried to spoil it. As always, even here, man has
failed and spoiled what God has entrusted to him.
Holy Spirit warns them through the apostle Paul: "But let every man take heed
how he buildeth thereupon." As a wise architect he has laid the good foundation:
Jesus Christ. But now others are to come and build on this foundation, and that
can be done in three ways:
It can occur with good material, "gold, silver, precious stones" materials that can withstand trial by fire. The builder who builds with this will receive a reward.
It can also occur with unsuitable material, "wood, hay, stubble"; at the testing they will burn and that which is built will be destroyed; it has been useless construction and the good building is hindered by it. The builder shall have no reward but will himself be saved "yet so as by (or through) the fire." His service was worthless and he will stand with empty hands before God.
But the third kind of building is much worse. By it the foundation is attacked, the building as a whole is spoiled, including the good that had already been built. A terrible judgement of God will befall these builders: "If anyone defiles (corrupts) the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are".
first epistle to Timothy we see the House of God still in its first glory as it
was built by Paul and other faithful workers. Although danger menaces and the
apostasy is prophetically announced (1 Tim.4: 1), it is still called "the pillar
and ground of the truth," and instructions are given as to how a believer is to
act in it (3:15).
other hand, in the second epistle to Timothy, the last written by Paul, the
situation is very different. God has permitted the evil to become already so
developed, that instructions are given how the individual believer is to act in
these circumstances. The corrupting builders of 1 Cor.3 are already found here
(2 tim.2: 6-18); nominal Christians have entered (3:5). All in Asia have turned
away from Paul (1:15), and in his first defence as a prisoner all have abandoned
2:42-47 we have a beautiful picture of the new-born Church where "all that
believed were together," and according to Chap.5: 13, "of the rest durst no man
join himself to them. "It was known of each one if he were a believer or not.
Everyone who confessed the faith was a Christian. When Paul wrote his second
epistle to Timothy that was no longer so. How should a believer who lives in the
midst of ruin discern who really belongs to the Lord?
The divine answer is: "The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim.2: 19-23). Man does not know them. He is not capable, in the case of all who profess, of knowing who is truly born-again. Neither is necessary. He can leave that to Him who searches the hearts and reins. What a claiming and consoling thought! If, of those who call themselves Christians, I do not know whether they are authentic, with the Lord there is no uncertainty; He forgets none.
But that is not to say that I must now act as if nothing had changed. Ruin has come in, and in my conduct I must take it into consideration. I may and must leave it to God to judge who of all professing ones belong to Him, but the Holy Spirit also says to me: "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart (or withdraw) from iniquity" (verse 19).
verses which follow illustrate this. The House of God on earth as found in the
time of ruin is compared to a great house, in which there are not only gold and
silver vessels but also wooden and earthen ones. Some vessels are to honour and
some to dishonour. Leave the house I cannot. Then I would have to fall away from
Christianity and become a Jew or a heathen. In the House I must cleanse myself
from the vessels to dishonour so as to be a vessel to honour, sanctified,
serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work. Outward cleansing from
all impurity, followed by inward cleansing. "Flee also youthful lusts," and
afterwards the uniting with all "those that call upon the Lord out of a pure
note well it is not stated here that nominal Christians are vessels to dishonour
and believers vessels to honour! Of course, there are golden vessels and earthen
vessels, but the only measuring-stick given me to judge whether I am a vessel to
honour, is: "If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in
separating himself from them".
Tim.2 the opposition between believers and unbelievers is not the issue, but the
contrast between faithful servants and unfaithful servants. See verse 2
(faithful men), verse 3 (good soldier), 4-6,11-13,15-18,etc. In the whole words
chapter only twice are believers spoken of, so that it is at least understood
that they are believers.
verses 16-18 is it said that Hymenaeus and Philetus or those contaminated by
them are un believers, but that their work is pernicious and therefore they are
unfaithful servants who "concerning faith have made shipwreck" that is, they
have abandoned fundamental Christian truth. Neither in verses 20-26 are
believers or unbelievers spoken about, but faithful and unfaithful servants;
vessels to honour and to dishonour.
not a question of what material a vessel is composed of but whether it is to
honor .A vessel which is not cleansed is not to honor. A golden or silver vessel
that is dirty or that has lain in a dung-heap,is not to your honor if you
display it in your house, unclean. It is a dishonor to your house and you will
not place it in your living room. A vessel to honor is a vessel that is
cleansed. The question is not the working of the Holy Spirit in the lost sinner,
but what is the responsibility of anyone calling himself a Christian. "If
therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in separating himself from
them," he will be a faithful servant, through whom the name of his Lord is
glorified; he is a vessel to honor.
among the vessels which do not cleanse themselves there are believers or not, is
a matter that is not my responsibility. The Lord judges that, because,"The Lord
knoweth them that are His". Our faith can be convinced that there are many
believers among them and therefore thank the Lord that they are believers,
lamenting on the other hand that they remain connected with the vessels to
dishonor and thereby are dishonoring the Lord themselves. God may be able to use
them for many a good work, but according to verse 21 only the ones who have
cleansed themselves from the vessels to dishonor are prepared for every good
also noticeable that the outward cleansing is mentioned first, and only then the
inward one. We are inclined to say: If inwardly we are separated from evil, the
outward separation is not so very important. God, however, puts the outward
cleansing in the first place.
think about it, the correctness of this also becomes clear. If we are not
obedient as to the outward cleansing, how could we clean in an unclean
environment, let alone cleanse ourselves there!"Flee also youthful lists." It is
terrible to be outwardly cleansed and inwardly unclean. It is really
After the cleansing we get the positive side: "Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart" (Verse 22, New Trans.).These are wonderful things which we are exhorted to "pursue" as they are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
enter this narrow path of separation in obedience to the Lord, we are not to a
walk it alone, but with those "that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart" Who
they are should be plain from that which proecedes. They are the vessels to
honor which have purified themselves from the vessels to dishonor, and ,which
have also cleansed themselves inwardly! It is here that we are responsible to
from a judgment. How can anyone without life from God be "prepared for every
good work"? and much less can an unbeliever be cleansed outwardly and inwardly.
We are responsible to judge in this way whether one has life from God or
are those who deny that we are responsible to do this. Has God prescribed for
His children something, which they cannot carry out? Would we dare to say so?
Clearly not. Seeing we have a new life faith - which can be discerned by
experienced Christian in Christ and our understanding enlightened by the Holy
Spirit, we are able to clearly discern where there is life and where
The mere profession of faith is not sufficient proof in times of spiritual ruin. Whoever makes claim to a title in such times must prove it. Thus in Ezra's day, the priest whose name were not found in the register" were as polluted, put from the priesthood" (Ezra 2:62). "Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by works"(James 2:18). But when profession is coupled with a walk of faith - which can be determined that there, is divine life. And if, as a result of weakness, it should not be seen,"The Lord knoweth them that are His" .We cannot then presume to judge as to whether the person concerned is authentic or not, but we cannot treat him as a vessel to honor (Ezra 2:59-63).
separated from all that is unclean and united with those that call upon the Lord
out of a pure heart, we can follow the Lord's directions. We have gone forth to
Him without the camp (Heb.13: 13). We can return to that which "was from the
beginning "(1John 1:1; 2:7; 2:24; 2John 5,6). We can be gathered together by the
Holy spirit to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby enjoy His wonderful
presence in our midst, even if we are only two or three (Matt.18:20). We can
proclaim his death until He comes (1Cor.11:26),keep His Word and not deny His
Name and keep the Word of His patience (Rev.3:8-11). And His wonderful promise
reads:"I come quickly: hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy
crown"(rev.3: 11, New trans.).
Also in times of ruin it remains true that there is a place of gathering for the children of god: the place where they gather "with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart" on the basis of the one Assembly, without the camp, at the Lord's Table, where the Lord Jesus is in the midst of His own.
Brethren Home pages
Brethren Home pages