Gen. 32:22-32 π Gen. 32:24; 2nd; 3rd π Gen. 32:26 π Gen. 32:28 π Gen. 32:30 π Gen. 32:31 π Mt. 12:36 π Mt. 13:41 π Mt. 16:18; 2nd π Mt. 16:27 π Mt. 24:4-12 π Mt. 25:34 π Mt. 25:41 π Mt. 25:46 π Lk. 17:20-21 π Lk. 17:23-24 π Jn. 1:12 π Jn. 15:5 π Acts 20:30 π 1 Cor. 3:9-11 π 1 Cor. 3:13-15 π 2 Ths. 2:3 π 1 Tim. 4:1 π 1 Pet. 2:5 π 2 Pet. 3:7 π 1 Jn. 2:16 π 1 Jn. 4:3 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 3:16-17 π Rev. 20:13
Among those who have heard and obeyed God’s call to “Come out” of organized, institutional apostate churchianity (however imperfectly or incompletely that has been accomplished is a question each individual must resolve before God), there remains a strong desire to more clearly see the ekklesia, God’s people, come together and interact in loving service to one another and to know that we are doing our part in Christ’s body. Yet it may be this desire that keeps the very thing we desire from occurring. There are many elements at work simultaneously in this “equation” (often these elements are all present in various manifestations in each individual’s heart) so let us poke and prod carefully into these elements which make up this very large picture.
We must first examine the source of this desire. We know that Christ has promised to build His ekklesia (His spiritual house made of living stones – 1 Pet. 2:5 ) and that all the devices and schemes of death and darkness will not prevail against this thing that He is building. ( Mt. 16:18; top ) So we know that the desire to build His ekklesia has its starting point in the heart of God.
It is precisely hear also, though, that the powers of death and darkness begin to insert their corruptions and confusion. Though death and darkness cannot ultimately prevail over Christ’s work in His ekklesia, that does not mean that we who are within His ekklesia will not have to struggle or strain to attain to His overcoming work! Indeed we are called to exert every effort, all diligence, perseverance and endurance in this struggle. Wrestling and travail are words that have all but disappeared from the usual “Christian’s” vocabulary but they remain deeply embedded in the New Testament nonetheless. Because over the centuries we have not been as careful and vigilant as is required to stay pure from these corrupting and confusing influences, we must now sort out that which truly comes from the heart of the Lord, that which comes as a scheme of the enemy to distort or pollute, and that which comes from our own hearts (which can be a conflicting mass of stuff all on its own!)
It is in the fact that Christ will build His ekklesia that we find our first clue. Paul speaks of our being co-laborers with Christ when he speaks of building as a wise master builder onto the one and only Foundation (Christ – 1 Cor. 3:9-11; top ) Modern “church” authorities – “pastor,” “elder,” etc. – all rely on some form of delegated authority that was supposedly bestowed upon them by God through some group of men that then allows these “pastors” to lord (as “beneficially as they can – or desire!) over their brothers and sisters. That the “pastor” is lord over the people is demonstrated by the routine placing of the lowly, ignorant, uninformed masses at the feet of the exalted, trained, professional, “spiritual” elite so that he (or occasionally they) can speak down to these poor feeble souls and dispense to them some crumbs of the bread of life. If this is not sufficient to keep the common herd in its place, a visit to the office where the “pastor” sits as lord behind his impressive desk is the next demonstration.
There is an inherent flaw in their “theology,” however. Delegates are, by definition, operating apart from the one who sent them. Christ does not send delegates to build His ekklesia – He first builds His home in the hearts of yielded men and women (who demonstrate their yieldedness to God through loving service God and one another) and then, from the depths of those yielded vessels, He builds His ekklesia. Men who are delegates can only hope to build up yet more forms of the organized, institutional apostate “church.” Delegates who hold and use their authority apart from and in the place of Christ are accomplishing nothing of eternal value ( Jn. 15:5 ) and are acting according to Nicolaitan and antichrist (demonic) teachings. ( Rev. 2:6 , 15 , 1 Jn. 4:3 , 1 Tim. 4:1; top )
It is here that we must hear Christ’s answer to the Pharisees who wanted to know when this kingdom of God thing would come: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” ( Lk. 17:20-21 ) Jesus then goes on to warn His disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them.” ( Lk. 17:23-24; top ) In many ways seeing the kingdom of God is like driving through the many small towns that dot the highways of the rural southwest – if you blink you’ll miss seeing the small town as you drive through it!
The kingdom of God, of which His ekklesia is part, is not a visible entity. If one is joined to a visible entity, then one is joined to a thing that has appended itself to the invisible kingdom of God, a thing that will either be forcibly ejected from the kingdom of God ( Mt. 13:41 , Rev. 3:16-17 ) or that will burn away on the day of Christ’s judgment. ( 1 Cor. 3:13-15; top )
“Church”-men around the world will instantly raise the defense that every good cause must be organized to survive, that without the institutional infrastructure, the gospel and the “church” would have been eradicated from history in short order. This is nothing but the sin of unbelief in high sounding rhetoric. Jesus said, “I will build My ekklesia…” ( Mt. 16:18 ) If men had refused to band together in the visible organization history calls the “church,” would Jesus have been unfaithful to His promise and not have built His ekklesia? No! But church history would certainly be very different! It would not be the unending repetition of sect dividing from sect because the bishops would have not arisen from the midst of the presbyters to draw followers after themselves. (see Acts 20:30; top ) Men would not have sought after a visible unity that made way for fleshly traditions and demonic notions and would have contented themselves to remain under the direct Headship of Christ rather than organize under Nicolaitan delegated authority structures and the tares would have had no place in which to both parade and hide themselves among the wheat as they practiced their hypocrisy and lawlessness in the name of Christ and God. Who knows what this world would look like if Christ alone had been allowed to just build His ekklesia without the competition and complication and clutter of the “church.”
But this also exposes one area of our desire to see the ekklesia more clearly that we really need to examine most carefully before God. Jesus’ promise to build His ekklesia does not include, in any way, a plan to make this world a better place to live. Certainly, men operating in the love of God and Christ for mankind will ease suffering and meet needs – as those genuine followers of Christ have done even under the crippling context of the Nicolaitan, sectarian (denominational) “church.” But the gospel is not some utopian scheme to make this world better organized or more efficient or whatever. This world is destined to be destroyed by fire ( 2 Pet. 3:7 ) after it has undergone a series of judgments that will make all the world-class disasters to date seem petty in comparison. No, Christ will continue to draw His people out of darkness and transfer them into His kingdom of light and the world is just the stage on which this drama occurs. One day, the stage will be torn down, the people who lived in this world held to account for all they’ve done ( Mt. 12:36 , 16:27 , Rev. 20:13 ) and then ushered on into their eternal rewards – the truly righteous will inherit the kingdom of God in eternal life whereas the wicked will go away into the everlasting punishment of fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ( Mt. 25:34 , 41 , 46 , etc.; top)
There are basically two reasons we do not see the ekklesia. First, it is not a visible entity. Though many have equated “church” gatherings as being the building of Christ’s ekklesia – and indeed at some of those “church” meetings, Christ’s body was indeed built up, but, again, if you blinked you missed it and went on wondering why all the “church” meetings weren’t as good as that one extraordinary meeting – the truth is that the “church” has been busy with all its visible functions that have nothing to do with the Invisible God’s invisible body.
The second reason is that we are in or at least entering into the time that is characterized by deception, betrayal, hatred and lawlessness. ( Mt. 24:4-12 ) This is the time of the apostasy, the great falling away which comes before Christ’s return. ( 2 Ths. 2:3; top ) The very visible apostate “church” – which for centuries has been presumed to be the way to follow Christ and God – will reach its fullness. For those who have eyes to see, the deeds of the apostate “church” are dark and deadly – yet, interspersed among all that, glimpses of Christ at work in His true followers, some of whom are yet ensnared in “church” deceptions, still stand out and shine with brilliance. Yet again, however, blink at the wrong moment and you will not have seen the ekklesia at all!
“To as many as received Him,” John wrote, “He gave the right to become children of God.” ( Jn. 1:12; top ) We have viewed this with a childish, Sunday-school mentality for so long that we have difficulty not seeing God as an old, bearded father figure surrounded by noisy, bouncing, babbling children. There are at least two elements missing from that picture. The Father is also the King – we proclaim the gospel of the kingdom when we recall that all the children are destined to become mature princes and rule in the Father’s kingdom. Without these notions of royalty and maturity, the notion of being God’s children goes a long way in keeping the ekklesia from what it is supposed to be.
Strangely enough, we find this transition from immature, spoiled babes to mature princes of God prefigured in Jacob. Jacob, the trickster who conned his way into the birthright and blessings of the firstborn, was changed by God into Israel, which means literally, “prince with God.” Jacob’s encounters with God at the river Jabbok contains all the elements of this transaction. ( Gen. 32:22-32; top )
- Jacob was left alone (v. 24; top ) It is in isolation from all others that we are left with no one else to turn to (or con!) and we come face to face with the futility of looking to ourselves or others for any meaningful answers or the resources to fight the battles that loom ahead of us. Jacob the conniver cannot con his way into any position of preeminence when he is alone, hopelessly outnumbered, completely out-classed and has no way to even defend himself. Those who have not yet been brought to this aloneness may be children of God but they certainly are not mature princes of God, no matter what title they attach to themselves nor what function they purport themselves to have in Christ’s body.
- Jacob wrestled with God. (v. 24; top ) There is in bringing the same thing repeatedly before God, a focusing of one’s desires. Only something vital and necessary will be on this wrestling-with-God agenda – this is not a place for petty wants and wishes. This is life and death, not only for Jacob but for all his children and their future. And in bringing a thing repeatedly before God, the request is purified so that we no longer ask only for our own desires for others and to bring about something of value in God’s kingdom.
- Jacob wrestled until the break of day. (v. 24; top ) Perseverance and endurance and self-effort are scoffed at in certain “Christian” circles these days, but what a different story we would have if Jacob had stopped wrestling at 4 a.m.!
- Jacob had to let go before God would (could?) bless him. (v. 26; top ) So long as we continue wrestling with God, demanding our own will or even “His will” as we perceive or desire it to be done, we will not, indeed probably cannot, receive the blessings of God. Though we must persevere and endure and wrestle on through the darkness of the night, when the light of day comes, it is time to walk forward in what God has given us. Note here the need for precise timing – if Jacob lets go too soon, he forfeits the blessing as surely as if he clings too long, wrestling on with God when it’s really time to get up and walk on with life.
- When God blesses Jacob, He does so by changing his name to Israel, “Prince With God.” (v. 28 ) There will be many struggles along the way, disappointments among his children, the loss of Rachel, the loss of Joseph (though temporary, this nearly drove him over the edge) and the prolonged reunion with Joseph (with what seemed like the sure loss of Benjamin too) were the major stepping stones in the race that lay before him. The path that the Lord leads us on is unique to ourselves and simply will not fit into any pre-packaged “church” program or seminary curriculum. Those are only man-made counterfeits that are very visible and appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life ( 1 Jn. 2:16; top ) Blink all you want – they will remain visible and they will never be the genuine invisible ekklesia.
- Jacob called the place Peniel (literally “Face of God”) because he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (v. 30; top ) Jacob, alone, wrestling through the long night with God, knew he had come face to face with God. No child of God can be a prince of God who has not come into the Father’s presence and been radically and forever changed. Those who mock and ridicule the long years of loneliness and “wilderness training” only expose just how unqualified they for leadership in God’s kingdom.
- Jacob came away from this encounter with a wounded hip and he limped ever after – the second part of his blessing! (v. 31; top ) Gone was his ability to do all things for himself, his ability to run away from the messes he tended to make was taken from him and he had to rely on the strength of others to even survive and live. These are hard, hard lessons for the one who has lived his life relying on his own cunning, trickery and ability to get the job done. Those who limp have great difficulty climbing the podium steps to the pulpit – nor do they inspire the people’s desire to have them in the preeminence. Limping makes “church” almost impossible to maintain and sustain the facades!
This is not all that can be gleaned from this story. But it is enough for those with ears to hear. The details are intentionally hazy and specific applications to individuals must be done by the aid of the Holy Spirit of truth. But the isolation, the long wrestling, the letting go of things that compete against God’s will for our life, these are all part of the process of becoming the ekklesia of Christ. When we have been “face to face” with God and are led by His Spirit, we will know when not to “blink” and we will see the ekklesia for what it is – the intersection of the Infinite and Eternal Invisible God with a particular person (or persons) in time and space.
Let he who has ears hear.
I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!