The Story of the Bible [That You’ve Never Heard Before]

Can I tell you a story? A story so powerful that, if you pay attention, it will change your life?

It’s the story of the Bible. Only, this story is probably different than anything you’ve ever heard.

Before I tell you this story, I first need to answer a huge question, perhaps the very thing you may be asking yourself right now:

How could you possibly tell the story of the Bible in a way that I’ve never heard before?

Excellent question! Here’s how…

We’re Using the Wrong Bible

No, this isn’t another rant about the King James Version versus [insert-your-favorite-English-translation-here]. This is much more important.

Almost all English Bibles use a different version of the Old Testament than the apostles and early Christians used.

Have you ever looked up an Old Testament cross-reference from a quote in the New Testament?

If so, you probably noticed that the passage read quite differently in your Old Testament than the New Testament quotation. That’s because your English Bible was translated from a flawed, inferior source.

Most English Bibles today use a Hebrew Old Testament source known as the Masoretic Text (MT). The oldest manuscripts we possess of the MT date from the 10th century A.D. (Considering Moses lived around 1,500 B.C., that isn’t very good.)

The first century Jews and the Christians throughout the first four centuries virtually unanimously used a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX). The LXX dates back to the 3rd century B.C. (for the Pentateuch, the first five books)—about 1,000 years older than the oldest MT documents that we possess!

Unlike the Hebrew MT, Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament read word-for-word alike in the LXX about 90% of the time!

When Jerome translated the Latin Vulgate Bible, he relied upon a then-modern Hebrew source for the Old Testament rather than the trusted LXX. As Christianity spread westward, the LXX was all but forgotten, except among the eastern Greek-speaking churches.

A thousand years later, when the King James Version (KJV) translators translated the Scriptures into English, they used the aforementioned Hebrew MT as their source for the Old Testament.

Only within the last 200 years have English translations from the LXX been widely available! Today, several reliable versions exist.

(The LXX version I most often use, which you’ll see quoted throughout this post, is The Orthodox Study Bible [OSB].)

While one can certainly come to know GOD and Jesus without using the LXX, the truth is that the LXX reads much differently and the overall impact is that we’ve missed (and misunderstood) a lot!

And that’s the story I’m going to tell you.

More info: Why we should use the Septuagint for our Old Testament

‘The heavens’ Refers to GOD’s Heavenly Creatures

We’ve been taught to see the Bible’s narrative being the story of Jesus coming, dying upon the cross and saving us from sin. While true, the cross and forgiveness of sins fits within a still larger picture.

At the macro level, the real big picture of the Bible is the story of how GOD is recreating all things.

To appreciate the profoundness of this truth, we must take a closer look at the creation and rebellion.

During the initial six days, GOD created all things—in heaven and earth.

We tend to overlook that, when Genesis speaks of GOD creating “the heavens” in the beginning, it refers to GOD’s spiritual creatures, including the angels. (For clarification, I’m using the words “spiritual” and “heavenly” here to distinguish the non-earthly beings. I do not intend to communicate that [all of] these beings lacked a body, as in a spirit-only being.)

Throughout Scripture, the sun, moon and stars are collectively referred to by multiple terms, one of which is “the heavens.” Other terms include “the heavenly hosts,” “sons of God,” and even “gods” (Heb. “elohim”). We’re familiar with Scripture’s use of most of these terms, but probably largely overlooked the fact that they refer to the same beings—real beings. Here’s one example from Psalm 148:

1 Alleluia; of Aggeus and Zacharias.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the highest.
2 Praise Him, all you His angels;
Praise Him, all you His hosts.
3 Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you stars and light.
4 Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,
And you waters above the heavens.
5 Let them praise the Lord’s name,
For He spoke, and they were made;
He commanded, and they were created.
6 He established them forever and unto ages of ages;
He set forth His ordinance, and it shall not pass away.
(Psalm 148:1-6 OSB)

Scripture clearly and repeatedly states that, in the beginning, GOD created the sun, moon and stars as living heavenly beings.

6 And Ezra said, “You are the only Lord. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all, and the host of heaven worships You.
(Neh. 9:6 OSB)

Throughout Scripture, the heavenly hosts are described as taking action. In Neh. 9:6, it’s worship. Other places it’s warfare. Still others it’s praise, even evil, and so on. Living beings take action.

Delegated Authority and Rebellion

The Genesis creation account explains how GOD made and then delegated authority to both spiritual and human creatures. The sun ruled the day, the moon ruled the night, and the stars ruled times and seasons. Scripture claims this to be real and not a case of mere personification.

The first 10 chapters of Genesis tell how both spiritual and human beings, to whom GOD gave free will, rebelled against Him.

Satan began the rebellion, developing a prideful heart and choosing to hurt GOD and His creatures. Sin entered the spiritual creation.

Satan then tempted Eve in the Garden and she and Adam sinned. Sin entered the physical creation.

In time, the spiritual rebellion spread. Certain angels lusted after beautiful women, left their places of delegated authority and married those women. Somehow, beyond my understanding, these women bore half-angelic, half-human sons (see Gen. 6 LXX).

Corruption quickly spread through GOD’s creation. Evil grew increasingly worse until GOD destroyed all but the eight righteous souls of Noah’s family, along with each type of animal species, through the global flood.

Scripture tells us that GOD arrested those rebellious angels who left their domain, holding them in chains of darkness (see 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet.2-3; Jude 5-7).

After the flood, GOD told Noah’s descendants to spread out and populate the earth. They rebelled, conspiring to build the Tower of Babel.

According to first century A.D. Jewish historian, Josephus, the people decided to build the Tower of Babel so high that it would rise above the heights of the floodwaters (Antiquities of the Jews, b1, c4, v2). Rather than trust GOD, they tried to invent their own solution. If Josephus was correct, it helps us better understand the people’s motivation.

Regardless, the people disobeyed. So GOD scattered the people and confused their languages so they couldn’t cooperate as easily.

Babel is the moment in time when the oldest nations of the world originated.

But look at what else GOD did at that time:

7 “Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will tell you;
Your elders, and they will tell you:
8 When the Most High divided the nations,
When He scattered the sons of Adam,
He set the boundaries of the nations
By the number of God’s angels.
9 For the Lord’s portion became the people of Jacob;
The allotment of His inheritance is Israel.
(Deut. 32:7-9 OSB)

Not only did GOD divide the nations at Babel, but there He placed specific angels over each nation, except for Israel—who weren’t yet even a nation—whom GOD kept for Himself as a special people.

The angels were given a form of spiritual governmental responsibility over their respective nations, to watch over them, protect them and govern their human rulers.

But guess what! They rebelled.

Instead of pointing their subjects back to GOD, they incited idolatrous worship of themselves, eliciting all manner of evil practice. This is where pagan idolatry originated!

19 “Also do not act lawlessly when you lift your eyes to heaven and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the adornment of heaven, and you thus go astray and worship and serve them, which the Lord your God assigned to all the nations under heaven. 20 But the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day.
(Deut. 4:19-20 OSB)

Pagan idolatry was rooted in the fact that humans were worshiping living spiritual beings. While human idol representations were lifeless and worthless, the idols were often representations of real, living spiritual beings! It is for this reason that GOD told Israel:

2 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.”
(Ex. 20:2 OSB)

To recap, when GOD created the earth, humanity was a single people. Influenced by angelic-human offspring, evil increased in the world, so GOD destroyed that world through the flood.

After the flood, Noah’s descendants rebelled. So GOD scattered the people and divided the nations, including those that didn’t yet exist. He placed all nations under angelic rule. Except for Israel. GOD kept Israel—who didn’t yet exist—for Himself.

Over time, these ruling angels rebelled. Instead of governing fairly, these angels encouraged evil and enticed their human subjects to sin. These evil angels are the demons described in the New Testament. GOD promised to judge and punish these evil angels.

(Note: If you’re stunned by this, so was I! I thought this was nonsense until I studied it closely for myself. Then I found that these things are in the Scriptures from cover to cover. And ultimately, understanding these truths answers some big otherwise-unanswerable questions for us.)

More info: Re-Thinking the Spiritual Creation, Rebellion and Judgment

A Fresh Look at GOD’s Promises to Abraham

It is out of one such idolatrous pagan culture that GOD called Abraham into new life. GOD promised several things to Abraham if he would follow Him.

What people often fail to see is that Abraham—and all of Abraham’s physical descendants—never received the promised rewards (in this life). The Hebrew writer said regarding this:

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
(Heb. 11:39-40 NIV)

That’s because GOD’s promises to Abraham weren’t physical promises, they were spiritual!

This truth—that GOD’s promises to Abraham hadn’t been fully realized as of the late 60’s A.D. when Hebrews was written—is important for understanding the Prophets.

Let me be clear…

GOD had a special relationship with Abraham because Abraham had faith. GOD called Abraham. Abraham believed and followed. So did Isaac. So did Jacob.

Because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were special to Him, GOD offered Jacob’s family (the children of Israel) a special covenant. They accepted. But they quickly rebelled, chasing after the gods (demons) of other nations.

For hundreds of years thereafter, GOD sent waves of prophets to call Israel to repent. The prophets’ message always foretold curses and destruction if Israel persisted, followed by promises of renewal and blessings.

On the surface, these prophecies sound contradictory. Like, “You’re gonna be destroyed,” followed by, “And then I’m gonna make it all better.” The explanation for this is that there are two different “Israel’s” that GOD was referencing.

  1. The first Israel refers to the physical descendants of Jacob. This Israel was largely evil and rebellious (but did include some righteous people). This Israel was the recipient of GOD’s rebukes, rejection and destruction.
  2. The second Israel refers to those individuals who had the faith of Abraham. This Israel is comprised of both the righteous physical descendants (sometimes called “the remnant”) and, after the cross, the righteous Gentile disciples of Jesus.

Under GOD’s first covenant with Israel, the righteous remnant suffered alongside their wicked physical kin. But the righteous would eventually be delivered. After the purging of the wicked, this remnant, alone, would continue on as Israel, GOD’s chosen people.

At the time of the purge, though, “Israel” would no longer be a physical nation, but a spiritual nation comprised of both righteous Jews and Gentiles. Paul describes this in Rom. 9-11. Using an olive tree metaphor, he wrote that righteous Gentiles would be “grafted in” to Israel’s vine.

6 “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
‭‭(Rom.‬ ‭9:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

And so “Israel” would become not about the physical Jewish lineage but exclusively those who possess the faith of Abraham.

This means that:

  1. Today, GOD no longer considers the physical descendants of Jacob as being “Israel,” regardless of what men name the nation on earth.
  2. Christians should view the collection of faithful Christians (along with the faithful before Jesus) as “Israel.”
  3. We should not treat the physical land called Israel today, and its inhabitants, as inherently holy (i.e., “GOD’s special people / land”).
  4. There remain no yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies regarding the first (physical) Israel. Everything involving the physical nation is finished.
More info: Re-thinking GOD’s Promises to Abraham

Christianity is the Continuation of Israel’s Story

GOD’s relationship with His chosen people is a single continuous story from Genesis through Revelation. Our segmentation of Scripture into Old and New Testaments is often problematic.

We tend to behave as though we think that the New Testament contains everything important and the Old Testament is optional bonus material. It’s as though we think that the moment Jesus arrived on earth started a brand new story, rather than a continuation of the single, pre-existing story of all of Scripture.

We tend to behave as though the GOD of the Old Testament were a different God than the GOD of the New Testament, as though GOD’s very nature changed. He is the same always.

All of this results in some big mistakes.

By the time Moses led Israel out of Egyptian slavery, Jacob’s descendants were about a million souls. Most of them didn’t know Jehovah GOD.

Despite witnessing some of the most miraculous events in history, these people remained faithless. They tested GOD and Moses continuously.

GOD loved and blessed these people because of their forefathers, but on account of their own behavior (faithlessness) He wanted to destroy them.

At Mt. Sinai, GOD offered these people His covenant.

3 Then Moses went up to the mountain of God, and God called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be a special people to Me above all nations; for all the earth is Mine. 6 You shall be to Me a royal priesthood and a holy nation.’ These are the words you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
(Ex. 19:3-6 OSB)

Israel accepted but they were continuously unfaithful.

After their wilderness wandering, as Israel was encamped east of the Jordan River, Moses delivered a final reminder before his death. GOD told Moses that Israel would not live in the land long because they would rebel and chase foreign gods. GOD said that when this happened, those people would be rejected and destroyed.

GOD gave Israel the Song of Moses just before Moses died. GOD said this song would be a witness against them in the day that its prophecies came to pass.

(This text, Deuteronomy 32, is the most important Old Testament Scripture for us today because it lays the foundation for correcting many commonly misunderstood doctrines, such as the judgment.)

Here are a few key excerpts:

5 “They sinned; the blameworthy children are not His,
A generation twisted and perverse.
6 Is this how you repay the Lord,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is He not your Father, who acquired you?
Has He not made and created you?
7 “Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will tell you;
Your elders, and they will tell you:
8 When the Most High divided the nations,
When He scattered the sons of Adam,
He set the boundaries of the nations
By the number of God’s angels.
9 For the Lord’s portion became the people of Jacob;
The allotment of His inheritance is Israel.
(Deut. 32:5-9 OSB)

Later on in the Song, GOD revealed for the first time the eventual judgment upon Israel for their wickedness. Look how He describes it.

21 They provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God;
They moved Me to anger by their idols;
But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation;
I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.
22 For a fire is kindled in My anger,
And shall burn to the lowest Hades;
It shall consume the land with its produce
And set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
23 ‘I will gather evils on them;
I will spend My arrows on them.
24 They shall be wasted with hunger,
Devoured by birds and incurable disease;
I will also send against them the teeth of wild animals
With the anger of things crawling on the earth.
25 The sword shall make them childless outside,
And fear from the inner chambers,
For the young man and virgin,
The nursing child with the elder of gray hairs.
(Deut. 32:21-25 OSB)

As we continue reading, not only is GOD angry about Israel’s future idolatry, but also the way they treated His servants.

35 I shall repay on the day of vengeance;
In time, when their foot shall slip;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And is waiting, ready for them.’
36 “For the Lord will judge His people,
And have compassion on His servants;
For He sees them disabled
And left in distress and weakened.

42 I will make My arrows drunk from blood;
And My sword shall devour flesh
From the blood of the slain and the captives,
From the heads of the leaders of the enemy.” ’
43 “Rejoice, O Heavens, together with Him,
And worship Him, all the sons of God;
Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people;
And let all the angels of God be strong with Him;
For He will avenge the blood of His sons
And render vengeance to His adversaries;
And the Lord will purify His people’s land.”
(Deut. 32:35-36, 42-43 OSB)

To recap the Song of Moses:

  • GOD gave this song to Moses prophesying about Israel’s future.
  • Israel would forget GOD and chase other gods.
  • GOD would be angry and reject them.
  • Israel would persecute and kill GOD’s servants.
  • GOD would take vengeance on them.
  • GOD would purge the evil from Israel’s land.

The Song of Moses is quoted and applied to the first century timeframe in the New Testament Scriptures nearly ten times!

And, as we know, the prophecies within the Song came to pass, just as GOD said.

When Israel eventually entered Canaan, they failed to fully obey GOD and kill all of its pagan inhabitants. The remnants of those nations quickly lured Israel into imitating their idolatrous practices.

Then, Israel rejected GOD’s reign in favor of a human king. Because of Solomon’s idolatry, Israel was divided into two nations.

For centuries, GOD sent waves of prophets to warn Israel to repent. Like Moses, these prophets foretold the destruction and scattering that would happen if Israel refused to return to GOD.

But Israel wouldn’t listen. Instead, they persecuted and killed the prophets.

So GOD used other nations to destroy Israel’s cities, kill and scatter the Israelites from their homeland. The remnants of the northern nation were taken to Assyria as slaves. The remnants of Judah went to Babylon 200 years later.

Over the last eight centuries B.C., Israelites were scattered to every nation of the known world.

Along with foretelling Israel’s scattering, the prophets also prophesied that GOD would one day re-gather Israel together. Israel would again be one nation, under one King, in an eternal kingdom and would return to their land. Israel would be eternally blessed.

Here’s one such example:

10 “It shall come to pass in that day that there shall be a Root of Jesse who shall arise to rule nations. The Gentiles shall hope in Him, and His resting place shall be honorable.” 11 It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will show His hand again to be zealous for the remnant left of His people: left by the Assyrians and by Egypt, Babylon and Ethiopia, and by the Elamites, and from the rising of the sun, and out of Arabia. 12 He shall set up a sign for the Gentiles and will assemble the lost ones of Israel. He shall gather together the dispersed of Judah, from the four corners of the earth. 13 Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the enemies of Judah shall be destroyed. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not afflict Ephraim.
(Isa. 11:10-13 OSB)

This prophecy is about Jesus, in the reign of Jesus. It speaks of the unification of Jew and Gentile. It speaks of the re-gathering (“the Lord will show His hand again“) of Israel. It speaks of the reuniting of the once-divided kingdom of Israel and Judah.

This is where recognizing that Israel is now a spiritual people becomes impactful. So many people are eagerly anticipating a physical fulfillment to spiritual promises. They’ll spend their whole life waiting for something that isn’t going to happen, just as countless thousands before them. Even more sad is that they’ll fail to appreciate the beauty of the fulfilled promises they are living out in their own lives.

Under the new covenant, faithful Christian disciples have become the nation of GOD. As Peter put it:

2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

8 and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1 Pet. 2:2-10 NIV)

It is Jesus’ disciples (along with the faithful before the cross) who receive Israel’s promised post-dispersion blessings, not just in eternity, but daily on earth also.

As such, Christians should study these promises and more deeply appreciate the rich blessings that GOD has made ours, thanks to Jesus our Lord. Like this one, for instance:

31 “Behold, days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I shall make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not abide in My covenant, and I disregarded them,” says the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will surely put My laws into their mind and write them on their hearts. I will be as God to them, and they shall be as My people. 34 Each shall not teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoings, and I will no longer remember their sins.
(Jer. 38 [31]:31-34 OSB)

The Prophets are overflowing with such prophecies.

More info: Re-thinking Israel

How This Impacts Our Understanding of Jesus’ Church

Now let’s apply this background context to the New Testament and see how it impacts us today.

The Greek word that is translated “church” is ekklesia. Ekklesia simply means an assembly or gathering.

Jesus’ church (ekklesia) in the New Testament is the re-gathering of Israel that was prophesied in the Old Testament. (Remember, the New Testament Scriptures record the continuation of the same story of the Old Testament.)

Regarding those gathered to Jesus, the apostle John wrote:

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 1:12-13 NIV)

The divine church—Jesus’ one church, His body and bride—is the collection of obedient believers from every generation. On this side of the cross, that means those who spiritually surrender(ed) to Jesus as their King.

Recalling from earlier that Jesus’ church equates to spiritual Israel (those who have the faith of Abraham), this surrendering to Jesus is consistent with what GOD revealed to Moses regarding Israel’s future:

25 “If you [, Israel,] beget sons and the sons of sons and dwell a long time in the land, and act lawlessly and make a carved form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness to you today that you will be utterly destroyed from the land you are crossing over the Jordan to inherit. You will not live long on it, but will be utterly annihilated. 27 Then the Lord will scatter you among all the nations, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will bring you. 28 There you will serve different gods, the works of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul in your tribulation; 30 and all these words will find you at the end of days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice; 31 for the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not forsake you nor annihilate you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers, which He swore to them.
(Deut. 4:25-31 OSB)

The realization that Jesus’ church is the fulfillment of the re-gathering of Israel is powerful!

  • It helps us better understand the Prophets and the Psalms.
  • It helps us better understand GOD’s vision for the church.
  • It helps us understand why, when Jesus first (seemingly randomly) mentioned building His church in Matt. 16, the apostles were not bewildered (because they knew the Prophets).

But the impact goes deeper still.

These days, what we read in Scripture regarding Jesus’ church seems so different from what we call church today. How should Christians perceive, feel and respond to these differences?

It’s difficult to picture what the first century church looked like and, equally, how modern church looks in comparison (especially to GOD).

For instance, is the church pure and holy?

Or is the church guilty of discrimination, hatred, sexual immorality, and so forth?

Does the church need reform? Does the church need to repent, collectively?

Scriptures like Eph. 5:25-27 and Rev. 21:27 strongly indicate that the church is holy and without the stain of sin because Jesus continually cleanses her and protects her from contamination. Other passages mention that nothing evil is allowed to enter her gates.

And yet, seemingly not a day goes by without news or allegations of a church scandal—abuse, coverups, sexual misconduct, extortion, prosperity gospel lies, doctrinal conflicts with Scripture, and on and on. Sin!

Furthermore, how can “churchmen” of yesteryear be holy when they were found guilty of the worst evils and violence, often performed in the name of Jesus?

These things are inconsistent with what Scripture says regarding the nature of Jesus’ church.

Another big question is whether the church is unified today.

Scriptures like John 17:20-23 and 1 Cor. 1:10-13 make it sound like not only does GOD expect unity among Christians, but that unity is really attainable.

But look around!

There are church buildings on every street corner bearing different names, tens of thousands of denominations, all claiming to be GOD’s people, yet teaching different things. Why would Jesus pray for something that history teaches us hasn’t happened (and won’t happen)?

These questions are exhausting but necessary. I think about them daily. So should you.

What should we think? What should we do? How can we help? What difference can we individually make?

After many years wrestling with these things, I finally have peace with my understanding of these questions. I’d like to share how I reached this peace so that you can have it too.

The only way humans can know what matters to GOD is for Him to tell us. Since GOD has chosen not to audibly reveal new will to us today, we rely upon Scripture and prayer to understand what matters to Him.

Therefore, if something is important to GOD, we trust that we can read about it in Scripture.

Conversely, if something is not discussed in Scripture, we must conclude that the reason it was not discussed is because it is not important to GOD (or that He has left it to each person to decide for themselves). To do otherwise would be cruel and inconsistent with GOD’s nature and past dealings with people.

Scripture heavily emphasizes our need to be gathered to Jesus (thereby being added to His church—the re-gathering of Israel, remember).

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(John 14:6 NIV)

And Jesus alone adds and removes people from His church.

40 With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

47 … And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:40-41, 47b NIV)

Scripture also emphasizes that Christians need encouragement to persevere and grow to become like Jesus. This requires spending time together—assembling together.

In ancient Greek (the language of the Bible), every time a group of people gathered together—for religious or other purposes—that gathered group was an ekklesia.

Today, when we hear “ekklesia” we think “religious assembly.” This automatic association hinders our understanding.

This gets confusing, so focus and stay with me:

  • Jesus’ church is the most important ekklesia. Jesus controls its membership. He alone adds and removes people from His church. Jesus adds a believer to His church when they come to Him in faith and receive forgiveness of sins and rebirth through baptism. Jesus removes someone from His body when they willfully choose to return to a life of sin without repenting.
  • Jesus’ church is comprised of the faithful of all generations, before and after the cross.
  • Jesus continually cleanses this body (and thus its member) by His blood. Thus, Jesus’ church is holy and includes nothing evil.


  • Jesus’ church consists of some living on earth and some living in heaven. It is impossible to physically see Jesus’ church. Thus, Jesus’ church is invisible.
  • Any physical assembly of people, regardless of the assembly’s purpose, is also an ekklesia. A physical ekklesia can be anything from the crowd at a football game to a church congregation.
  • Both righteous and wicked individuals can attend any physical ekklesia. It is possible to physically see who is part of a physical ekklesia, therefore every physical ekklesia is a visible church.

Because of these things, no visible church is Jesus’ church. Let me repeat that for emphasis, as this truth is profound: No visible church can accurately claim to be Jesus’ church. It’s simply not possible.

No physical ekklesia is the same as Jesus’ ekklesia.

Got it?

Make sure you thoroughly internalize the above truths before you proceed. This distinction is critical!



Now, let’s apply these principles to a real-world example for further clarity.

Imagine: Downtown there is a church building with a sign that reads Main Street Baptist Church. (We could substitute any denomination.) Inside the building is a bulletin board containing a photo for each family that has formally placed membership with the Main Street Baptist Church. On the table in the foyer is a printed directory with the names, birthday, address and contact info for each of these members.

Applying the principles above (ponder these thoroughly before proceeding):

  1. The Main Street Baptist Church is not, collectively, a church of GOD’s people. 
  2. The Main Street Baptist Church is not a church (ekklesia) at all.  
  3. Main Street Baptist Church is the title of a human organization which happens to include the word “church.”
  4. The directory of the Main Street Baptist Church probably contains the names of certain individuals whom Jesus has added to His divine invisible church.
  5. On Sunday, a physical church (of people) will gather inside the Main Street Baptist Church’s building. That physical church may include some who are members of Jesus’ invisible church and some who aren’t. Some of the Main Street members may be a part of Jesus’ invisible church, but some aren’t. Some of the visitors (individuals not listed in Main Street Baptist Church’s directory) may be part of Jesus’ invisible church, but others aren’t.
  6. We can make no blanket proclamations of innocence or guilt, saved or lost status upon the Main Street Baptist Church or the physical church that assembled on this particular Sunday.
  7. Next Sunday, the group that meets at the Main Street Baptist Church will be a new church. It’s a new day and a new, distinct assembly. That Sunday’s church may be comprised of the same or a different mix of individuals.

What GOD sees is the heart and soul of individual people. That’s what GOD looks at, not an entire physical church. Not the name on your building or whether you meet in a building or a home. GOD does not care about those things. We know this because we can’t find instructions about them in Scripture.

From creation, GOD has sought individuals who would worship Him in spirit and truth. Biblical worship is not successfully breathing through another “Sunday service.” Biblical worship is surrendering your life’s choices to GOD’s will, bowing yourself before Him—Sunday … and every other day; during physical church assemblies … and when by yourself.

What GOD cares about most is (individual) true worshipers. GOD cares much more deeply about how you live outside of church assemblies each week than He does in those 1-3 hours! Yet so many have this upside down.

Now, Scripture does provide guardrails for how to conduct effective physical church assemblies. And we need to stay within those guardrails.

But those guardrails are minimal in number.

Many have bolted on additional human guardrails through various combinations of proof-texting, elaborate formulas for discerning authority, and tradition. Others have ignored Scripture’s guardrails by twisting Scripture and bowing to the pressures of culture.

Assuming we remain within Scripture’s guardrails, GOD gives us complete freedom to conduct our assemblies as we see fit. Otherwise, He would have given us a specific formula to execute. Since He didn’t prescribe “the way,” we have liberty to decide.

To put it succinctly:

  • GOD cares mightily that you (and every person) are a part of Jesus’ invisible church.
  • GOD cares mightily that you develop the character of Jesus.
  • But GOD cares minimally how you conduct your local church assemblies, regardless of the name you slap on a building or sign in the lawn. GOD has left these things to human judgment.

What does all of this mean for our visible churches?

  1. We need to teach people the difference between Jesus’ invisible church and visible churches. Virtually nobody discusses or understands this.
  2. We need to increase our emphasis on each person being added by Jesus to His holy invisible gathering of spiritual Israel. Virtually nobody knows about or appreciates the distinction.
  3. We need to stop acting like our particular visible church is the same thing as Jesus’ invisible church.
  4. We need to stop teaching that Jesus’ invisible church is the collection of all denominations. This isn’t biblical and lulls those living in sin into a false sense of security.
  5. We need to reboot our visible churches with laser-like focus on maximizing their effectiveness in helping people become like Jesus while sharing each other’s burdens.

Humanity’s modern concept of church is not the biblical concept but a lifeless shell. It’s no wonder people are leaving these churches in record numbers. Often, before the new and vibrant and alive can thrive, the old and decaying must completely crumble. I think that’s what GOD is doing. Let’s speed the process while building new healthy community in its place.

More info: Re-Thinking the Ekklesia [The Differences Between the Visible and Invisible Church]

Continue to Part 2


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