The Four Generations of the Church. In preceding sections it has been shown that Christ in the various phases of His redemptive work is symbolized in the sanctuary. It has also been shown that the sanctuary illustrates individual Christian experience. The present section is to consider how it represents the church as a whole. God calls His church "a chosen generation." I Peter 2.9. This title applies to the church in all ages, during which time it has four successive "generations" or divisions - the Hebrew generation of the church, the Christian generation, the Remnant generation, and the church of the Firstborn. How are these generations illustrated in the sanctuary?
First, the Hebrew generation of the church, whose sacrifices in the court symbolized Christ. But although for centuries these sacrifices were offered day after day, yet because they were "not. . mixed with faith" Heb. 4:2, their significance was finally lost. As a result, when Christ came to this earth, the church did not recognize Him as the true Sacrifice, and consequently when He ascended, they refused to follow Him by faith into the holy place of the sanctuary above. They continued to offer their now meaningless sacrifices in the court. This church, then, is the church of the court.
Second, the Christian church. After the death of Christ, this church accepted Him, not only as the true Sacrifice but as their crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. By faith, they left the court and entered with Him into the holy place of the heavenly sanctuary where He was anointed heavenly High Priest. This church may therefore be called the church of the holy place.
Third, the Remnant church, the _last `generation of the church on earth, not only accept Christ as their Sacrifice and their High Priest in the holy place above, but by faith they enter with Him into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, where He now acts as Judge. This church may therefore be called the church of the most holy place.
Fourth, the church of the firstborn, the church of the finally redeemed. This church by faith follow their Lord all the way from His sacrificial life in the court of earth, through His work as High Priest in the holy place above, and as Judge in the most holy place, till they "come . . . unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the Firstborn." Heb. 12:22,23. This church, having its place of worship forever in the temple eternal in the New Jerusalem, may be called the church of the temple eternal.
These four generations of the church should not be confused with the seven churches of Revelation, symbolized by the seven-branched candlestick. These seven divisions of the church cover only the Christian era, while the four generations now to be considered extend from the time God organized the first church at Sinai to the last church - the church of the Firstborn - the finally redeemed in heaven.
Let us now look at each of these four generations of the church, noticing their beginning, their special mission, their peculiar experiences, and how a correct and spiritual understanding of the sanctuary could have saved them from error, and guided them forward and upward.
The Hebrew Church Organized. When God called Abram away from his kindred, who were idolatrous descendants of the builders of the tower of Babel, His promise was, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing." Gen. 12:1,2. In this blessing was wrapped up the promise of the Saviour - the same promise that had first been given to Adam in Eden. Gen. 3:15. About 1500 B.C., this "great nation" was divinely led out of Egypt to Sinai, where, under the personal direction of God Himself, the Hebrew church was organized. It was the first regularly organized church on this earth. Previous to this time, the
worship of God had been conducted by each patriarch for his own household. The descendants of the patriarchs, to whom the promise of redemption had first been given, comprised the membership of this church.
The first step in the organization of the Hebrew church was the giving of a "constitution," a fundamental law which expressed "the whole duty of man," and by which all should be guided. From the top of Mount Sinai, amid most awe-inspiring scenes and in the hearing of all the people assembled in the plain below, God with His own voice proclaimed the constitution for His church. This was the very same law that throughout the eternity of the past had guided the universe, and which would continue to be a guide for all the future. The constitution of an earthly government may be amended because finite human beings cannot see the end from the beginning, and their work may therefore be defective. But the "constitution" of God's government cannot be amended because, being infinite, "whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever. Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him." Eccl. 3:14.
The First Pentecost The Birthday of the Hebrew Church. God spoke His law from Sinai on the fiftieth day from the "morrow after" Israel ate the first Passover, Lev. 23:15,16, when they were delivered from Egypt. The day was then named Pentecost, a word meaning fiftieth. This first Pentecost was the birthday of the Hebrew church.
The Oracles of God. God gave the Hebrew church every "advantage" - "Much every way," but "chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." Rom. 3:1,2. An oracle is defined as a revelation of the will of a deity. To the Hebrew church the Divine Deity gave a revelation of His will when He spoke His law from Sinai, and anyone desiring to know the will of this Deity will find it only by consulting His law - His oracle. That this oracle might not be lost sight of, God Himself with His own finger engraved it in tables of stone. That its sacredness might be most deeply impressed on His people, it was enshrined in the ark in the most holy place of the sanctuary, directly beneath the Shekinah, the visible symbol of the presence of the Deity, and overshadowed by two angels of beaten gold, representing the "shining guardians" - guards of honor
- or His throne and His holy law. PP 357. This law together with divine revelations from the Shekinah and from the urim and the thummim in the breastplate worn by the high priest, composed the "oracles" of God.
The Hebrew church was the only organization on earth that had a knowledge of the true God or of His divine law which, in the fourth or Sabbath commandment, distinguishes Him above all gods, as the Creator of "heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is." Ex. 20:10,11. It was this knowledge of the true Deity and His law that gave the Jew the "advantage" over every other nation. Rom. 3:1,2. All others, because they knew not the Creator, because they knew not His oracle, were idol worshipers "having no hope, and without God in the world." Eph. 2:12. With a heart observance of the Sabbath of God's law - an institution commemorative of the Creator and His creative work - there never could have been an idol worshiper.
The Mission of the Hebrew Church. To each generation of the church, God has given a special assignment toward carrying the everlasting gospel to the world. The task, the high and holy privilege, of the Hebrew church was to teach the idolatrous nations around them of the true and living God that inhabiteth eternity, and of the holy and just and eternal character of His law, His oracle.
In their deliverance from Egypt, God executed judgment not against the people, but "against all the gods of Egypt," Ex. 12:12, and thus the Israelites had seen the utter helplessness of false gods; they had experienced the mighty power of the true God, the One who had delivered them in time of need. At Sinai they had witnessed His glory in the proclamation of His law, the fourth commandment of which identifies Him as the true God, the Creator. All this was intended to help them realize the importance and the seriousness of their mission.
That they might have still further "advantage," they were given as their home the land of Canaan, the cross roads of the nations, where they would be constantly in touch with those whom they were to help. All through the twentyfive hundred years of the supremacy of the Hebrew church, special emphasis was placed upon the Sabbath of God's law, as evidence that He who created the world is the only true God, and that therefore heart obedience to His law is a necessary passport to heaven. The same eternal passport will be required of every succeeding generation of the church, for only "they that do His commandments . . . may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the City." Rev. 22:14.
Their Failure. Instead of living up to their privileges, and teaching the idolatrous nations of the Creator and His law, the Hebrew church gradually mingled unlawfully with them, and as a result, many themselves disregarded the Sabbath, the sign of the true God and the seal of His law. In doing this they rejected the Creator and became an easy prey to the worship of idols. They lost sight of the truths which the sanctuary represented, and its services finally became to them an empty form. To such an extent was this true that instead of looking for a Deliverer from sin as represented in the sanctuary, their desire and hope was for a mighty conqueror who would deliver them from the oppression of surrounding nations. Therefore, when the true Deliverer came, not as a powerful earthly king, but as a helpless Babe of Bethlehem, they did not recognize Him as the One to whom the sanctuary and its services pointed. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." John 1:11.
Having rejected Christ when He entered the court of earth, they at last crucified Him, the very One who alone could have been their Deliverer. Even when, at the moment of His death, the inner veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom by an unseen hand, their hearts were so hardened that they saw no connection between the rent veil and His torn and bleeding "flesh." The rent veil indicated that the work of the earthly sanctuary was ended. In the death of Christ the earthly sanctuary with its services had met its antitype, and the heavenly sanctuary was about to take its place. Having rejected Christ in His humanity, when He rose from the dead and ascended to begin His work as High Priest in the holy place above, they refused to accept Him as their High Priest and Mediator. Although for a time the earthly priests continued to offer their now useless sacrifices in the court, their worship was meaningless and vain. A spiritual understanding of the sanctuary would have saved them from their errors and consequent defeat, but having lost that, the Hebrew church, as the organized representative of God an earth, was at an end.
God's Plan Finally To Be Carried Out. To the Hebrew church God had given the promise, "If ye . . . hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city (Jerusalem) kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David . . . and this city shall remain forever." Jer. 17:24,25; 11 Chron. 33:4. But because Israel desecrated the Sabbath and went into idolatry with the nations around them, another prophecy was fulfilled: "But if ye will not hearken unto Me to hallow the Sabbath day, then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem. and it shall not be quenched." Jer. 17:27. Nevertheless, God's plan that Jerusalem shall stand forever, will be carried out, not on this sinful earth, but in the heavenly Jerusalem where the seventh day, "the Sabbath of the Lord," Ex. 20:10, will be reverenced and observed throughout eternity by those who "enter in through the gates into the city" of God.Isa. 66:23; Rev. 22:14.