In the book of Acts, before the gospel went to the Gentiles, there were 120 Jews who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; a Jewish feast day, which commemorated the giving of the Law at Sinai.
In Acts 2, there were thousands of Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. In Acts 2:5, we read “…there were dwelling at Jerusalem JEWS, devout men, out of EVERY NATION under heaven” (Acts 2:25).
Many of these Jews were residents of other nations because they were the descendants of those Jews who had been scattered when Israel was overthrown by the Assyrians and when Judah taken captive by the Babylonians.
Though there was a return to the land after the Babylonian captivity, the nation never became what it once was, as Jews were scattered throughout the known world. In Acts 2:6-11 we read of the nations from which these Jews (who were gathered in Jerusalem) were residents.
Later , in Acts 2:22, the apostle Peter addressed these thousands of Jews as, “YE MEN OF ISRAEL” as he preached the gospel to them. As Peter preached the gospel many were convicted of their sins. Acts 2:37 says the following:
Now when they heard this (the gospel), they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?
Peter responded by telling them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins and they would receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter tells them the promise of the Holy Spirit is for them, and their children, and to all who are afar off, and to as many as the Lord their God should call.
That day 3000 Jews were born again and joined the 120 as followers of Jesus. In Acts 2:47 Jews who believed in Jesus were said to have been added daily to THE CHURCH.
Notice that the Jews who believed in Jesus were called “the church.”
At that time “the church” was entirely Jewish. They continued on in covenant with God through Jesus Christ. On the contrary, those Jews who rejected Jesus were cut off from the from the covenant.
Over the next few years many more Jews would repent and follow Jesus. For them, true redemption had nothing to do with being residents in Israel; it had everything to do with belonging to this community who followed Jesus.
Though many believed, others chose to harden their hearts against Christ, and against His followers, and the message of the gospel. Throughout the book of Acts we can see that God was separating His people within Jewry by calling the people of Israel to repentance. Those who obeyed and believed the gospel were consequently added to THE CHURCH. Those who refused to repent were cut off from being’s God’s people.
Many, who have embraced dispensational premillennialism, have been taught that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel. However, what they overlook is how God made a difference between the Jews who believed the gospel and those who did not. God separated the believing Jews unto Himself and called them “the church.” The rest – those who hardened their hearts against Jesus – were cut off as Moses said they would be (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22-23; Acts 7:37).
Yet, in the ideology of the dispensational premillennialist, national, ethnic Israel retains a special covenant status in the sight of God. This is completely contrary to the gospel. The gospel which was preached to the Jews about Jesus called all Israel to repent of their sins because God’s people were now identified by their obedience to Jesus and not by their ethnicity.
On the Day of Pentecost the New Testament church was born, yet the concept of the church did not begin on Pentecost. It began with Israel in the Old Testament. In Acts 7, Stephen referred to Israel in the wilderness as “the CHURCH in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
The Septuagint (LXX) which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament (completed some 200 years before Christ) was a primary source employed by the New Testament writers when quoting from the Old Testament scriptures.
The Greek word Ekklesia which is translated in the New Testament, as church, is used in the Old Testament by the Septuagint to describe the gatherings, assemblies, and coming together of the people of Israel.
For instance, ekklesia is used to describe the gathering of the people of Israel at the giving of the Law. Consider the following from Deuteronomy 4:10:
“… the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, GATHER me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.”
The word gather, here in Deuteronomy 4:10 is the verb form of ekklesia. In Deuteronomy 9:10 it is “the day of the assembly.”
And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in THE DAY OF THE ASSEMBLY (Deuteronomy 9:10).
This “day of the assembly” is “the day of the ekklesia” or the day the church in the wilderness gathered to receive the Law. This is very interesting in view of the events which occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Remember, Pentecost was a commemoration of the giving of the Law.
The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost was the fulfillment of that which was foreshadowed when the Law was given in the Old Testament. It is by the giving of His Holy Spirit that God has inscribed His Law upon the hearts of His people.
The ekklesia is not a new concept. It began with Israel in the Old Testament and continued with born again Israelites in the New Testament. That is why the Jews who continued on in covenant with God through Jesus Christ were called the church, or the ekklesia.
If we know from the scriptures that the New Testament church was born on the Day of Pentecost (a Jewish feast day) and was an entirely Jewish assembly of believers in Jesus Christ, then the church cannot and must not be thought of as a Gentile entity. The church is the true assembly of the people of God, as the writer of Hebrews exhorted his Jewish brethren:
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND CHURCH (ekkliesa) of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…(Hebrews 12:18-23).