In the year 34 A.D. Stephen, who was stoned by his Nation Israel because he rebuked them in the Name of the Lord for their rejection of the Son of Man, their Messiah; said, just before he died: “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:51 to 56. They resisted the Holy Spirit. No doubt Stephen had in mind, and the Nation had in mind, the words of the Lord Jesus recorded in Matthew 12:31 and 32 . . . “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit. it shall not be forgiven him.” They had sinned against the Son of man; delivered Him to Pilate to be put to death. They had committed an awful sin against Him. But on the cross the Son of man said, “Father forgive them”; and the Father did forgive their sin against the Son of man; or rather, He was willing to forgive that great sin against the Son of man, if they would yield to the Holy Spirit’s witness as to the resurrection and Messiahship of that Son of man. They did not yield; they resisted. Stephen was declaring that they were committing that unpardonable sin, to which the Lord had referred in Matthew 12:31 and 32.
Now, let us note the contrast between Stephen’s message concerning the Son of man, in the year 34 A.D., and Paul’s message concerning the risen Christ, in the year 64 A. D. In the year 64 Paul addressed an Epistle to the saints in Ephesus, declaring therein that God had raised the Lord Jesus and had seated Him at His own right hand in the upper-heavenlies, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion; and gave Him to be head over all things unto that Church which is His Body. Ephesians 1:19 to 22.
At the time Stephen addressed Israel, in the year 34 A.D. and for several years thereafter, the Gentiles were aliens from the Commonwealth of Israel. Ephesians 2:11. In the year 64 A.D., when Paul addressed his Epistle to the saints at Ephesus, he declared that it was God’s purpose to make of believing Gentiles and believing Jews, in Christ and with Christ, One New Man. Ephesians 2:15. He said that was God’s eternal purpose in Christ. Ephesians 3:11, “For this cause, “Paul declared that he “was the prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentiles.” Ephesians 3:1. Stephen was the martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ for Israel. Stephen spoke to Israel of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of man, standing in Heaven. Paul wrote of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of the Body sitting in the upper-heavenlies. Stephen rehearsed the history of Israel from the call of Abraham to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of man. But Paul declared that the “upper-heavenly” position of the Lord Jesus Christ, His headship unto the Church, and the membership of redeemed heathen in that Body, had no place in the history of Israel, never having been mentioned nor intimated even once by any one of Israel’s prophets. The Father chose to keep as a secret, hid in Himself, not made known to the sons of men in other ages, facts concerning the Headship and membership of Christ’s Body. Ephesians 3:8 and 9 and Ephesians 3:3. It was the will of God to keep this a mystery until after He was through with His dealings with Israel, as a nation. He declared the temporary abandonment of His purpose concerning that nation about 60 A.D., in Romans 11:7 and 17 and 25. God is to again deal with His Nation when He has brought to an end His purpose in this dispensation of grace; to make the One New Man; to complete the Body of Christ.
All Premillennialist Bible students, who are Fundamentalists, are agreed on this program of God, but it is quite difficult, if not altogether impossible, for them to agree as to when God set aside His Nation and when He began historically the making of the New Man. Perhaps the difference of opinion as to when the Body began can be expressed in the “yes” and “no” to this question: “When Stephen saw Jesus as the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God in heaven, some months after the death and resurrection of the Son of man, was the Lord Jesus then the Head of the Church which is His Body?” This is by no means an easy question to answer. But let not our answer be, “I have always been taught that the Body of Christ began historically before Stephen’s death.” But rather, let us search the Scriptures in giving our answer.
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to study some of the statements made by the Lord Jesus concerning Himself, when He spoke of Himself as the Son of man while He was. Jesus of Nazareth a man approved of God in Israel’s midst. Acts 2:22.
The Lord Jesus is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, about eighty times as the Son of man. Aside from the question of the bewildered Israelites, “who is this Son of man,” the title was always used by the Lord Himself. Any student of the Word of God who will carefully read and study the eighty references will be convinced that the title “Son of man”, was the Lord’s title in His relations and dealings with His own Nation Israel. Paul never used the title in the Lord’s relationships and ministries to the Body.
What the Son of man did while He was on earth was in fulfillment of Scriptures; and what He promised to do when He shall come back to earth will be in fulfillment of Scriptures. All of Israel’s prophets foretold the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, for two purposes; one purpose was to offer Himself, in suffering, on the tree, and the other was to place Himself, in glory, on the throne of David. The two lines of prophecy were concerning the Sacrifice and Kingdom of Israel’s Messiah. But not one of Israel’s prophets had one word to say about the heavenly position and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ during this parenthesis. Jesus of Nazareth, in the midst of Israel, referred to His Sacrifice and Kingship over Israel; but not to His Headship over His Body and His relationship to the One New Man of Ephesians 2:15. In Matthew 26:24 we read this statement of the Lord: “The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him.” In Matthew 25:31 we read, “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him: then shall He sit on the throne of His glory.” Matthew 25:34 . . . “The King say . . . Come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Yes, the Son of man goeth and the Son of man cometh. This is the message of the Messiah in the Four Gospels.
When the Son of man went to the cross He was fulfilling Scriptures. On the cross the Lord did that which God spoke by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. When the Son of man shall come back to Israel, in power and great glory, and sit as the King on the Throne of His glory, He will be fulfilling Scriptures. He will be the King of that Kingdom, reigning over the house of Israel, as was spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began. Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; Matthew 25:34.
But the Son of man standing in heaven, according to the seventh chapter of Acts, was there in fulfillment of Scriptures. The Lord Jesus Christ, Head of the Church which is His Body, according to the first chapter of Ephesians is not seated there Head of the Body, as spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, but Head of that Body which was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 3:9. The prophets said nothing about the Body.
The message of the King and the Kingdom was the subject of prophecy. The message of the Head and the Body was not the subject of prophecy; but was given by revelation to Paul . . . Ephesians 3:3; Colossians 1:24 to 28.
The Lord was the Son of man to Israel in Acts 7:51 to 56. If Israel had repented, Jesus would have come back to Israel on earth to fulfill the prophecies concerning the King and the Kingdom. If Israel would not repent, God would set that Nation aside and make His Son to be the Head of the Church which is His Body. How long was the opportunity to repent and the Kingdom offered to the Nation? Until some time after Stephen was stoned to death. Several thousand Israelites had repented and were saved before Stephen’s death. Were they in the Body of Christ at the time they were saved or did they become members of that Body later on? Was God putting saved Israelites in the Body of Christ while He was speaking in mercy to Israel concerning their King and Kingdom? Acts 3:19 to 26. The Israelites saved during the days of Stephen’s ministry were in the Church of God; that is, in the “called out” of God. Galatians 1:13. Acts 8:1. Were they in the Body of Christ?
When God spoke by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began, concerning the sufferings and glory of Christ, concerning His Sacrifice and Kingdom, He never revealed the fact that there would be months or years or centuries between the Lamb on the cross and the King on the throne. He never spoke of the time between, except to say that He would not leave His soul in Sheol.
Therefore we cannot learn from any of Israel’s prophets when the Body of Christ began historically. Neither can we learn it from the oral or written messages of the Twelve. Neither is there any prophecy, stating that God would give to Israel another opportunity to receive the Kingdom during the years between the sacrifice of Christ and the revelation of the Body mystery. But He did.
When was the secret of Ephesians 3:6 made known to and through Paul? The “unsearchable” (untraceable) riches of Christ, revealed in Ephesians, differed from the “traceable” riches of Christ preached by Peter and the Eleven. Compare Ephesians 3:8 and 9 with Acts 2:16; Acts 2:25 to 30; Acts 3:19 to 26; Acts 10:47 and Acts 15:14 to 17. If the “traceable” riches of Christ refer to the King and the Kingdom and the “untraceable” riches refer to the Head and the Body, the Church of Stephen’s day must differ from the Church of Ephesians 1:19 to 22.