The entire Bible is written to, for and about God and His relationship to the church. It is the preparation manual for the 144,000 saints who will become the bride of Christ at His return. Thus, we find many parables, analogies, similitudes, allegories and imagery directed at and defining the church. Dozens of such figures refer to the church.
It is very difficult for humans to understand the fullness of becoming God and His expectations of the church today. He uses varying analogies to help those who are being converted to come to a more complete understanding of His purposes. We will begin an examination of some of these in this study.
1. What is the most obvious reference to the church Christ said He would build? Acts 20:28; I Timothy 3:15; Ezra 5:8.
Comment: It is amazing that the Bible names the body of believers "the church of God" in twelve specific passages, yet literally tens of thousands of religions today claim to be connected with the true God but have names bearing little similarity to what God names His church in the Bible. Because "church of God" is generic, the Bible adds "at Ephesus," "at Corinth" or at other locations to define which part of the church is meant in a specific context.
Paul adds "living" in I Timothy 3:15, showing that God allows some leeway in expressing the church's name, utilizing more of God's specific names and attributes as part of the identification. The organization producing this magazine uses "Church of the Great God," a biblically authorized name (Ezra 5:8). Herbert Armstrong had this title of God inscribed on the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, California.
2. Just because we may see the official name, "church of God," in the Bible, does it mean we understand what that church is? Matthew 16:18; Acts 7:38.
Comment: It is equally amazing that multitudes of organizations in the Protestant world have no idea of what the church actually consists. This illustrates that even on the simplest of levels, the Bible is a coded book. Many refer to a physical building or a legal corporate structure as the church. Few seem to understand the church consists of the members themselves. The word "church" is translated from the Greek ekklesia, meaning "called-out" or "assembly." The "church in the wilderness" consisted of those called out of physical Egypt; the New Testament church are those called out of the spiritual Egypt of false belief and practice dominating this world. Without this knowledge, it is extremely difficult to identify the church Christ built.
3. Is the church compared to a family? Hebrews 12:23; 1:14; Romans 8:17-29; Colossians 1:15; Titus 3:7; I Peter 3:7-8.
Comment: Another little understood concept begins to unfold when biblical writers use the analogy of the family for the church. When Christ is introduced as the "firstborn of many brethren" and the church is designated as being the "firstborn," we can begin to understand the plan of God—that man is to become God. As heirs with Christ, our inheritance is the same as His, for we will be brothers with Him, not lesser "angelic beings."
4. Is the church referred to as a city or cities? Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 2-3; 21:2, 10; Psalm 74:2; Joel 2:15.
Comment: Paul lumps the church together as Zion (city of David), Jerusalem and city of the living God. He draws this symbolism of churches as cities from the Old Testament. From Revelation 2-3, we commonly refer to seven eras of churches by city names. We can view the references to "cities" in the Old Testament as the true church where the reference is to Zion, Jerusalem, Samaria (capital of the northern ten tribes) and other references to God's called-out ones by lesser cities. False churches are also typed by cities, such as Babylon and Tyre.
5. In the Bible, do mountains and hills refer to churches and/or church governments? Hebrews 12:18-22; Micah 4:7; Isaiah 2:2; 31:4; Psalm 2:6; 15:1; 74:2; Zechariah 8:3.
Comment: Hebrews 12:18-22 is a pivotal passage in tying the symbolism of the church together. Paul refers to Mount Sinai as the seat of God's government under the Old Covenant. He projects Mount Zion as the present and future rule of God under the New Covenant. Other passages show hills and mountains symbolizing governments.
6. Can hills and mountains also reflect secular, worldly governments? Joshua 24:4; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Zechariah 4:7; Revelation 11.
Comment: God gave Esau "Mount Seir" as a homeland. Ezekiel discusses Mount Seir, but he obviously refers not to real estate but to people and their government. Later in the chapter, God judges the whole land of Edom, including Mount Seir, but His judgment punishes, not land, but people dwelling in it.
Isaiah prophesies of hills and mountains being "brought low" (Isaiah 2:12, 14; 40:4). Unless the context shows otherwise, this generally expresses the humbling of peoples and governments. While Revelation 11 shows the Two Witnesses in confrontation with the peoples and governments of the world, Zechariah 4 shows the mountains becoming plains before Zerubbabel, a type of the leader of these two godly men. Worldly governments will be humbled before them.
This just begins the search into biblical symbols of the church—imagery that will deepen our understanding of the times and our place in God's plan.