The Church Could Not Exist Prior to the Resurrection (Part 1)


Here are some thoughts about the relation of the Church to the resurrection of Christ. If this is sound, it destroys any notion that the Church can be found in the OT, and eliminates one of supersessionism’s major arguments for throwing off the label of replacement theology (i.e., that the Church has always existed). This comes from the forthcoming book.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an eschatological event. His risen glorified body which proclaimed in itself the defeat of death is a beautiful anachronism, a flame of hope which all believers can look to and gain hope and strength from. Life blazes in a world of death, signaling the coming victory of Life (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-57; 2 Cor. 5:4). Although I disagree with his “apocalyptic” reading, I like the way Beker puts it:

Resurrection language is eschatological language… For this reason the resurrection of Christ, the coming reign of God, and the resurrection of the dead belong inseparably together.1

To Paul the resurrection of Christ is the promise of history.2 This is why it takes up so much of the proclamation in the first part of Acts. It is also essential to our understanding of the birth of the Church.

I continue this section by being a bit provocative. Here it is: There could be no Church before the resurrection of Christ for the simple reason that the organism that is made up of Christians is essentially connected to the life of the resurrected Lord.3 Therefore, without the resurrection there could be no Church.

I realize that such a statement will upset anyone who believes that saints before the cross were indwelt by the Spirit and that there is only one people of God for all ages, but there it is, and I think it is quite easy to demonstrate.

In the first place we have seen that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift associated with the New covenant.4 This is seen in any number of OT New covenant passages such as Isaiah 59:20-21; Ezekiel 16:59-62, 36:25-32; Joel 2:2-29. But the New covenant could not be inaugurated until Christ’s covenant blood had been shed. Further, it is the ascended Christ who sent the Spirit (e.g., Jn. 14:25-28). That is to say, the glorified Jesus sent the Spirit (Jn. 7:39). This seems to be what the apostle is saying in Galatians 4:4-6:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

There is a chronological development here. God sends His Son, the Son redeems, then God sends forth the Spirit of His Son. The Spirit is sent after the Son is sent, which is to say, the reference to the Spirit in Galatians 4:6 is in consequence of what was accomplished by the sending of the Son. Hence, the Holy Spirit is “sent” after the death and resurrection of Christ to apply the results of the Son’s work to sinners. The Church is a “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). With that foundation laid, we can move on to the link with Christ’s resurrected life.

In Pauline theology Christians have “died with Christ” (Rom. 6:8; Col. 3:3), but they have also been vitally linked to the risen Christ.5 In the first place, there is a definite link with our justification:

who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:25)

If Christ had to be raised for our justification, then it follows that the body comprised of justified believers (the Church) is a post-resurrection organism and there is a dynamic relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our new life “in Christ” through the Holy Spirit. This New covenant gift of the Spirit is what provides just a small foretaste of the resurrection life that awaits us. Hence, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11).

Similarly, Paul asserts that “we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). If we must be “buried with Him through baptism into [His] death,” having been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 6:14), then Christ had first to die for it to occur (even analogously).

The covenant dimension is essential to all of this. Paul saw himself and his co-workers as, ministering “not… the letter but… the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6 my emphasis). The New covenant is “the Holy Spirit covenant.” It is the covenant that gives life (cf. Tit. 3:7).

The conclusion is inevitable; Christ had first to die to instigate the New covenant, then be raised from the dead “for our justification,” and the Spirit of the New covenant had to come in a new way before the Church could exist! The Church has to be a resurrection-New covenant entity.


1 J. Christiaan Beker, The Triumph of God, 66-67.

2 Ibid, 127.

3 In saying this I am not asserting that we are raised now. I only mean that the Church’s union with Christ in new life is a union not with the dead Christ but with the exalted living Christ.

4 “Paul’s claim that the church is the place where God’s new covenant is being enacted is especially clear in his claim that believers enjoy distinctive new-covenant blessings. Primary among those blessings is the gift of the Spirit.” – Douglas J. Moo, A Theology of Paul and His Letters, 465. See also David Gunn, “An Overview of New Covenant Passages: Ostensible and Actual,” in Christopher Cone, General Editor, An Introduction to the New Covenant, 52, 54. Although not agreeing with the whole piece I commend this article for its careful analysis.

5 Interestingly, a search of Paul’s use of the term “resurrection” (anastasis) reveals him looking forward to either comprehending it (Phil. 3:10-11), or else participating in its glory (Rom. 6:5. Cf. Rom. 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14).


Since salvation depends upon the death and resurrection of Christ, wouldn't this same logic conclude that no one was saved before Christ's advent?

G. N. Barkman

Of course sinners before the cross are saved on the basis of Christ's work, but that does not put them in the Church. Please follow the argument.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

I have read your article again, assuming I must have missed something. I'm trying to follow your argument, but I still come up short. If believing OT saints were saved prior to the death and resurrection of Christ, but saved upon the basis of that future (to them) event, why do not the other elements apply to them as well? The Holy Spirit had to apply the benefits of Christ's sacrifice to them in order for them to be saved, right?

I actually agree with you in part, and I do not refer to believers in the OT as "the church" because Scripture never refers to them in that way. The church is tied essentially to the New Covenant and its provisions, but OT saints were saved upon the basis of the New Covenant, not the Old. The Old (Mosaic) Covenant saved no one, and yet people who lived during that era were saved by believing the promises regarding a coming Redeemer, which is another way of saying they were saved on the basis of New Covenant provisions. They were enabled by the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ, and the benefits of Christ's redemptive work were applied by the Holy Spirit to those who believed. What am I missing here?

G. N. Barkman


This article's main purpose is to refute the Presbyterian view that the Church has always existed. That position is falsified if the Church could not have existed in the OT.

In assuming salvation through Christ and the NC involves inclusion into the Body of Christ you are begging the question. People before the resurrection were saved in lieu of the cross but that does not mean they were afterwards included in the Church. Also, if people were saved before the Church was created then clearly they were not in the Church.

Further, if the Church is a NC reality then saints before the Church could not included in a one-people-of-God scenario; pre-church and Church saints are two kinds of saints. You can't just assume pre-Church saints are now in the Church, you have to demonstrate it.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.