What is the purpose of the Assembly?
Throughout the OT we have the records of men who, in their measure, were a delight to the heart of God. Thus, for example: “Jehovah said to Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a perfect and an upright man” (Job 1: 8). Yet every one of these men of God, including Job, was marked by failure. Furthermore, as foretold (see Gen. 3: 15) these attacks of Satan are especially aimed at those in the genealogical line of the promised Messiah. It is no surprise then that when the Christ Himself was born, Satan immediately sought to have Him destroyed (see Matt. 2: 13–18). Now the word Christ means the anointed one and indicates one who is chosen—hence Satan’s opposition. This chosen One, together with His Kingdom on earth—a kingdom in which Israel is to be prominent—is the dominant subject of the OT prophecies.
The Christ was publicly presented to Israel at John’s baptism of repentance (see Matt. 3: 13–15). Against this background, He stood out as having no need of repentance, thus providing the occasion for the heavens to open to him and for God to declare His uniqueness saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (my emphasis, v 17). He, God’s own beloved Son, was thus the Man of God’s choice—a man in whom there would be no failure. Immediately, consequent on the Lord’s public showing at His baptism, Satan put the Lord Jesus to the test (see Luke 4: 1–13 etc.) at the end of which the enemy “departed from him for a time” (v13). His hatred, however, remained. Only one man could say of the Father “I do always the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8: 29; see also John 4: 34; 5: 30; 8: 29) and Satan was determined that a life of such perfection had to be terminated. To secure his purpose he entered into Judas Iscariote (see Luke 22: 3). As a result, that life that was so delightful to the heart of God ended when Jesus died. Furthermore, it could never again be repeated for God “gave his only–begotten Son” (my emphasis, John 3: 16)—and what is given is lost forever. When Christ died His blood was shed and those limited conditions of “blood and flesh” (Heb. 2: 14) that He had entered into could not be entered into again. Hence in resurrection the Lord Jesus, although still a man, was in a new condition of “flesh and bones” (Luke 24: 39). Satan must have thought that he had secured a great victory in the death of Christ but instead it provided the very basis for the eternal blessing of all men. Nonetheless, the life of Christ here that had been such a delight to God had been brought to an end. Was that, then, a defeat for God? No, for Satan, as ever, had overreached himself.
Following the resurrection, the testimony of an exalted Christ was presented to Israel. However, while a remnant of the nation responded positively in repentance, the trial of Stephen effectively spelt the end for any hope of the Kingdom being then established by the promised return of Christ (see Acts 3: 19–21; 6: 15–7: 1). Accordingly, God moved in an entirely new way—He was going to see to it that even though Christ was now personally absent from this earth, the life of that Man would continue here. Of course, the Assembly was in existence from the day of Pentecost, but its members were only Jews while the Kingdom was still a definite possibility. It is when Saul of Tarsus is halted by the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus with the words “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” (my emphasis, Acts 9: 4) that we get the first indication of the Lord’s identification of Himself with the Assembly as His body. The apostle Paul would later write saying “that by revelation the mystery has been made known to me” (Eph. 3: 3; see also Rom. 16: 25; Col. 1: 26) which he also describes as “the mystery of the Christ” (Eph. 3: 4). Christ is still here, not as a man, but in His body, the Assembly—hence Paul in 1 Cor. 12: 12 describes the Assembly, the body as “the Christ”. As any man is known by his body in which he expresses himself, the Assembly is also the expression of Christ in this world, “the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1: 23). It is the continuation of Christ here. When the Lord was here in the midst of Israel, He came into limited and restrictive conditions, for His manhood was real. Those restrictions have now gone, and the testimony has gone into all the world. God has again triumphed over Satan, and as one of the authorities in the heavens, Satan is to know it (see Eph. 3: 10, 11). Thus, all that came out in Christ personally that was pleasurable to the heart of God is to be reproduced in the Assembly as the body of Christ in subjection to the Head in heaven. This “new man” (Eph. 2: 15), formed of both Jew and Gentile, is, I apprehend, the purpose of the Assembly. It is the continuation of Christ here while He is absent in heaven.