|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part two of a series. Read part one.
In the first century or the twenty-first, true believers are a remnant - a minority within a minority.
As we noted in our first article, it is a fact of Scripture and of church history that God deals in remnants - a few, relatively speaking, who remain faithful to Him. In nearly every era over a span of six thousand years we find vast majorities forsaking the truth, and small minorities obeying it.
We find one of Scripture's foremost examples of this in Acts chapter one:
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers....altogether the number of names was about one hundred and twenty... (Acts 1:12-15)
It is instructive to note several things about this relatively small group - this remnant - gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem.
Not the "Original" Remnant
Previous events in Scripture tell us that this was not what we may accurately call the "original" New Testament remnant. We read of the original remnant in John chapter six, where the apostle records crucial events that took place relatively early in Jesus' earthly ministry.
The original believing remnant was twelve men - eleven actually, excluding the imposter Judas - who spent three intensive years with the Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. But as He took them with Him throughout Israel, Jesus preached to multitudes across the length and breadth of the land. Many followed after Him and became known as His "disciples".
The First Mass Defection
But John chapter six tells us of a crucial turning point for these people. The time came when many of "His disciples" (Greek matheton, literally, "learners of His" - not necessarily believers) turned back and no longer followed Jesus, because He began to speak things that their hearts could not accept. Jesus explained why this was so:
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (John 6:63-66)
A Believing Remnant Remains
And yet, the very next verses tell us, a believing remnant remained, who were grounded in the truth of Christ:
Then Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" But Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (66-69)
Addition & Subtraction - But Still a Remnant
But immediately on heels of Peter's great confession, we read that even within what appeared to be an entirely faithful remnant, including the twelve closest to Jesus, there was one who would prove to be a counterfeit:
Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. (70-71)
Quite probably there were yet others among those who continued to follow Jesus after the mass defection of John chapter six, who would also subsequently fall away, as Jesus said in Mark chapter four in the parable of the sower:
These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the Word's sake, immediately they stumble. (Mark 4:16-17)
Yet at the same time, others would be added to the remnant, as Jesus also said:
But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the Word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred. (Mark 4:20)
The minority would later seem to suddenly become a great majority, but this illusion quickly vanished. On the first day of the week in which He would give His life as a ransom for many, Jesus made His long-prophesied triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It seemed to human eyes that the remnant had suddenly grown to a multitude. The crowds thronged the way, shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9). But within days this same throng would show its true colors by shouting, "Let Him be crucified!...His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:22 & 25). When Christ went to the cross, the believing remnant was still a small minority - and to human eyes, one that was about to be brought to nothing.
But after Jesus rose from the dead, a precious additional number truly believed. The Apostle Paul tells us that after His resurrection, Jesus "was seen by over five hundred brethren (adelphois - in this context meaning true believers) at once" (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Jesus' Final Words to the Remnant
Jesus specifically instructed the apostles and those with them to remain at Jerusalem:
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5)
Even now, the twelve hoped that their small remnant minority was about to become a strong majority - but strong in political rather than spiritual terms. Jesus told them of a different plan:
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:6-8)
And so this small band of true believers, this remnant - indeed, this remnant from among a remnant, a minority within a minority - waited in obedience to Christ's command in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the fulfillment of His promise of power. They waited, continuing "with one accord in prayer and supplication" (Acts 1:14).
True Believers Are a Remnant Today
Just as in the first century, true believers in Christ are a remnant today - a minority within a minority.
On Sunday mornings, most people are anywhere but in a church service - out mowing their lawns, on the golf course, going to the mall or a sports event, or perhaps sleeping off the dissipations of Saturday night. A minority of the population is in church at all.
But the majority of that church-going minority is no better off, and perhaps worse off, than those who never enter a church door. Why? Because most of them are in a so-called church where the Bible is not honored and the Gospel of Christ is not preached. They are being led astray from the truth. They are actually being inoculated against the truth, by hearing half-truths or outright falsehoods.
Other Sunday church-goers are in purportedly Bible-believing churches and denominations in which the truth is being compromised. One church within the denomination supposedly still preaches the Gospel. But its sister church in the next town clearly preaches a false gospel. The pastors of those two churches sit together in the same presbytery or pastors' fellowship, call each other "brother", and act as though nothing were wrong. Even though they disagree on the nature and content of the Gospel message, they may even serve together on a committee that is supposed to promote "evangelism".
And so it is a precious minority within the church-going minority who are actually genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ attending a sound, uncompromising church on the Lord's Day. Those who are not in apostasy or open compromise are indeed a small remnant in our time.
But what does Christ say to His true remnant? "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). A praying, supplicating remnant, a believing people who wait upon the Lord for His resources, are a remnant that receives power from God.
There was power in the upper room, for the prepared people of God.
Just who were those people? We shall see as we continue.
Next: The Upper Room - An Unexpected Assembly