Scripture and the Church

God Deals In Remnants: The Unexpected Assembly

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In the upper room at Jerusalem and in all subsequent eras of the church, God's believing remnant defies human calculations.
From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three of a series. Read part two.

In the upper room at Jerusalem and in all subsequent eras of the church, God's believing remnant defies human calculations. We are amazed to see who is included - and sometimes who is not.

We turn our attention once again to the saints gathered in the upper room at Jerusalem:

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)

After their return to Jerusalem following Jesus' ascension into Heaven, this group would spend another ten days together, awaiting, as Jesus had told them, "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). That miracle would come on the day of the Feast of Pentecost.

It is interesting and instructive to note who was in the upper room comprising the remnant - as well as who was not.

Who Was There

Luke, the inspired writer of the book of Acts, tells us that the remaining eleven of the twelve original apostles were there, and he mentions each by name (verse 13). Those entrusted with the message of the cross and the theological guardianship of the church were a collection of characters that included several rough fishermen, a hated tax collector, and a political insurrectionist. They were hardly the cream of Jewish society, much less learned theologians. But, as the religious leaders of the day would soon note, these "unlearned and ignorant men...had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).

Luke also tells us that "the women" were there (verse 14). The presence of these women is equally significant with that of the eleven. No doubt, these were the women that Luke often spoke of in his Gospel account, since this is a phrase he also used in that book. Who were some of these women? There was Mary Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. There were other women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, and had ministered to Him along the way. He had also healed some of them of "evil spirits and infirmities" (Luke 8:1-3)

Some of these same women, the Gospels tell us, were looking on from a distance as Jesus suffered and died on the cross (Luke 23:49). They also came and sat opposite the tomb and observed where Jesus had been buried (Matthew 27:61). And early on the first day of the week, some of these same women were the first to come and discover the empty tomb, learn from the angel that Christ had risen from the dead, and tell the apostles of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-10).

Throughout His ministry, and even in the providential acts of His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus had given special - and in those days unaccustomed - status to women. Throughout His ministry, He dealt with women with a kindness, respect, and sympathy that were simply not the way that Jewish or Gentile men treated women in that day. And Jesus through the apostles made it clear that although there is to be male authority in the church, women are not to be spiritual second class citizens. So it is not insignificant that these women were part of the 120 in the upper room.

And Luke names one particular woman in verse 14. "Mary the mother of Jesus" was part of the remnant. But she does not occupy some elevated status. She is here along with other women as part of this small and faithful group - in fact, this is the last we read of her by name in the Bible.

But this is not the last we hear about Mary. According to Acts 2:1-5, all of those gathered in the upper room were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. So Mary was one of those. This dear, faithful lady who had been the mother of her own Lord and Savior, and who had endured seeing Him suffer and die, was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke supernaturally in other languages of the wonderful works of God on the Day of Pentecost. And no doubt, she was among those of whom we read later in Acts, that they were in the temple daily after that, praising God and proclaiming Christ. What a glorious and fitting end to the Biblical account of Mary the mother of Jesus.

We also read in Acts 1:14 that Jesus' brothers, who before the cross had been adamant unbelievers, were there - more about them in a few moments.

Indeed, it is surprising to see who Christ includes among those who are

a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Who Was Not There

We may be equally surprised to find who is, in the end, not a member of God's true remnant. Human estimations can prove to be wrong for many reasons.

Sometimes there are those who are numbered among the remnant, by our own estimation, but in the end, like Judas, they prove not to be believers.

Some are like the different kinds of people in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. They may identify visibly with God's remnant for some period of time, but then they fall away. Some receive the Word with joy, but they only endure for awhile, and then they fall away "when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word." With others, "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word" - and I think many people in the churches that preach a prosperity gospel are like that.

Others are real betrayers of God, like Judas. Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20 that the time would come when savage wolves would come in among them, even from their own visible number, and they would speak perverse things, and they would seek to draw people away from the truth.

In 2nd Corinthians 11, Paul warned that church of the same thing - he warned against "false apostles, deceitful workers" who adopt the outward appearance of being apostles of Christ, when in fact inwardly they are ministers of Satan.

The Apostle John in his second epistle warned against antichrists who for a time were among the brethren, but, he says, "They went out from us in order that they might be made manifest, that in fact they were not of us."

The theologically learned men of the day, the political leaders of Israel, the religious leaders of Judaism were not to be found in the upper room at Pentecost. They had rejected Christ. Their prideful self-sufficiency wanted nothing of His promised Helper.

The dividing line that inevitably differentiates such people from true believers is the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the end, the unbelievers outright deny Christ, or they insist that it has to be "Christ plus" something else, or God's Word plus something else. They will not abide in the truth.

The believers may find themselves seemingly overpowered by "the rulers of the darkness of this age" (Ephesians 6:12), as in the case of John when he was exiled to Patmos "for the Word of God for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9). But in the end, "whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5).

It Is Never Too Late

We must always remember that it is our sovereign God who adds people to His remnant. It is never too late for Him to do that, and when he does He may surprise or even shock us.

We find one of the most vivid examples in the upper room. We find that Jesus' brothers are there among the 120 - Jesus' same brothers who did not believe on Him while He was alive, who were offended by Christ and His message, and were convinced that He was a madman (Mark 3:21, John 7:5).

But after the cross they are here, in the remnant. We are not told how that came about, only that it did. One of them, James, would become the leader of the church at Jerusalem and the convener of the council at Jerusalem which dealt with the first seeds of legalism and false gospels in the church (Acts 15).

Another brother of Jesus, Jude, would write the short but powerful epistle of the defense of the faith that comes right before the book of Revelation. In the first verse of that epistle he refers to himself simply as "Jude the servant of Jesus Christ, the brother of James." He did not insist on any special status simply because Jesus' mother and his mother was the same woman.

The apostle Paul was another such surprising addition to Christ's remnant, at a later time. He calls himself "one born out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:8) - a blasphemer of Christ, a zealous hater of the truth, a persecutor of the church, until one day on the road to Damascus, Christ Himself confronted him and brought Paul into the remnant. No people were more surprised at this than the Christians themselves. In fact at first they were afraid of Paul, and Ananias and the others had to be convinced that Paul's conversion was genuine, and God Himself stepped in to do that.

God may also surprise us with who He adds to the remnant in another way. Sometimes He adds someone who we thought was already a Christian. One such case, in a time closer to our own, was the wife of the great British preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones had grown up in the Evangelical church. When she married Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1927, he began his ministry at his first church right after their honeymoon.

She had heard her future husband preach for the first time only a few months earlier. On that occasion, he preached on the account of the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19 - the history of another unlikely convert. The point of his message was that all men in all circumstances are equally in need of salvation from sin. She later said that the message disturbed her greatly, even frightened her. She resented the idea that she was in the same category as someone who was not religious at all. Her state of unrest went on for many months. She later wrote this:

I was for two years under Martyn's ministry before I really understood what the Gospel was. I used to listen to him on Sunday morning and I used to feel, Well, if this is Christianity I really don't know anything about it. On Sunday night I used to pray that somebody would be converted; I thought you had to be a drunkard or a prostitute to be converted. I remember how I used to rejoice to see drunkards become Christians and envy them with all my heart, because here they were, full of joy, and free, and here I was in such a different condition. [1]

During this time, she felt a growing conviction of sin, and she wondered if her sin could be greater than the merit of the blood of Christ. But through the patient counsel of her husband, she at last came to understand the Gospel - that Christ's atonement alone, as she put it, "was well able to clear my sins away." The pastor's own wife came to the place of personal repentance from sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior from God's wrath, and she too was added to God's remnant.

An Unexpected Assembly

In the upper room at Jerusalem, and in every subsequent era of the church, God's believing remnant is truly an unexpected assembly of individuals - "not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Corinthians 1:26). Instead, God has indeed

chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence (27-29).

God's true remnant relies not on the things that matter according to worldly calculations,

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Next: Explosive Growth At Pentecost - But Still a Remnant



  1. As quoted in Ian H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Banner of Truth, 1982), page 166.


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