THE GOSPEL TRUTH ABOUT THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
The introductory text for our lesson today is Matthew 16:13-19. While those who wish to follow along are turning to this text, let’s consider that when we look out at the religious landscape today, we can see a whole multitude of organizations that claim Jesus Christ as their savior, each one having its own unique beliefs on what one must do in order to become a Christian and live the life of faith God expects. The issue with this is that in the gospel, there is only one institution which is referred to in English as the church. That being said, for the purpose of this lesson, we are going make a detailed examination of the one church we read of in the gospel/good news of the new covenant.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry at a time when He was on the coast of ancient Caesarea Philippi, which today is in Lebanon on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, he asked His traveling companions a question recorded for us in Matthew 16:13, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” A number of His disciples gave various answers to this question and then Simon Peter joins in and nails it. In verse 16 of this account Peter is recorded as saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Greek word for ‘Christ’ is pronounced ‘Christos’ and means the anointed. Peter declared that Jesus was the anointed, or chosen one, the Son of the living God. That’s a pretty emphatic declaration and it was obviously the answer Jesus was looking for because in verses 17-19 we have recorded for us Jesus’ approval of Peter’s declaration, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (NASU).
Now within this account, there is a lot of information we can use in order to help us lay the ground work for properly understanding the gospel truth about the church Jesus promised to build.
Jesus said, I will build my church. Three points we need to observe which are significant to understanding the gospel truth about the church is that Jesus said,
“I will build”
Jesus says He will build this church. No mere man is in view here at all. The church that is being built is the product of divine construction through and through. John 1:1 says that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. In verse 14 of the same context, we learn that the word which was God became flesh and dwelt among men on earth. Jesus Christ, who was also known as Emmanuel was literally God with us. In Acts 20:28 we read these words of Paul as recorded by Luke, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which HE [God] hath purchased with his own blood.” We all know that Jesus was the one who shed His blood on the cross at Calvary. Paul said God purchased the church with His own blood. Jesus was truly Emmanuel meaning God with us. The church Jesus said He was going to build was built and purchased by God, the Son of God in the Flesh.
God said He was going to build His church. No mere man can improve on it. No mere man can take away from it. It would be the epitome of gross presumption to even think any mortal man would dare alter the design of the church that God built.
Ephesians 5:25 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” The church Jesus promised to build literally cost Him His life. Jesus Christ, the Son of God purchased the church He promised to build with His life. The purchase price for it was His life blood. It therefore indeed belongs to Him.
This is an English word that was used to translate the Greek word Ekklesia. This Greek word carries two meanings depending on the context in which it is used. And this is so important in our understanding of the church we read of in the gospel. The literal meaning of this word is ‘the called’. If we were to organize a birthday party and invite several of our friends to it the people who show up for the party would be the Ekklesia. An Ekklesia is an assembly of people who were called together for a purpose.
This word is used in the new testament in reference to a mob of people who were upset because Paul preached against the pagan god Diana of the Ephesians. This account is found in Acts 19. In verse 32 we read, “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly [Ekklesia] was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.” The word ‘assembly’ in this verse in the original language is ‘Ekklesia’ which is the exact same word Jesus used for ‘church’. This is by no means an isolated instance. The word Ekklesia in the original language is found in Acts 19:39, “But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly [Ekklesia] .” And then again in Acts 19:41 which reads, “And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly [Ekklesia].” This was a mob of people who were intent on killing someone over the preaching of the truth. That wasn’t a church as we know it by any means. The translators didn’t translate this word as church in these instances because the context did not warrant it. It would have been an incorrect translation to refer to this Ekklesia as a church. It wasn’t a church, it was an assembly of angry people so the translators used the word assembly instead of church.
Other uses of the word Ekklesia in the original language refer to individual assemblies of Christians in local areas. One example of this is found in Romans 16:16 which reads “Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.” Paul referred to local assemblies when he addressed a letter to the churches of Galatia in Galatians 1:2. John recorded Jesus addressing the churches of Asia in Revelation 1:4. Paul similarly referenced the churches of Asia in 1 Corinthians 16:19. All of these were assemblies of Christians. So we learn from this that a local assembly of Christians is referred to as Ekklesia in the original language. The translators used the English word “church” when the assembly was in reference to Christians.
The other use of this word is used like the one we saw in Matthew 16:18 in our introductory text to represent the church or Ekklesia that Jesus promised to build which was the one universal worldwide assembly or collection of followers. When Jesus promised to build His church, He was saying He was going to build His assembly of followers.
What we need to take from this is that never in the new testament is the word Ekklesia ever used for anything other than an assembly or group of people. It is never used in reference to a temple, or a synagogue or any other place, physical building or structure of any kind. It is always used in reference to a collection of people assembled for some specific purpose.
Now let’s go back to Matthew 16:19 and we’ll look at something else Jesus said in response to Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Son of the living God… Matthew 16:19, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven“. Jesus makes a reference here to a kingdom. Jesus had just promised to build His assembly of followers and now in the same breath He tells Peter He’s going to give Him what he needs to unlock the doors or open the entrance to a kingdom. Obviously there is a direct connection between the assembly of followers that Jesus promised to build and the kingdom Jesus was going to open the entrance to. This is not the first time Jesus ever mentioned a kingdom and it certainly is not the last. We don’t have near enough time to look at them all, but we are going to mention a few key things that will positively establish just what the connection there is between the assembly of followers Jesus promised to build and the kingdom He was going to grant access to.
In Luke 17:20-21, read, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Jesus told them His kingdom was not something you could see coming. You can see an earthly kingdom such as the Roman Empire or the Israelite nation. You could see Rome and you could see Jerusalem which was where these earthly kingdoms were ruled from. Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was not like the earthly kingdoms they were familiar with. This kingdom of God is something different. Then He went on to say this kingdom resided “within you”. This kingdom Jesus was preaching was not a physical kingdom with an earthly headquarters at all. With it residing within the hearts of the people, it was spiritual in nature.
Jesus promised to build His church, His one assembly of followers. The church was intended to be Jesus Christ’s assembly of saved souls from the beginning. This church was going to be a non physical collection of followers who were called together. The assembly of followers Jesus promised to build is the kingdom He said He was going to grant access to. In other words, Jesus told Peter and the others in Matthew 16:18, “I’m going to build my assembly of believers and I’m going to give you the way to unlock or reveal the entrance to it for everyone. Both the church and the kingdom are non physical assemblies or collections of people.
So what we see from Matthew 16:18-19 so far is that Jesus promised to build His assembly or calling of people. It would be His assembly and He only promised to build one. This assembly would be a kingdom made entirely up of people and the Apostles were going to open the doors to it for everyone. We see now that the church and the kingdom are the same thing referred to by different terms. There are other terms used in scripture in reference to this assembly or kingdom of Christ followers. Before we go in to a few of those, let’s consider that each one of these terms is used in a descriptive sense. These different terms are used to illustrate key aspects of this assembly of Christ followers in order to help us better understand its nature.
This assembly of Christ followers is a kingdom. Jesus is the king of His kingdom. In Ephesians 1:20-23 we read, “Which he [meaning God] wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: [Jesus is the king reigning over His kingdom from heaven]
22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Here’s another one of those words used as a descriptive term for the assembly of Christ followers. The church is also the body of Christ. We see this repeated in Ephesians 5:23 and then in Colossians 1:18 which reads, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Jesus is in charge. He is the king over all things.
The term Ekklesia or church as it is translated in English is descriptive of a people who are called out.
The term Kingdom is descriptive of a realm of people with a king who rules over them.
The term body is a descriptive of unity of the whole with different parts having different functions but all of the same entity. A body has fingers, toes, arms, legs, etc, etc, One body, with many parts serving different functions for one purpose. A complete and functional body also has a head which directs the toes, arms, legs, feet etc, etc.
In Eph 1:22 we saw that Jesus is indeed the head over the body. He rules over it. He directs it and the body obeys and follows His lead. Jesus is the king over His kingdom and the head over His body. We have two different descriptive terms in reference to the same thing. Paul described the concept in detail of the many functional parts of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. I would encourage everyone to look that up and study that in its entirety. Verse 12 starts this wonderful illustration with “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” Paul goes on to describe the different essential functions of the human body and comparing those with the various activities of those within the body of Christ. In verse 27, Paul concluded this illustration of the body of Christ with “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” In Colossians 2:17, Paul wrote, “...the body is of Christ.”
So the church of the gospel, the church Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16:18 is the kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, and the called out assembly of Christians who follow Christ. It is not a physical thing like a building or a thing. It is a people who make up the spiritual kingdom and the spiritual body of followers of Christ.
The church, the kingdom and the body of Christ are the same thing and is populated by Christians. All Christians are in the church, the kingdom and the body of Christ. If you are a Christian, you are in the church. If you are a Christian you are in the body of Christ. And if you are a Christian, you are in the kingdom. So when we see references in the word of God to any of these three things, we can be confident that it is applicable to Christians only.
Jesus Christ is intimately associated with His church. he built it and He owns it, Matthew 16:18. He heads or rules over it, Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
And then in Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.” Jesus is the savior of the body which means He is also the savior of the kingdom and the church.
We saw earlier in Acts 20:28 that Jesus purchased the church with His own blood. Jesus gave Himself for the church, Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” So we see that the church/body of Christ, kingdom of Christ came at a great personal cost to Jesus. Indeed, He gave His life as a sacrifice for it, for all Christians everywhere.
And then in Ephesians 4:4-6, we read, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” There is only one body, kingdom and church of Christ.
Jesus built one church. Jesus owns one church. Jesus bled for one church. Jesus died for one church. Jesus reigns over His kingdom which is the church; the one body of Christ. Jesus is the savior of one church. In the Gospel there was only one church in reference to the universal world wide body of Christians. When we open the pages of the Bible, we see that there was only one body or kingdom or church of Christ. The church of Christ was united under one hope. The church of Christ followed one Lord. The church of Christ practiced one unified faith. The church of Christ administered only one baptism. This one church was built, bought, possessed, bled for, died for, ruled, loved and saved by Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:47 we learn that after baptism, one is added to this church by God Himself… Acts 2:47, “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Now since Jesus only built, bought, possessed, bled for, died for, ruled, loved, adds to and saves one church, then that better be the one we are members of. That church must be the one we are part of and no other.
How do we make sure in this world of religious division we live in today that God added us to the church He built, bought, possessed, bled for, died for, ruled, loved, adds to and saves? The answer to that question is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 which reads, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.” The Christians in Thessalonica patterned their faith after the churches in Judea which were in Christ. They used the churches in Judea as their pattern and they did what those churches did.
So let’s apply what they did then to what we do today. If it worked for them, why would it not work for us today? If we study the individual churches in Christ that we read of in the new testament and we do what they did to become Christians would we not be added to the one church by the Lord like they were? Of course we would.
After we are added to the church and we worship how they worshipped and we obey God’s will like they did and we live faithfully like they did and we die in Christ like they did, would we not be today what they were then? Of course we would. There were faithful Christians living in the first century when the gospel was given. The Bible records the lives of Christians that we can study and learn about. These Christians were saved and added to the church Jesus built, bought, possessed, bled for, died for, ruled, loved, adds to and saves. Just like the Christians in Thessalonica did with the churches in Judea; if we will apply that to ourselves and do the same things; if we believe what the faithful first century Christians in the gospel age believed and do what they did, and are saved like they were and if we live faithfully like they lived and worship how they worshipped, adding nothing to nor taking anything away from what they did, we will be today, just what they were then. Christians, added to the one church that Jesus built, bought, possessed, bled for, died for, ruled, loved, adds to and saves.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said upon this rock I will build my church. The Lord’s church was built on rock. It’s Immovable, Indestructible, unconquerable even by death. We today can be added to that church if we will simply do today what they did then.