New Testament Church
Jesus, while on His missionary journey, asked His disciples a question as recorded in Matthew 16:13, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” Several of the disciples present answered that question. And then Jesus asked them a different question in verse 15, “But whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter spoke up and told Jesus exactly who he thought Him to be. His answer is recorded in verse 16, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the original language, The term “Christ” comes from the Greek word, “Christos” which means ‘anointed one’. It has a Hebrew equivalent which is ‘mashiyach’, which in our language has come to mean ‘Messiah’. So Peter’s answer to Jesus’s question was, “you are the anointed one, the Son of the living God”.
Jesus responded to that declaration with approval and in so doing, made a very important statement which is of great significance to us today. His response is recorded, starting in Matthew 16:17-18, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…”
We notice regarding the church, Jesus made two things clear.
1) When he told Peter He was going to build His church, it was in the singular form, meaning He promised to build only one.
2) Jesus said He was going to build His church, meaning this church would be His possession and would belong to Him.
The Greek word for “church” is Ekklesia. This word has two meanings which are important to this study. It is used in the New Testament to refer to any assembly. It does not have to be an assembly of Christians. In Acts 19:41, this word is used in reference to an assembly of people who were upset with Paul’s teachings and were intent on causing him harm.
The other meaning of this word which is what Jesus had in mind when He used the word Ekklesia in response to Peter’s declaration was that of being the “called out” This word used in English would represent people who had been called into a collection of like-minded individuals for a designated purpose. It would be similar to a modern day activist rallying a group of people to stand united against something like abortion or racism. In the Greek language of the day, the people that had been called to be in this group would be an “Ekklesia” or the “called out” or “calling out” depending on which tense the word was used in.
This is how Jesus used the word. This group of people that would be “called out” would be comprised of all of those souls, past, present and future, who would follow after and serve Jesus Christ. It simply means the assembly or inhabitants of Christ’s community, or the universal worldwide church. And Jesus promised to build only one.
This universal collective of individuals, (Ekklesia/Church), was referred to in scripture by many different names. Each name represents a certain descriptive aspect of this group of Christ followers who, according to scripture, were called Christians for the first time in Antioch:
The church, or Ekklesia, that Jesus promised to build in the first century was made up of Christians and learners.
26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
The Greek word for “Christian” is “Christianos” which came from the Greek word for “Christ”, (Christos) and simply meant a ‘follower of Christ’. So the assembly of ‘the called’ (ekklesia) were known as followers of Christ.
And from this verse, we also see that this “Ekklesia” or “Assembly” or “church” of Christians’ were called “the disciples”. In the Greek language of the day, this word meant a “learner” or a “pupil/student”. So we learn here that the word “learner” is applied in a descriptive sense to the universal assembly of Christians. Also known in the first century as the “Ekklesia” and referred to in modern day English as the “the church”.
The new testament church, or Ekklesia, that Jesus promised to build was made up of foreigners in a strange land.
Peter used a number of terms which were used in reference to Christians. Starting in 1 Peter 1:1, we read, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”. Peter referred to the readership of his first epistle recorded in scripture as “strangers”, which in the original language means a ‘resident foreigner’ or someone of another nationality living in a foreign country. The Greek word here is also used in 1 Peter 2:11 and Hebrews 11:13 as pilgrims. The church Jesus promised to build would be made up of followers of Christ who were like an assembly of aliens living in a foreign land. The idea Peter was trying to get across here is that Christians identify themselves with a heavenly king and not an earthly one. Christians don’t view this world as their home. Rather they look to a heavenly home with God. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (NKJV)
The new testament church Jesus built was a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.
1 Peter 2:5, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” KJV
The church Jesus built was never intended to be a physical thing. It was designed from the beginning to be a collection of people who serve Him in Spirit, meaning from the heart. The term house carries the meaning of a place where we can live under the shelter and care of God. Families live together in houses. The word ‘house’ carries with it the meaning of family. The new testament church was a spiritual, non-physical collection of people who are family and living under the shelter of God.
Looking back at 1 Peter 2:5 we see that the Christians Peter was writing to were referred to as a holy priesthood. Under the old law of Moses, only the Levites could serve in the priesthood, but in the new testament church, all Christians are priests of God. Under the old law, the temple was the place God chose for His people to approach Him and offer worship. Under the present age, God dwells not in temple made with hands but rather, He dwells within the new testament church. Paul wrote concerning this in
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. “ NKJV
In the new testament church, all Christians have the same access to God through Jesus Christ that the Israelites had through the Levitical priesthood. In the new testament church, Jesus Christ is our high priest and we all have access to God through Him. Christians don’t need an earthly priesthood in order to approach God and offer worship. All Christians are priests, serving under one High Priest, Jesus Christ.
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” NKJV
The new testament church Jesus built was a chosen generation.
In 1 Peter 2:9, the inspired apostle wrote, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…”
The original language carries the meaning of a people who have been picked out or selected by God. These are people who have done those things necessary in order to become the children of God. They are followers of God and stand out from the rest of the world. God knows this and has chosen them; He has picked them as His own special people. Peter wrote in chapter 2 and verse 4 of 1 Peter, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious…” NKJV
The “chosen generation” in the original language carries the meaning of a hand picked nation of people. “A holy nation” carries the meaning of a sanctified race of people. The Greek word for “Nation” in this context is the word “Ethnos” which is where we get our English word “Ethnic”. In the Greek, this word usually means non-Jewish origin. It is most often translated as ‘Gentile’, ‘Heathen’, ‘nation’ and ‘people’ in the KJV.
The new testament church is the body of Christ
In Colossians 1:18; 1:24 and Ephesians 5:23 and Paul identified the new testament church as the body of Christ:
“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 verse 24: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church”
The term body is representative of a body or group of Christians and in this context, Paul is speaking of the universal body of people who make up the new testament church. Jesus is identified in verse 18 as the head of the body of Christ. The head and body illustration gives us a picture of the oneness and unity of Christ and His body of followers. The new testament church that Jesus built is a part of Him. The two are inseparable. In fact when Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, He didn’t ask Paul why he was persecuting His followers. Paul had been persecuting Christians and was on his way to Damascus to do more of the very same. Jesus appeared to him and asked. “Saul Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Paul, formerly Saul, directly persecuted Jesus when He persecuted Christians. Jesus and the body of Christ are two elements of the same thing.
Paul illustrates the oneness of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, “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. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”
The body of Christ and the church of Christ are the exact same thing.
The new testament church is the kingdom of Heaven
Looking back at our introductory text in Matthew 16:18 and expand that to include verse 19: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven...”
The church and the kingdom of Heaven or kingdom of God are the same thing. Jesus is ruling His people from the right hand side of God the Father, Hebrews 10:12, “But this man [Jesus], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” And then in 1 Corinthians 15:25, “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” The scriptures teach that Jesus is at the right side of the Father and He is reigning over His people from Heaven right now. Well His people are the members of the body of Christ. Jesus is the head of the body and the king of His kingdom. A king is someone who rules His people. A kingdom is a people who live under the rule of a king. You can’t have a king without a kingdom. Scripture declares that Jesus is reigning in heaven. Kings reign. Kings have kingdoms. Kingdoms have kings. The new testament church is the kingdom of God. The new testament church is ruled from heaven, therefore it is also the kingdom of heaven.
The new testament church that Jesus built is the body of Christ and it is also the kingdom. Jesus is the head of the body of Christ, He is the ruler of the kingdom of God. All Christians who ever lived, past present and future are the members of the new testament church. All members of the body, the kingdom and the church are disciples, or learners. They/We are strangers in a foreign land. We are a spiritual house and a kingdom of priests. We are a chosen generation and we are citizens in the kingdom of heaven.
The new testament church was expensive
Ephesians 5:25, “...Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” Acts 20:28, “to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Jesus Christ built His new testament church and the price He paid for it was His own blood. Jesus suffered in order to build the church we read of in the new testament. Jesus gave His life to purchase the church we read of in the new testament. Jesus Christ shed His blood and died for the church. The church is the body, the kingdom, and it is us. He shed His blood and died for the church. He shed His blood and died for the kingdom. He shed His blood and died for the body of Christ. He shed His blood and died for the Christians in the first century. And He shed His blood and died for us. We are the body of Christ. We are the kingdom of Christ. We are the church of Christ.
The church of Christ was expensive. It cost God a lot to build it. He must have really wanted to save us to do what He did. Jesus only bled for one body. Jesus only died for one people. Jesus only rules one kingdom. Jesus only built one church. Doesn’t it make sense that if there was only one that was suffered for, bled for, died for and is ruled over, then shouldn’t that be the one we should strive with all our hearts to be in? If it was important enough for Jesus to die for, then isn’t it important enough for us to be in that one he died for and no other?
How Can We Be Sure We are in the New Testament Church?
There was only one church in the new testament. Today when we look out across the religious landscape we see many more than one and they all believe and teach different things. It’s difficult and confusing to know for sure which one, if any are right. It’s a sobering thought because if nobody is right, then everybody is wrong. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:9, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Cursed people are not in the kingdom of God. How can we be sure?
There were people becoming Christians and being saved in the first century. We read of them in scripture. We read of how they did it. We read of how they worshiped and served God. We know they were being saved. These people were in the church, they were in the body of Christ, they were in kingdom of God. Using the Bible and only the Bible, we can study their Christian walk. We can be saved in exactly the same way they did.
Using their Christian lives as our guide, If we believe what they believed, if we are added to the church the same way they were aded, if we worship how they worshiped, if we live how they lived and if we die how they died, then we will be today what they were then. Christians only. In the new testament church only. In the body of Christ only. And in the kingdom of God only. It’s just that simple. And we have a Biblical example of a group of God’s people who did that very thing successfully.
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus
The Thessalonian Christians became imitators of the churches of God in Judaea and they were saved. It worked for them in the first century, why wouldn’t it work for us today? If we want to make absolutely sure we are in the new testament church that Jesus suffered for, bled for, died for and purchased with His blood, then we can do the same thing. If we will do what they did, we will be what they were.
Christians only and only Christians. in the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, the church of Christ.