The Building (Matthew 16:18-19)

Photo by jbc on Unsplash

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.”  

It is notable that Jesus did not say, “On this rock I will build my synagogue.” Though synagogues were already widely in use, and although Jesus had visited many of them, Jesus did not mean to model His church after the synagogue. If He would’ve meant that He would’ve said it. Rather, He specifically said, “On this rock I will build my ἐκκλησίαν”. 

The word transliterated to English is “ekklesia.” 

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t need to define that word for His disciples. They clearly knew exactly what He was talking about. “Ekklēsia (“assembly”) was the term applied to many types of public gatherings in the ancient Roman world, whether civil or religious. In Scripture, ekklēsia can refer both to assemblies of people in a nonreligious setting and to organized gatherings of the followers of Christ. For example, ekklēsia was used to designate a confused mob opposed to Paul’s message in Ephesus (Acts 19:32, 41). The same term was used to describe a regularly constituted legal assembly of the city (Acts 19:39). Elsewhere in Acts the word is used in the sense of “the people of God” or “the church,” both universally (e.g., Acts 8:3; 9:31) and locally (e.g., Acts 5:11; 8:1).

In Roman and Greek thinking, ekklesia was a group of people who represented the people of the community. The term would’ve brought to mind the ‘movers and shakers’ of the community – or perhaps the town council. It wasn’t just a group of random people. The ekklesia was a group that had gravitas in the community. In other words, the ekklesia were the well-off who had the capacity and ability to create jobs and alter the community in significant ways. The mob at Ephesus in Acts 19 were the silversmiths and craftsmen of the town (see Acts 19:24–25) – they were an ekklesia. In Acts 8 and 9, the word refers to the house churches in homes. Those homes would’ve been larger (suitable for gatherings), and the owners would be people of significant wealth – we see that in Acts 5, when the early church included those who were selling off property. 

Jesus’ ekklesia is purposed to be similar to the Roman ekklesia, except instead of primarily wielding mere financial and political power, Jesus’ ekklesia wields spiritual power. 

In fact, to His ekklesia Jesus gives tremendous spiritual power, for the very next sentence out of His lips is, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus is effectively saying His ekklesia has the power to control the spiritual well-being of the community. 

After all, they are God’s representatives in the community. They are the ones who have relationship with Him. They are the ones who can call on Him for mercy over their community, which otherwise sits under judgment for its sin. They are the ones whose prayers are heard. So they can bind spiritual forces of wickedness, and they can loose spiritual forces of blessing and peace. 

We who are the church are far from helpless. We are an advance group of Jesus’ coming worldwide government. What we say matters. What we do matters! Not only to us, but to all spiritual beings and to our Father in glory. 

[God’s] intent [is] that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.

Jamie Dunlop

APPLICATION: Intentionality

How is your church displaying the wisdom of God by the power of God to the rest of creation?