by Noel Santiago, LEADership Minister
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (EKKLESIA), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16: 18 (NIV).
It’s really interesting to note something specific in this passage related to the word ‘church’. Most people would think in terms of a building; some think in terms of a community of faith and some in terms of religious activities. None of these are incorrect per se, but the word that Jesus uses here is the Greek word Ekklesia which in short means ‘assembly.’
Since we understand one meaning of ‘church’ to be ‘congregation’, many would say this is just mincing words, i.e. “church, assembly, what’s the difference? We all know what we mean.” But the word church comes from a different origin: the Greek word kuriakos – ‘Belonging to the Lord’, which emerges from the word kurios – ‘Lord’. This word doesn’t even resemble the Greek “ekklesia”. It’s like confusing a Cadillac for a Jeep; you can’t! In the early centuries, believers called the place in which they met, Kuriakos Oikia, the Lord’s House. This has become the common meaning.
An Interesting connection to the Anabaptist heritage is that we called our places of gathering meeting houses, not churches. We understood that the church is the people, not the building. Could something similar to this be going on in this passage?
Jesus is not saying church in the sense of ‘the Lord’s House” Kuriakos Oikia. He is saying ekklesia. In this sense, then, ekklesia means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.” This is not just a gathering, rather it’s an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating.
The practice of ekklesia had been in use for about 500 years by the time of Christ. It had specific, well known connotations. Every city had a ruling assembly, an ekklesia. Ekklesia was the principal assembly of the government in Athens, Greece, open to all male citizens over the age of 18. An ekklesia was comprised of a quorum of up to 6,000 citizens. It was responsible for declaring war, military strategy, electing military generals and other officials, including chief magistrates of the city-state. It voted on decrees, treaties and law proposals. It typically met 3-4 times a month.
Here’s the key point – the ekklesia was by definition a legislative or ruling assembly.
For Jesus to say “…upon this rock I will build my ekklesia” is to invite obvious contrast with other ekklesias. Every city had a ruling assembly, an ekklesia. Jesus is announcing His restoration plan where He will diffuse His ruling power into an assembly of disciples! In essence He establishes His governing body of Heaven on the earth through you and me – His ekklesia!
When Jesus talked about “upon this rock I will build my church” he was referring to ‘ekklesia’ which means ‘ruling assembly’, not ‘Oikia’ which means household. What Jesus is saying is that I am now establishing my ekklesia – my ruling assembly if you will. I’m installing my ruling governmental assembly that will rule, be responsible and loyal to God above all others! It will stand in contrast to the rulers and principalities of this world and it’s foundational ruling characteristic and value will be based on LOVE! When we gather, we gather as the ruling body in the region! This authority and function of the assembly is fundamental to properly understanding what Jesus initiated in Mathew 16:18.
In Matthew 16 verses 15-16, “Jesus stands before them and asks, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ In a revelation from heaven, Peter says: ‘You’re the one, the anointed one from God, the Messiah. You’re the ruler of rulers; the promised king!’”
As a ruling body (ekklesia) we have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus commissioned you and me when He said in Matthew 28:18-20 (NASU), “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
What is the Holy Spirit saying right now? What invitation is God extending? How will we, His church, His assembly, respond?