Monday, February 27, 2012

I Will Build My Ekklesia

On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
“Upon this Gospel I will build my Ekklesia.” That is essentially what Jesus was saying. The rock is the revelation* Peter received from the Father that Jesus is God’s Anointed King (see Upon This Gospel). The gospel is the proclamation that the kingdom of God, and its King, has come into the world to fulfill the promise God made to deliver His people and set the world right.

The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kuriakos, which speaks of “belonging to the Lord.” It is found only twice in the New Testament, in reference to “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20) and “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). However, the Greek word translated as “church” is actually ekklesia (or ecclesia), and Matthew 16 is where we first find it in the New Testament.

Ekklesia is a compound word that literally refers to that which is “called out” (from ek, “out,” and kaleo, “to call”). It has also been translated as “assembly.” By the time Jesus first used it, it already had a well-established meaning.

In the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), ekklesia renders the Hebrew qahal, which usually refers to an assembly of the people of Yahweh, sometimes en masse but often in representative fashion. It is often seen as a deliberative body, agreeing together (1 Chronicles 13:1-4), making covenant as a body (2 Chronicles 23:2-3), deciding together about administrative matters (2 Chronicles 30:1-5), taking counsel together (2 Chronicles 30:23), acting together (Ezra 10:12 and Nehemiah 5:13). When the assembly says “Amen” together, as in Nehemiah 5:13, it is no small thing, it is a deliberative agreement and determination about what shall happen.

The primary meaning of ekklesia in Jesus’ day was much the same:
  • Thayer’s Greek Lexicon calls it “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating.”
  • Vine’s Expository Dictionary calls it a “gathering” of citizens to “discuss the affairs of state.”
  • The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich gives its primary meaning as “assembly, as a regularly summoned political body.”
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Longman and Wilhoit) considers it the “calling out of citizens for a civic meeting”
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says it was “the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state,” that was called out “for the discussion and decision of public business.” The ISBE concludes with this, about the pre-Christian usage of ekklesia: “To the Greek it would suggest a self-governing democratic society; to the Jew a theocratic society whose members were the subjects of the Heavenly King. The pre-Christian history of the word had a direct bearing upon its Christian meaning, for the ekklesia of the New Testament is a ‘theocratic democracy’ (Lindsay, Church and Ministry in the Early Centuries, 4), a society of those who are free, but are always conscious that their freedom springs from obedience to their King.”
It is very significant, then, that Jesus says, “On this rock [the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed King] I will build my Ekklesia.” He is not talking of a merely localized community of followers in Israel. The scope of it is no less than the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. His Ekklesia is the community of those who belong to that kingdom, and to Him as King.

The Ekklesia is a divine community on a cosmic scale, as Jesus’ next words confirm: “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The word “Hades” speaks of death, the place of death and the power of death. The “gates of Hades” includes the devil, who has the power of death — which power has been defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Hebrews 2:14). Neither death, nor the devil, nor all the demonic forces can prevent the Ekklesia of King Jesus from fulfilling His purpose of manifesting heaven on earth.

Indeed, Jesus has given the keys to the kingdom of heaven to this divine assembly on earth for that very purpose: “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Binding are loosing are deliberative actions. The sense of “will be bound” and “will be loosed” is “will have been bound” and “will have been loosed.” The deliberative action of the Ekklesia in the exercise of these keys brings earth into alignment with the will of God in heaven. Jesus amplifies on this in Matthew 18:18-20.
Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
The Ekklesia acts in the name of King Jesus to fulfill His purposes. Whenever it comes into agreement on earth about a matter, it is done for us by our Father who is in heaven. In this way, the kingdom of God is made manifest, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Peter himself is also called a rock and, as an apostle, is foundational to the establishment of the Church. Paul says that the Ekklesia is built “on the foundations of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).