It is the Lord Jesus Himself who introduces the very concept of church for the first time in the New Testament in Matthew 16:13 – 20 establishing, along the way, some key truths we would do well to take note of.
The background and context in which The Lord chooses, which incidentally, is not random, to do this in itself is, to say the least, eye-opening. This incident takes place not long after the Pharisees and Sadducees approach The Lord Jesus requesting for a sign from heaven presumably to verify His identity or who He claimed to be. Naturally the Lord did not oblige seeing that there were already a great many signs that they wilfully ignored and the crooked intent of their hearts they approached Him with. It is after this event and a stern warning The Lord delivers to His own disciples to guard against the yeast of these very Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6) that the discourse in which He introduces the Church follows.
The Lord starts off with a seemingly casual inquiry, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (verse 13) as if He doesn’t know what others say about Him. After having heard the differing views people held of who He is, He flips the question over and asks them directly, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (verse 15). What is your understanding of my identity?
This was the real question the Lord had been itching to ask them, again not because He did not know who they thought He was but because He desired for them to articulate it, to say it out, to profess it, to make a confession.
And this is the question that begs to be answered by all of us at some point in our lives. For our response to it will determine how we relate to Christ and decide our eternal destinies. So if you have not yet done so, pause for a moment to ponder this question and decide who Christ truly is to you. Your reply will determine your destiny. It is your acceptance of the person and true identity of Christ that will decide whether you can be part of this great institution, the Church. Take note that there is no other foundation or entry point into the true Church. Any other foundation or entry point is not the Church of Jesus Christ but an imitation and a fake.
Going back to our story Peter replies in a wink, without giving himself much time for thought – or so it seems – boldly declaring Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (verse 16). In response to that confession The Lord commends Peter ever so strongly stating however, that this knowledge came not from Peter’s deductive powers of his natural mind but by divine revelation imparted from God the Father. Then based on this divinely imparted truth of His true identity, Jesus makes a sweeping statement and declaration in relation to this new entity He introduces as Church:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
The word used for Church here in the original Greek is “ekklesia”. In everyday usage it meant an assembly of people, especially a gathering of citizens called out from their home to a public place for a special purpose. So the Lord Jesus was effectively speaking about a people group, an assembly of people who would gather for a cause but with one common foundation – His person and identity. He Himself would be the foundation and the One giving rise to this building/assembly and nothing or no one else. It is His person and identity (the long awaited Christ, Son of the Living God), as correctly answered by Peter, that Christ vows to build the church on and not the person of Peter.
Moving on, the statement, “I will build my church…” categorically affirms that it is The Lord Jesus Christ Himself who builds His church. In other words, it is not mere humans (be it pastors, archbishops, popes, apostles or prophets etc.) who build the church but Christ Jesus Himself. The Church is not an institution of human origin or ownership but of divine prerogative and initiative.
The true church of Jesus Christ has no other builder or proprietor. In this one statement The Lord Himself takes outright and absolute ownership of the church, in effect claiming a monopoly over her construction by stating that it is He who builds her and that she is “His” and no one else’s. He is not only the sole builder of “His” church but the one and only proprietor too. The church belongs to Him by virtue of the fact that she is founded on Him (“on this rock”) and He is her chief builder. The church of Jesus Christ is not an institution of human creativity or construction but divine foundation and construction. Christ is her foundation, her master builder and proprietor.
And because this church is founded on the person and identity of the Christ, the Son of the Living God and it is He Himself who builds and owns her, no force in heaven or hell is able to withstand her. The church is the most formidable and unassailable institution ever – she is not a flimsy or perilous institution that is waiting to fall apart but one that can and will withstand every storm and weather of time emerging victorious even over the very depths of hell itself.
It is a privilege and an honour to be part of His Church.