In Matt. 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” If Jesus is building something, it is imperative for every believer to know what that something is. If we misinterpret this statement we are in grave danger building what He is not authorizing or anointing.
I will build my “church”?
It is at the Gates of Hades that Jesus releases two of the greatest revelations in the New Testament. First, the declaration that He is the Christ. And second, that He will build his church and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Our mission is to destroy the works of darkness at and through the Gates of Hades with our Ruler and Messiah, King Jesus. The agency Jesus chooses to move through the Gates is the “Ekklesia”, NOT the “church.”
Before we go any further, I want to say that I love the church as we have defined it and have given over thirty years of full-time ministry to see it strengthened and expanded. I am also completely committed to the church and want only to see its absolute success. I have always believed that the church is the Lord’s agency to transform the world. There is no plan B. But how we both “define” and “do” church is in many ways different from how Jesus defined it and how the apostles and the early church lived it out.
How we have come to define “church” as we do today
Pick a dictionary, any dictionary, and look up the word “church.” In the popular Merriam-Webster dictionary (as in virtually all dictionaries), the first definition you see is “a building for public worship.” If you delve deeper into the etymology of the word (at the bottom of the page), Merriam-Webster leads you to the Greek word that defines its origin; it’s the word “kuriakon” which means “the Lord’s house.”
What is startling to realize is that the word for “church” (Greek word “kuriakon”) did not exist until the fifth century or 400 AD. So, if we embrace the reality that Jesus used the word “church” in Matthew 16:18 we have to believe and except that fact that Jesus used a word 350 years BEFORE it even existed!!
Jesus most likely spoke these words to Peter and the disciples in his native language of Aramaic and used the word “ladoth.“ This Aramaic word used for church is an old Semitic legal term from the root ‘od which means “to assemble or gather together for the purpose of testifying, instructing in a matter of law or to call a witness to testify.” So the disciples heard Jesus say “ladoth” in Aramaic which is rightly translated “Ekklesia” in the Greek language. 1
It’s also worth noting that Jesus could have very well used the Greek word “Ekklesia” when he was speaking to His disciples here in Matthew 16:18. The disciples all knew some of the Greek language and the Ekklesia was the governing institution within every city. In other words, the word “Ekklesia” was common and known to all as legal assemblies in every city through out the Roman Empire.
Truth is, Jesus did not use the word “kuriakon” (church) in Matthew 16:18 but rather the word “Ekklesia” (legal ruling assembly). We will discover in future posts why this is such a massive deal. For now, let’s agree on this thought, if Jesus uses one word, mind you, the word that defines His redemptive agency to change the world, and that word is changed to mean something else, wouldn’t we conclude that it’s imperative to research and study the word Jesus originally used and clearly uncover its true meaning and purpose as intended so we are on the same page as He is on?
Our Current Understanding of Church
Is our current understanding of church and how we “do church”, the agency Jesus chose when he stood with his disciples in the darkest, vilest, most demon-infested region on Earth, before the gates of Hades and all of Hell itself? Do you think that our Lord experienced the thirty-nine lashes on his back, the crown of thorns on his head, the brutality of the cross, and His glorious resurrection, so we can build buildings, have good meetings, and call it church?
There has to be more… and there is! In the next series post I will share, in somewhat brief and bulleted form, just how we came up with the word, “church” and then begin to define what Jesus did say to his disciples in Matthew 16:18, namely, I will build my ekklesia.
This is a journey of revelation and seeking to understand the clear meaning of our Lord’s words. I don’t claim to have THE answer, nor would I ever assume so. I’m a learner, a disciple, who wants to see Jesus receive the full reward of His sufferings and all glory. I want the church (ekklesia) to shine, to be the head and not the tail, to truly be salt and light and represent Jesus well as the desire of the nations.
I’d love to get your thoughts and comments on this post.