Jesus lived on Earth during a pivotal time in history. The Greek Empire had recently ended, while the Roman Empire was asserting its dominance over the known civilized world, including the Middle East where Jesus lived. As a result, the people of Jesus’ time were strongly influenced by three major cultures: Greek , Roman, and Jewish. It is in this context that we must view Jesus’ words, delivered to a wide-eyed group of disciples who often stood in astonishment at the incredible things their Lord shared. Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets .” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am ?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “I also say to you that you are Peter , and upon this rock I will build My church: and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on Earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16: 13-19 (underline added) Notice the underlined words above where Jesus says that He would build His church. The word “church” is the word English translators used for the Greek word ekklesia. Jesus is the first and only one who used the word ekklesia in all four gospel books. It only appears here in Matthew 16 and twice in Matthew 18. Consider further that the disciples had never heard the word “church” or been exposed to the concept of what we think of as “church .” So would they have had a frame of reference for what Jesus was saying He would build? No. So, since “church” would have been a brand new concept, isn’t it interesting that this incessantly inquisitive bunch did not ask Him what He was talking about? Also, if it wasn’t church, then what did they relate His words to? We have the same issue today. When you hear the word “church,” what comes to mind? My frame of reference is from my culture and experience, right or wrong. I think of a building with a preacher and God’s people in it. I also think of what takes place inside, like singing songs of praise, listening to sermons, and taking an offering or two. The apostles didn’t have a frame of reference at all. We often ascribe meaning to words that our Lord never intended. Indeed, the modern term church evokes many images, most of which are contrary to Jesus’ original intent. If you look up the definition of “church,” you will get something like this: A building for public worship, especially in the Christian religion. All the followers of a religion, especially the Christian religion, considered collectively. A religious service that takes place in a church building. So the modern word “church” can refer to Christians, the building Christians meet in, or the service held in the building where Christians meet. Is this what Jesus intended? Further illumination comes as we carefully examine the original Greek word ekklesia.
Excerpt from my book “Ekklesia: The Government of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth”