In the New Testament, there are seven pictures or descriptions of the church. This week I will look at the Assembly, the church as the gathering of the believers.
The apostle Paul told the Ephesian believers that God the Father put everything under the feet of Jesus, and gave Him to be head over everything to the church. He describes the church as Jesus’ body. He says that Jesus is the fullness of the One who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23). If Jesus is the fullness of the One who fills all in all and the church is His body, then the church also is the fullness of God.
The word that is translated “church” in the New Testament is the Greek word “ecclesia.” The root of ecclesia is a verb that means “to call out.” So ecclesia means a group of people “being called out for a special purpose.” In secular Greek culture in the first century, it was a word used for a governmental assembly, such as city council or the Virginia General Assembly.
The first reference to the ecclesia in the New Testament is in Matthew 16. In verse 15, Jesus asked His followers who they said that He was. Simon Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s confession was that he believed that Jesus really was the promised Messiah; but the comment that speaks most loudly to the identity of Jesus is Peter’s statement that He is “the Son of the living God.”
Notice how Jesus responded to Peter’s comment. He didn’t tell him that he was wrong or that he was misguided or that he was mistaken. He said, “You are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus told Peter that the Father had revealed Jesus’ identity to him; in essence, accepting that what Peter said was a true and accurate statement. In other words, Jesus was saying to Peter, “Peter, you are right! I am the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.” Those who have stated that Jesus said that He was going to build His church, His ecclesia, on Peter have misinterpreted the words that Jesus used. He said, “Peter, you are a piece of a rock (Petros), a stone; but I will build My assembly on this mass of rock (petra).” What was the mass of rock that Jesus referred to? It was His identity, the identity to which Peter had just confessed. Peter would not have been a strong enough foundation to stand against the gates of Hades (or hell). Jesus’ identity stands up against all the forces of hell. Nothing can stand against “the Son of the living God.”
The writer to the Hebrew believers describes the ecclesia in this way: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous persons made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
In Psalm 110:1, the Father said to the Lord Jesus, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The apostle Paul states in Ephesians 1:20 that the Father “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” when He had raised Him from the dead. In verse 22, Paul says that the Father “put everything under His feet.” In other words, He made everything Jesus’ footstool. In I Corinthians 15:25, Paul says that Jesus must reign until all His enemies have been put under His feet (made His footstool). This portrays Jesus’ reign as a present experience, not a future event. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus told His followers that all authority had been given to Him “in heaven and on earth.” Again, this is a present experience.
In Psalm 110:2, David says that the Father “shall send the rod of” Jesus’ strength “out of Zion.” The Father tells the Son, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” If Jesus rules out of Zion, and if the church is Mount Zion in the present experience, then we have to conclude that Jesus rules out of the church. The saints (the church) have been “made to sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). We are seated “together” with the Lord Jesus on His throne and are ruling with Him.
How does that work? In Matthew 18:18, Jesus told His followers “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.” That sounds like ruling to me. Furthermore He said, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree (come into unity) 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 among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Jesus, ruling from Zion! The church in America today knows little of what the New Testament calls being “all in one accord.” I believe that if we did understand this and did practice it, we could turn our world upside down like the early believers did in their world.
Part of the assembly or ecclesia of believers is to minister to each other the gifts that have been given to each one (I Peter 4:10-11). Another thing that needs to happen, and this is particularly difficult in the independent-minded American church, is the respect for those who have been given spiritual authority in the ecclesia. Paul tells the Thessalonian believers that they were “to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and instruct you, and to esteem them very highly in love for the sake of their work” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Jesus rules out of the ecclesia when the people of God come together in one accord and speak out those things in prayer that are according to the will of the Father (I John 5:14-15). Amen. Let it be so!