The Ekklesia Built by Christ
by Dr. Patti Amsden
by Dr. Patti Amsden
Jesus declared, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16: 18). This was the first place where Jesus spoke about His church. Scripture records only three times in two places where Jesus used the word church. The majority of Christ’s discourse centered on the Kingdom. Either Christ’s limited use of church indicated that He was putting very little emphasis on the topic or that the placement of the term was in a context already weighty with meaning. Only one of those possibilities can be true.
The work of the early Apostles to establish the church and the repeated use the term church in the Epistles reinforce its importance. The New Testament uses the Greek word for church, which is Ekklesia, 115 times in 112 sections. One can hardly assume the early followers of Christ misconstrued His intent or that 2000 years of church history has been off target. Therefore, the second option is most assuredly true. Christ used the term ekklesia in an environment where His listeners understood its background and the meaning of His words.
The context of His proclamation was during a discourse with His disciples when He questioned them as to who they thought Him to be. They responded with a variety of answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Peter replied, “You are the Christ” – the long awaited Messiah, the promised anointed One. Indeed, Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Deliverer who had been promised to Israel and the Redeemer whom the nation believed God would send. Peter continued: “You are the Son of the Living God” – the mature heir of the Ever-Existent, Supreme Deity of our Fathers. Peter’s proclamation was totally accurate. Jesus affirmed his words and even informed him that his understanding and revelation came to him directly from the Living God.
Once Jesus was assured that His followers had clarity as to His person, the Lord was ready to bring clarity to His mission. He would build His Ekklesia. Ekklesia is a compound Greek word from Ek, meaning out, and Kaleo, meaning to call. Simply defined, ekklesia means those who are called out. Jesus’ words about His purpose and plan had just as much historical significance as did His person. When questioned about who He was, the disciples recounted their knowledge of Israel’s history, her heroes, her register of the faithful. Once again, Jesus would have been expecting these men of Israel to draw from their knowledge of the work of God among their own. Called out ones! Who had been the called out ones?
Undoubtedly, the minds of the disciples would have considered their ancestors who were called out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Hos. 11:1). As a called out nation, they were built together into a nation as a special possession of God and a special priestly people to the other nations of the earth (Ex. 19:3-6). They were given a tabernacle. They were afforded access to God’s glory and God’s laws. Moses was called unto the Mountain and given the oracles and the plans for building a biblical society. They were called out of darkness to become a nation of light (Deut. 28:1; Mt. 5:14-16).
Jesus was stating that He would do a similar work. He was the servant likened unto Moses that God promised to send (Deut. 18:15; 18:19, Acts. 7:37; Heb. 3:1-6). Jesus was calling out His twelve apostles instead of Moses’ twelve sons of Jacob. He would build His called out into a holy nation with a special priestly anointing (I Peter 2:9; Ex. 19:3-6). He would build His new tabernacle (I Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22) and give His followers access to God’s glory and God’s Word. Jesus would train His followers and then commission them to go into society as lights to disciple the nations (Mt. 28:18-20).
When Jesus stated He would build His called out – His Ekklesia – He was declaring that just as Moses had a covenantal, called-out people to steward God’s kingdom in the earth, He would have a covenantal, called-out people. That day of this great proclamation, Jesus identified His called out in contrast to the called out of Moses. And, He identified the distinguishing mark of His Ekklesia – “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That distinctive mark will be the subject of next week’s article.