We continue in Mat 16:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! [He says] For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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.That’s quite a declaration from Jesus. He started with what looked like some sort of opinion poll or a survey of ideas about what it is that was happening as he was going around with these fellows teaching, and he changes the discussion from what everyone is expecting from Jesus to what God Himself is doing, and is about to do, through Jesus.
Jesus has set up the priority of things carefully here, contrasting what “everyone” thinks against what the Disciples think about himself. But as soon as He gets the right answer, Jesus draws a conclusion: Since I am the Messiah, the Christ, I will build my church on the rock of faith which God has given. That’s the first conclusion Jesus draws about the priority of things – in this passage anyway: Since there is a Christ, there must be a Church.
When I say that, it will upset a lot of people. Some people will say, “But Jesus is here speaking about the universal church, or the invisible church – the set of people from Adam to the last person saved in Revelation – and that is as broad as the scope of the cross-work of Christ.” The reason they do this is simple: they read Jesus here to be saying, “I will build a church in general, with an indeterminate number in it.” That's an orthodox reading of this statement, and one which I agree with.
But there is something there which I think we also want from this passage: nobody wants Jesus to do anything which offends. We want Jesus to be saying things which are inviting only, and not in any way intimidating or putting demands on us. And let’s face it: it’s easier on us if we think the church is merely an indeterminate and disembodied set of people because that means there’s nobody in particular in that church.
I think Jesus is making a different point here.
We must see that Christ is not saying this to the wind, or writing it in a manifesto as a claim for the ages to people not yet in evidence. He’s saying it to the disciples who are right here, right now, in front of him. This fellow here? He is Simon Peter. He’s standing on the rock of faith Jesus was talking about back on the hillside. And what he’s got is what Jesus will build his church on.
This gets buried behind our English word “church.” In Greek, it is the word “ecclesia.” Most of you have heard that before, I am sure. The word means “an assembly,” or “a group called together for a common purpose.” It is not a word like “citizen” – although Christians are called “citizens” elsewhere in the Bible. A “citizen” can be in a place but not of a place – or at the same time, they can be an American, but present in Canada or Mexico or China. To be a “citizen” is to be a class of person without regard to your current whereabouts. People being “ecclesia” is not like one person being a “member” – because I can be a member of a political party and never vote and never meet another soul who believes what I believe.
But an “assembly”, a “church” as we translate it: it’s not an association in theory. It’s an association in person, a coming together in one place. In an “ecclesia,” people are called out and get this: they come. Everyone is present. When the Greeks used this word, they used it to describe a body of people which is called out in public for a purpose of common cause. I’m working this over for you only to say this: for us to misread Christ here to mean some kind of invisible body only where the people are virtually linked together merely by a mark or a quality entirely misses Jesus’ point.
He’s saying that as the Christ, he’s going to bring a real body of believers together, starting with this fellow Simon Peter.
“Flesh and Blood did not declare this to you Peter, and because of your faith I will rain my wrath down on Caesar, after whom Caesarea Phillipi is blasphemously named.”
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah – and to show you my power as Messiah, bring the Scribes and Pharisees as my enemies before me so that I may lay them under my footstool!”
“Upon your faith, Simon, I claim healing upon the whole land, and wealth, and prosperity, and good marriages!”
But No: the first order of business was to declare that as Christ, he must have his Church. He must have the people who have faith in Him, built upon the rock which cannot be shaken.
Therefore, when we ask the question “what is the church?” we can make our definition of the church using Jesus’ term: “The Church is that which Christ builds, on the basis of real faith in him, in real people like Peter.”
“The Church is that which Christ builds, on the basis of real faith in him, in real people like Peter.”