What is this Government Jesus Ushered in? EKKLESIA Installment 2
Matthew 16:18 NIV: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Today’s keynote scripture should appear in bold red letters. If it does not, accounting for editorial changes or color blindness, then please imagine the words are bold red. Red letters in the Christian Bible designate the exact words Jesus spoke as recorded by the author. If you don’t have a red letter Bible, I suggest getting one or, if not, diligently highlighting all the words spoken by God and Jesus as you read. It may enrich your Bible study!
I get excited when I see and read red letters in my Christian Bible! These are the words of Jesus the Christ himself! They carry a great deal of awe with them. To me, red letters are the same as God speaking directly to me!
WESTERN “CHURCH” UPBRINGING
Please note the word “church” as it appears in the keynote scripture above. In today’s American culture, as in most Western cultures, this word “church” conjures up a meaning and a picture in our minds. I confess that in my Evangelical Lutheran church upbringing, the word “church” was typically associated with the building we drove to each Sunday. In this building, I would be forced to sit in an itchy wool suit between mom and dad, listening to an unfriendly old guy, dressed in a weird robe, reciting a monotone speech with, primarily a joyless, unexciting intonation. This was called “preaching.”
I often thought to myself as I was sitting there how much more meaning his “preaching” would have if he changed tone or expression and if he would smile more when the words he was “preaching” called for a joyous and good news expression.
As I grew older, into young man status, “church” was a necessary part of a Lutheran’s life. Sunday school, confirmation, then, BAM!…you made it! I remember I “passed” my confirmation test. The test consisted of our class standing up in front of the congregation, systematically being called on by the unfriendly old guy to answer questions we had supposedly studied during the classroom time of the two prior years. I wrote many of the answers on my forearm but luckily the old guy asked me a question which I knew and I didn’t have to look at my arm…WHEW! By the way, I employed that same tactic of writing answers on my forearm in public school until my best friend got caught during an eighth grade history test and was expelled for three days! I learned something in church. Being “confirmed” made mom very happy! Dad could care less.
For my family church for us was mostly a Sunday morning thing. We were what I called in an earlier writing, Installment 1 of this series, a category 2, 0.5% Christian family.
We were 8:30 a.m. attenders…like clockwork. Mom was of German descent and dad was of “follower” descent. Whatever mom said regarding church our family did. Dad was often the Sunday morning enforcer to get me and my two brothers out the door and in the car to “worship.” How convenient that the morning’s sometimes un-Christian behavior getting us out the door could be redeemed by quick confession and repentance at church! I often wondered how much less sin we would have committed had we not been forced by mom to go to church.
While the recount of my childhood experience of “church” may seem humorous, and indeed it is, I feel it may be fairly common of family church in the 60’s and 70’s. Thank God I left home at age 18! I didn’t set foot in a church building with serious intent until nearly 20 years later at age 37. The meaning of the word “church” had somewhat changed to me by then. However, until fairly recently, I still had very little understanding of Jesus’s meaning of the word.
You may be asking yourself at this very moment, “What does all this have to do with God in government and the Republican Party?” Fear not! I expect God will communicate through me and it will become clear to you. Stick with me for a bit.
JESUS’S CHURCH – “EKKLESIA”
When I was studying scripture during my recent (2020-2022) enrollment in pastoral college, God revealed a great mystery to me. He showed me that if I diligently sought Him through careful, intentional study of His Word and prayer for revelation and understanding, He would show me His truth as He saw fit for me to handle and pass on to others. This last step, passing truth on to others, is the great key to obtaining more truth. God wants to use all of us to expand His kingdom…His government…the government ushered in by Jesus, His Son (re-visit Does God Belong in Government? Installment 1, April, 2023).
The word, “church,” recorded in Matthew 16:18, above, is translated to English from the Greek word, “ekklesia.” In other words, the author of Matthew, Matthew himself, who traveled with Jesus, used the word “ekklesia-“ to describe what Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18. “Ekklesia” was the word Matthew used in the context of the times and the culture, understanding his audience and readers of the time would fully grasp its meaning. The language of communication and culture of the world in Matthew’s time was Greek.
The Greek word “ekklesia,” pronounced EH-KLEES-EYAH, (bold letters indicate accent), has a particular secular meaning, but one Jesus intentionally intended to convey. The word itself means, “congregation, assembly, a group of people gathered together.” From this definition it is easy to see where our Western definition of “church” comes from.
However, Jesus meant much more. He knew exactly how the Apostles of the day would understand this word. To a Jew, Jesus knew the word “ekklesia” meant much more than that.
A further development reveals the word means “people called out FROM the community TO the assembly. What was the assembly? To a Jew who knew of the teachings of the ancient scribes, scholars and prophets (what we would call the Old Testament and other period available writings) the “assembly” was the gathering or group of BELIEVERS in God of Israel. Never in the meaning of the word “ekklesia” does Jesus refer to a building or meeting place.
But there’s more. In Jesus’ time, the word “ekklesia” had been used for centuries in Greek and Roman empires to refer to 1.) a secular institution operating in the marketplace (community), and, 2.) operating in a governmental capacity.
Wow! Did Jesus get it wrong? Is He trying to confuse us? Secular? In the marketplace? Governmental capacity?
EKKLESIA: NOT YOUR MOMMA’S “CHURCH”
The answer to the first question above is an emphatic NO! Jesus, administrator of God’s redemptive plan, knew exactly what He was communicating. Any confusion is a result of mistranslation, false-teaching, and ill intended schemes of sinful and corrupt man used to employ Satan’s doctrine.
If Jesus meant church to be a building or place to gather, He would have simply said “temple,” or “tabernacle,” but He didn’t. He was NOT referring to a religious gathering place, nor even simply a religious gathering of believers to worship.
Ekklesia, in Jesus’s time, was known to be a person, a body of people, or a gathering that represented a governing body. In this case, Jesus wanted to convey to the disciples that they were to represent His government or governing body on earth. They were to be administrators of His government, the Kingdom of Heaven, on earth in His absence. Incidentally, when Jesus said this, the disciples did not yet realize Jesus was to be crucified, and would soon leave them. They may have freaked out a little here.
Let’s look at scripture to illustrate Ekklesia in action. I’ll refer to describing the riot in Ephesus. Recall in this story the pagan worshipping city of Ephesus was up in arms and rioting because Paul and the others were sharing the Gospel of Jesus. The crowd dragged Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s disciples, into the town theater for a public “trial.” A Jewish official (religious leader) tried with no success to calm the crowd. Finally, the City Clerk presided over the assembly, calmed the crowd, and proclaimed judgment according to Roman law. This City Clerk found no evidence of a crime and released the two captives.
This City Clerk represented Roman Law. He represented the Roman government and its authority in Ephesus. Ephesus was a remote location from the seat of the Roman Empire; Rome itself. The City Clerk carried the authority of Rome in Ephesus, a city hundreds of miles away from Rome. He was Rome’s EKKLESIA in Ephesus.
So, you can see the contrast between the ekklesia described by Jesus compared to what we know as modern-day church. It is true that when we gather and worship we represent the will of Jesus, but ekklesia speaks a substantially stronger authority to carrying and administer the Kingdom gospel of Jesus with us into our daily lives.
In the same way, Jesus assigned authority to believers to represent His kingdom on earth in the secular community, in the marketplace and in the government. His kingdom is intended to be present EVERYWHERE His EKKLESIA exists. His Ekklesia includes us as believers in Christ!
This is the “church” of Jesus. This church is not what we understand. Jesus meant for His church to be carried in the life of the believer everywhere they go to represent Him everywhere they go!
NOT SOME MYSTERIOUS MEANING
This is not a veiled notion at all. Numerous scripture commands by Jesus himself instruct believers (then and now) to “…go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19). This is the overarching command from Jesus to ALL believers.
How do we demonstrate love for Jesus? In John 14:15 Jesus tells us: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
The overwhelming lesson to us given by the three preceding statements by Jesus is to do as Jesus did by living life like He did. He took the Kingdom government with him and demonstrated how He wants us to carry on His work. This is much, much more enriching than just Sunday morning worship! We, as individual believers are God’s instruments to administer His kingdom here on earth. We are His representative governmental authority; His ekklesia.
GATES OF HADES
Today we freely substitute the word “Hades” for the word “hell” to mean the place non-believers go to experience eternal condemnation (please don’t crucify me for oversimplifying this!). This is not necessarily so.
In Matthew 16:13, note Jesus gathered his 12 disciples at a place called Caesarea Philippi, knowing it was a notorious site nicknamed the “gates of hell.” It was an especially pagan region where prostitution, child sacrifice and sodomy were openly practiced in worship of false gods (does this really sound much different than today?). Jesus did this intentionally as a call to the disciples to aggressively encounter and defeat the power of death by storming the “gates of hell” whenever and wherever they encountered them during their time on earth. He proclaimed His ekklesia in perhaps the most evil place in the then-known world to demonstrate a point. His ekklesia authority would pound evil into submission through the actions of obedience of His followers. Jesus wanted them to be ever aware they were to be His governing body on earth – His EKKLESIA.
“EKKLESIA” LIFESTYLE NEEDED TODAY
The lessons Jesus taught and the life He lived and modeled during His time on earth serve as His example of the life He desires and assigns His believers to live today. This is not some ancient teaching that does not apply to us today.
The commands of Jesus, and there are many (some estimates put the count around 7000), apply to His ekklesia today. While it’s true the Apostles planted churches early in the first century, Jesus clearly expects us to carry on the assignment of continuing to expand His Kingdom here on earth.
While it is a very different world today than the first century known world of the Apostles, the assignment and expectation Jesus has for believers has not changed. If you doubt this statement, read the beautiful prayer of Jesus in the upper room just before His capture and crucifixion. The entire prayer in John 17 is worth reading and meditating on, but in particular I take us to John 17:23. Jesus is clearly praying for us who will believe (after the Apostles): “May they (those who will believe—US!) be brought to COMPLETE UNITY to LET THE WORLD KNOW that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It cannot be stated any clearer than that as to what message to take (unity), and where to take that message (the world)!
We are God’s ekklesia. We represent His kingdom government here on earth. We are to take this message to the world. The world includes all creation! Government is part of creation therefore God’s kingdom message must be in government. In fact, as we study our Constitution, we will see the founders believed a government NOT centered on God’s natural and moral laws was doomed to failure!
Think about how you have been “doing church,” then consider “being ekklesia,”
Now that we have established that God ordained and announced the arrival of His kingdom government through Old Testament prophets (INSTALLMENT 1), and we understand how Jesus ushered this kingdom government into the world through His ekklesia teaching (INSTALLMENT 2), it is time to explore the meaning of another word in today’s vocabulary that has been twisted and turned to mean something it doesn’t…the word, “religion.”
Through historical context, we will gain a bit more understanding what Jesus thought and wrote about the religion of His day, and how He instructed and modeled His followers then and now to witness to them.
Thanks for your kind indulgence and I hope you will continue to ride along and grow in faith with us in your daily walk as we continue to uncover God’s redemptive plan for His creation and how to live it in our everyday lives.
Stay tuned for our next installment: What “Religion” Did Jesus Endorse Then and Now?
Precinct Delegate, Fremont Township, Isabella County, Michigan
Copyright 27 April, 2023