Jesus and the Church
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus communicates in very clear terms what he's up to:
I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Jesus is building his church, and the church he is building is a prevailing, victorious, overcoming church. In Hebrew, the word used for church means the assembly of the congregation. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, from the Greek city states, which originally meant those called out from the general population to serve in the legislative assembly. So church simply means the people of God, those he has called to himself.
Jesus and the Church
It is important to understand the centrality of the Church in God's plan. Because we are the church, our focus is appropriately on Jesus. But his focus is on the church, and scripture is full of descriptions regarding his relationship to his people. Look at what the Bible teaches about Jesus and the church:
1. Jesus LOVES the Church (Ephesians 5:25)
2. Jesus PURCHASED the Church (Acts 20:28)
3. Jesus BUILDS the Church (Matthew 16:18)
4. Jesus GROWS the Church (I Corinthians 3:7, Acts 2:47)
5. Jesus is HEAD OF the Church (Colossians 1:18)
6. Jesus was GIVEN TO the Church (Ephesians 1:22)
7. Jesus CLEANSES the Church (I Peter 2:9, Ephesians 5:26)
8. Jesus EMPOWERS the Church (Acts 1:4; see John 15:26)
9. Jesus EQUIPS the Church (Ephesians 4:11-12)
10. Jesus OWNS (because He purchased) the Church (Matthew 16:18)
11. Jesus is the FOUNDATION of the Church (1 Corinthians 3:11)
Taking all this together, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the church to Jesus. Yet, theologians find creative ways to do so. Generally, there is a preference to talk about the kingdom of God rather than the church. The kingdom is a beautiful but difficult to define concept; in simple terms, the kingdom of God means God's rule and is often associated with the positive outcomes God will bring. It is described in qualitative terms in the Bible, like where Paul says that the kingdom is 'righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit' (Romans 14:17).
The kingdom of God is an important biblical concept, but it shouldn't displace the church. Rather, we need to clearly understand how the church and the kingdom are related. The following chart helps clarify the relationship between church and kingdom.
|We are born into (John 3:3-7)||We are added to (Acts 2:47)|
|Citizens of (Phil. 3:20)||Members of (1 Cor. 12:27, Rom. 12:5)|
|Comes (Matthew 6:10)||Is built (Matthew 16:18)|
|Qualitative (Romans 14:17)||Quantitative (Acts 16:5)|
|Inherited (1 Corinthians 15:50)||Object of Love (Ephesians 5:25)|
|Process (Matthew 13)||Purchased (Acts 20:28)|
|Already/Not Yet (Mark 1:15, Matt. 6:10)||Holy/Being Sanctified (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 10:14)|
|Advancing (Matthew 11:12)||Grows (1 Corinthians 3:6)|
So yes - Jesus is building his church. The kingdom is coming, and the church is being built. On on hand, this means that we are the objects of Christ's intense love, more valuable to him than we'll comprehend. On the other hand, it means that building the church is his job, not ours. Our job is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19); his job is to build the church. We can trust him to do his job; let's be sure we're doing our ours.