Matthew 16:13-28 Part 6

Our Lord has promised, here in verse eighteen, to build His Church, (Ekklesia), on the Rock foundation, the Chief Corner being Christ Himself – the apostolate forming the remainder.

And now, having determined what that foundation is, we want to gain some insight into the mind of Christ and His use of the term “Ekklesia”.  And we began doing that last Lord’s Day, noting that the Church is the “called out assembly of God’s people”.  This Sunday and next Sunday will both be spent in learning the content of this profoundly important subject.  The Church is in disrepute right now, and I don’t think that there’s any more important issue for us than to know what it is and what it does.

And Praise God, we have the entire corpus of God’s inspired Word to help us do that!  What an advantage we have over the original apostles as they heard Christ speak this Word for the first time!  We are so privileged to be able to look ahead to the completed writings of the Bible; and then to bring it all back to the text of Matthew as we continue through the rest of the Gospel!

We’ve already seen that there is a continuation in the Church of the Old Testament assembly.  The Church is “the Saints”, “beloved”, “elect”, and “the called ones”.  These terms are eschatological terms (referring to the last age), and they connect the Church, in many ways, to Israel – all the way back to the calling of Abraham out of Ur!  Paul says of the Church that we are “they who are not only of the Law, but also of the faith of Abraham.” (Romans four, sixteen)  The Church is the people of God, called forth to His side; and we are the seed of Abraham, in Christ, that was promised by the prophets of old.  The Church is a “better” assembly than the former one, since all the old forms and shadows have reached their fullness in Christ.  And we are elected, predestined, fore-loved and foreknown, called, washed in the blood of Christ, justified, baptized into the covenant, sanctified by the Spirit and fed with the body of Christ!  We are of all peoples, tribes and tongues – assembled by the grace of God for the purpose of giving glory to the one Who has created and saved us!  We are a people that was no people, joined together with a remnant of the former Israel, created from nothing by God, Who loved us before the foundation of the world; and we are called forth as a new nation in a new heavens and a new earth to the glory of God the Father!

Now.  Having said that, and before we come to what the Church does, I want to spend just a few minutes speaking about this most wondrous of things – the Church as the Body of Christ.  And although you’ve heard these things a number of times before, it is undoubtedly one of the least understood of all.  And it is a very, very serious shortcoming of the Church today.  The substance of living, the experiment of life, the corporeality of being has its very root in the Body of Christ.  The “hands-on”, day-to-day living has connection to the beginning and to the end in the Body of Christ.  The “base” from which everything has meaning, the reality of existence, the foundation of absolutes, has “ground” in the Body of Christ.  Without Him there is no “connection”.

Our Puritan forefathers often spoke of “experimental” Christianity.  And by that they meant “hands-on”, “rubber-meets-the-road” life in the Body of Christ.  Because without it there is no reason; there’s no reality – nothing “solid”.  Without Christ, man would be left without an origin and without a future – coming from nowhere and abandoned to nothingness.

But God the Son was made flesh – a new humanity.  And having resurrected from the dead, He is now glorified with the Father.  And, as Paul says, “in Him we now have our very being.”  As he says in First Corinthians chapter twelve, twenty-seven, “now you are the body of Christ.”  You see, at the resurrection and ascension of Christ in the flesh, the elected and called-out assembly of God’s people were resurrected in Him.  And we also ascended, in Him, to the right Hand of Glory.  What we, in our old Adamic flesh, could not do, Christ did!  Human flesh was abandoned by God and suffered the consequences of sin; and it was exalted and glorified in the very presence of God – completely reconciled to God.  And the Ekklesia is, in Him, glorified and reconciled!

The Lord’s Table is the sign of that unity in Christ – the participation which we have in Him.  While it does not signify that we become divine, or that we actually become God the Son, it does signify a literal union with, and participation in, the Person of Christ.  And that is true to such an extent that we are said to belong no longer to the human race as generated by Adam, but to the human race as generated by Christ!  Therefore we are said to be “rebirthed” into a new humanity.

And that is true not only individually, but as an “assembly”.  There is a new “unity” of those “called out”, for they are all IN HIM.  In Ephesians chapter three, in speaking of Jew and Gentiles, Paul says that we are all “fellow body”.  The Church, in other words, has no distinctions of race, because there is a new human race!  And we need to understand here that there can never be a sentimental “breaking down” of race distinctions in fallen humanity.  And neither is that what is meant in the body of Christ.  But the very basis for the elimination of racial distinctions is the new humanity in Christ.  If we are no longer humanity descended from Adam, but humanity in union with Christ, then that is the only distinction there is!  There are only two races.  Humanity in Adam and humanity in Christ!

And this new body of humanity is in union together, since we have the same “re-generation”.  The Church is in unity in Christ.  Now, that doesn’t mean that we are all alike; it doesn’t mean that we all think alike; it doesn’t mean that we all walk together in the same way.  The unity of the Church has nothing to do with those things.  Being in “union” with Christ speaks to the issue of our “genesis”.  The Church is in union because we all have the same genesis!  As many and varied as we are, we are a new humanity with the same origination.  And for that reason, Christ is said to be the “head” of the Church.  For the One Who “creates” is the One Who has rule and authority!

In Ephesians and Colossians Paul speaks of the body having a “head”, which is Christ.  And we must be very, very careful to observe the limits of Biblical metaphors such as this one.  This is an example of the kind of thing with which we can do too much or do something “other” with the Scriptures than what is intended!  The “Assembly” operates experimentally as individuals, as families and as local congregations.  And it operates with various gifts in order to edify the whole assembly.

But if you carry the metaphor of the body and the Head too far, it reduces to absurdity.  The Scriptures also say that the Father is the “Head” of Christ; and that the husband is the “head” of the wife.  This is not meant to say that God is a “head” and Christ is a “body”; or that husband is a “head” and his wife is only a “body”!  The term “head” has its own unique character here.  It denotes “generation” and superiority and rulership.  God eternally “begets” the Son; Christ “begets” the Ekklesia, which is a new rebirth of humanity; and the woman has her existence from the man and is his “glory” – just as the Church is the “glory” of Christ, and Christ is the “glory” of the Father!

So the metaphor of Christ being the “head” of the Church isn’t to denote a gross physical reality; but it is to be taken as significant of generation, superiority and rulership!  Headship – authority.  Just as a woman is to glorify her husband by her submissive support, the Church glorifies Christ and Christ glorifies His Father.  And just as God loves the Son Who glorifies Him, Christ loves the Church Who glorifies Him; and the husband loves his wife who glorifies him.

Now.  One last thing and then we’ll summarize what is meant by the “Body of Christ”.  And that is that Paul uses the term “pleroma” with relation to Christ, and in relation to the Church.  In the letter to the Church at Colossae, Christ is said to be the “Head”, and the express image of God and firstborn of every creature, and the One in Whom all things in heaven and on earth are “summed up” –  pleroma.  In other words, all things have their “integration point” or their “reference point”, or their existence and significance in Christ.  He is said to be the “pleroma” or fullness of all things.  The whole fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily; that is, the whole might and glory of God, with respect to all things (including principalities and powers) manifests itself in Him!  He is the One Who, in every respect, fills the universe and is the fullness of the universe; and the whole falls under the reach of His mighty authority!  And it is for us to understand the length and height and depth of it all.  These “absolute dimensions” are representative of the all-embracing fullness of all things in Him – and being controlled by Him, and all standing at His disposal!

And Paul says that the Church is His pleroma – His fullness (Ephesians one, twenty-three).  In Colossians two, ten Paul says, “…in Him the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily.”  And of the Church he goes on… “and you are filled in Him Who is the Head of all power….”  And in Ephesians three, verse ten, the object of the indwelling of Christ in the Church is said to be:  “that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.”

So, in Christ is the fullness of the Ekklesia.  It derives from Him and has its fullness in Him; and, in the Church, the all-embracing and all transcending power of Christ reveal themselves!  And in its existence and in its relationship to the world, it has to show itself as the Church of Him Who is the Head of all things.  And it has to “see” all that is in heaven and on earth from the vantage point of the sovereignty of its Head.  And it has to rid itself of the world-view and the pattern of conduct that belong to the unredeemed world.  In distinguishing those things – and rejecting them – lies the edified and adult Church which brings glory to its Head!

But the point here is that, IN Christ, God has reconciled all things to Himself, and He has pacified and subjected all things to Himself.  And as the Church rejects all these things – and wages war against them – it exhibits, in space and time, the fullness of all things in Christ.  That’s where His glory derives from the Church!  When you and I as individuals and families and local congregations reject the “elementary principles” and the world order and the “wisdom of the world”, we exhibit the “fullness” of all things summed up in Christ!  And that redounds to His glory as the “Head” of the Church and the “Head” of all things.

This is the reason why adultery and fornication and divorce and rebellion against parents is so devastating to the Church.  Although His Commandments against them are sufficient, there is a reason for the Commandments!  And the reason is that God is the fullness of all things.  And that “fullness” is vested in God the Son.  And the “called forth assembly of God’s people” – the Ekklesia – is to exhibit that fullness in its pattern of conduct!  When the pattern of conduct is “like that of the world order”, then what is it that the Church is exhibiting?

So the “body of Christ” is a further and deeper understanding of the Ekklesia.  The “Corpus Christi” is the people of God.  And all that it is, it is – En Christo.  In Christ.  Its existence and its exhibition to the world must answer to that, for it is the “bearer” of the glory of Christ!

And, as we begin, now, a proclamation of what the Church “does”, let me first say that the “bearer” of the glory of Christ manifests that glory to the highest degree when it is, in the local sense, “assembled”.  After all, that is the clearest use of the term “Ekklesia”.  We’ll see more of what the Church does, when it assembles locally, later on.  But for now, the glory of our Sovereign Lord never shines so brightly as it does when the “ones called forth” assemble!  And for that reason to neglect the assembly for any reason other than providential hindering is a neglect of the Glory of the Sovereign Head of the Church!  If Christ is the “pleroma”, or fullness, of the Church, then why on earth would there be reasons to be neglectful of the assembly?  If we, as the assembly of God’s people, be the delight and glory of the Lord of Creation, whey would we ever be ill-prepared and apathetic with regard to the assembly?  Why, if the “fullness” of Christ is the Church, and the delight of the Lord is in the assembly of the regenerate – why would not the assembly be the highest delight of His people?!  Why would it not be the event desired more than any other during the week?  If, as our Lord said, the “blessed ones” are those hungering and thirsting after righteousness, why ought not Christ’s people “crave” the assembly – seeking after the “fullness” of Christ?

What does the Church do?  What does the assembly of those called forth by God do?  The Church assembles.  Why does it assemble?  Because it is the fullness of Christ.  It is the bearer of His glory.  And in its public worship the fullness of Christ is exhibited in public.  The assembly of the Church, in itself, bears witness to the summation of all things in Christ!

Now let’s move on to the building of the Church itself.  Here in verse eighteen of our text, Jesus says, “…and upon this rock I will build My Church.”  And remember that Peter uses the analogy of the living stones being the structure of the Church which is built on the foundation which is Christ and the apostolate.  The “building” of the Church, or the New Temple of God, is often-used terminology in the Scriptures.  And it would, I think, be useful at this point, to finish the preaching of the Gospel this morning with an examination of some of these passages.

First, as we’ve already seen, the up-building of the Church is laid upon Christ as the Chief Corner, and His apostles formed around Him.  And Paul picks up on that doctrine in the third chapter of his first letter to the Church in Corinth, where he says: 


“…You are God’s building.  According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon, but let every man take heed how he builds thereupon; for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid – which is Christ Jesus.”

And this is a continuing, internal building process, as Paul says to the Church as Colossae:


“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him – rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith….”


And by this continuous upbuilding the Church receives the character of Christ and grows more and more to adulthood.  And it is safeguarded therein, and cleansed from all alien powers and doctrine that might cloud its character and throw it into confusion – as Paul says,

“for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a mature man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  (Ephesians four, verses twelve and thirteen)


Secondly, the work of building the Church consists not only of the perfecting of the saints – that they might be made mature unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, but it consists also of the bringing in of those who till now have been without, and the dominion of the institutions and entities which they lead and represent!  Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, had, as his key motivation, the extension and progress of the Church.  His whole missionary thought was the proclamation of the Gospel to all the nations.  And, as a result, the Church in the whole world is increasing and bearing fruit!

Paul had a grand vision of the Gospel for the world – not only that the Gentiles would come into the fullness of Christ, but that his own people – the Jews – would repent from jealousy and bring in an even greater fullness of Christ!  (Romans eleven)  And Paul involved the already established Churches in the endeavor, didn’t he?  The Church enters into it, and rejoices when people elsewhere bring glory to Christ.  And Paul repeatedly requests intercessory prayer for his efforts; and that intercession is called “striving” with the apostle.  And all the Churches are called to provide assistance to one another and to new works.

So there are no boundaries to the proclamation of the Gospel; everything works toward the pleroma – the fullness of Christ – until He fills all things – until He embraces all things – until He is all in all – until all things are under His feet.  Until He has superiority, rule, authority, power and dominion over all things.  This is the extensive work of the Church.  The koinonia is a warm, active involvement in the progress of the Gospel.  For Christ’s sake.  For His fullness.  For His glory.

What is the Church to do?  The Ekklesia is the assembly of God’s people built on Christ and the apostolate.  It assembles for worship; it works for the upbuilding of its members; and it is heartily involved in the proclamation of the Gospel to those without – all to the end of the fullness of Christ.

Next Lord’s Day we’ll complete our look into what our Lord had in mind when He said, “upon this rock I will build My Church.”  We’ll see some things concerning the sanctification by the Spirit of the life of the Church, the gifts and ministries of the Church, and Church discipline.  And then we can go back and finish verse eighteen of the text.  I do hope that we will all be stirred up with regard to the Church.  So often ideas of the world get mixed up in the faith and we don’t do enough, or we do too much, or we do “other” than what the text requires.