Church Studies, Part 2 of 2:
THE CHURCH THAT CHRIST PROMISED IN MATTHEW 16:18 IS IN HEAVEN
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
It is a long held belief among believers of Christ that belonging to a church is, in one way or the other, relevant to one’s attainment of salvation. Some churches even go to the extent of teaching that theirs is the only church that can lead one to salvation as theirs is the specific one built by Christ and considered His body. They base their belief on some writings of Paul that compared the Church of The Lord Jesus to be like the human body, and that the believers are the members or body parts (1 Cor 12:27 / Eph 2:15 / Col 1:18 / 1 Cor 10:32 / Acts 20:28 also Rom 16:16). This presentation of Paul has misled people who want to follow Christ since the first century. The concept of church has now become that of an organized body and structured like human organizations with a hierarchy, complete with leaders and subordinates - almost in the same manner as Judaism, the religion of the Jews.
In this study, we provide the following CLARIFICATIONS of Matthew 16:18-19:
1ST Clarification - Who is the Rock?
2nd Clarification - What is the Church that Christ will build on the rock?
3rd Clarification - What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given to Peter?
4th Clarification - When is it going to be built?
5th Clarification – Where is it going to be built?
6th Clarification – What is meant by the Lord’s statement that the “gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”?
THE PROPHECY CONCERNING THE CHURCH THAT CHRIST BUILDS
Approximately seven hundred years before the time of Christ on earth, the prophet Isaiah already prophesied about Him and that which He is going to build:
14 He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
1ST CLARIFICATION - the one prophesied as the Rock is none other than The Lord Jesus Christ.
The prophesied ROCK or Christ will BE AS A SANCTUARY! Does this prophecy not mirror the statement of Christ in Matthew 16:18? Did not Christ say that “ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH”? The church that He promised to build is the same sanctuary prophesied by Isaiah. How about in the end times, how was this church or sanctuary given to Apostle John in a vision?
3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
2nd CLARIFICATION - The CHURCH in Matthew 16:18 that Christ builds is the prophesied Sanctuary as prophesied by Prophet Isaiah and envisioned by Apostle John as the Tabernacle of God in heaven.
THE CHURCH IN MATTHEW 16:18 IS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE
Basing on the presentation above, it is very clear that the Church that Christ promised to build is NOT on earth but rather IS IN HEAVEN. Thus, none of the churches that are present on earth is the Church mentioned by The Lord in Matthew 16:18. How is this understanding further cemented and testified to be the truth? Through the testimony of Apostle Peter, the one whom The Lord was directly conversing at this moment and the one GIVEN THE KEYS of the kingdom of heaven. But first, what are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given to Peter?
3rd CLARIFICATION - The keys given to Peter is the understanding NOT ONLY of the kingdom of heaven but that also of the Church that The Savior promised to build.
This makes Peter a credible source and is at a solid position to reveal what Christ really was going to build. This is what he disclosed:
(1 Peter 2:4-8)
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.”
Being the son of Joseph who was a carpenter, The Lord Jesus also learned the trade of His earthly father and became a builder. His followers were likened by Apostle Peter as living stones who are being built up (by Him) a SPIRITUAL HOUSE wherein the chief cornerstone and Rock is Christ. This Spiritual House is the same Church being built by Christ upon the Rock or upon Himself. Let us notice how Peter’s testimony of “being built up”, which is in a present progressive form that shows continuity of process, relates with the Lord’s statement of “I will build” which is in future tense. Why is that? When The Lord told Apostle Peter that He will build His Church He was still on earth, whereas when Peter disclosed about it being built up, The Lord was already in heaven building it.
4TH CLARIFICATION – WHEN will The Lord be building the Church? The Lord will be building His Church when He is already in heaven.
Once again, if the Church being built by Christ is a Spiritual House, then it could NOT be an earthly organization. WHERE is this Spiritual House, or Sanctuary, or Tabernacle, or Church being built up?
2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you…
5th CLARIFICATION – The Rock who is Christ is now in heaven with His Father and WHERE the rock is, there also is the Church or place prepared by Christ.
Other preachers will try to refute this by saying that Christ is still present on earth, and thus the Church is also in the world. Is Christ presently in the world? Here's how The Lord prove them all wrong:
28 You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’...
The Lord Jesus promised to come back because He has gone away! Therefore, He is not physically present in the world. It is for this same reason that He will send the Holy Spirit in His absence (Jn 14:26; 15:26).
WHY BUILD THE CHURCH IN HEAVEN?
Why is there a need to build the Church in His Father's house in heaven? Because this Church that He promised to build is the final resting place or Sanctuary for His elect He needs to protect it from being defiled or corrupted by the gates or power of Hades or darkness. The Lord understood that everything that is built on earth will be corrupted by man’s earthly desires just like the olden days (Gen 6:12). And because the Church is the inheritance and final abode of His disciples He has to protect it from such a catastrophe. Apostle Peter understood very well this sentiment of Christ:
(1 Peter 1:4-5)
4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The inheritance mentioned by Apostle Peter indeed refers to a place or the promised Church or Spiritual House. Why are we sure with this understanding? When the Bible mentioned about inheritance it referred to a place, for example, the land that God gave to His people (Exo 32:13; I Kings 8:36). Where is this inheritance attested to by Apostle Peter located? It is in heaven reserved and are kept by the power of God.
6th CLARIFICATION - The statement of Christ that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” only means that the Church He built on himself is kept incorruptible and undefiled.
Isn’t it a fact that everything earthly or situated here on earth will always be under the power of Hades or darkness - they are always riddled with all forms of issues, politics and sometimes, scandals and corruption. This is the case of most, if not all, religious organizations and churches. This will never be the case of the promised Church in Matthew 16:18.
HOW is the process of building the spiritual house in heaven or church done? Is The Lord Jesus alone in the process? WHO else are involve in the building process? The Lord testifies:
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
Those who love The Lord are part of the building process. The Lord and God will make Their home with them (this is HOW the church is being built). What is their involvement? Their part is to love The Lord so that the spiritual house or church being built will also become their heavenly home in the future, and then the promise of The Lord will be fulfilled:
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
This is the very reason WHY The Lord builds his church – so that He will be united with His chosen ones in heaven. And because there are more people every day who come to love The Lord Jesus, the building process is continuous until the time He will return to get the people who love Him - the rightful residents of the church or spiritual house in heaven.
THE NEW JERUSALEM
What will be the final result when The Lord Jesus is finally done building His Church or Spiritual House? This was revealed to Apostle John in a vision when he saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem called the Tabernacle of God coming down from heaven (Rev 21:2, 3, 9-10). This was referred by the angel as the Lamb's wife or bride (Rev 21:2, 9), a place undefiled and uncorrupted (Mat 16:18; I Pet 1:4-5). Although everyone agrees that the bride of Christ is the Church, however they fail to understand that this Church has never been on earth since the start of its creation by The Lord Jesus and God. This is the same Spiritual House or home that God reserved in heaven to be revealed on The Lord Jesus' second coming.
How is it that the end result of The Lord’s building process or construction is the Holy City? Because there will be many Spiritual Houses built for the multitude of Christ’s followers. Those homes, collectively, make up the Holy City.
THE OTHER BIBLICAL MENTION OF CHURCH
What about the mention of the word 'church' in other New Testament verses particularly in Acts 2:47; 8:1; 15:4; 18:22, as well as the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation? These churches mentioned in many other verses in the New Testament do not refer to the Church promised by Christ in Matthew 16:18. The original rendition of the word 'church'in Greek, being the language used in the New Testament, is EKKLESIA which simply means congregation, or assembly, or gathering of the 'called out' (http://biblehub.com/greek/1577.htm). Every time disciples of Christ grouped together on earth, either formally or informally, they have become a church/ekklesia/assembly/gathering. This is when they can study The Lord and His words together, sing hymns of praise, break bread or share a meal and remember The Lord, and pray together.
The understanding that the Church promised by Christ in Matthew 16:18 is a structured organization on earth is just an interpolation of all 'Christian' groups. The assemblies/gatherings of disciples on earth or churches differ in essence with the Church or Ekklesia promised by The Lord as this one refers to the assembly or gathering and final resting place of His chosen ones in the Kingdom of Heaven – the Spiritual House that He is still building until the time of His return.
The church mentioned by The Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:18 is not an organization where one needs to be a member of, nor an assembly of believers on earth. It is neither the same church or assembly as those mentioned in other New Testament verses. It is not earthly NOR IS IT ON EARTH, otherwise it will get corrupted just like all other religious organizations. In His perspective, the Church is a Spiritual House being collectively built in heaven by Him, The Almighty God and all of The Lord’s chosen people who love Him. Since there is no membership or earthly registration, then there is no such thing as excommunication or expulsion (Jn 6:37-39). This is the future home of the chosen ones in heaven where they can find rest for their souls as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah:
16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’