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Just what is The Church?

This is the church.  This is the steeple.  Open the doors and here are the people.

The childhood sing-song.  It was fun.  It made us laugh.  But it conveyed a misconception that the church was the building that housed the people.  The church was a structure of brick and mortar with a steeple on the top.  The church was a building that had doors that could be opened to peer inside and see the wiggling people.

But that’s not what the church is, now is it?

Don’t turn me off yet, though.  Because you would likely say to yourself:  “Sure the church is not the building.  Everyone knows that.  The church is the people in the building.”  And you would have oversimplified it for many, many people.

Let’s take a look and have a discussion.  A friendly discussion of sorts, ok?  A nice, calm talk.  Ready?

 

On this Rock

Matthew 16:16-19
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”

Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  In this, Jesus tells him that he is special.  He represents those who are saved and filled with this same knowledge.  This knowledge did not make Peter a rock, did not make Peter the foundation upon which the church was built.  No, Peter would go on to deny Jesus three times.  What Peter represents here is the Christian who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord, He is the Christ and He is the Son of God.

Jesus says he will build his church on this rock.  What rock?

Psalm 118:22
The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.

(See also: Matthew 21:42, Mark 12, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:7, Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8, Matthew 21:44, Isaiah 28:16, Daniel 2:34, Daniel 2:45, Daniel 2:35, 1 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Peter 2:4.)

Jesus is the Rock.  He is the cornerstone.  He is the foundation.  He is the temple of stone that would rise up if the Jews tore it down.  The analogy is clear.  Jesus is the Rock.

 

I will build

“On this rock I will build my church.”  So Jesus will build his church upon himself.   He is the foundation.  He is the Rock.  He will build this thing he calls the church upon the Rock.

Emphasis here in understanding needs to be placed on “I will build.”  Jesus will build it.  He didn’t turn this over to man — to the Apostles — to build it.  He said he will build it.  This is quite a special thought.  Jesus is the builder.  We can expect it to survive the test of time.  He will build it upon the Rock.  It will survive because he builds it.  He will care for it.  He put it together, therefore it will be his handiwork.  And he builds it upon the Rock, which is the firm foundation.

 

My church

Jesus is not building just any church — a disembodied church for people or of people.  Jesus clearly said that he is building “my church.”  This is personal.  This is his church.  And since we know that the church is the people, we know that his church is his people.  No big surprise there.

Upon the Rock, which is Jesus, he builds (not man, but him) his church.  Awesome foundation; this isn’t going anywhere.  Jesus builds, so we know it is solid.  His church.  Ownership.  His people.  We are One in Christ.  We are being built up.  We are the church.  We are being built up by Jesus.  And we are being placed on the Rock — Jesus himself.

And the gates of Hades…

Now it gets really serious.  We were going along so nicely.  Jesus is the Rock.  He was building all of us.  We were his church.  And all of a sudden:  boom, Hades.  Here we have the gates of Hades?  Some translations read “the gates of Hell.”  Just what are the gates of Hades?

Well, let’s digress for just a moment.  We are told the following:

Revelation 12:4a; 7-9
4a Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth.
Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.
But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. So that huge dragon—the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world—was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.

In verse 9 we definitely see “the dragon — the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan,” the deceiver, “thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.”  Many give conjecture that the number of the angels were 1/3 of those in heaven, based upon verse 4 which says that “the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the starts in heaven.”

Satan, who was called Lucifer before the fall, was referred to as a star.

Isaiah 14:12a (NIV)
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!

Lucifer was an archangel prior to the fall.  So here we see that angels are referred to as stars.

Revelation 1:20
The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

And the angels were definitely cast from heaven as well:

2 Peter 2:4
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment,

A metaphorical phrase here:  “locked them up in chains in utter darkness.”  Remember that God is light; utter darkness means that they have been execrated and forever removed from the presence of God.  This is reinforced with “kept until the judgment.”

Now, are they chained up?  If so, then how did demons possess people in Jesus day?  Why did Jesus have to cast out the demons?  No, we are told:

Ephesians 6:12-13a
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God…

So, Lucifer was cast to earth.  A third of the angels were cast down as well.  They were thrown in to hell, locked up and are in utter darkness without God now.  And Ephesians tells us we need to put on the armor of God because these evil forces are in the heavens (the air around us) struggling.  Satan is shown to be as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Further Jesus tells us that hell has gates.  And these gates, or what they contain, will not overpower the church.  Well, my digression is complete.  We are back to the topic at hand.

So the gates of Hades are the very gates of hell, where the demons were cast down to.  So who or what is Hades?

Revelation 6:8
So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Death rode the pale green horse; Hades was close behind him.  And they were given authority.  Would a place follow a rider on a horse?  Would a place be given authority?  No, Hades is the name of a demon.

But Hades is also a place.  It is hell.  In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

Matthew 10:28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

And David tells us:

Psalms 139:8
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.

Sheol is the Old Testament word that is used for Hell (it is also the grave, but here juxtapositioned against heaven, it clearly means hell).

The demons have been cast down to hell, to Hades.  They come out to give struggle to the believer.  They come out to attack the church.  They would love nothing more than to destroy the church, and thus destroy the believers.

But the gates of Hades….

 

…will not overpower it.

These demonic angels will have no power against the church.  They cannot overpower it.  Though they may try, and the book of Ephesians told us that they do try, they will not be able to overcome the church.  They are not feeble.  They are the rulers and power of the darkness.  We are told to put on our armor as a defense against them.

But they will not be able to overcome the church.  Why?

Let us return to the topic verse:

Matthew 16:16-19
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”

Jesus is the Son of the living God.  He is the Rock who has built his church.  He is God.  And he has promised that he will watch over the church.  He will guard it from overthrow.  No demon will overpower it.  It shall sustain because God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, will be watching over it.

So what does this mean?  How does it affect you and me?

Well, the devil tries many deceptive ways to come against the believer.  He wants to nullify the believer and he wants to keep the unbeliever from becoming a believer.  As far as the believer is concerned, we are given the armor of God and we are commanded to know what it is and to use it.  But sometimes the devil makes it through.

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, was one such person.  He claims that the church fell aside at some point.  He claims that an angel (Moroni) and then God himself came to visit him to tell him that he needed to restore the church.  He was given the task to restore a church that Jesus told us could not be overcome.  Smith was to restore a church that Jesus protects so that nothing could overpower it.

Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many others think that the church in some way has fallen away and needs to be rebuilt, restored, restructured.  There are many who think that the church somehow does not teach what the Bible teaches and they somehow have the message that is missing, a special or secret message that God only told them.  Or perhaps a message that God has revealed or refreshed into the church.  The problem is that the “restored” message has never been taught within the church in it’s history.  While there are debates over doctrines, we can see the various doctrines being taught throughout church history.  Some that have been introduced in the last 50, 100, 200 years are doctrines that simply are not a part of the church anywhere in its existence.

We must be very careful, or even resistant, to anyone who would bring to you a “new” doctrine.  Anyone who is teaching something that you have not heard in the church is someone to turn away from.  Why?  Because Jesus himself has promised that he will protect this church and that nothing, not even the gates of hell — not even the demons that have a desire to destroy anything of God — nothing will overpower it.

The church is the church.  Jesus is protecting it and the gates of Hades won’t overpower it.  The church is the same church that Jesus established when he stood with Peter and told him that he, Jesus, is the Rock upon which the church is built.  The foundation is Jesus.  The protection is Jesus.  The promise is Jesus.

The church is not in trouble.  Jesus won’t allow it.  The church is not missing its message.  Jesus won’t allow it.  The church has not been attacked and hurt.  Jesus won’t allow it.  The church cannot be destroyed.  Jesus simply will not allow it.

Jesus is the head of the church.  The church is his body.

Ephesians 1:22-23
And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.
23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

All things are under Jesus’ feet.  He is the head over the church.  The church is his body.  He is not about to let something overpower his body.  He gave himself up to death on the cross for the church (Ephesians 5:25).  He is keeping it for a reason:

Ephesians 5:22-22
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body. 24 But as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25  and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.

Christ is the head of the church.  The church is his bride (read Rev 21).  He has a vested interest in keeping it clean, sanctified.  The church is the head, or covering, of man.  Then man is the head of the woman; he is her protector making sure nothing overpowers her (sound familiar).  The woman is to love and submit to her husband.  The man is to love and submit to the church.  The church is to love and submit to Christ.

…open the doors and the wiggling fingers are the people.  Great.  But now you see the importance of the church.  The power of the church.  The meaning of the church to Christ.  And you have seen that the church is in the care of Jesus Christ.  It does not need to be rediscovered.  It does not need to be restored.  It is not missing teaching you something.

Jesus is the promise of this.  He is the Rock.  And the church is built upon the Rock.  He keeps it.

 

 

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