Variant(s): or ecclesio-
By Edgar JonesWait -- if you think we are about to enter into another discussion of the church! When Jesus uses this term, ekklesia, he is not indicating what men have termed "the church." Far from it! Yes, far, far, far from it!And I tell you, you are Peter (little rock), and on this (big) rock I will build my ekklêsia, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Our purpose here is to define this ekklêsia of Jesus in a continuation of other papers on this subject and on the church recently published on this site. To begin, we will define the word and some related words from the Greek New Testament, which are as near to the original words uttered by Jesus as it is possible for us to come.
Here is the Merriam-Webster1 dictionary definition of ekklesi-: (ecclesi-)Main Entry: ecclesi-
Here is Thayer's2 definition of ekklêsia:from ekklêtos called out or forth, and this from ekkaleo3. Here is Thayer's2 definition of the Greek word, epi-sun-ago: (to be referenced below)
properly a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.3. to gather together in one place4. Here is Thayer's2definition of the Greek word, sunagogê: (to be referenced below)
reference: Matthew 23:37, 24:31; Mark 13:27; Luke 13:34, passive: Mark 1:33, 12:1, 17:37a synagogue, i.e, an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayer and listen to the reading of the Holy Scriptures; the building where those solemn Jewish assemblies are held.In the light of these definitions and a few words from Jesus we will summarily define the ekklesia of Jesus as that singular gathering of the children of God whom he is calling out from the world to assemble, or gather, before him on the Last Day. In that it consists of those who are even now being called out from the world to assemble, it has its beginning in this world where human beings, hearing the call, separate themselves from the world so as to assemble before him.They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:16)In that there is only one ekklesia, it is, in this world, only in process of being called out from the world. The assembly does not exist until he gathers all who have heeded the call before him on the Last Day. The one ekklesia of the Lord is there and then, not here and now. It has no existence on the earth, for it is an assembly, and here its called out ones remain only scattered parts -- scattered both in space and time, throughout history and into the future, even unto the end. The Lord is, as he promised, in the process of building his ekklesia by calling the children of God out from the world to assemble before him -- on the Last Day.
This is the final gathering of which Jesus speaks as follows:. . . then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds,These five conditions apply to it: 1) it is being called; 2) it is being called out from the world; 3) its constituents are being called to come together, or assemble. It is to be an assembly; and 4) its constituents, now being called out of the world to assemble, must have their assembly outside the world -- that is, before the Lord on the Last Day!
from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30,31)
Now we look briefly at the synagogue to ascertain how it differs from the ekklesia.
Here, again, is Thayer's2definition of the Greek word, sunagogê:a synagogue, i.e, an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayer and listen to the reading of the Holy Scriptures; the building where those solemn Jewish assemblies are held.The ekklesia of Jesus has in common with the synagoge the characteristic of being an assembly. It differs in that the latter is not called out from the world and consists only of Jews who assemble, here and there, in this world. Sunagoge also differs from ekklesia in that it exists only in this world, whereas the Lord Jesus is building his ekklesia for the world to come. There are many synagogues in the world; there is to be only one ekklesia and that outside the world.
Jesus calls his ekklesia out of the world. How can it assemble in the world when it is being called out from the world?
List of the Characteristics of ekklesia
1. It is single; there is only one. ("The Flock" is a metaphor for the ekklesia.)John 10:162. It is united.
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherdJohn 17:113. It consists only of those sheep who hear the shepherds voice.
And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
4. It has only one shepherd, or pastor, who is the Lord Jesus.John 10:165. Its shepherd is also its only teacher and leader.
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.Matthew 23:8,106. It consists of brothers and sisters who have one and the same Father.
But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. Neither be called masters, (leader) for you have one master, the Christ.Matthew 23:97. It consists of those who have eternal life.
And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.John 10:108. It is not of this world.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.John 17:149. It is not a local assembly on the earth.
I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.Matthew 18:20The ekklesia is not and cannot be a local assembly of disciples because, as local asemblies, there are many but as ekklesia there is only one. Even a world wide assembly of disciples -- disciples who come from all nations to gather in one place at one time -- cannot be the ekklesia because it is a different assembly from the one that preceeded it and from any that follow it. Furthermore, Jesus does not speak of local assemblies of his disciples as being called out from the world (ekkaleo) but as being gathered together in one place (sunago), as is a synagogue.
For where two or three are gathered (sunago, not ekkaleo) in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
There may be other characteristics, but these are sufficient to describe the ekklesia. Whatever is rightly called the ekklesia of Jesus must conform to these nine. Since it consists of those who have the gift of eternal life through Jesus, a life that begins in this world when one is born again of the Spirit and that continues into the Father's house, it is one and the same ekklesia.
The ekklesia belongs to Jesus and the Father, and must finally be understood as they see it from the perspective of the eternal realm of Glory. So, from heaven, Jesus is calling his disciples out of the world to finally assemble before him on the Last Day. It is a process of gathering and building as the Good Shepherd continues calling his sheep out of the world and into the one flock.
The Institutions that Comprise the Church
What I mean by this are the earthly, this worldly institutions that consists of offices and ordinances, of officials and lines of authority, of hireling shepherds (pastors), of multitudes of "teachers," "great leaders" and such -- men who are often seen in their long robes and wide fringes and who apply to themselves some name (denomination) other than that of Jesus of Nazareth, all contrary to the doctrine and commandments of Jesus. I mean the institutions that posses real estate parcels and houses of worship in which people meet to pray in public, contrary to the command of the Lord and in which the "teachers" teach them doctrines contrary to the Word of Jesus and in which preachers preach a gospel foreign to Jesus and his Word. What I mean is that institution where the national flag has a place of high honor, where patriotism is a pearl of great price, where the soldiers are blessed as they go off to battle against other young men in far places, and where people are encouraged to participate in the governments of this world.
I mean the institution that both displays and betrays the cross. It possesses none of the characteristic features of the ekklesia and therefore does not in any sense, case, or degree represent the ekklesia in the world.
Called Out But Not Yet Gathered
The constitution of the ekklesia of Jesus has two phases: the "calling out" phase, and the "assembling" phase. The first is the separation from the world phase, the second is the joining to one another phase. True disciples of Jesus are those who have heard the call and have come out from the world and are, like Jesus, not of the world and therefore are aliens in a strange land. The Lord Jesus leaves them in the world for a time so that, through them, he may call yet others out of the world to gather in the ekklesia on the last day. He continues thus to build his ekklesia and therefore we find him saying:I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. (John 17:15)They have no human administration on the earth, for they are envoys of the kingdom of God and their sole administration is in heaven where their lord and king reigns over all things in heaven and on earth. The Lord appoints absolutely no one to high office while his disciples remain in this world. This he clearly established when he spoke to his male disciples, saying:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)
The War of the Gates
We began with this utterance. Now examine it once more:And I tell you, you are Peter (little rock), and on this (big) rock I will build my ekklêsia, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)We focus our attention now on the simple phrase, "powers of death" that the translators have rendered from the Greek, pulai hadou, that more literally is "gates of hades." This, according to Thayer2, likens Hades to a vast prison with its gates. We gain more insight into what Jesus meant to indicate by hades at another passage where Jesus used the word:And you, Caper'na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (Matthew 11:23)Thus we know hades is a future state of being. It is the place or state of torment to which the rich man went from his life in this world in Luke's Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz'arus in his bosom. (Luke 16:22, 23)Now to relate this state further to the "gates of hades" we need only reference yet one other utterance of Jesus:Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13,14)The wide gate is the gate of Hades. We will not err here if we visualize the world in which we now reside as having only two outlets, the Gate of Hades that leads to torment and destruction, and the Gate of Heaven that leads to life.
Now, in this present time, every human being is faced with this simple option -- the Gate of Heaven (Life) and the Gate of Hades (Death). When Jesus states that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against his ekklesia, he simply means that this gate will not be able to capture and claim the children of the Father who through Jesus have been redeemed from the realm of the dead and are being guided into the heavenly ekklesia. That gate will not prevail to draw his children forever into the transcendental realm of the dead. They will prevail, and even now are passing through the narrow gate into the way of eternal life.
This narrow gate is Jesus himself, who said in recounting the pastoral metaphor of the Fourth Gospel:I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:9,10The "thief" here represents the false shepherds who pollute the world with false gospels that entice men into the wide gate that leads to Hades and destruction. Jesus simply assures us that they will not prevail over the little flock, the sheep who are being called out of the world for his ekklesia. Why?A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:5)You see? Our eternal destiny as human beings depends wholly and fully on the voice we choose to hear. Will it be the voice of the stranger? Will it be the voice of the Good Shepherd? This is the "War of the Gates" in which all humans are involved and the stakes are life and death. The children of the Father, responding to the call to the ekklesia need only hold fast to the voice of our Good Shepherd and continue in the assurance that death has no power over us and that the Gates of Hades -- the powers of death -- will not prevail against us! Thus is defined for us both our clear and present danger, and our clear and present victory.
Conclusion: Our Task and Function
Jesus told the Parable of the Tares that is highly relevant here. It runs as follows:Another parable he put before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.Is it not clear? Jesus forbids that the children of the Father take any action to root out the weeds. This is, of course, precisely what the Americans are attempting to do by rooting out the evil from the caves of Afghanistan. No, the children of the kingdom are called to cohabit the world with others whlle all, both the wheat and the weeds, grow together. Thus, those who are called out of the world to gather into the heavenly ekklesia are to let both grow together. This must continue until harvest time, while Jesus builds his ekklesia by calling the children of the kingdom out from the world.
So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?'
He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?'
But he said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, "Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."' (Matthew 13:24-30)
But what then?Gather the wheat into my barn.This is the heavenly gathering that is the ekklesia of God.
But surely we must be doing something while we grow toward the time of harvest? What is our task?
Jesus has clearly defined this task as follows:All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18,19, 20)In doing this, we function as his witnesses in this patch of weeds, this world of darkness that, as he has assured us, hates the light. So he further clarifies our function in two ways as follows:You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:14)The outcome of our testimony is certain, and we rejoice daily knowing that, even now and for the past two millinea it has been true and remains so until the day of harvest precisely as Jesus stated:
You are the salt of the earth; (Matthew 5:13)All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.References
2. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., First printing, June 1996
Return to List of Papers Email Return to Home Page