The Expository Files


He Is The One ~ And The Church, His People

Matthew 16:13-18

Jesus, the Master Teacher, often crafted questions and used them to provoke good thought and learning. This is a prominent example of that approach. He said to the apostles: "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"

They responded, reporting what was commonly believed; what "they" were saying about His identify. "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." The general Jewish public did not enjoy good clarity and unity about who Jesus was.

Jesus redirected the question to the apostles: "But who do you say that I am?"

"And Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'." The others (John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, etc.) were created by God, were children of God and served God. Peter's answer sets Jesus higher, and amounts to an affirmation of Jesus' Messiahship. Peter spoke the truth about Jesus as the One promised, the famous unique "Christ," and "Son of the living God" anticipated by all the work of God among men prior to His birth. He is the promised anointed one sent from God.

Jesus gave this response to Peter's correct answer: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." Jesus congratulates or compliments Peter for confessing the truth. Observe, Jesus said it came to Peter by divine revelation! He didn't gather this from the rumors and speculations of men; he didn't get a majority vote from his peers; he didn't just guess at it; and he didn't just say what he thought Jesus expected. God gave him this truth. He gives us that same truth today, through His Word (Rom. 10:17).

Then Jesus said: "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," (verse 18). Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter is Peter, the son of Jonah.

The rock is the truth just expressed. On that rock Jesus said He would build something. He said, "I will build My church."

There is nothing in this passage, in Matthew, or in the New Testament that would lead us to think He is talking about a physical building. It should also be noted, there is nothing in the text of Scripture leading us to believe he was talking about an organization or denomination (that has existence separate from people). We must not impose onto the promise of Jesus the typical images we have of church buildings and denominations.

"Church" is simply a term for a group of people, called out or assembled. Instead of thinking of buildings and institutions like denominations, we should simply think in terms of people! Jesus would have a people.

Who would these people be? Those who follow Him, right? That's it. This simple answers is obvious to everyone who has read, not just this passage, but all the Bible and all the New Testament, especially the book of Acts and the epistles. Jesus' people are those who follow Him; they are the church He said He would build. It was built on the foundation of who Jesus is (see also 1 Cor. 3:11).

When an individual today decides to give up sin, be forgiven by Christ and follow Him, as that choice is carried out through the obedience of faith - that one becomes one of Jesus' people, thus a member of His church; the church He built. It is not a matter of getting your name listed with an organization, or just making the choice to come to a building regularly. While your name may appear on a list, and you start assembling with people at a certain place, your inclusion as a member of the church of Christ begins when you are baptized into Christ (see this for yourself, Acts 2:37-47).

Every person anywhere who is obedient to Christ is a member of His church! For this reason, we often use the term "universal," or "the universal church." This body - the body of Christ - is composed of everyone who is obedient to Christ, wherever they may be. This is the use of the term "church" in Matt. 16:18. Jesus certainly wasn't promising to erect a building in Jerusalem, nor was He promising to set up one group in one location only! When He said, "I will build My church," that takes in every person who gives to Him to obedient response directed by the apostles.

In various specific places all across the world, Christians meet together in groups. Local churches are composed of only those people in these places who agree to form a team to do the Lord's work, as directed by the apostles (see Acts 2:42).

The universal church is made up of every Christian (by "Christian" we do not mean the modern, generic definition; but the New Testament meaning). Local churches are made up of Christians in a certain place, who are united in their purpose to continue steadfastly in the apostles teaching (see again, Acts 2:42 and Matt. 18-18-20).

The clarity of the New Testament about all of this should encourage both scriptural correctness and semantical correctness.

1. The universal church is not composed of individual churches, but individual people.

2. There is no organizational connection between local churches taught in the New Testament.

3. The fact that a group calls themselves a "church of Christ" only means they know how to paint a sign.

Brother Robert Turner wrote at length about these simple truths:

"The true church of Christ on earth today is not a group of congregations bound together in some 'church-hood' by name, creed, or practice. The truth church of Christ is, today as always, the body of called-out people who acknowledge Christ as their head, and serve Him faithfully. If, in your community, there are true disciples of Christ 'joined together' to do the Lord's bidding, they constitute a local 'church of Christ.' But don't be fooled by a name. Test their preaching and practice by the Word of God." Plain Talk, Vol. 3, No. 2, p.5 - March, 1966.


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 15.5; May 2008