I want to further expound on this topic by delving into the hermeneutics [interpretations of words] of Matthew 16:17-19, the source of this topic of conversation. And I want to make the argument that we must look at it in a 1st Century context, not a 21st Century one. As I have previously explained, all of our English translations of the Bible quote Jesus as saying, "On this rock I will build my church". Even the Aramaic translation uses the word "church", although it gives a detailed notation that the Greek word for "church" is "ekklesia"; even noting that it means "a legislative assembly".
So, can we agree that Jesus was never casual about the words He used? In fact, Jesus, Himself, tells us in John 12:49, For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. We know the Father was intentional in having Jesus use the word Ekklesia and not the word Church, which in Greek, meant a gathering; a congregation; an assembly. There was a purpose to the Ekklesia and it was "to govern; to legislate; to rule". And the people to whom Jesus spoke this would have understood that concept.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that we are to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Since Jesus only spoke what the Father told Him, we must take seriously His use of the word "Ekklesia". You see, there is power in this word to identify our role and purpose in the earth. Words have specific meanings, and sadly the English language is not as specific as others. As Christians we cannot afford to be casual with our understanding of Jesus's words. He did not say He would be the bedrock foundation upon which He would build His "church". The word "Church" comes from the Greek word kyriake, or kyriakon, meaning "gathering place, assembly". Jesus was very deliberate in using the word ekklesia, because He knew what its specific meaning was: ek, meaning "out of", and klesis, meaning "a calling".
I like what author Dean Briggs says in his book, Ekklesia Rising:The Authority of Christ in Communities of Contending Prayer: "[Jesus] could have told Peter He would build His family, His bride, temple, army or kingdom.... or He could have used the word synagogue, which they would have clearly understood as the meeting place where they gathered in regards to their religion". But He wasn't talking about religion. He was talking about government! So He used a word [Ekklesia} that they clearly understood in terms of both the Hebrew and Greek significance.
From the Greek perspective, it was a governmental assembly having authority in determining the affairs of their cities and territories, depending on their citizenship. All qualified persons were summoned together for a purpose and expected to participate. From the Hebrew perspective, Jesus's use of that word Ekklesia would have told the hearers that they were a summoned people, assembling together to receive God's heavenly kingdom government on the earth, and to act upon it. I also love how Ed Silvoso, author of Ekklesia: Rediscovering God's Instrument For Global Transformation, explains Jesus's use of Ekklesia: "[The objective of Jesus's use of this word] was the transformation of people and society, rather than acting as a transfer station for saved souls bound for heaven".
Jesus intends for us to be part of an Ekklesia; agents of His kingdom government to transform earth back to the model of the Garden of Eden, where God's Laws reigned supreme, and man knew nothing of Death. The Jews that Jesus spoke to would have recognized Ekklesia from their history: "the ekklesia in the wilderness", led by Moses, the Law-giver. It was an ekklesia that first assembled around Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God; and from thenceforth, they formed a covenental identity with YHWH.
Now Jesus comes speaking of an ekklesia that He will build; one that identifies with Him as the Son of YHWH, and receives His commission to carry His rulership into all the earth as part of a covenental community. When He spoke of a Kingdom, they understood that term -- throughout their history they had been governed by Israelite kings, and were now subjected to the rulership of the kingdom of Rome. But here is Jesus, talking about a greater kingdom that is taking over the earth, and a governing assembly of His followers that will transform cities, nations, and the world!
But let's go a step further and look at the next sentence after He declares He will build His ekklesia. Jesus says, and the gates of Hades will not be able to overpower it! Once again, the people would have understood the "legislative" connotation of that word "gates". Courts of justice were held at the city gates in the ancient world. Prophets also stood in the gates and delivered their divine messages. Gates were also symbols of the strength or vulnerability of a city. Whoever controlled the gates of a fortress, city, or stronghold ruled that territory.
Jesus never stopped preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom during His ministry. He continually encouraged the people to change their way of thinking [Repent!] because the Kingdom of God had arrived -- there is a new kingdom come; with a new way of ruling; and He intends on establishing a legislative body of those called [believing in Him] to defeat the gates [ruling power] of the one who has ruled with the power of Death. Furthermore, He is giving us the key of authority to open or close [loose or bind] God's heavenly principles on the earth, thereby offering Jesus as the gate [or doorway] into the kingdom of God. Jesus perfectly models for us God's design to establish His people in His place under His rule.
Make no mistake, only Jesus has the authority to allow or disallow someone to enter the kingdom of God. But we have the authority -- and yes, the responsibility -- to point everyone to Jesus! I believe that the world needs [and in truth, is looking for] an authentic ekklesia, not a church. They desperately need the government of the Prince of Peace to be established, bringing order out of disorder, and His light into the darkness of this world. And Jesus has called us to be the ruling agents of this transformation. If we are honest with ourselves, what we have established in our Churches has not done what Jesus intended. The earth does not look like heaven. In fact, the "gates" [ruling power] of Satan are fighting back whenever and wherever the ekklesia makes strides to transform any territory.
For example, the state of Georgia, which just passed a strict anti-abortion law, is now under attack. Bloomberg.com reports that the state's film production industry is now bigger than Hollywood's, but now Netflix, Disney, WarnerMedia, AMC Networks, NBC Universal and CBS Corp. and its Showtime subsidiary, have all threatened to pull their business from Georgia unless the law banning abortion after six weeks is overturned by the courts. This is a clear example of the legislative influence of the Kingdom of God battling against the gates of Hades. An owner of one of the biggest companies, Pinewood Studios Atlanta, is Dan Cathey, the chief executive of Chick-fil-A and outspoken social conservative whose Southern Baptist church opposes all abortions. Who will prevail?
One thing is for certain .... the kingdom of God is going to be attacked by the kingdom of Satan. He knows that we are growing in our new identity as the ekklesia, rather than simply being the church. We must continue to spread Jesus's Gospel of the Kingdom, bringing peace, joy, salvation, righteousness, justice, grace and all of God's attributes through our authority as citizens of heaven. We must continue to establish ourselves in our gates as the ruling body on earth, and must not relinquish our authority or function in any arena of society or the nation. As Jesus reminded Peter, we must be setting our minds on the things of God, not on the things of man. Jesus IS coming in His Kingdom! The question is, will He find you and I acting as a member of a church, or the tip of the spear, contending for the rulership of Christ in our territory? Let us take our ekklesial identity and assignment seriously.
Joel 2:15-16 Blow a trumpet in Zion [warning of impending judgment], dedicate a fast [as a day of restraint and humility], call a solemn ekklesia. Gather the people, sanctify the ekklesia, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of His room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. [No one is excused from the ekklesia.]