Many moons ago, I began exploring this topic of “what is the church.” I want to continue this series. Before I discussed the idea of the church as found around the “Eucharist table.” Today, I want to explore Jesus’ first use of the term “ekklesia” found in Matthew 16 and 18 using a comment I wrote to Scot McKnight on his blog because he is exploring the differences between church and kingdom.
“I have some questions that I’ve always wanted answered regarding this topic. Each pertain to my understanding of Matthew 16 and the correspondence of ekklesia (the word we mis-translate “church”) to kingdom. Is it possible that Jesus uses ekklesia as the political organization that rules over the kingdom?
“In Matthew 16:18, Jesus asks his small band “who the Son of Man is?”– a phrase with a lot of political meaning if taken from Daniel 7 (where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days where he is given authority over all peoples). Then Jesus takes it a step further asking them who they think he might be–- obviously implying that he may be such a figure. Peter then really crosses the line–- “You are the Christ/Messiah” (the one who will free us from the empire), “the Son of God” (a title given to Caesar).
“Interestingly, this whole scene takes place right outside of Caesarea, the political capital of Rome in that region. Isn’t ekklesia used in the Roman empire at this time to describe the local group of powerful citizens of the Roman empire that meet together to discuss town business? Isn’t Jesus stating that he will build his own ekklesias, as opposed to Caesar’s ekklesias? Then Jesus says that he will give the keys/authority of the kingdom to this little band of followers. Then two chapters later, Jesus addresses the process of how to handle disputes in this new ekklesia– a new non-Roman ekklesia.
“It seems to me that the ekklesia is a local government of the new kingdom that serves the new Caesar– Jesus Christ. Basically, they make decisions and settle disputes in their region of the kingdom. Just as in the Roman empire, most people were not citizens, but this local group of citizens made decisions affecting the non-citizens around the city/town.”
Those were the thoughts that I put on Scot McKnight’s blog. Here are some other thoughts about Matthew 16 that I have. It is possible that Jesus wasn’t giving much thought to Rome and Caesar. Jesus was probably speaking Aramaic rather than Greek and Son of Man could be more in reference to its use in Ezekiel– basically he is the prophet– this is in keeping with the disciples response to the question– “Jeremiah, Elijah, or one of the other prophets”– Jesus being near Caesarea is probably near the “gates of Hell” where idolatry to the god Pan took place at the mouth of a cave near Caesarea. Instead of ekklesia, he would be making reference to qahal, the cultic/worship assembly of OT Israel. In this way, Jesus will build in his own worship assembly that will challenge the idolatry of the contemporary situation. However, this would still be a very political statement, especially with the after comments about kingdom, keys, binding and loosing, etc.