When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matt 16:13-19
This particular passage of scripture is one of the most quoted and well known teachings of Jesus in the church today, and yet I wonder how well we have really understood what the Lord meant, or how much we have heeded this lesson. If there is one principle or truth to take from this session it is that the church is His and not ours. Of course we may agree with this truth but in reality do we really understand the implications for us and our approach to ministry, and the hope contained within these words. There is some confusion over the issue of whose church it really is. With our church titles, denominations, mission statements and so on, one could get the impression that we have put our own stamp upon church and endangered ourselves to deviate away from what church really is. Please don’t misunderstand, we are not passing judgement or criticism in any way over denominations, or individualised expressions of church, where we draw the line is when we have interfered with God’s blueprint and definition of church and made it our own. Church is not ours it is His.
To unpack the entirety of this passage and the teaching on the church, would take far more than the time we are able to give in one study, and certain assumptions are made that many will know this teaching to some degree, as in the word ekklesia meaning a gathering of called out ones, or upon the revelation of Peter that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the Living God. So on this basis let us look into further into this teaching.
Ever since the creation, God has purposed to dwell amongst man. In the Garden of Eden, the Lord and Adam and Eve enjoyed intimacy and fellowship together. Then after the Fall, man was banished from Eden, and exiled out into the rest of the world. This did not stop God’s desire to dwell among us, but now there was a barrier of sin which separated us from Him. Now there would require the fulfilment of righteousness and holiness in order for a place that could be fit for the dwelling place of God.
The Bible says that King David had a heart after God’s own heart Acts 13:32. He was a worshipper and someone who spent much time in the presence of the Lord. Here in this place of intimacy, David sensed the heart of God, the things which were important to God became important to David. In Ps 132:2-5 we read “He swore an oath to the Lord and made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed– I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Before the temple was built by David’s son Solomon, the Lord had already revealed to Moses generations earlier about a dwelling place in which He would dwell.
See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. Exo 25:40
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Heb 8:5
- The sanctuary or tabernacle set up by man is a copy or shadow of what is in heaven.
- Moses was instructed to make everything according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain. God is the architect, the designer, the one who holds the plans. These plans were “Shown him on the mountain”, this is the place of revelation. It emphasises the importance that we receive our building plans not from any other source, but from the Lord himself by revelation. Moses had spent 40 days and nights fasting on the top of Mount Sinai in the presence of Almighty God.
- Revelation is the key to having the right foundation to build anything for God. Moses received the plans for the tabernacle by revelation. Peter’s confession of Christ, became the foundation upon which Jesus would build His church. Notice how this was by revelation, not flesh and blood, but revelation from our Father in Heaven. Also “Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s builders labour in vain” Ps 127:1 “But each one should be careful how he builds. For no-one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1 Cor 3:10,11
So we understand for the Old Testament that God desires to live among us. We see this in the Garden of Eden, the Tabernacle, and the Temple. This desire of God continues on into the New Testament, but now with fuller understanding that the former was a copy or shadow of the latter
However the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands Acts 7:48
We have become the dwelling place of God. We are a temple in which God lives by His Spirit 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 6:19
We are living stones being built into a spiritual house 1 Pet 2:4,5
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them Rev 21:2,3
Now let us turn to another familiar passage in Haggai
In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest: This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Hag 1:1-9
We will often hear this passage used in the context of encouragement for church members to commit themselves to the local church program. Taking nothing away from this, there is a higher revelation we need to understand. This prophecy isn’t about commitment to the local church but about neglect of God’s dwelling place. The reason the Lord’s house remains uncompleted and remains a ruin, because the people became busy with their own houses. The question is how many houses does God require? How many houses does He occupy? If whatever we are building for the Lord is separate in some way from the wider body of Christ then we have to ask ourselves “are we building according to God’s design?” Because God’s design is oneness and unity, about one house, one body, one church. If that is true then there are profound consequences for us. Remember Church is His and not ours.
Let us settle this now, we do not build the Church, we cannot build the Church, He doesn’t want us to build His Church, only He can build His church. If that is true then what is it that we are building? When we try to build the Church we are attempting the impossible, and something that we have not been asked to do, and something that we have no authority to do. This is so important, our focus should not be on building the church. If our focus is on the church, and we are the church, then by definition our focus is upon ourselves. This should not be. Our focus should be upon the Lord, and upon the Kingdom. It is here that we must devote our time. For in Jesus’ teaching, we receive Divine insight, that He will build His Church, as we take the Keys of the Kingdom. Here is our domain, the Kingdom of God and the Keys with which to unlock the fullness of Heaven and God’s will upon the earth.
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” Matt 6:10
Let us also make this clear, the Church does not require a building. It does not require finance. It does not require programs, mission statements, titles, hierarchy, vehicles, computers, websites, bank accounts or anything else. The Church is His. It is a spiritual entity, a dwelling place inhabited by the Lord Almighty. The church thrives best when we interfere with it the least. It belongs in society as the representation of the Kingdom of God upon the earth, not separate from it. The Holy Spirit blows where it will, you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. The church needs to be unpredictable if it is truly in the image of God and flowing in the Holy Spirit. So let us not be fooled, what we do isn’t church because we are the church, what we are involved with is the outworking of the Kingdom of God through the church. At this point we may feel defensive or even angry at such a thought. What no church services, no projects, no annual calendar, no staff, no salary, no building? We can even feel lost if we had no such things because we are so used to operating from a church paradigm and model, as though to ask if we don’t do or have those things then what? Do we find it difficult to imagine a church without walls or a set schedule in place? Allow me to bring some clarity here to what is being said. All of the above are not church in themselves but can be helpful in fulfilling the needs of the church in life and learning together. Where the problem arises is the subtle shift which can happen, where we become centred upon these things rather than on the Lord and the Kingdom. We like to have systems and structure, a measure of predictability and stability, we strive for such things as though they were essential to our future success. Again, stability and structure are not wrong in themselves and can be extremely beneficial, where the danger lies is upon our hearts, our focus and our values. If our confidence or understanding of ourselves is based in what we have and do, rather than who we are in Christ then we have fallen into dangerous ground. What we need then, is to separate what the church is from what the church does.
Separating Church and Mission
Mission comes out of church, not church out of mission
Mission can only be achieved through the church
Mission effectiveness is dependent upon the health of the church or body
CHURCH IS MISSION IS
1. Inclusive Exclusive
2. Relational Functional
3. Opt out Opt in
4. Leader served Leader led
5. Organic Organised
6. His Ours
7. Christ centred Goal oriented
And the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it
We like to quote this in our defiance against the enemy that we shall overcome. But what is a gate and in what way will the enemy not be able to prevail against the church? If we are honest we can see in many ways how it appears to be the opposite of this statement happening around the world today. Do we really see the Gates of Hell being driven back, and the church victorious over our adversary? This is a generalisation because we do see in many instances God breaking through and pouring out favour and victory. I would suggest this would largely be for the smaller body or local church rather than territorial or national transformation. There are higher levels of warfare that we have little knowledge of or ability to fight with any real or lasting effectiveness. We have witnessed to some degree victory over the enemy in our location wherever that may be, only to later surrender or retreat back to where we were before. There is a teaching that Jesus said when an unclean spirit comes out of a person it goes through arid places looking for rest, but when it doesn’t find it, it returns back to the house, finds it unoccupied and in order, so it returns with seven other spirits more wicked than itself. Matt 12:43-45 This I believe can be applied also to regions and territories, because if we are talking about Kingdom we are talking about territory.
A gate is a place of passage. Through a gate there is access to pass into something or somewhere, and access to pass from something or somewhere. Gates are openings that allow movement in and out. They are also places of authority, historically the elders would meet at the gates Prov 31:23, and in modern times there are gates we have to pass through with authority, as in the case at airports. When we enter into a country we enter in through the gate, with passport control where we are only allowed access if we have authority granted to do so with a valid passport and visa.
If we apply this understanding to this passage in Matt 16, Jesus tells us that there are gates which exist within the kingdom of darkness. They represent authority and movement. Our adversary can move where he has authority to move which is in darkness. Where there is the absence of light, become avenues through which the enemy can operate and go undetected. Taking this further, wherever there is no light by definition those places are dark. There are two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness and everything is either in one or the other, there is no grey area, either God is present with Kingdom authority or He is not. We are not talking here of the omnipresence of God, but about the representation of the presence of God, and in particular the authority of God through the church. The church is given the keys of the Kingdom, and the mandate to represent the Kingdom of God upon the earth. So where we are not operating as we should then the gates of hell remain with influence because the authority required for them to be driven back has not been exercised by the church.
This is important, because we must come into greater understanding about authority if we are to truly impact the world we live in with the message and love of the Kingdom. If there is not unity between the churches so that they are in fact one church, then there is distance or better put, gaps which exists. These gaps become areas of weakness and exploitation by the enemy to hinder the flow of Kingdom authority necessary to possess regions. That’s one reason why the enemy will do whatever he can to bring divisions within the wider body of Christ, because so long as the church is divided the gates of hell will prevail. That’s a bold statement, but we must grasp this truth, regionally we don’t exercise church authority but Kingdom authority, we shouldn’t organise ourselves around local church without first understanding the context in which that local church exists, which is part of the Kingdom of God in that geographical region. It is about activating and exercising Kingdom authority. This happens when the church within a region are united together as one.
When Jesus said “I will build my church”, He didn’t say “I will build my churches” that’s because He only builds one church, because there is only one bride, and only one dwelling place for the Lord. That’s why the Gates of Hell will not prevail, because the church Jesus builds is one, and is exercising Kingdom authority. So we could ask the question, why then do the gates of Hell seem to prevail when Jesus said that they wouldn’t?
True spiritual leadership is not appointed by man but by God. They must understand these principles if they are to be effective in what the Lord has called them to. If we have His heart, we will not be satisfied for the church to be divided. Let me share another principle here, we should not work towards unity from our localised position, but we begin with unity then move into our place upon the wall. We must start with unity. Of course this seems to be impossible to start with unity if we are not united, how can that be? What I’m saying is that we must first know who we are as one church and be in agreement over the geographical location that has been assigned in the Kingdom of God, before we can function and exercise the authority needed to be victorious.
This goes back to our teaching of Adam and Eve as it parallels with Christ and the Church. We need to take this a little further to understand how authority works. The authority God invested in Adam and Eve is representative of the authority given to Jesus and to His church. The church is a corporate man, one body. And so it is through the Church that dominion authority is exercised, not through individual believers.
It is about territory. The Kingdom of Darkness is administered territorially, and has a hierarchal chain of command and authority, which is where we derive the term territorial spirits. Equally, the church though it is one body, is not administered denominationally but geographically. We see this principle in the book of Revelations where letters are written to the angels of the churches in seven provinces.
As individuals believers we have the same power and authority as Jesus himself. But we find no record of Jesus wrestling with demons or territorial spirits and no rebuking of Satan directly. In the wilderness, He counteracted Satan’s false use of the Word with correct application of Scripture, and He cast out demons from the possessed, but we find no record in His teaching or that of the apostles to support such practice. In addition, in the Lord’s Prayer there is no emphasis upon spiritual warfare of this kind, but says “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”
Note that Satan is the ultimate territorial spirit but he is not omnipresent, so how can one person “bind” him in one place in the world, and someone else “bind” him in another. Satan is defeated and has been conquered yes, but he is still very active and will remain unbound until Rev 20:2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (see Millennium notes)
Note also in Eph 6:12 Paul writes “we wrestle not against flesh and blood…”. The word wrestle is the Greek word palē which is used nowhere else except here, and so first of all, we must be careful when forming a doctrine from one scripture, and secondly we must take the verse in its context. The emphasis in this passage is an encouragement towards the believer to put on the armour of God so that they can stand. The word “stand” is used four times in these verses. Paul isn’t saying that we should directly try to wrestle theses powers as a particular event, but that this “wrestling” is already taking place as part of our Christian experience and because of this, we should put on the armour of God, so that we can take our stand. In Eph 6:13 it says “you may be able to stand your ground”. This is a picture of defending a position, not enforcing new ground, but keeping what we already have.
On a territorial level, it is about authority. As the church we have dominion authority through our position in Christ. This authority is greater than that of the enemy, and so we can go forward and occupy new ground by exercising this authority corporately within that region. For a territory to be free requires that the church in that territory releases the corporate blessing through unity, and exercises Kingdom Dominion authority. Let’s return to our simple picture on light and dark to explain the point. Darkness is the absence of light, so long as there is no light darkness will remain. It is there by default but has no power of itself. It can only occupy areas where the light doesn’t shine. Against light darkness has no defence, it cannot resist light, it cannot wrestle light. As soon as light shines in the darkness, the darkness disappears. The church carries the glory of God. It is a light which reflects the glory of God himself, against this glory the enemy has no defence, no debate, no argument, the enemy must yield to the glory of God.
When we engage in any kind of territorial spiritual warfare as individuals we are not only in error but open up harmful avenues for the enemy to exploit. This is a classic ploy of our adversary, to draw us into a fight we can never win, like a boxing match where we keep fighting another round but there is no eventual winner. Success in warfare requires that we are operating in the right arena. The enemy will draw us into the wrong fight which will leave us exhausted and distracted from where we should really be focussed.
In conclusion we have explored some different concepts about the Lord’s declaration “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. In particular our underlying principle is that the Church is His and to us is given the Keys of the Kingdom. As we engage along Kingdom teaching, principles and emphasis the Lord builds His Church. We have taken time illustrate the importance of oneness and unity. The Lord only desires one house and one bride, but more than this how unity releases Kingdom authority in such a way that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, because the Church is geographical and represents the Kingdom regionally. The authority given to the church is Kingdom authority not church authority, so if the church is to be truly victorious then it demands that she is one.