In the first two posts of this series (Defining the Church 1 and Defining the Church 2), we examined two passages in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 16:15-19; 18:15-20) where Jesus speaks specifically of his church (ἐκκλησία = “assembly, community”). In these two passages, we saw that 1) the church belongs to Jesus, and 2) He will build the church himself 3) of those who believe and follow him. 4) Death will not defeat the church. 5) Those who are part of the church will concern themselves with the lives of fellow believers. 6) The church will be gathered (by Christ) for the purpose of obeying Him, representing Him, and displaying His character (in His name).
Besides these two passages in Matthew, there are no other gospel passages where the Gospel writers use the Greek word ἐκκλησία. Because of this, most people jump to Acts 2 to continue studying the church. However, even though the Gospel writers do not use ἐκκλησία in other passages, this does not mean that “church” was an afterthought, or that Jesus did not consider the “church” important. As an example, consider the Farewell Discourse (John 15-17). In these chapters, Jesus prepares his followers for the time following his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. From these three chapters, we can learn of several of Jesus’ expectations and promises for His followers as they continue together:
- They (The word “you” is plural) were to continue in Christ (“abide in me”) and to bear fruit (John 15:4-8)
- They were to continue to obey Christ, specifically by loving one another and bearing fruit (John 15:9-18).
- They were to remain in a hostile world and testify to Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit (John 15:19-27).
- They will not be alone – even when they are persecuted – because Jesus will send the Holy Spirit, and having the Holy Spirit will be more advantageous to them than Jesus physically staying with them (John 16:1-15).
- They would be sent into a hostile world together and be sanctified by the word of God (John 17:17-19).
- Others would follow them and believe in Christ because of their words (John 17:20).
- All who believe in Jesus will be one, because Jesus is one with God the Father (John 17:21-26).
There are other passages in the gospels that demonstrate that Jesus expected the “church” – that is, the community of His people – to continue after his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. However, this passage reveals much about what Jesus expects from and promises to His church. Perhaps the most important promise is the coming of the Holy Spirit. We will examine this in the next passage: Acts 2.
- Defining the Church 1 – Matthew 16:15-19
- Defining the Church 2 – Matthew 18:15-20
- Defining the Church 3 – John’s Farewell Discourse
- Defining the Church 4 – Acts 1-2
- Defining the Church – Implications