The Church: God’s Royal House

A godly king, a man after God’s own heart, wants to build a house for God? No wonder Nathan welcomed this (2 Samuel 7). But God had a better plan. He builds his own royal house, as Peter confesses in Matthew 16:13–20

The King builds his church. God graciously promised to build a house for David. David was settled in his new capital, Jerusalem. God had given his people rest from their enemies. (Some of the victories described in 2 Samuel 8 may have come before the events of this chapter.) David knew of the importance which had been attached to building the Tabernacle in the time of Moses. But the time of wandering was over. God had selected Zion as the place for his name to dwell, as the location where he would have the Ark of the covenant reside, the ark which included the mercy seat of God. David had his own palace, where, presumably, his throne stood. It seemed incongruous for the Ark, with its mercy seat, to be housed in a temporary tent. David has proposed to Nathan the prophet his plan to build a temple, and Nathan immediately pronounced his blessing on it, vv. 2, 3. But God had something better planned. God graciously promised to build a house for David. That night God appeared to Nathan with a message for David. David was not the one to build the house, verse 5, see 1 Chronicles 22:6-8. David had shed too much blood. His son, Solomon would perform the task. God was not in need of David to build a house for him (contrary to the pagan notions of a deity’s needs). Instead, God would build a house for David. Salvation is not based on your works. He would give David and his descendants peace, rest from their enemies. That rest anticipates the final Sabbath-rest of God’s people in the new heavens and earth. God had brought David from the sheepfold to the throne. In contrast to Saul’s lack of a dynasty, David’s line would have an established throne. Rather than David giving to God, God first of all gives to David. The grace that underlies our salvation is evident here. It is not what you do for God, but his grace to you that is crucial. Yes, God does require that you respond to his covenant grace. David’s prayer of gratitude, verses 18–29, and his life of obedience and worship are examples of that response. But the initiative belongs to God.

Confess Jesus as your King. Matthew’s Gospel proclaims the coming of the true King of Israel. The Old Testament describes the establishment of God’s kingdom, and anticipates the fullness of it. It looks forward to the trees rejoicing, the nations sounding God’s praise, the islands and deserts proclaiming God’s grace (Isaiah 42; Psalm 98). The parables focus on the kingdom. The miracles are not just “wow!” events, but they put in visible form the reality of the blessing proclaimed verbally in the teaching and preaching of the kingdom. The kingdom is present because the King himself is there. Jesus takes his disciples aside and asks them who they believe he is. Peter properly confesses that Jesus is the glorious Messianic Son of Man, the Christ, but also sees that he is the Son of the living God. “Peter, a despised Galilean fisherman, stands before the Messiah with the chosen elders of the New Covenant. The great Shepherd gathers the remnant of his people and establishes Israel anew to confess his name. Jesus undertakes God’s own work to rebuild his people.” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 40). That is a confession that was worked in Peter by the Father in heaven. Matthew records Peter’s confession for a purpose. He is not just informing you of a bit of history (though indeed this happened). He records Peter’s confession so that you can join in that same confession. He wants you to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the great King in David’s line.

Christ builds his church by his death and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the architect and builder. The origin of the church is not human, but divine. He builds on Peter (and his confession). Don’t separate the confession from Peter, but also, don’t separate Peter from his confession–or from the other disciples. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Those who share that confession are added to the church. The church may seem weak and irrelevant. At the time Jesus was speaking it consisted primarily of his twelve disciples and a few women from Galilee. Today it often appears weak and out-numbered. Yet the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Focus on the majesty of your Savior, and be assured that he will not abandon his church to the forces of Hades. This King conquers in a most unusual way. Although popular expectations of the Messiah were for him to establish a political kingdom and to remove the Romans from rule, Jesus immediately goes on to explain his suffering, death, and resurrection. And Peter, despite his confession, despite being named as the rock on which Christ will build his church, becomes a stumbling stone, Matthew 16:23, as he tries to turn Jesus from his course. Ironically, the life giving message that the church was entrusted to proclaim rests on the death of the Savior. The triumphant power of the King grows out of his being the humble servant. The church is not just a place like-minded people to gather, or for people to gather regardless of what they believe. Rather, it is a body that belongs to its King, and her loyalty belongs there. Look at the glory that belongs to the church as the bride of Christ!

The King rules! The church exercises the authority of Christ. The keys are given to Peter as the representative of the church, which Christ was about to build on him. It was not limited to him personally, as Matthew 18:18 indicates. The assembly is now seen as an estate, or even a building. The keys involve proclaiming Jesus. When the church is doing that, listen! Pay attention. The kingdom grows as the risen Lord calls people into his church, as he builds it on the confession that Peter made, the confession in which you share. “Our Lord says emphatically ‘I will build,’ and thereby appropri­ates for himself the the objective task of calling this church into existence by his Messianic acts. Though Pe­ter confessing be the foundation, the church is not of Peter’s or of any human making, the Lord him­self will build it. And not only this, he will supremely rule in it, for out of the fullness of his authority he immediately proceeds to invest Peter with the power of the keys: ‘I will give unto thee.’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church, pp. 78-79).

Be loyal to your King. Disciples are learners. Peter, by God’s grace, had absorbed what Jesus had been teaching. Christ calls you, his church, to continue to learn from his Word, both in public preaching and teaching, and in your own reading and study. Disciples are servants. The Messiah is the Servant of Isaiah 42 and 53. Washing the disciples’ feet may have confused them, but it set the example for their conduct. Are you following your own agenda, or are you looking for opportunities to serve the body of which you are part? Disciples are witnesses, continuing to confess the name of Jesus to those around them. Notice in Matthew 28:16 the emphatic claim to authority with which Jesus concludes his earthly ministry. Disciples are obedient subjects of their King. They recognize that his kingship involves not only an hour in church on Sunday morning, but rather, he rules over every area of life. “The Church, in short, is a present manifestation of the Kingdom of God and in her the Kingdom’s transforming power operates and from her its life and blessedness flows to form an oasis in the desert of this world’s sin and mis­ery, darkness and death, to which the thirsty traveler may come and drink deeply at the well-springs of salvation.” (Raymond O. Zorn, Church and Kingdom, p. 81).

The church is the house of God, not because of a building, but because the church belongs to the King. Do you trust him? Have you experienced his powerful, triumphant deliverance? If so, serve your King!