Who are we? What is the church? Nothing is more basic than that it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Matthew 16:13-20 points out, he is the one who makes or builds his church, and he rules it. The church is united with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The King builds his church. The King has come, establishing his kingdom. 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). 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. That is a confession that was worked in Peter by the Father in heaven. “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).
Christ builds his church. 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 followers. Today if 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. “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).
The church belongs to Christ. The Servant’s death purchased the church. 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 of Isaiah 42. 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 its loyalty belongs there.
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.
Live as the disciples of Christ. 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. 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.
Jesus calls you to focus not on yourself, but on him, to see the church as his people, his body, his kingdom.