Now let's make some clarifying comments about Jesus' view of the church. When we say church in English, it predominantly means to the Western mind either a building or an institution. When we talk about the church, we say things like, "Let's go to church." We mean, it is a building. Or the media will report that "The church" (meaning the Roman Catholic Church) "did this and this and this." We mean, it is an institution.
The church, in the English sense, tends to be used for either a building or an institution.
You probably know that the word church comes into English from the New Testament Greek word, ekklesia. Here is something I find very interesting. The Greek word ecclesia is used only three times in the Gospels. Yet, it occurs over 100 times in the Epistles. Why? I'll answer that question in a moment.
First, turn with me to Matthew used 16:16, where Jesus is drawing forth an affirmation of his identity. It comes to the mouth of Peter, but it is given by the Father. Luke 9:20 renders it in keeping with the Hebrew language, you are the "Messiah of God" or "divine Messiah" (Mashiach-el). Matthew makes it more clear to us. "Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.'"
In response, Jesus says, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Here is the first time that Jesus uses the terminology, the church. It is near the end of his life, and the timing is significant. What did he mean by it? What are his reference points?
To begin with, it is of paramount importance to remember that Yeshua is speaking Hebrew, not Greek. The term that he uses for the church in Hebrew, most likely, is a word that appears for the first time in Exodus 12. The setting is the eve of Passover (Pesach),
"The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 'This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household.'"
Look again at the phrase in verse 3, "Tell all the congregation of Israel." The term congregation is the Hebrew word edah, the edah of Israel. This is the first time in the Bible the word edah occurs. The word and the context are relevant to help us know what was in the mind of the Messiah when he says, "I am going to build my edah."
The Hebrew term edah has some meaningful connotations.
- Edah speaks of someone who is appointed on a mission, someone who represents and bears witness to the one who sent him. You have the related term moed, used for a feast like Passover, which literally means an appointed time. The biblical festivals are the appointed times (moedim) of the LORD.
- An edah is an appointed community, a community with a call upon it. The Greek term ekklesia means called out of. Most people tend to think the church is only that, those called out of the world. Yet God is not calling you out of this world. He is putting a call upon you in this world. It is not how many people assemble that matters, but that they each recognize he is calling them out for a particular service. They have a divine appointment, an assignment from God.
- Their assignment relates to performing a mission on behalf of the one who sends them. Meaning, in their going, they will bear witness to the One that sent them. The root word ED means a witness in Hebrew. For example, in Isaiah 43:10 and throughout the passage, God repeatedly says to Israel, "You are my witnesses."
We, as Yeshua's church (edah), have a call upon us. We have been called out and set upon a mission to serve the King. Each of you is a witness (attem edai). We are to witness to the world that "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."
We'll talk more about that a bit later. For now, the essential thing to grasp is that the term ekklesia is a community, an assembly that has a calling upon it. And that at the most fundamental level, it is a calling to bear witness to the One who has called the community out and sends it forth on this mission. All of this informs the term that Yeshua used.
I mentioned that Exodus 12:3 is the first occurrence of edah. That is not insignificant. Before this point, Israel is called an assembly, a gathering (kehillah). Only now, at this point, are they called a congregation. Why?
Because they are on the eve of redemption, and they are being forged together as a spiritual people, which is much more than an assembly. The term ekklesia in Greek literature could refer to a political assembly, a military assembly, or for an assembly of any purpose with no particular spiritual or religious connotation or overtone.
When God calls his people Israel the edah, he is saying, "You are more than just a loose assembly of people." In fact, to be a member of the congregation, of the community that has a call upon it, you had to be a born Israelite. The sojourners and the strangers were not part of the edah. Yes, they can be part of an assembly, but they are not the appointed ones with the high calling.
Do you get the point? The church is more than just a loose assembly that gets together for some religious purpose or spiritual reason. The church is to be a community that is redeemed, forged together and trained for spiritual purposes, bearing a call and an anointing upon them to go forth and in all they say and do as a witness to the glory of God our Father, through Jesus his Son.
Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.
Interested in taking one of our dynamic online courses? Click here.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.