CHURCH: PEOPLE, NOT PROPERTY
It was not without purpose that Jesus chose the Greek word ekklesia to describe what was coming in the near future in reference to His gospel actions that would find reality on an old rugged cross. Therefore, upon the rock that He was the Christ (Messiah) and Son of God, He promised His inner circle of Jewish disciples, “I will build My ekklesia [church]” (Mt 16:18).
Those Jewish disciples to whom Jesus made this statement knew exactly what an ekklesia was in the town culture of their day. When the Jews came to the synagogue they came as a people to the ekklesia (At 13:43). When idol worshipers in Ephesus came together into their temple of Artemis, they, too, came as a gathering of people to the ekklesia (At 19:30). On this occasion when Paul was preaching the gospel in Ephesus, the ekklesia (people) in the temple became quite confused in reaction to what Paul preached (At 19:32). It was the people, the ekklesia, who were confused, not the temple structure itself. The word ekklesia was never used in the culture of the time to refer to physical structures.
So when Jesus promised He would build His ekklesia, the Jewish disciples to whom He spoke these words knew that He was referring to people, not to “church houses.” But the Jewish apostles to whom Jesus promised that He would build his ekklesia of people could go further back in their history as the people of God. It was to this nation of people (the Jewish people) to whom Stephen referred when he confirmed that before His incarnation, the Son of God “was in the ekklesia [church] in the wilderness” (At 7:38). It was this ekklesia who “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the [Red] Sea” (1 Co 10:2). This ekklesia of people was delivered out of the bondage of Egypt because they followed the prophet Moses. They were, as a people, baptized into Moses. Jesus Christ was the Prophet to whom Moses promised would replace him as the leader of the ekklesia (See Dt 18:15-22).
Since Jesus was the Prophet about whom Moses prophesied would come after him, then people today can be baptized into the name of this Prophet, the name of Christ (At 2:38; Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:27). Therefore, in order to replace the ekklesia of people who followed Moses out of Egyptian bondage, the ekklesia (people) of Christ is composed today of those people who have followed Christ out of the bondage of sin. The identity of the church, therefore, is first identified as people, a people who have believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and incarnate Son of God, just as Jesus had promised His Jewish disciples in Matthew 16:18:
As people believed in Moses, and subsequently were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea, so people today believe in Christ and are baptized unto Him in order to be delivered from the bondage of sin.