â€œAnd I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.â€Â Â Â (Matthew 16:18)
This is the first of 115 occurrences of ekklesia in the New Testamentâ€”three times translated â€œassembly,â€ all other times as â€œchurch.â€ It is a compound of ek and klesia, thus meaning â€œcalled outâ€ from their previous locations to meet together as a body for some purpose. The three times it is translated â€œassemblyâ€ refer to the town meeting in Ephesus (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). Once it refers to the congregation of Israelites in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), leaving 111 times when it refers to a Christian church or churches.
Of these 111, at least 86 clearly refer to local churches, each meeting as a body in specific times and places. Individual local churches may come and go, but the institution of the local church will continue at least until the return of Christ. In the Bibleâ€™s final chapter, after outlining the entire future of the world, Jesus said, â€œI Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churchesâ€ (Revelation 22:16). All churches of all times and places, as well as the seven representative churches of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3), which have long since died out as distinct local churches, are thus intended to hear of the worldâ€™s prophetic future.
This is the last mention of churches, but the first, as cited in our text, has eternal dimensions, for even the â€œgates of hellâ€ cannot prevail against it. This church actually will be in heaven itself. â€œBut ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfectâ€ (Hebrews 12:22-23). HMM