In the light of Matt. 16: 20, 21, do the words “I will build my assembly” (Matt. 16: 18) imply Jew and Gentile equal in one body along the lines of Eph. 2: 16?
In Matt. 16: 20 the Lord instructs His disciples to “say to no man that he was the Christ” and foretold His rejection as Israel’s Messiah in v21: “From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples that he must … be killed, and the third day be raised”. Many conclude from this that the announcement of the Assembly in v18 refers to the Assembly exactly as we have it today. However, while Jew and Gentile in one body is the situation now, there is nothing to suggest that it was to be so when the Lord uttered those words, for the word assembly means nothing more than a called–out company.
We now know the truth of the mystery, that is the Assembly as Jew and Gentile equally together in one body, but this truth was first revealed, not to the twelve, but Paul (see Col. 1: 25, 26), and there is no record that this was taught publicly until the history recorded in Acts had run its course, when Israel’s rejection of the King and His kingdom was complete.
We can now look back and see that the Lord’s words would allow for the truth of the one body, but they certainly would not have been interpreted in that way by those who heard Him. The very thought of the Gentile being the peer of Israelites would have been anathema to the Jew and contrary to the teaching of the OT (see Num. 23: 9; Deut. 7: 6; 14: 2 etc.). Reading the truth of the mystery into Matthew 16 is a prime example of the blunder of trying to interpret Scripture by reading the present into the past. We must always interpret Scripture in the way that those originally addressed would have understood it. Failure to do so is the source of a multitude of errors among Christians.
Nowhere does Scripture indicate that the Lord came to found the Assembly—despite what some say. While we now know the wider truth that Christ came to save sinners (see 1 Tim. 1: 15), this does not set aside the fact that He came “to confirm the promises of the fathers; and that the nations should glorify God for mercy” (Rom. 15: 8, 9). Gentile blessing was revealed in the OT (see Gen. 12: 3; Is. 60: 3; Mic. 4: 2 etc.), but the mystery was not. It was hid in God (see Eph. 3: 9), not in the OT Scriptures. When the Christ was born, the word was not only “and [the] Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages, and of his kingdom there shall not be an end” (Luke 1: 32, 33) but also “a light for revelation of [the] Gentiles and [the] glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2: 31, 32). This has nothing to do with the Assembly, but refers to the millenial kingdom, for clearly Israel and the nations are viewed as distinct companies in these verses.
When the Baptist heralded the promised Messiah by preaching the baptism of repentance (see Mark 1: 4) to Israel, he promised that the Christ “shall baptise you with [the] Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16). This promise regarding the Holy Spirit was based on the prophecy of Joel 2: 28–32 and again refers to blessing in the kingdom. However, that generation of the nation beheaded John and crucified the Christ as the Lord foretold in Matt. 16: 21. Then, the public testimony to the Lord as the Christ on earth was to cease (v20). The disciples would have understood the words of v18 to mean that the Lord was to have an assembly, a called–out company, from Israel to Himself. At that time there nothing to indicate that Gentiles would be included.
Accordingly, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter’s preaching of repentance, echoing that of the Baptist’s, was addressed only to Jews. They were to save themselves from this “perverse generation” (Acts 2: 40). This salvation involved separation from that generation by baptism in view of the coming judgement if there was no national repentance. Peter based events on the OT prophecy of Joel, without claiming its fulfilment, saying, only “this is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2: 16). If the rest of the events, such as the moon turning to blood, had subsequently taken place, then the prophecy would have been fulfilled. His testimony was “Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 36). But the nation at Jerusalem did not repent, nor did the dispersion represented by “the chief of the Jews” (Acts 28: 17) and as a result, Israel was set aside in judgment, making way for the present testimony of the mystery recorded in Ephesians and Colossians, written after the history of Acts had closed. Throughout the time recorded in Acts, the Gentile is viewed as distinct from the Jew (see Acts 15: 19–21 etc.) and the testimony is that of the kingdom (see Acts 1: 3; 20: 25; 28: 23 etc.), not the mystery.