There Shall Be Mockers

by Tom Wacaster

Webster’s On Line Dictionary defines mockery thus: “behavior or speech that makes fun of someone or something in a hurtful way : mocking behavior or speech.” Unfortunately, when men find themselves on the wrong side of an argument, or when the evidence implicates someone who has obviously committed a wrongdoing, rather than “fess up” (as one country fellow used to put it), they mock those who oppose them. I had a debate more than a decade ago with a denominational preacher who refused to bow to the word of God. His arguments were weak; the Scriptures overpowering. Rather than admit his error, he began to mock the very idea that sins were forgiven at the point of baptism. In one of his negative speeches he mocked me and God’s word: “Mr. Wacaster believes that salvation is in the water. That you meet Jesus in a tub of water. Pull the plug and, ‘swoosh,’ Jesus goes down the drain!” When I stood to respond I warned him, “Before you mock a doctrine you should first determine if it is the truth. If baptism is for remission of sins, as I affirm, then you are mocking God; you are ridiculing a divine ordinance.”

Jude had this to say concerning mockers: “In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit”  (Jude 18). Peter weighed in thus: “knowing this first, that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God” (2 Pet. 3:3-5). In both cases it is evident that those who did the mocking were in rebellion against God; and in both cases inspiration says they will face the judgment for their ridicule of God.

Through the years the Lord’s church has received more than its share of ridicule. In the early days of the restoration movement those who opposed the effort would call us “Campbellites.” That mockery would extend into successive generations of New Testament Christians. Some years back I wrote a series of articles in the local paper on the subject of baptism. A local denominational preacher attempted to answer. But as is often the case, his answer was not an appeal to the Bible, but to emotion. His attacks were against the “man,” void of any Scripture, sound reasoning, or simple logic. He called my position on baptism a “doctrine right out of the pits of hell.” No doubt many of us have been the recipients of those funny little jokes that tell of members of the church of Christ who, at a latter time have finally arrived in heaven and are living off in some little corner by themselves, while those who pass by do so quietly because we think we are “the only ones in heaven.” All such efforts fall under the category of mockery.  They may arouse the emotions but they do not address the issues. The mockery of Tobiah and Sanballat did not seek to question the authority of Nehemiah, the vision he had, or the determination to build. Why is it that so many religious “errorists” [if there is such a word] think they establish their case by ridiculing the truth? Atheists, evolutionists, humanists, and the immoral gay community may ridicule, but their mockery is but a weak response to truth.

This is not to say that ridicule is not effective, nor is it always wrong. When one is on the  side of truth and has established his case, an occasional mockery may be effective. Take the case of Elijah when he mocked the prophets of Baal. After every attempt was made on the part of the idol worshippers to have Baal answer their cries, Elijah “mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked” (1 Kings 18:27). One of the most effective preachers and debaters of the past century was G.K. Wallace. He could use mockery effectively, but only because he was on the side of truth, and he “answered a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 25:5). In his debate with Ray Vaughn, brother Wallace was addressing Vaughn’s misunderstanding of the use of a dictionary. He first asked Vaughn and his moderator, “Do you fellows know the difference between a history and a dictionary?” When they did not answer, brother Wallace responded: “Some of you boys in the fifth reader get him off tomorrow and tell him the difference between a history and a dictionary.” 

While ridicule may intimidate the weak, the faithful will not be moved by mockery. To be shaken by the mockery of our enemies will prove disastrous. Peter was moved by the mockery of those about the campfire and he ended up denying his Lord. Israel listened to the mockery of the ten spies who said, “We are like grasshoppers in their sight,” and it cost them 40 years of wandering in the desert. If we are moved by mockery it will be because we love this world more than our Father in heaven. If we are moved by mockery fear will invade our hearts and ridicule will rule our action.  The key to overcoming cowardice in the face of mockery is to die to self. 

The following item will serve as a fitting close to these thoughts:


When you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don't sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence, that is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality [sic], or any annoyance; when you stand face-to-face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility -- and endure it as Jesus endured, that is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any society, any raiment, any interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendations, when you can truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances, that is dying to self.

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart, that is dying to self.


by Tom Wacaster

The ancient library of Alexandria is said to have contained more than 700,000 books. That pales, however, in comparison to the Library of Congress, containing more than 11 million catalogued books. If you have ever had the opportunity to step into the halls of that vast collection of books you know what I mean when I say the sheer magnitude of books contained therein swallows you up the moment you walk through the front door. I have heard that the late Guy N. Woods had a personal library in excess of 9,000 books. B.C. Goodpasture had a five room house in which he stored his vast library of books; all stacked from floor to ceiling with only a narrow path to pass between. He was once asked if he had read all of the books, to which he replied, “No, but I plan to.” Some collect books for the mere sake of collecting books; something that seems frivolous and foolish to me. Sir Thomas Phillips set as his goal to collect every printed paper available. People tried to help him by dropping off boxes of books. Unfortunately, they weren’t usable since they weren’t organized in any way. The floors of his house were about to collapse from the weight of the books so he decided to move. It took 230 horses, 130 wagons, and 160 men to move the books to a new house. Some were left behind when the wagons broke down. His daughters could afford only one dress and he was nearly always in bankruptcy because of his obsession for books. But the books didn't help him. He was so busy gathering books he had no time to read them. What happened to his books?  His family was still selling them 100 years after his death.

While my library is minuscule in comparison to some preachers whom I have known, I consider myself blessed to have amassed a considerable number of books. If you were to walk into my office, several hundred books line the north wall, all of which I have read; some more than once. The east wall contains commentaries (most of which I have read, and many which I have repeatedly used in my studies over the years). When Johnnie Ann and I moved to South Africa we crated up somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 boxes of household goods, clothes, and books; of which 40 of those boxes contained books. When the movers were unloading those boxes of books there in Port Elizabeth, one of the men, after handling about ten of those boxes, asked me what they contained that made them so heavy. I said, “Books!” After one or two more trips from the truck to the house he commented, “You must really be a smart man to have all those books!” I responded, “No—that’s why I need the books.”

Guy N. Woods had a love for books, and expressed that love and admiration in an editorial in the Gospel Advocate, from which comes the following: “Books are history’s most priceless heritage, the storehouse of the wisdom of the ages. Were it not for them, but little, very little of man’s thrilling past would be known and preserved for us and the struggle of mankind through the ages only imperfectly realized. To consort with those who lived in ages past, reliving their experiences and profiting by their mistakes and rejoicing in their triumphs is surely one of the noblest and grandest privileges vouchsafed to man. Blessed indeed is he who has made books his friends. They are ever present to stir his emotions, cheer his heart and edify his mind; and, when on occasion they are neglected, they exhibit no resentment, upbraid him not, but patiently wait his pleasure to flood his heart and mind again with their precious stock of rich resources. A collection of good books is a fairyland of delight, a storehouse of treasure, providing a haven from the world’s current distresses, putting all who choose in the company of the earth’s greatest philosophers, its most noble thinkers and its wisest minds” (Gospel Advocate, November 1991, page 32).

Solomon had something to say about books: “And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12). There are two things in that verse that catch my attention. First, “of the making of many books there is no end.” Twenty years ago it was reported that 175,000 new books were printed annually. That was before the age of digital books and Kindle Readers. The second thing Solomon said is something I have experienced personally: “Much study is a weariness of the flesh.” To that I simply say, “Amen!”

Unfortunately, much of what is printed today is not worth the paper it is printed on. Wayne Jackson addressed this very point some years ago, and no doubt things have gotten worse in this category. “When one contemplates the vast number of volumes on biology, zoology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, etc., that are rank with materialistic theories of origins and skeptical concepts of the diversity of living organisms, he encounter a vast library of pathetic ignorance couched in mere phraseology that is wild with speculation and void of concrete evidence. If one may borrow a hyperbole from the apostle John, not all the books of the entire world  are capable of containing the bizarre religious theories that humanity has concocted as substitutes for divine revelation. From the mysticism of the Far East, to the violence-laced confusion of the Middle East, to the myriads of absurd doctrines in both Catholicism and Protestantism—that have faint whispers of Christian teaching in the shadows—there is a maze of literary confusion” (Christian Courier, February 2006). Much of what is sold in bookstores, particularly the religious section, is nothing more than spiritual cotton candy; it tastes good as it goes in, dissolves quickly, and adds nothing of significant value to those who eat thereof. 

One more observation is in order. Christians should go about building a good personal library. Most important of all, they should spend time in the Book of books. All else is inconsequential so far as the value and lasting effect any single book will have upon your life. With regard to reading, brother Woods had these comments: “There is, I think, no work in which man engages in which there is such great obligation to be both efficient and proficient. Great though one’s natural talents are, no man approaches his potential who is indolent in mind, who does not enjoy and use good books. He who brings within reach of lost humanity life eternal, sows the seed of immortality, contributes to the well being of those involved in a fashion not otherwise possible and while so doing faithfully serves his Creator. To achieve these goals, one must study. Great though a man's native talents are and respectable his formal education, I have never known one to attain to his potential in life who is mentally lazy, intellectually indolent and has little or no regard for good books.” I’ll close with this beautiful poem by Wordsworth:

Books are yours,
Within whose silent chambers treasure lies
Preserved from age to age; more precious far
Than that accumulated store of gold and orient gems
Which, for a day of need,
The sultan hides deep in ancestral tombs.
These  hoards of truth you can unlock at will.

Tax Day And Other Oddities

by Tom Wacaster

Before you brand me as a zealot opposed to government occupation, overtaxing, and bureaucratic domination, let me assure you that I take Romans chapter 13 very seriously; as should all Christians. April 15th has long been the butt of jokes, one-liners, and humorous stories dating back, no doubt, to the moment when our Congress came up with a federal income tax and then designated this date for the filing and collection of said taxes. Ronald Reagan is credited with the following: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” A generation earlier, Winston Churchill observed, “There is no such thing as a good tax.” Will Rogers, one whose wisdom was ahead of his time, humorously observed, “We don’t seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?” Here is one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek articles regarding our obligation to pay taxes and its effect on the ability of some to give to charitable contributions. Evidently (whether real or imaginary) someone was asked one too many times to give to some charitable organization, and thus sent the following letter:

Dear sir:

In reply to your request to send a check, I wish to inform you that present conditions of my bank account make it almost impossible. My shattered financial condition is due to: Federal laws, State laws, County laws, outlaws and in-laws. Through these laws, I am compelled to pay a business tax, amusement tax, school tax, water tax, state tax, gas tax, light tax, income tax, phone tax, sales tax, food tax, furniture tax and excise tax.  I am required to get a business license, car license, operator’s license, truck license, not to mention a marriage license and a dog license. 

I am also required to contribute to every society and organization which the genius of man is capable of bringing to life: to women’s relief, the unemployed relief, and the gold diggers relief; also to every hospital and charitable institution in the city including the Community Chest, Red Cross, Purpose Cross, White Cross and Double Cross, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, all way stations for wayward girls, Boys Ranch and Boys Town, Girls Ranch and Girls Town. 

For my own safety I am required to carry health insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, fire insurance, property insurance, liability insurance, earthquake insurance, tornado insurance, unemployment insurance and old age insurance.

My business is so governed that it is no easy matter to find out who owns it. I am expected, inspected, suspected, disrespected, rejected, dejected. I am examined, re-examined, informed, required, summoned, fined, commanded and compelled until I provide an inexhaustible supply of money for every known need, desire or hope of the human race. Simply because I refuse to donate to something or other I am boycotted, talked about, lied about, held up, held down and robbed, until I am almost ruined.

I can tell you honestly that except for a miracle that happened I would not be able to enclose this check. The wolf that comes to so many doors nowadays just had pups in my kitchen. I sold them and here is the money.

I don’t know who wrote that, but I chuckle every time I read it anew. I hope these personal observations about taxes will help those of you who plan to burn the midnight oil tonight in order to get your forms stamped by the local Post Office before the day expires. 

As for the “other oddities,” I’ll share with you a little column I wrote almost ten years ago. Keep the time frame in mind as you read my comments:

I want my readers to know that I am not in the habit of reading the tabloids at the local newspaper stand.  I certainly would not spend the money on such papers, though I have been tempted to buy one just to see what lies behind the front page “eye catchers.” Well, I was recently visiting in the home of some long time acquaintances (I’ll not mention their name, but their initials are Ed and Nelda Clark), and this good sister in Christ handed me the March 20, 2006 issue of the “Weekly World News.” I was assured that someone gave it to her, so I was relieved to know that she, too, was very cautious as to where she obtained her daily dose of news. The front headline immediately caught my eye:  “Computer Virus Spreads to Humans.” I was a little skeptical, but my skepticism immediately disappeared when I noticed the disclaimer on the front of the paper: “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper.” So with that assurance, it was full speed ahead to get the scoop on this amazing technological and medical discovery. As I turned to page 26, the sub-header read: “Watch out PC owners. There’s something far worse for your computer than malicious hacking: dry hacking.” No doubt there had been an extensive study of this malicious virus to human infection, so I read with great interest of the first (out of who knows how many hundreds or thousands of cases) official report of the symptoms and treatment. The symptoms included a repeated warning that would appear on the screen, “system error: you will loose all unsaved information” (sic). The computer Tech had never seen anything like this, and concluded that the “computer had somehow caught a human virus.” Back at Tech (no doubt the name of their research lab), experiments with nanotechnology suggested that “biological viruses could bind with particles of silicon and infect a machine’s microprocessors.” The result? Elevated machine temperature, accelerated activity, just like a fever; there was green and yellow discharge from the machine’s port, called a ‘runny node.’” After careful study the folks at Tech decided to issue a warning: “It’s only a matter of time before the machine’s modified strain starts infecting people.” Their worst fears evidently came to pass. One “unofficial documented case” told of a man catching a computer virus:  “Pete knew a professor back at Tech who accidentally broke a vial full of silicone-clad viruses. He was never the same. He was freezing all the time - not cold, but blank and unresponsive, with an hour glass shaped glint in his eye. And his personality changed. Like a failing hard drive, he was no longer as magnetic. He also suffered memory loss and printing problems. He had to write all of his equations in cursive. The professor’s hair turned a lovely copper before he passed away.” The cure: “We recommend staying away from an afflicted computer and covering its fans with handkerchiefs. It’s not worth the risk. We can treat an infected machine with a little warmth from the motherboard. But if you’re exposed, it’s a one-way trip to reboot hill.” 

It is very doubtful that anyone who read that report in “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper” actually believed a word of what was printed, but it was “interesting,” and provided a really good laugh. But you know what? There are some folks out there who are telling stories about religious experiences that are just as incredible, just as ridiculous, and just as unbelievable.  When I read of someone paying $500 for a cheese sandwich wrapped in a sealed baggie for no other reason than the fact that it had an image of some departed saint, or someone claiming that they saw a man’s leg grow back after someone slapped him on the forehead, or someone wallowing in the church isle and frothing at the mouth, my interest is peaked for a moment, but upon further investigation, I realize that these religious “stories” are just as incredible, perhaps even more incredible, than someone claiming that a computer virus can somehow be transmitted to human beings. And while we may laugh at the tabloid that ran this most unbelievable story, for some reason I don’t get the impression that a lot of what we read and hear in the religious tabloids today are really that funny.  Do you?

Have a happy tax day, and watch out for computer viruses. Meanwhile, I hope you have a good week (or what is left of it).

A Much Needed Verse

by Tom Wacaster

In John 14:6 our Lord made an astonishing statement; one that could only be made by a divine being. Here is what Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The construction shows that the three nouns, “way, truth, and life” are co-ordinate. Jesus was saying, “I am the way, I am the truth, and I am the life” (the emphasis is mine, TW). He is the “way” for those who are lost, the “truth” for those in ignorance, and the “life” for those who are spiritually dead. If the first part of the verse is true (and it is), then the second part is a demanded conclusion. Bruce quotes Thomas Kempis:

Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If thou remain in my way thou shalt known the truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold on eternal life (Bruce, 299).

Each of the three nouns is exclusive. There is only one way, one truth, and one ultimate life at the end of that way. Truth is the essential element in this, for without an absolute standard of truth one could never know whether or not he were walking in the right path. Pick up an outdated road map and attempt to make a journey that requires precise directions and you will quickly learn what I’m talking about. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Perhaps some of our Senate investigations of the past have been tempted to ask the same question. Now we are told that the CEO’s of corporate America are being called into question for their business ethics, and it seems as if they have been infected with a case of “I-do-not-recall-itis” [if I may be allowed to coin a new term]. Much of the dishonesty, lying and cover-up that has plagued our nation, especially in politics but not limited thereto, has put a damper on the desire on the part of some to search for the truth and/or the ability of some to tell the truth. It is a fact, however, that truth is truth, and all the lying and cover-up will not change a lie into truth. Political correctness, coupled with a “relativistic” approach to life’s moral, ethical, and spiritual issues may be popular in this 21st century, but it has an eroding effect upon the love for truth and the pursuit of the same in the lives of the average man. Are we really surprised to find corporate CEO’s who “cook the books” to make the company look good? During the Clinton Presidency we were told that moral integrity has nothing to do with job performance, and the Chief CEO in the political halls of America manifested a complete lack of respect for others while seeking his own self-gratification at the expense of the people whom he had been elected to serve. When called into question for ethical misconduct, he who occupied the White House in Washington D.C. lied under oath, and although reprimanded for perjury, was never punished. The American people, fueled by the liberal media and political spin masters, were convinced that morals have no bearing upon job performance. So why should we be shocked when corporate America simply follows his example? Unfortunately this disrespect for truth has been around since the creation of man. But by the same token, when disrespect for truth infiltrates the very fabric and foundation of a society, self-destruction is not far away. It was noted by one historian that America’s greatness was to be found in her churches. While we in no way condone religious division, we recognize that the spiritual make up of our founding fathers played a large part in God’s providential blessings in the establishment of this nation and its preservation through the years. I wish I could say that only the political and business circles were infected with a large disregard for the truth, but such is not the case. The religious scandals that have rocked “Christendom” in the last twenty five years have opened the door of secrecy so that we are now getting a glimpse into the religious corruption that comes as a result of a lack of love for the truth. From Protestantism to Catholicism, the Roberts, Bakkers, ‘Reverends,’ and polluted priesthood of America’s religious leaders, make it quite evident that truth has fallen on hard times. Lies are told in the name of religion, the “people” are duped into believing a falsehood, and the truth, once again, suffers. Is it any wonder that some prominent theologians are declaring that truth is unattainable, and that even if attained, it is constantly changing? The American people, due in part to gullibility and in part to ignorance, have bought this notion that truth is some mystic, far away, unreachable ideology, and have long since ceased the search for truth. We have left it up to the “preachers” to do the searching for us, and we act shocked when these “religious racketeers” take us to the cleaners. Dear reader, only the truth will make you free. Forget the dishonest political leaders, the hypocritical religious leaders, the unethical corporate leaders, and the failure of so many to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and get on with searching out the truth for yourself. Therein is freedom. Therein is life. Tenney expressed these same sentiments well:

Truth is the scarcest commodity in the world. All the philosophers had sought for it; none had attained it. No one mind was great enough to grasp it; no one personality was pure enough to achieve it by conduct. Truth is neither an abstract system of integrated propositions, nor is it an impersonal ethic contained in many rules. It is both the reality and the ethic expressed in a person who is more flexible than legal rigidity and incomprehensible abstraction, and who is, notwithstanding, unchanging and consistent (Tenny, 215).

Returning to the text, pay close attention to the pronoun “I.” It is emphatic and has the meaning of, “I (and no other) am the way, the truth, and the life.” Only a divine being could have spoken words like these and not be guilty of blasphemy. Being the “way,” He - and He alone - can show the true path to heaven. Being the truth, He - and He alone - presents the embodiment of what is necessary to impart immortality. This is why He declared, “No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” These words stress the exclusive path that leads to salvation. There is no other way to go unto the Father but through Jesus Christ, as set forth by His delegated ambassadors, and proclaimed in every generation by faithful members of His body, the church. If the Lord’s statement seems somewhat exclusive (and to some, even offensive), the student must keep in mind that it is the incarnate Word Who thus speaks. I’ll close this week’s article with a quote that hit the proverbial nail on the head. Bruce wrote:

If God has no avenue of communication with mankind apart from his Word (incarnate or otherwise), mankind has no avenue of approach to God apart from that same Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to supply such an avenue of approach. Jesus’ claim, understood in the light of the prologue to the Gospel is inclusive, not exclusive. All truth is God’s truth, as all life is God’s life; but God’s truth and God’s life are incarnate in Jesus (Bruce, 298-299).

I Will Build My Church

by Tom Wacaster

The title of this week’s article contains the words of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 16:18. The verse, in its entirety, reads: “And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” This is the first time that the word “church” appears in our English translations. There are a number of things to note in these words which, if carefully observed and faithfully applied by all professing to be of the Christian faith, would have an immediate and dramatic impact on the spiritual landscape of our country. Taking the verse, with all of its constituent parts, we can break it down into at least four significant phrases, with each phrase setting forth an important truth relative to the church that Jesus promised to build.

“I” - Jesus is the builder. Jesus knew what it meant to build things, for His earthly step-father was a carpenter. I have no doubt that Joseph taught Jesus the fundamentals of carpentry. We have no record of Jesus having ever built a physical house, a piece of furniture, or a structure of any kind. Had He done so, men might have turned any structure He made into some kind of shrine. That is not to say that Jesus never built anything prior to the establishment of His church. Consider the words of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made” (John 1:1-3).  The Hebrews writer tells us that Jesus upholds “all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). I sometimes muse regarding the beauty and quality of work our Lord has demonstrated in the making of the universe. No doubt He was a master builder, the beauty and design of the work of His hands manifesting His wisdom and power. So, when Jesus said He would build His church, I can be confident that every facet of that divine institution is of the highest quality, meeting the spiritual needs of those who make up His body. Since Jesus is the builder of His church, then any religious group that was not built by Jesus Christ cannot be the church of my Lord. That may sound simplistic to those who are members of the one body, but to a world caught up in denominational mentality, it is a truth that is not only strange to their hearing, but confusing to their minds.

“Will Build” - The entire work, from laying the foundation on the solid ‘rock,’ to the completion of the superstructure, was yet in the future at the time Jesus spoke these words. There is an element of predictive prophecy contained in the words of Jesus. We have the benefit of almost 2,000 years of history by which we can measure the sheer magnitude of the promise of Jesus. This kingdom, as prophesied by Daniel, has truly broken in pieces and consumed the kingdoms of the world (Dan. 2:44). Who, living at the time Jesus made this promise, would have ever imagined that the gospel would, within the lifetime of those apostles, be “preached in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23)? Consider this quote from Harry Rimmer, in his book, The Evidences for Immortality:

In the day when Christ died, Rome was utterly pagan. From one end of her empire to the other, from center to circumference, idolatry and paganism reigned supreme. The single exception was the monotheism of Judea. It is, therefore, a startling discovery to find that fifty years after Jesus died on the gallows of Rome there was a church reared to His memory and for His worship in every principle city of the Roman Empire!  Two hundred and fifty years after Christ died for the sins of man, half the Roman Empire had accepted the gospel of redemption through His shed blood.

At the time Jesus spoke those words contained in Matthew 16:18, there was nothing, from a human point of view, that would even suggest that the kingdom Jesus would establish would bring Rome to its knees. When the Lord made that promise near Caesarea Philippi, many of His would-be followers had already turned away. The inner circle of disciples, those who would be appointed as apostles, had doubts and questions, not to mention that one of them would soon betray the Lord. He had no army, no funds, no political power, and a diminishing following. Yet still Jesus promised, “I will build my church.”

“My” - This two letter pronoun is packed with significance. Not only is Jesus the builder of the church; He also possesses the church. It is His by right of origination to the same extent that an earthly business is owned by its builder. That two letter pronoun, “my,” implies preeminence, as pronounced by the apostle Paul: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Let men learn the meaning of that one word, “preeminence,” and then let them apply it in all aspects of Christian living, and forever gone would be the multitude of denominational terms and titles so revered by men. How anyone, in his right mind, with any degree of reason or common sense, can read that two letter pronoun, and then conclude that it makes no difference what church one belongs to, remains a mystery to me. The signs that appear on the edifices erected to one’s personal preferences in religion are as multitudinous as the buildings themselves. Yet the simple designations penned by the Holy Spirit always pay tribute to the One Who built and purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). I cannot think of a term more concise, more compact, while at the same time showing respect and honor to Jesus Christ, than the inspired words used by Paul: “The churches of Christ salute you” (Rom. 16:16).

“Church” - The word church means “the called out.” When Jesus said He would build His church, He was not talking about a physical structure. He was going to build a “spiritual house,” consisting of “living stones,” to be a “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). This He has accomplished in a most remarkable fashion. It is important to notice that the word “church” is singular. Jesus said He would build His church; not churches. Why is this so difficult for men to grasp? Paul tells us, “There is one body, and one spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). Earlier Paul had identified that body as the church: “And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). There is one body, and the body is the church! That there is, therefore, only one church, is as clear as night follows day. Yet men still deny it.

The verse does not end with the five words or phrases we have examined. Our Lord added these encouraging words: “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”  I have no doubt that McGarvey was correct when he made the following comment on these words:

Hades is contemplated as a walled city waging war against the Church. Its gates are made the symbols of its power, because the military forces of an ancient city always issued forth from its gates, and the gates may be considered as sending them out. All the powers by which hades, the place of disembodied spirits, assails the Church, are included in the figure, the powers of demons, of Satan, and of death. The text is a pledge that the Church would never be tempted into total apostasy, nor be depopulated by the death of all its members (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

Next time you read those familiar words in Matthew 16:18, take a moment to pause and consider the words; all the words, and each of the words. And then pause and give thanks to our Father in heaven for His divine wisdom in seeing to it that the church became, and remains a reality even to this day.
Brother Alexander has informed me that the first volume of my two volume commentary on John will be ready to pick up this week. I’ll still make these available at the prepublication price for those who desire a copy. You can purchase both volumes for $30, plus $2.02 tax (and shipping where applicable). Volume 2 will be ready this fall.