In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “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.” (Emphasis added). This marks the first time the word church is used to describe the followers of Christ, and I find it interesting that Jesus contrasts it with the “gates of hell.” The Church verses the gates of hell. So what is Jesus trying to convey when he compares the Church against the gates of hell?
To begin, let’s start with what a gate is. In first century Palestine (the context in which Jesus speaks) gates were very common. Cities and homes were enclosed by walls for protection and gates would allow people to enter and leave. You can see this in Luke 7:12 when it says, “As he drew near to the gate of the town…” In this passage, the town Jesus was about to enter was Nain. For Jesus to enter the town to preach the Kingdom of God to the people, he had to enter by the gate. We see this again in Matthew 7:13 when Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate.” A gate was a point of entry and exit.
The gate of a city was the weakest part of the wall due to its purpose of being opened. Therefore, it was substantially important for a town to have a strong gate, one that could withstand a great blow from their attackers and prevent entry. Many of you are familiar with the medieval picture of a battering ram. A battering ram was a large object that was able to produce a great force that would burst open a gate so that the army could lay siege to the city. So what does Jesus mean when he speaks of the gates of hell?
First, I think we need to understand that Jesus is not talking about Hell as a physical location, like Chicago. Jesus is talking about Hell in the sense of its power, hence “gates of hell.” The gates of hell are symbolic of the power of hell.
Second, I think we need to understand who are the citizens of this town who are being separated by the power of Hell? If we look at verse 13, Jesus begins the conversation with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Emphasis added). Therefore, I believe the citizens separated by the power of hell are people in general. The Bible, commonly, refers to these citizens as “the world.” These people are being held captive by the power of hell.
I think we see this in other passages such as 2 Corinthians 4:4, which says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan is the ruler of this world. He has enslaved all of humanity (the world) in his domain of darkness. He has shut up mankind behind the gates of hell. And this is what Jesus contrasts the Church against in Matthew 16.
In contrast to the people of the world, the Church is an assembly of God’s chosen people, called out of the world to trust and follow Jesus their Savior King. The Church is an army of fellow soldiers serving Jesus Christ. And Jesus has given his people the means to make entry into the great city of Babylon (the world) to free those who live under the power of Satan. In verse 16 Peter answers the question of who Christ is by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To this answer Jesus says, “On this rock I will build my church.” (Emphasis added). The “this” is not Peter, it is the revelation of who Christ truly is. Believing in the truth of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection is the key that unlocks the gates and frees those living behind the gates of hell.
And as Jesus says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” This means that the Church is not defensive, it is offensive. The Church is moving forward as soldiers advancing into the fallen world and expanding the kingdom of God. The Church is to be a battering ram bursting down the gates of hell and sieging this world for our King.
Currently in India, there are over 1.3 billion people. It is reported that only three percent are followers of Jesus. From the outside, it appears the gates of hell that surround this nation are strongly fortified, even appearing indestructible, but that is not how Jesus sees it. He has declared that he, not Satan, will claim final victory over the nation of India. And it is our commission to use the keys of the gospel to break down the gates of hell and free the captives. So join us as we partner together as soldiers of Christ to lay siege upon India with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. You can do this by praying, giving, or going. Check out our website for more information.
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28).