“… and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18, CSB)
This is Jesus’ very first mention of “the church” as he’s responding to Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah. That truth would be the bedrock of the church – the church would build on that cornerstone, but it would be rejected by some and be a stumbling block to others.
The Lord tells us that, “the Gates of Hades will not overpower it [His Church].” We’ve often read that phrase in a sense that it is a protective promise of Jesus…that we won’t be overcome by the devil. And it is true that Jesus makes that promise to us elsewhere. I feel like sometimes we think of the church as a P.O.W. camp…The war is raging around us, we’re barely surviving at the enemy’s pleasure, and we’re biding our time, waiting for liberation…waiting for Jesus’ return.
But not here. Jesus is talking about gates – gates don’t attack anyone. Gates exist to keep people out. Jesus is telling us that the church exists to take ground from the enemy…and the enemy cannot stop us. We’re storming the gates!
As you know, Jesus was a master teacher and would often use his surroundings to make a point. For instance, he taught his disciples about the vine and the branches (John 15) while they walked through a vineyard. We read in Matt. 16:13 that Jesus gave this teaching in Caesarea Philippi. There, at the base of Mt. Hermon, was a giant cave where the Greeks had worshiped the god Pan. The Canaanites had worshiped Baal. Human sacrifices had been made there. The book of 2 Enoch even claimed that 200 fallen demons lived in that cave…it was known universally as the “Gates of Hades.”
It was no accident that Jesus chose that place, known for Satanic activity, to prophetically claim his Messiahship. It was there that he declared war against Satan and his demons. And it was there that he established the means for that spiritual war: His Church. We will take those gates!
“They [Jesus’ Church] conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; for they did not love their lives to the point of death.” (Revelation 12:11, CSB)
I hope you’ll join us Sunday, in person or online, for my new sermon series Ekklesia: Recovering the Church’s Relevance.