“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)
Jesus says that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. If you are like me, then you usually think about this as Jesus protecting His church. When we think of it like this, the picture is that of all the powers of hell attacking the Church and Jesus protecting the church so that it isn’t defeated. We think about Jesus’ great prayer in John 17 where He said that He had not lost any of the disciples that the Father had given Him (Jn 17:12). Jesus had protected them from Satan’s attacks during their ministry and time with Jesus.
Then you take this same picture to the book of Acts and you see the young Church come under some heavy fire. As the church in Acts grew, the persecution against the church grew. The persecution grew to the point that believers were losing everything for their faith in Christ. Some even lost their lives because of their faith in Christ. Despite the persecution, Jesus protected the Church. Then you take this view to the Church since the book of Acts and you find that throughout history various groups and governments have tried to exterminate the Church. Despite their best efforts to destroy the Church, Jesus protected it and it continues today.
While this is very comforting and it certainly is true, I feel it is an incomplete picture of what is meant here. While few of us have ever fought in a war, we have probably all seen war movies. So let me ask you a question. Are gates offensive or defensive? Do people carry gates into battle and use them to assault the enemy? Or do people use gates to defend themselves from the attacks of the enemy? Gates are defensive.
The picture here doesn’t seem to be that of the church being defended against the attacks of the devil. The picture here isn’t that of the poor pitiful church just hunkering down trying to mind its own business and the mean ole devil keeps attacking it so Jesus has to protect it. The picture isn’t that of the Church being in a defensive position but in an offensive one. The Church is the one doing the attacking. The Church is doing an all out assault on the strongholds of hell and it is winning. Jesus will build His Church and as He does the gates of hell cannot stop it.
Think about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. He was never in a defensive posture. He was always in an offensive one. This seen in the many times the demons bowed before Him when the saw Him. This is seen when Jesus sent the disciples out to preach the Gospel and when they came back said He saw Satan falling from Heaven (Luke 10:17-19).
Think about the Church in the book of Acts. They were never in a defensive posture. They were always on the attack. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were saved (Acts 2). They were in the grips of the enemy, blinded to truth about Jesus until Peter preached the message about Jesus. Then they repented of their sins, believed in Jesus and they were saved. At that point, they had been snatched from the grips of the enemy.
Even when the Church was persecuted and was forced to flee from Jerusalem, they were on the attack. The Bible says that they went everywhere preaching about Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). As they went from Jerusalem preaching the message about Jesus, people repented of their sins, believed in Jesus and they were saved. They went throughout the known world attacking the devils strongholds and freeing those that he was holding hostage.
Don’t buy the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ is a poor pitiful organization that is trying to mind its business, live its life and is mercilessly attacked by the devil but thankfully Jesus protects it. The Church is neither poor nor pitiful. It is the most powerful force in the world because Jesus Christ Himself works through His Church. The Church is also not trying to mind its own business and live its own life. The Church is on a mission to make disciples of all nations. This will never be popular and there will always be people who oppose it. Yet Jesus will work through His Church and He will conquer through His Church. It may not always seem like it but in the end Jesus wins and His Church gets to be a part of that.