“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17-19
Matthew 16:17-19 is one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. Rome bases its claims to Petrine authority primarily upon this entry. But today I would like to focus on just a small portion of the passage:
“…the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church).” – Matthew 16:18
I listen to a lot of Catholic talk radio strictly for research purposes and over and over again I have heard Catholic apologists present this verse as a prophetic promise of the alleged perpetuity and authority of the Catholic church, that from the time the church was founded on Pentecost to the papacy of Francis, the Catholic church would perpetually withstand the onslaughts of Satan and his demons.
But is that what the verse is actually saying? The Greek word for “gates,” Πύλη, pýlē, literally means “door-gates,” which Catholics interpret in a metaphorical sense as the “seat of power” of Satan. But “gates” can be interpreted more literally and properly here as the entryway into hell.
John MacArthur comments on this verse:
“Gates of Hades: Hades is the place of punishment for the spirits of dead unbelievers, entered at death. This Jewish phrase then refers to death. Even death, the ultimate weapon of Satan, has no power to stop the church. The blood of the martyrs, in fact, has led to the growth of the church in size and spiritual power.” – p. 1155, The MacArthur Bible Commentary
In his commentary compilation, J. Vernon McGee writes of Matthew 16:18:
“The ‘gates of hell’ refers to death. The word used for hell is the Greek word hades, the sheol of the Old Testament, which refers to the unseen world and means “death.” The gates of death shall not prevail against Christ’s church. One of these days the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. That shout will be like the voice of an archangel and like a trumpet because the dead in Christ are to be raised. The gates of death shall not prevail against His church.” – Thru-the-Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew Through Romans, p. 92.
There are some American evangelicals who interpret this portion of Matthew 16:18 as a battle-cry for the church to storm Satan’s kingdom and “reclaim America for Jesus,” but is that the sense that Christ meant? See Kevin DeYoung’s article below:
A Closer Look at the Gates of Hell
“The promise in Matthew 16 is not about venturing out on some Dungeons and Dragons spiritual crusade, but about Christ’s guarantee that the church will not be vanquished by death.” – Kevin DeYoung
So Matthew 16:18 is not a prophecy of the perseverance of the Roman Catholic church or a triumphal rallying cry for the militant evangelical church in America to reclaim the country, but rather a promise to the Body of genuine believers (church/ekklasia/called out ones) that death will not prevail over them, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, who overcame the gates of hell (death) for all who trust in Him.
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:54
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me, to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” – Isaiah 61:1
While I personally believe there has always been a remnant of genuine believers since Pentecost, the Catholic church as an institution devolved long ago into anti-Scriptural legalism, ritualism, and worldiness to the point of being the antithesis of the New Testament church.
Do you have a different view of “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church)”? Comments are welcome.