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God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Rock who satisfies our thirst (John 7:37; I Corinthians 10:4).

There is a verse I’ve taught many times that documents how the church is built on Jesus and not on Peter.

Matthew 16:18:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [petros, a pebble, stone, or fragment of a rock], and upon this rock [petra, a large mass of rock, a ledge, or cliff] I will build my church; and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it.

The word play* upon petros and petra was intended to draw our attention to them and bring them into special prominence.  The two words differ in both gender and meaning.  Christ and not Peter is the rock or foundation stone upon which the church is built (I Corinthians 3:10-12).  The Old Testament associated the idea of the rock with the strength, greatness, and steadfastness of God (Deuteronomy 32:3-4; Psalms 18:2, 46), and Jesus as His only begotten son represented Him in these respects.

However, I always seemed to glide over the phrase, “gates of hell” without explanation.  Several identify the gates of hell with the gates of the grave and suggest that it is a euphemism for death (Isaiah 38:10).  However, Revelation 20:14 separates death and hades noting both are cast into the lake of fire.  To understand what “the gates of hell” properly communicates, we must consider the biblical culture and the figure of speech metonymy.

Ancient cities were surrounded by walls.  The gates by which they were entered were the ordinary place for transacting business, administering justice and conducting trials.  People met there to discuss news, engage in commerce, and deliberate on public matters.

The council of the elders met in the gates (Proverbs 31:23).  Lot sat as an elder in the gates of Sodom (Genesis 19:1).  Abraham negotiated a land purchase with Ephron in the gates of the city (Genesis 23:10).  In Genesis 34:20, Hamor and Shechem, came to the gate and in a forum asked if Israel would approve of a marriage between Shechem and Dinah (This did not end well (Genesis 34:1-31).  Boaz conducted the kinsman redemption of Ruth with the elders in the gates (Ruth 4:1ff).  Eli conducted priestly administration in the gates (I Samuel 4:12-18).  Absalom made kingly decisions in the gates while stealing the hearts of the people away from his father David (II Samuel 15:2-5).  Nehemiah 8:1 tells us that Ezra the scribe read the law to the people gathered together in the broad place before the water gate.  Gates, the place where leadership was exercised, became the natural symbol of the people who exercised power there.

Gates is put by metonymy for the persons that exercised power there (II Samuel 19:8).  The phrase, gates of hell, is intended to figuratively bring to mind those who exercise power there.  It mainly refers to the devil who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).  Although the devil and his entourage will by all means imaginable attempt to prevail, they shall not succeed.  Neither the plots and strategies nor the strength of Satan and his evil spirits will ever prevail against Christ’s Church.  “Hell” is put in Matthew 16:18 in contrast to “heaven” in Matthew 16:19 (Matthew 11:23) juxtaposing the two kingdoms.

Although there will be antagonism and hostility, be fully assured hell will not prevail against heaven.  Prevail in Matthew 16:18 is the first of three uses of katischuō which means to be strong to another’s detriment, to prevail against, to be superior in strength, or to overpower.  There is nothing any of the principalities, the powers, or the rulers of the darkness of this world can do to prevail over Christ’s church (Ephesians 6:10-20).  Jesus assures us that we are his and nothing can pluck us from his hand (John 10:27-29).  We have the whole armour of God at our disposal.  The final chapter has been written, greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).  Let’s be sure we believe Christ’s words and act like it.

  * Paregmenon is the repetition of words derived from the same root when the words are similar in origin and sound, but different in meaning.