This Week's Focus Passage

‘I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’

Focus Passage: Matthew 16:18

‘I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’

This blessed promise given to us in Matthew’s account of the life and ministry of our Savior has filled saints with hope for these two millennia since first uttered from the lips of Christ Himself. He has said it and He will perform it. We have the faithful promise of Him who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It may be that this blessedness and hope has been overshadowed during those selfsame millennia by the controversy that has been brought forth over the understanding of the pericope, or context, in which they are found. The context regarding the giving of the ‘keys of the kingdom’ unto Peter has been made use of by the Roman Catholic Church to support its teaching that Peter is the Vicar of Christ rather than God the Holy Spirit. And the ‘trickle-down’ theory of apostolic succession has evolved from that tenet of Rome, whereby every priest of Rome has been given, by the laying on of hands ultimately going in a sort of chain all the way back to Peter, the prerogative of binding and loosing individuals from the guilt and condemnation of their sins. If indeed the wonder of Christ’s promise to build His own church is cast into the shade it is a most sorrowful circumstance of men not seeing the trees for the forest. They are more concerned with who will sit on the right hand or the left hand of Christ than they are longing to see His church builded up in that most holy faith handed down by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the truth as it is in Christ. Here He has declared that He will so build His church that even the very gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. What a blessed promise from our Champion who has never yet failed to keep His Word, and never will.

But what does the Holy Spirit intend by this expression, The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it? What is to be understood by Hades? Many understand that this asserts that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church; that while the church is engaged in this conflict and contest with the powers of Hell, that nonetheless, because Christ has determined to build His Church, the powers of Hell will not win this contest; they will not be able to prevail over the Church of Christ. This puts the Church of Christ in a defensive position, does it not? It suggests that Hell, or the powers of Hell, are perennially accosting the Church of Jesus Christ, but that Hell, or its advocates, or its demons, or its power will not be able to prevail against her; the Church will survive at last. There are those among postmillennialists believing, contrariwise, that the picture here set before the eyes of our faith is that of the Church on the attack. The postmillennial view has been stated succinctly in the words of one of its foremost advocates, Lorraine Boettner, when he said, ‘The millennium to which the postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church Age.’ While we may not be able to agree with that perspective from which many of their number derive the view of the Church being on the offensive in the battle rather than only playing defense, we can agree that the Church is to be playing offense. That is what may be found in these words of Christ. When He has said that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it, it may well mean that the gates of Hades shall not

be able to withstand the Church that Christ is building.

If we accept the view of many who contend that the word Hades, denotes the invisible world, the abode of the departed, then we have an entirely different and new battleground, or playing field, on which to determine what is being taught by the referent, gates of Hades. Confusion has come about over many years because of the popular King James Version—the Authorized Version, as many have called it—having supplied Hell, rather than Hades, in translating the Greek. We do incline to the view that what is here put before us in a picture form is that of the Church being built, thus growing and expanding, or we might say, advancing. How is this advance to be halted, or even contained? Jesus has promised that He is building His Church; He is advancing His Church. It shall not be halted; it shall not be contained, because He is the One building it, and it shall be built. I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. C. H. Spurgeon is representative of very many. He has commented upon this passage: ‘What Jesus builds is his own; “my church.” He makes his rock-founded building into a stronghold, against which the powers of evil lay continual siege, but all is in vain; for “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ The word rendered ‘prevail’ entails that of overcoming. And while it is true that the ‘gates of Hades’ shall not overcome the Church because it is the Christ who is building it, the gates of Hades are not even able to assail the Church. Gates are not an offensive weapon; they are strictly defensive. They represent the entrance to the place of the departed; they represent the grave. Death shall not prevail against the Church! It did not prevail against the Christ! It did not prevail against Stephen, the church’s first martyr. Death did not prevail against that litany of martyrs in Foxes book of martyrs. Read the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Revelation. The Church is made up of overcomers; prevailers, if you will. We read about this Church being built in Acts 19:20, So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed.

The question perhaps then becomes, ‘who is engaged in assaulting whom?’ And we are reminded of John Bunyan’s greatest allegory—second only to The Pilgrim’s Progress—namely, The Holy War. Bunyan has allegorically depicted the fall of the town of Mansoul which, of course, represents man having sold his soul into bondage unto Diabolus, the evil one. The remainder of the story is all about Prince Emmanuel coming to recover that which belongs unto Him. But the point is that Diabolis and his minions were then on the defensive while the Prince and His faithful ones were attacking the town. The Prince is the Head of His Church. The building of the Church is that of recovering those in bondage. This recovery is aggressive, but what John Bunyan knew, and what all of God’s people should know is that the victory is sure, for the battle has been won by our Champion at Golgotha.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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