I am going to start a new feature for that small cadre of regular readers here that highlights verses and passages in Scripture that have been misused, misunderstood or misapplied. The first up on my list is Matthew 16:18.
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.
I bring this one up because I just saw it misused in a discussion on another blog this week. This has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus was instituting Peter as the foundation of the church (that is another misuse of this verse that could spawn it’s own post since Jesus is the foundation of the church). This particular misunderstanding or misuse comes in the phrase “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” This verse is often cited by people to show that the Church (universal or specific even) cannot be defeated by the powers of Hell. That isn’t what the verse is saying. Gates are a defensive fortification, not an offensive weapon. There is no implication in this verse that Hell is on the attack. Rather it is Hell that is on the defensive and will furthermore be unable to withstand that attack from God’s church. More simply it is stating that the power of Hell is no match for the power of the church.
I think the whole reason it is misunderstood has to do with the use of that word prevail or overcome in the English translations. It is true that Satan does attack and his demons as well. Paul said that we don’t war against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. He also describes a fight that is fought forward and not in retreat against an enemy who cannot withstand the power that is within us.
Maybe it is just a minor thing and I am being too critical, but can we stop talking about the gates of Hell as if they were about to jump out from behind the corner and “try to get us”? In reality, they are Satan’s last line of defense against the holy ones of God in assembly (ekklesia) and they are no match for His power.