Gates Don’t Go on the Offensive

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.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Kingdom | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Gates Don’t Go on the Offensive

  1. Jeff,

    I’m looking forward to this feature.

    As you stated, this is not a war against flesh and blood. But more than that, I think what some of us–I’ll throw myself into the lot because I’ve certainly been guilty of this at times–forget to realize is that there is no war per se between God and Satan. Satan is a created being just like we are. Satan is an angel so yes, he is powerful. But he is in no way equal to God is power. So when Jesus says “the gates of Hades will not prevail,” not only is it defensive but He’s reminding us that Satan is no match for God.

    Maybe I’m being to obvious on this point, but I think there are many who think God is always doing battle with Satan. He’s not. Who was cast out of heaven? Yup, ol’ Scratch! God kicked him out!

    Thanks Jeff!

  2. Jeff,

    I never thought about that verse in that way before.

    That is a perspective that Christians ought take to heart. WE are on the offensive! (say it with a Patton voice!)

  3. Joe,
    That is exactly my point. The sense of the verse that says that Hell’s power is no match for God’s is certainly accurate and there are other parts of Scripture that show us that there is a spiritual war going on, but Hell’s gates are not in the battle other than when they fall under the church’s advance. And they will always fall when we advance.

    Thanks for your comment. That is exactly the reason I want to do this. Sometimes it is good to get a “fresh look” at something we always assumed we knew.

  4. I look forward to this. This might help me out, a lot..with my skewed views and all.

  5. looking forward also!
    Now if you just explain that the verse you quoted did not establish the first Pope…

  6. Will,
    My latest post is in answer to your comment. Enjoy.

    I pray that it will be of some help to you. If you ever run across something that you want to ask about, feel free to email me or post the question in a comment thread. I can’t promise that I will always have a good answer, but I will always be willing to tell you what I do know and admit when I don’t know.

  7. I dont have your email address. So if you could give me that, I would gladly send you any questions!

  8. You can email me at

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