THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL
Introduction: Matthew 16:13-19
This study comes from the section of Matthew where Jesus promised to build His church. Our title comes from the statement of the Lord in verse 18 where He said: “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (KJV; ESV). This is the first time in the New Testament that the word “church” is specifically used and I believe that there are a number of lessons that we can learn about the church from this section. While it really doesn’t matter what I might think, or what others might think about the church, it does matter concerning what God has said about it. Therefore, all people ought to be interested in what the Bible says about the church. In dealing with this subject I want us to notice three things. We will note the:
I. FOUNDER of the church.
II. FOES of the church.
III. FUTURE of the church.
I. THE FOUNDER OF THE CHURCH
A. As we think about the founder of the church that we read about in the Bible, let’s notice:
1. The Person.
It was Jesus who came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13a). It was Jesus who asked the question of the disciples (Matt. 16:13b). And it was Jesus who said “I” will build my church (Matt. 16:18). It is vitally important to understand that Jesus is the person who said He would build the church. It was not John the Baptist. It was not Elijah. It was not Jeremiah. It was not one of the prophets: Samuel, Elisha, Isaiah, David, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc. It was not Peter. It was not Andrew. It was not James. It was not John. It was not Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, Thaddeaus, Judas, or Paul. It was not Martin Luther, John Wesley, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Charles Russell, Alexander Campbell, or any other mere man. It was Jesus Christ – the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16). And while some thought that He was John the Baptist – possibly because of His courage. And some thought He was Elijah – possibly because of His conviction. And some thought that He was Jeremiah – possibly because of His compassion. And some thought he was one of the prophets – possibly because of His characteristics. He was neither, but greater than all of them combined and then some. He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is the person who said He would build the church.
2. The Promise.
The second thing we need to notice about the Founder is the promise that He made to build the church. He promised Peter that “upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18b). The “rock” on which He promised to build the church is the fact that Peter had just confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Therefore, Jesus is the foundation of the church. Paul clearly stated this fact in I Corinthians 3:11when he wrote, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (See I Cor. 10:4; I Peter 2:8; Eph. 2:20). As the song says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” All who become members of the church that He promised to build must believe, as Peter did, that HE is the Christ, the Son of the living God and Savior of the church (Acts 8:36-37; Rom. 10:9-10; Matt. 10:32). The statement, “I will build…” clearly indicates that the church was still future when this promise was made and stresses the fact that the church would definitely be built at some future time. He did not say I “might” build, or “may” build, but He said, “I will build my church.”
3. The Price.
The final thing we need to notice as we think of the Founder of the church is the price He paid for it. Jesus knew that He was going to have to go through the very door of death itself to pay the price for the church and that is why He talked about the ”gates of Hades” (Matt. 16:18c, NKJV). The ”gates of hell (hades)” would not prevail against the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. He would be put to death for His claim and He would enter the Hadean world (Acts 2:27), but it would not prevail against that claim. He would be resurrected and build the church like He had promised. Neither the doors of death, nor the devices of the devil, would stop Him from doing what had been determined (Acts 2:23). We desperately need to understand that Jesus not only built the church, He also bought it (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:20). He not only planned it, He purchased it (Acts 20:28). He not only said He would start it, He also said He would save it (Eph. 5:23-27). That’s why He said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18b). It is His building, His body, and His bride because His blood purchased it. (See 1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:22-32; Acts 20:28).
II. THE FOES OF THE CHURCH
A. The foes of the church would be many. Satan would not only try to stop Jesus from building the church, he would also use all of the forces he could muster to prevail against it after it was built. To face these foes, we must be on our toes. That is, we must “watch” and not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (Acts 20:31; 2 Cor. 2:11). In this section we will only take time to notice five of the foes we face:
One foe that we should know is deception. Jesus warned of false teachers (Matt. 7:15). John said that many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). The church has always had to fight deceivers and deception. Paul feared that the church in Corinth might be “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The church in Thyatira was plagued by a deceiver named Jezebel (Rev. 2:18-24). Paul marveled at how the Galatians had been influenced by those who perverted the gospel of Christ into legalism (Gal. 1:6-9). (See also Rom. 16:17-18; Jude 4; 2 Peter 2:1). The church in this and every age must watch and remember that we have been warned about the wolves (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29-31). We must remember our obligation to uphold and support the truth (1 Tim. 3:14-15) which is “in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). We must earnestly contend for the faith of the gospel that was once for all delivered to the saints (Phil. 1:27; Jude 1:3). Let’s not be deceived by what we believe. Let’s seek (Isa. 34:16). Let’s search (John 5:39). Let’s study (2 Tim. 2:15). Let’s find out if the things we are being told are the truth and nothing but the truth (Prov. 23:23; John 8:32; I Peter 1:22-23). Any doctrine that does not teach that Jesus Himself is the “way, truth, and life” must be avoided at all cost (Jn. 14:6). The gates of hell shall not prevail if we will study our Bibles well.
Another foe we need to know is division. Division among God’s people is both serious and sinful, and those who cause must be avoided. Paul said, “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). For one to uphold division is an unhealthy decision. Many times it is deception that causes division. It is those who teach “contrary to the doctrine of Christ” and “by good words and fair speeches deceive” who are responsible for most of the division that exists in the religious world today (Rom. 16:17-18). Deception leads to division. However, we know that God both desires and demands unity among His disciples. In the Bible He praised unity (Psalm 133:1); prayed for unity (John 17:20-21); pleaded for unity (1 Cor. 1:10); and provided for unity (Eph. 4:4-16). Plus, He encouraged the saints in Ephesus, to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Unity among believers causes others to believe (John 17:21). What is really sad is when the church is divided over positions, personalities, or other petty problems. We need to realize that keeping unity is something that we must be “endeavoring to do” (Eph. 4:3), and not something that we just “ease into.” We need to remember that we are one body (1 Cor. 12:12-27) and that we are all on the same team if we follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We do not have to be united in our all of our perceptions of exactly how to follow Jesus in order to be united in our purpose of following Jesus. Every local Church needs to keep this in mind.
A third foe that we need to know is diversion. “Diversion” is a turning aside from our main goal. The primary mission of the church is the saving of souls through the preaching of the gospel (Luke 19:10; I Tim. 3:14-15). We must never lose sight of this fact. Our main work is not social or political, but spiritual. We must never allow ourselves to be diverted from this work (Matt. 6:33; Phil. 1:21; 3:13; Matt. 4:4). Many times it is division that leads to diversion. In fact, sometimes deception leads to division which then leads to diversion. Because of divisions among ourselves we are distracted from our main goal of preaching the gospel of Jesus. We start fighting among ourselves and are thus diverted from our main mission. We then have to spend too much of our time arguing over matters that should never, in many cases, have been a problem in the first place. Jesus said that if we’ll go, teach, baptize, and preach, He will be with us even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:19-20). Let’s make sure that we do our part, so that we can have Jesus in our heart (Eph. 3:17).
A fourth foe we need to know is discouragement. This is an enemy that has probably affected every local church, as well as every Christian, at one time or another. Many times it is deception, division, and diversion that lead to discouragement. The Hebrew writer said, “Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down…” (Heb. 12:12) which indicates they were having a problem with discouragement. When writing to Galatia, Paul said, “and let us not be weary in well doing…” (Gal. 6:9). Discouragement has been, and many times still is, a major problem for the church. Lack of attendance, lack of appreciation, apathy, and a host of other things can also be cited as causes for discouragement. Every Christian has the responsibility of helping others to fight this foe. We need to “exhort one another daily…” as we have the opportunity (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25).
The final foe before we go is disbelief. Many times deception, division, diversion, and discouragement lead to the sin of unbelief (John 17:20-21). It seems that this is the sin that “does so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:1). That’s why it is so important for Christians to “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). There’s no relief in unbelief, only grief (Heb. 3:19; Mark 16:14). This has stopped many churches cold. Therefore we need to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith …” (Heb. 10:22). We must not give up, let up, shut up, or back up until the church of our Lord is either built up or taken up. We need to strive more, study more, serve more, and sacrifice more. The gates of hell shall not prevail because we have the Lord and He cannot fail.
III. THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH
A. Finally, we come to consider the future of the church. Just what would be the future of the church whose Founder was Jesus and whose Foes are many? In answering this question the Bible teaches that the church of Jesus Christ would be:
The foes of the church would continue to fight against the faithful. The gates of hell would continue to try to prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Jesus told His disciples, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you …” (John 15:20). He further warned, “In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33). Observe that He said you “will have” – not “might” or “may,” but “will” have tribulation. Paul further warned in II Timothy 3:12, ”Yes, and all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Also the book of Revelation teaches that the church would be continually persecuted by Satan (Rev. 12). Therefore, concerning the future of the church, the Bible clearly teaches that as long as the church is in this world she will be persecuted and troubled.
However, the Bible also teaches that, in spite of the persecution, the church would be preserved and protected throughout the persecution brought against it. The gates of hell shall not prevail (Matt. 16:18; ESV). The church is built on a “Rock” (Matt. 16:18). The word used by Jesus “denotes a mass of rock, as distinct from …a stone that might be thrown or easily moved” (Vine, p. 984). The church is built on Jesus – the Rock that cannot be moved. Jesus taught that a house built on a rock would not fall in spite of the fact that winds, rains, and floods beat against it (Matt. 7:24-27). This is certainly true of the “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5) which is built on the ”foundation” laid by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) – which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). That’s the reason that the Bible teaches that the church or kingdom “shall never be destroyed” and “shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44). It “cannot be moved” (Heb. 12:28). “There shall be no end” (Luke 1:33). God is going to be glorified “in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph. 3:21). The gates of hell shall not prevail because the church is “preserved in Christ” (Jude vs. 1).
Not only will the church be preserved, it will also be presented. Christ will ‘‘present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). It will be presented pure to Christ. Paul said to the church in Corinth, “For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste [pure, ASV] virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). It will be presented faultless to God. Jude wrote, “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy …” (Jude vs. 24). The faithful church is kept clean by the blood of Jesus (I John 1:7), and will be presented fadeless, flawless, and faultless to God at the end of this age. The gates of hell shall not prevail because what God does He does so well.
In this study we have discussed the FOUNDER, FOES, and FUTURE of the church that belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is composed of all believers who have been “born again” (Jn. 3:1-8). Hopefully we have learned that the future of the church is secure because of its founder and in spite of its foes. The gates of hell shall not prevail because God’s promises never fail. Thank God for Jesus! (2 Cor. 9:15).