Last Sunday our Gospel reading had this amazing statement made to Peter, but a promise that is relevant to all who have faith, about Jesus' intent and purpose with regard to the Church. Jesus speaks to 'Peter' (Πέτρος or 'Petros' in the Greek) and he says on this 'rock' (πέτρᾳ or 'petra' in the Greek) he will build HIS Church! It's cute to think to Jesus giving the nickname of 'Rocky' to Peter (though it wouldn't have carried the same meaning to 1st century Galileans perhaps??). 'Petros' is a masculine noun that means a single detached stone or boulder, whereas 'petra', a feminine noun, a mass of connected stone or rock, such as you might see in a projecting cliff.
Jesus speaks very little about his church in the Gospels so when he does, it means to me at least, that this is something to take particular notice of. This sentence comes just after Peter's confession that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, and that he is also the Son of the living God, something that Jesus says only comes through his Father's revelation. This is the work Jesus came to do and invites us to continue doing ... building something of immense strength, something that is interconnected, belonging together, one, that come as a consequence of our receiving the revelation that Jesus is the anointed Son of God.
The strength of this new creation, created by Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, means that even the gates of hell will be unable to withstand it. What is meant by "gates of hell"? Unfortunately, "hell" is a misleading translation of the word in greek which is 'Hades', the realm of the dead. This is similar to the Old Testament Sheol which represents the realm of the dead, where we all go upon death. Hell, though not a clearly defined concept, is the place of punishment, the destiny of the devil and his angels.
In this verse from Revelation, Jesus having been raised from the dead (and the realm of the dead - Hades) also now has power to set the 'dead' free from this place. Another problem is the idea that hell is somehow the kingdom of Satan, that he is the ruler there and uses it as the home base for his demonic activity. This concept is not biblical but comes from Greek mythology (for the Greeks, this god was named Hades). In biblical thought, Satan is not the ruler of hell or Hades. Instead, it is promised that he will be one of the residents! (Revelation 20:10)
The comment about the gates of 'hell' not prevailing against the church, is not about some ongoing cosmic battle between Jesus and the devil. That battle has already been won by Jesus on the cross (see Col 2:15). What I think Jesus is really saying is that gloriously the power of death has no claim upon us, the last enemy will one day be fully conquered, "Oh Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" (1 Cor 15:55).
Even now, we enjoy the blessings of Christ's victory having been made fully alive to God through our faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Our work is to call others to believe and abide in the same gift of life eternal, by the grace of God, where the One who is the resurrection and the life says, "The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die." (John 11:25) ... Do you believe this?
With love and prayers,