Matthew 16:13-20 is one of the most powerful sections in the Gospels related to the Church. In fact, just recently I heard an incredible exposition of these verses at a conference. As the speaker was boldly preaching this text, a thought triggered in my mind. What Jesus says to His disciples in Matthew 16 about the invincibility and victory of the Church founded on Him is exactly what John portrays in Revelation 20:1-6! The parallels are inescapable.
In Matthew 16, after asking His disciples who the people of Israel identified Him as, He turns to His own disciples and asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (15). Of course, Simon Peter’s response is a classic identification of the reality of who Jesus is–“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (16) Jesus acknowledges clearly that Peter didn’t come up with this on his own, but simply responded to the revelation that was given to him from the Father Himself, an evidence that Peter has been blessed. (17)
It is what Jesus says in response (18) that we want to direct our attention toward in this post. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus says that on the confession of Peter (who Jesus is) and the ministry of Peter (and the other Apostles), He will build His church. It is not that Jesus might build it if things go well, nor is it that the building of the Church is entirely dependent upon human willing and exertion. Jesus is the builder of His Church, His called out ones, His elect. And He will do it because He is the sovereign Lord and Cornerstone of His Church. He will build the New Covenant Community, the fulfillment of the OT promises of a new humanity, the New Israel, the Church.
This implies something significant for our study–“and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Notice the certainty of Jesus’ statement. The gates of a city represented not only an entrance/exit, but also a place of power, a place where the leaders gathered to make decisions, a place of authority. Hell here is “Hades,” the realm of the dead. The gate of hell not only represent Satan and his demonic authorities in their attack against the church, but also Satan’s prime weapon–death. In other words, neither Satan nor death will be able to prevail against Christ’s Church.
What is the means by which the Church would prevail over Satan and death? Jesus answers this in verse 19: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Keys are symbolic in this context, as Jesus doesn’t give the disciples a bunch of metallic door openers on a giant ring. Keys symbolize authority, in this case, not an authority inherent in Peter and the other apostles, but an authority that is given by Jesus Himself. These are the keys of the kingdom over the means of entrance into the kingdom–the Gospel. Entrance to the Church would come only through the gospel–the word of God centered upon the meritorious work of Christ, namely, His perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection from the grave.
The authority given to the disciples (and I would argue for the Church at-large) is to bind and loose. Two important notes on this. First, whatever is bound or loosed has already been done so in heaven. The disciples are carrying out the divine orders from God Himself, not doing anything by their own initiative or authority. Second, binding and loosing was language of Jesus’ day to represent allowing or restricting a certain activity. If the Scripture loosed someone to do something, they were free to do it under God’s blessing. But if they were bound, they were inhibited, restricted, even prohibited on the basis of God’s authority.
So what Jesus is simply saying is that by means of the preaching of the gospel, entrance to the kingdom is either allowed or prohibited. On what condition? On condition that those they preach to either receive or reject the Christ of the gospel. Remember, the gospel is not only a message of freedom from sin and death and life in God, but it is also a message of condemnation. So the disciples (and Church) is invested with power through the gospel to allow or prohibit entrance to the kingdom, in which the Church is the representation of Christ’s kingdom on earth, AND this Church WILL be build by Christ and His work, and Satan and death will never prevail against it.
How does this tie into Revelation 20? That will be answered in the next post. For now, we should be assured by this passage of these vitally practical points:
1) Jesus is the sole builder of the Church. No human is ever the ultimate church-builder. Jesus takes this role exclusively.
2) Jesus WILL build His Church. His purpose, the eternal purpose of God from before the foundation of the earth, will be accomplished. The Church is not plan B, it is the culmination of all that was foretold and foreseen in the Old Testament.
3) Christ builds His Church through His disciples. That Christ uses us as instruments of grace to reach people and bring them into the Church is an amazing and humbling thing. It also gives us great missionary responsibility.
4) Christ builds the Church through the gospel. The gospel is the only message ordained by God to bring people into the Kingdom of God. There is no other way. To reject the gospel is to be bound to sin, and prohibited from the gift of eternal life through Christ.
5) Satan and the gates of Hades will NEVER prevail against the Church. They will use every scheme and weapon available, and even kill and deceive Christians, but can NEVER thwart God’s eternal purposes.
This means that to belong to the Church is to belong to the invincible and indestructible Church. Do you, by nature of being a disciple of Christ, a Christian, belong to His Church? And do you belong to the local expression of that Church? Do you take the call to proclaim the gospel seriously? Do you walk in the already accomplished victory that is ours through Christ as His New Covenant Community?
God bless and I look forward to resuming this great topic in our next post on this subject.