Matthew 16:18. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Without any doubt, this verse is one of the most important, most-often misinterpreted verses in all of scripture. Not all of you will agree with what I’m about to write. Please read it with as unbiased an eye as you can, as I prayerfully and carefully tell you what I believe the truth to be.
First, Jesus blessed Peter. This blessing is the same for every believer who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The surname Barjona indicates that Peter was the son of Jona; it also mean son of a dove. It is interesting that the dove is the emblem and type of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit of God that revealed to Peter Who Jesus was, just as the Holy Spirit touches every person who comes to Christ.
Then, Jesus gave Peter a new name. He said, “Thou art petros.” Petros is a part of a rock, a smaller stone. Then He said, “Upon this Petra I will build My church.” Petra is a rock, out of which the petros, smaller stone, is broken. Jesus used the word Petra for the first time in Matthew 7:24-25. The house there is built not upon a small stone, petros, but upon a large rock, Petra, that cannot be moved by storm nor flood. “This Rock” is a clear reference to Jesus Himself.
My dad taught years ago that the King James translators would have done better to write it this way: “Thou are petros, a smaller stone. But upon this Petra, Me Myself, I will build My church.”
Think about it now. Wouldn’t you rather be part of a church built on Christ Himself than on a mere man?
So why use petros here, since it seems to have caused so much confusion? I believe all of us who have come to Jesus for salvation are petros; we are all part of that huge, strong, unbreachable Petra, the Rock of Ages; the One upon Whom the church is built, and against which nothing, not even Satan himself, can or will ever prevail.
Here are Peter’s own words, from I Peter 2:4-6: “To Whom coming, as unto a Living Stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scriptures, Behold, I lay in Sion a Chief Cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.”
Peter understood that Jesus was the foundation of the church. He knew that Jesus was the Rock upon Whom the church would be built.
It is also important to understand that the church was still a future entity. The word Jesus used was ecclesia, or called-out assembly. There was no church in the Old Testament. Israel was not the Old Testament church. When Jesus said these words, His ministry on earth was not yet complete. The building of the church was still future. He was only beginning to reveal the mystery of the church
The words the gates of hell shall not prevail against it have been interpreted to establish the infallibility of Peter. Not so. Those words establish that Jesus Christ and His church will stand victorious over every attempt of Satan to destroy it.
As I think of the history of the church from the ascension of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, I can only marvel at the way God has preserved His church throughout centuries of Satan’s efforts to tear it apart. Satan has used everything he can think of, from misinterpretation of scripture, to corruption of church leaders, to the active torture, persecution and death of believers, to the banning of God’s Word in many countries, to the division of God’s people over dress, standards of behavior, music, versions and translations of the scripture to outright denial and the rise of atheism as a political power. None of it has destroyed the church, and none of it ever will. Where Satan manages to stifle the gospel in one place, the dispersion of persecuted believers causes it to rise up in many other places. The gates of hell WILL NOT prevail against God’s church. Not now, not ever.