“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.”
King James Version (KJV)
16:18 On this rock - Alluding to his name, which signifies a rock, namely, the faith which thou hast now professed; I will build my Church - But perhaps when our Lord uttered these words, he pointed to himself, in like manner as when he said, Destroy this temple, #John 2:19|; meaning the temple of his body. And it is certain, that as he is spoken of in Scripture, as the only foundation of the Church, so this is that which the apostles and evangelists laid in their preaching. It is in respect of laying this, that the names of the twelve apostles (not of St. Peter only) were equally inscribed on the twelve foundations of the city of God, #Rev 21:14|. The gates of hell - As gates and walls were the strength of cities, and as courts of judicature were held in their gates, this phrase properly signifies the power and policy of Satan and his instruments. Shall not prevail against it - Not against the Church universal, so as to destroy it. And they never did. There hath been a small remnant in all ages.
Mt 16:18 Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. This is the first time Jesus speaks of his church, and here, as not yet founded. Three terms are to be noted: (1) "Peter", in the Greek, "Petros", meaning a single stone; (2) "Rock", in the Greek, "Petra", which means the solid, immovable bed-rock, a great mass like a cliff, and (3) "church", Greek, "ecclesia", those "called out", the fellowship of believers, the organized society of Christ, the kingdom of heaven on earth. There is probably no passage in the word of God that has called forth more discussion. The Papal church insists that Peter is the rock upon which Christ founded his church. The Catholic position is based upon the fact that Peter means a stone, and the Savior's language might be rendered, "Thou art a stone and upon this rock I will build my church" (see Joh 1:42). The Catholic view is untenable, for (1) The Savior does not say, "Thou art a stone, and upon thee I will build", etc., or "Thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build". He changes the word in the Greek from "Petros" (Peter, a stone) to "Petra", a rock, or ledge of rock--a solid bed-rock. (2) Every saint is a stone (see 1Pe 2:5). The Lord declares that Peter is one these living stones, made such by his confession of faith, and ready to be built into the church, the spiritual temple, formed of living stones, and built upon the rock. So is every confessor of Christ. In order to settle what the Savior does mean by the "rock", we must consider Mt 16:18,19 together, and keep in mind the entire figure. This figure portrays (1) a Builder, Christ; (2) a temple to be built, composed of lively stones, the church; (3) a foundation for that temple, the rock; (4) the gates of an unfriendly city or power which shall seek its destruction, hell, or more correctly, Hades, the unseen abode of the dead, the grave; (5) a door-keeper of the church, or spiritual temple, with his keys, Peter. Peter's place in the figure is not that of the foundation, but that of the key-holder, or turnkey. The only difficulty is in settling what the Lord means by the "rock". Since this rock is the foundation of the church, the central principle, the fundamental idea, we are aided to a correct decision by the teachings of the Word elsewhere. We learn [through Paul] "That other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ". This excludes Peter or any human platform (1Co 3:11). Christ is often called a stone: (1) "the stone that the builders rejected" (Mt 21:42 Mr 12:10 Lu 20:17); (2) "the chief corner stone" (Eph 2:20); (3) "the stone that is the head of the corner" (Mt 21:42 Mr 12:10 Lu 20:17 Ac 4:11 1Pe 2:7); (4) "the spiritual rock which is Christ" (1Co 10:4). Faith in Christ held in the heart, and confessed with the lips is the very foundation of the spiritual life and of the church. This constituted the fundamental difference in apostolic days between Christians and unbelievers, the church and the world. It does still. It is the essence of the teaching of the New Testament that the platform or foundation of the Christian society, the church, is this belief that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God" (see Mt 16:16 Joh 6:69). It is then Peter's grand confession, faith in the Spiritual Rock, the faith that lays hold of Christ, belief that he is the Anointed of God, the Divine Savior, that the Lord pronounces the rock upon which he will found his church. That this view is correct is shown by a correct understanding of the declaration. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. "The gates of Hades" (Revised Version). From the gates of the city always marched forth its armies. The powers of hades are represented by its gates. Hades is not hell (Gehenna), but the unseen abode of the dead that holds the departed within its gates. Just after these words the Lord talks of his death, or entering hades. Six months later the Sanhedrin sent him to death for making the same confession Peter had just made. See Mt 26:64-67. They expected to demonstrate that the confession of his divinity which he had made was false by sending him to hades, which they supposed would hold him and prevail against the confession of the ROCK. He was sent there from the cross, but the gates of hades did not prevail, for they could not hold him, and the living Savior, rising triumphant from the tomb, was the unanswerable argument that his own and Peter's confession was a rock that could never be moved. His resurrection demonstrated that he is the Rock. Hades did not prevail.