“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Did you ever wonder what Jesus meant in this passage about building His church? Now, I’m not talking about the non-denominational, First Bapticostal Church of the Nazarene in Christ, the church that is right down the road from your house. Christ’s church is the one He builds by His grace, through our faith, which entrance into it can only come through the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
The church is the universal body of believers making up the body of Christ throughout the last 2,000 years. We are also referred to as the “bride of Christ” in keeping with 2 Cor.11:2 and Rev. 19:7-9. We come from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, from different times and eras, from the rich and poor, and everywhere in between. We are baptized into one Body, coming from many nations, tongues, and peoples (1 Cor. 12; Col. 1:17-19).
We also have many differing gifts and callings; we are given varying levels of understanding, as pertaining to what God the Father directs God the Spirit to gift us with so that we may accomplish His will. So what does Matthew 16:18 mean, when it states that the “gates of Hades” will not prevail against His church?
The Church Age was officially born on the day of Pentecost some fifty days after Christ’s resurrection. The implications of this day, as opposed to any other day, is that Pentecost represented the only feast in which leavened bread was used, implying that leaven equaled something bad, or impure (sinners), and was being brought before the Lord as the offering.
The age of the Church moved from being a predominantly Jewish movement to a primarily Gentile one over the course of the next 40 years. This is in keeping with the opposite descriptions in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, in which Matthew and Mark’s accounts are reversed; Matthew’s gospel being aimed directly at the Jewish audience, while Mark’s is that to the Gentile audience. This seemed a fait accompli by AD70 when the Roman Legions under Titus Vespasian, laid siege to Jerusalem and ultimately destroyed the city and the Temple.
The age of the church then progressed through the next 2000 years bearing a striking resemblance to the sequential order of the Seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2-3, in which the first three and the last four have endings that are swapped, possibly signifying that the last four churches would last until the time of the Tribulation. (He who has an ear let him hear.)
The last church, the Laodicean period, becomes the predominant face of Christendom and marks a period in church history where Christianity would all but become indistinguishable from the world. Yet, as the other three remain during this era, there are still those in the minority who hold to the Word of God, and God delivers us from what is about to come upon the whole world (Rev. 3:10).
Even though it seems that this last Church Age is lukewarm and repugnant, God always has His remnant. The Church Age closes not in defeat but in victory. The “dead in Christ” are resurrected and the last generation of believers who are still alive—are “caught up” from this world and in a moment, are transformed from mortal to immortal.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’
O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:53-57).
Since we have victory over sin through Jesus Christ, the “sting of death,” which was meant as punishment for sin, is eliminated, and we who die are immediately with the Lord in glory (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12-18; 2 Cor. 5:5-8). What remains then, is the “victory of Hades” and “Hades” being another name for death, hell, or the grave, which all mankind, with the exception of Jesus Christ, have been under subjugation too since Adam.
This is what Jesus meant, in that the “gates of Hades” (or death, hell, or the grave), shall NOT prevail over His church. His promise of delivery from this seemingly ominous fate that we all dread to think about, and to eventually meet, is only to His church. It wasn’t to the OT saints, who were set aside in Abraham’s bosom until the Cross (Eph 4:8), nor is it to those who come after the church. The Tribulation saints are those martyred saints who during the Tribulation find their station beneath the altar of God awaiting their final number to be killed, seeking retribution from our Lord on those who slaughtered them (Rev. 6:9-11; 13:7).
Those who disparage the Pre-Tribulation Rapture as “the great escape” or as unbiblical because they can’t find the word “rapture” in the English versions of their bibles, miss the reason FOR the Rapture of Christ’s church. While it may seem that the church’s last moments in this world, are mired in lukewarm defeat, the Rapture showcases Christ’s triumph over the grave not just for Himself, but for all who are IN Him. At the Cross, what Satan thought was victory, really spelled and sealed his fate forever (1 Cor. 2:7-8).
Christ, being the ONLY true Man who ever lived as God designed Him to live (that being in perfect harmony with God), accomplished much, much more than just providing Himself as our sacrifice so that we can be saved (1 Cor. 15:45). He, never having sinned, was not subject to sin’s divinely required payment of death, and endured the; mocking, beating, scourging, crown of thorns, crucifixion, and the full wrath of God being poured out on Him, all willingly.
Death had no claim over Him, because He’d never sinned. Everything He did on the Cross, He did for you and me, because He first loved us, before we ever loved Him. And our salvation carries with it not only eternal redemption, but His righteousness, because we not only are a part of Him and He in us, but we are adopted into His family forever (Rom. 8:14-16; 2 Cor. 5:21).
When we place our trust in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, we are born-again, meaning, that our spirit, which was dead, has been resurrected anew by the Holy Spirit into Jesus Christ (John 3:5, 16, 18]0. The wrath that had been appointed to us for our transgressions is wiped clean and we inherit through Christ, not only eternal life, but the Resurrection. If we inherit the Resurrection in our own physical deaths, those who are alive when Christ returns, inherits the translation from mortal to immortal as well.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
You see, the Rapture isn’t really about us, but about God’s glory. It is about Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave, and over the enemies of the Cross, which are Satan and his demonic hordes. A popular misconception about Satan is that he dwells in some smoky, underground cavern with a pitch fork he uses to poke and prod the unfortunate souls who died trying to pay for his or her, own sins.
Satan is not omnipresent, he needs to be where he can see and hear all that transpire, so he dwells in the air (Eph. 2:2). That is why the Rapture occurs in the sky, and not on earth or some other dimension all done in secret. Christ meets us in the middle of Satan’s stronghold, and ALL who have Christ, will move through the enemy’s lair as Christ showcases again (Matt. 27:52), His triumphal victory over death, hell, and the grave.
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:18).
I’m often amused and saddened at the same time, when I listen to the lost play down what Christ actually accomplished while He was here. He wasn’t just a teacher, or a good man. He didn’t just leave us with some good rules to live by so that we could exist peacefully with each other. What Christ did, NO one else could do.
When the last week of Daniel’s 70 weeks begins, it begins with Christ opening the 1st Seal judgment. And it’s not just that He opens it, but He was the only one in ALL of existence, found worthy to open it (Rev. 5:1-10). He is our Kinsman Redeemer. He is both fully God, and fully Man.
We don’t long for the Rapture so that we can escape the continual grinding down of this world upon our lives (although that is a perk!), we long to be with Christ because we are family, and 2,000 years is a long time to wait for a reunion. For those of us in Christ, who are spiritually awakened at the moment of our belief (Eph. 1:11-14), we are given a new heart and a new mind that is set on eternal things, and on eternity with our Maker, and we long for home. Until that Day — Maranatha!
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).