“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)
To understand Jesus’ teaching here, there are a few things you should know. First, “Hades” was the standard term for the underworld, which means that Jesus was probably referring to the whole of the Satanic kingdom. Second, the phrase “gates of Hades” is a metaphorical reference to the fortified walls of the Satanic forces. They are closed to keep opposing forces out, and therefore they need to be overcome. Third, Jesus says that these gates will not be able to “prevail against” the church. Jesus is here portraying the church as being on the offensive and Satan’s kingdom as being on the defensive.
Jesus is saying that he is going to build his church on the rock of his divinity—the confession that he is the “Son of the living God”—and the way this church is going to be built will be by bashing down the gates of Satan’s fortress. In other words, the church is to be involved in the very same warfare work that Jesus himself was involved in throughout his ministry. Ministering in his authority and his accomplished victory on the cross, the church is to storm the fortress of Hades and bash down its gates.
Jesus follows this by saying “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” so that what the church binds and looses on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. Whatever the church locks up when it bashes down the gates of Hades will be locked up in heaven, and whatever it unlocks and sets free will be set free in heaven. I can only read this as referring to the church’s authority to bind up demonic forces and to set people free.
This teaching provides a blueprint of what the body of Christ is to be about. It is to be about what Jesus was about: aggressively breaking down Satanic fortresses wherever we find them. In people’s lives, in families, in churches and in society at large, the church is to expand the rule of God on the authority of Christ by binding evil and setting people free. In a word, our charter is to live out a theology of revolt, throwing all we are and all we have into guerrilla warfare against the occupying army, the tyrannizing powers of darkness.
—Adapted from God at War, pages 216-217