By Perry B. Cotham
"Who do men say that the Son of man is?" (Matt. 16:13). They said Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asked, "But who say ye that I am?" The apostle Peter answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 15). The majority did not know him. Only a handful of disciples understood him to be anointed of Jehovah.
In response to Peter's confession, Jesus said: upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (v. 18).
The word church is from a Greek word that means a group called together." The Lord's church is those called out from the world. The church is separated to the service of God and man. It is all the saved and none but the saved. One cannot be saved from sin and not be a part of the church. There is only one body, which is the one church (I Cor. 12:13, 20; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:12-16).
The church of Christ is not a sect or part of the saved. One can belong to a man-made religious order and not be in the Lord's spiritual body, the church. Too, one can obey the gospel, be added to the church, remain faithful for a while, then depart from the faith and join some human organization, as an apostate and fallen child of God (I Tim. 4:1; Jas. 5:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
The foundation of the church is the rock truth that Jesus is Lord and Christ. "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 3:11). God set Christ as "the stone which the builders rejected" and as "the chief comer stone" (Psa. 118:22; Acts 4:11-12).
"The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Hades is a Greek word which means "the unseen." It simply means the unseen realm of disembodied spirits, the dwelling of all those who have departed from this earthly house of clay (Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31). It does not mean the place of future punishment; that Greek word is Gehenna (Matt. 10:28).
The powers of death could not prevent Christ from arising from the dead to build his church. Jehovah put Jesus on the eternal throne. Although when Jesus died on the cross, his body went into the grave and his soul to Hades, his body did not remain in the tomb long enough to undergo "corruption" and his soul was not "left unto Hades."
Jesus built the church. The gates of Hades could not prevent his purpose by holding him a prisoner. He not only came out triumphantly, but he unlocked the gates of Hades and carried off the keys. Hence, he said to his beloved disciple on the Isle of Patmos: "Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. 1:17-18).
True, the Lord's church can never be destroyed (Heb. 12:28). Daniel prophesied that during the days of the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire, the God of heaven would set up a "kingdom which shall never be destroyed ... it shall stand for ever' (Dan. 2:44). The word of God, which is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), will endure (I Pet. 1:23-25). Wherever and whenever the gospel is preached and honest souls hear it, believe it, and obey it, there is the church of Christ (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:2).
The church has suffered much persecution (Rev. 2:10; 14:13), but the church is still here. Death cannot overcome the church. The dead in Christ will one day be raised. The mortal and corruptible bodies will be immortal and incorruptible; death will then be swallowed up in victory (I Cor. 15:50-57).
The redeemed will be triumphant in heaven. The great theme of the book of Revelation is this: In spite of persecutions and seeming victories by wicked rulers, under the influence of Satan, the faithful children of God, those who overcome, will dwell in the eternal paradise of God (Rev. 21:1-7; 22:34).