“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18
This text is rooted in a play on words between "little stone" and "bedrock." Peter is the former and the truth of Who Jesus is constitutes the latter. Peter had just made the declaration, "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God." After Jesus' responsive affirmation of blessing--"Blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you but My Father in Heaven"--Jesus makes His magnificent declaration. "I will build My church and the gates of Hell (Hades) will not prevail against it." Here is another reason why Jesus came...to build His Church!
The Scripture is not saying that the Church will be built by or upon Peter, but rather it will be built upon the truth of what Peter proclaimed. Peter had confessed Jesus' true identity. He (Jesus) is the foundation upon which the Church will be built. In the words of F.F. Bruce, "what matters here is not the stature of the confessor, but the truth of the confession" (see The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p.143). Peter declares Who Jesus is, and Jesus declares that He Himself will build His Church.
Notice in this passage that not only is Jesus' true identity revealed, but His work is likewise unveiled. He will build His Church. This is the first time the New Testament mentions the word, "Church." This word in the Greek text, comes from combining two smaller words, "to call" and "out of." The word "Church" literally means "the called out ones." All those who have heard God's invitation and responded constitute the "Church."
Jesus goes on to describe the Church's invincibility, "and the gates of Hades (or Hell) will not prevail against." Though some see this as a straight forward declaration that Jesus will not allow the devil and his forces destroy the Church, I believe Jesus is actually pointing to another and equally true reality. Gates are for keeping people and possessions in, or people and possessions out. "Hades" is the normal word for death and the grave. Here, Jesus is declaring that not even the power of death will be able to halt the building of His Church.
True, God's intention is to build the Church upon Jesus, but He will use people all through history as His instruments. Can He use you?