"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" (Matthew 16:18).
Many take this verse to teach security, that although Satan and his henchmen are attacking, the church and the Christian are safe within their fortress. In fact, many commentators and translators understand "gates" metaphorically, feeling that since gates are strong and important, they can be viewed as synonymous with "power," implying that the "power of hell" is marshaled against the church.
But this is not the case. The Greek word appears only a few times, and in no case can it be understood to mean power. It always means gates--either literal gates in a literal wall or a figurative entryway. Our text is not talking about the "power" of hell, but the "gates" of hell. The picture is not one of Christians cloistered within their castle while Satan attempts to destroy them, but one of Christians on the attack. The forces of evil are the desperate ones huddled within their stronghold, while the church is battering down their gates!
The same teaching is found elsewhere: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:4-5). These verses sound the battle cry, and the battleground is the minds of men. We are commanded to cast down (literally, demolish) improper reasoning and arrogant philosophy, capturing every thought (literally, mind) for Christ, thereby destroying the bastions of evil.
Christian, there is a time for defense, but let us never forget we are to be on the offensive as well. The Christ who leads us into the fray will surely lead us to victory! JDM