Jesus said, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" - Matthew 16:18 KJV.

I’m not so concerned with whether the English translation should better state ‘Hades,’ and ‘overcome,’ unless that has a direct bearing on the meaning of this promise of Jesus.

I understand that the first half of that verse refers to “the rock” upon which he would build his Church, as the rock of divinely-given revelation about who Jesus really is, which Peter was given by God, to enable him to make his confession of Christ as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (see verses 16 & 17).

My concern is that, if the true church later became apostate and ceased to exist as a true Church, then that would make Jesus a liar. Likewise, if the gates of hell symbolically closed in on his growing Church, to the extent of capturing and totally confining it, it would have prevailed against it, and so Jesus would have been proven a liar. Was Jesus actually promising that his Church would never be so defeated by the powers of hell (which might be translated as ‘death / the grave’)?

If, as some people claim, the church of Christ was so corrupted that it could be said to have 'died' over the centuries, then were Jesus' words proven to be false? Even with fulfillment of NT predictions of apostasy, was the witness of Christ's church defeated and that Church overcome?

  • The theological portion of this question is a subject for CSE; the grammatical portion of this question is addressed on BHSE here Jun 2, 2022 at 14:53
  • 2
    Way too many people misunderstand this verse for two reasons. (1) They think that "the gates of Hades" refers to hell (place of eternal damnation) when it doesn't. This is just a way of saying "the power of death". (2) They think that "church" refers to an institution or organization when it doesn't. It refers to the aggregate of all believers in Christ. When you realize these two things, you see that Jesus is saying that believers in Christ will not be overcome by power of death, that is, that they will be raised from the dead. This verse cannot be used to disprove the Great Apostasy.
    – Rajesh
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:03
  • @Hold To The Rod Fair point - I've removed the two sentences where 'false' claims / confession were mentioned.
    – Anne
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:57
  • @Anne appreciate it. Let me know if you think my one, additional edit misses the intent of the question Jun 2, 2022 at 17:40

7 Answers 7


Before I attempt to answer your question, allow me to explain what I mean when referring to the word ‘Church’. Although I am not a Greek scholar, my understanding is that the Greek word ‘ecclesia’ is rooted in the concept of being called out:

***‘kaleo’ = to call

‘kletos’ = called

‘klesis’ = calling***

Whereas the above apply individually, ‘ecclesia’ is corporate. I understand that ‘the ecclesia’ is that which is called out, called by grace, called to glory, and called of God. It refers, not to any building or any denomination, but to all those saints who are baptised by the Holy Spirit into one body of believers. See Romans 8:28; 9:11; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thess. 2:14

“The Church” began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers gathered in that upper room in Jerusalem, and they were gathered into one body – ‘the ecclesia’.

I take “Church” to mean the assembly of born-again believers, throughout the ages. I shall use the word ‘ecclesia’ instead of the word ‘Church’ in order to be unambiguous.

With regard to the expression “the gates of Hell”, in the context of Matthew 16:18, I take that to mean neither the grave nor the underworld nor a place of eternal torment, but instead to all the enemies of Christ and his kingdom, which includes Satan and all who follow him, both demonic and human. This is important because of what it says in 1 John 5:21 (KJV):

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

This leads us into your question. Satan, “that wicked one”, cannot touch those who are born of God, ‘the ecclesia’. That is our first clue.

‘The ecclesia’ of Christ are the true sons of God. They have the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit bears witness to them that they belong to the Father. They suffer, they groan, they face persecution for righteousness’ sake. They are spiritually minded. They reject the fleshly desires and pursuits of those who are godless. They are not carnally minded.

Throughout the ages they have overcome because they belong to Jesus, not to any denomination, and they abide in Jesus. Jesus has overcome:

I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NIV).

That is our second clue. Jesus has the victory over death (or Hades, or Hell) and this happened at his resurrection. The gates of Hades (or hell) have already been overcome. The gates of Hades (or hell) did not prevail against those first Christians, even though apostasy had already set in. The gates of Hades (or hell) will never prevail over God’s elect, even though they may be few in number.

Apostasy (which means a falling away from the original gospel) has spread and many have been deceived, as was prophesied 2,000 years ago. But there has always been a remnant of God’s chosen people throughout the ages, including the first century. This remnant, the elect, is chosen by grace (Romans 11:5):

So too, at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace.”

Are we to suppose that after defeating death itself and having returned to heaven from whence he first came that Christ Jesus is incapable of preserving His ‘ecclesia’? Are we to subscribe to the modern notion that new man-made denominations had to be created in order to dispense “truth”, that the powers of darkness, destruction and death had succeeded in their dastardly plan to defeat the elect? Are we to imagine that the Son of God is incapable of preserving His elect? Never!

Those chosen by God, the elect, those called by God, have defended the faith throughout the centuries (Jude verse 3) because they are loved by God the Father and they are kept by Jesus Christ (Jude verse 1). After all, the Lord is present in the gathered company and it is His household, it is His ‘ecclesia’ and He is the foundation stone. That is our third clue.

Christ crucified, the wisdom and power of God, may be a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, to those who are perishing, but is the means whereby the elect, those who have been called, ‘the ecclesia’ are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-25).

The gates of hell will never prevail against those who are called by God, ‘the ecclesia’, even during the impending Great Tribulation. Why not? Because Jesus is Lord of lords, and King of kings:

and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful (Revelation 17:14).

As prophesied in the days of Isaiah the prophet, and quoted in Romans 9:33, all who place their faith in Christ Jesus, who are called by God, the ‘ecclesia’, will prevail:

See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, but the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

In answer to your question, the witness of Christ's ‘ecclesia’ has never been defeated and the ‘ecclesia’ established by Christ Jesus and held together by His power will never be overcome.

  • 1
    This deals with all the issues involved in the question. Just to add that you said apostasy "means a falling away from the original gospel". 'Stasis' is a sedition, an uprising, a revolt. And 'apo' is a superlative (= apostasis) This means that apostasy has nothing to do with either "falling" or "away". The uprising has not gone anywhere. It has taken over. Those who try to overcome the ecclesia do so by trying to take over everything, claiming that it is the faithful who have been obliged to separate 'away'. 'Righteousness' p15, Belmont Publications
    – Anne
    Mar 25, 2023 at 15:35

The First Century Jewish Context of Jesus' Words

The more one reads and re-reads the Old Testament, the more one becomes aware of just how many allusions the New Testament makes to the Old (by way of fattening and fleshing out what can naturally only be narrated in brief volumes), and thus just how vivid a message was recieved by the original hearers, not so far removed as we are from the original times and language and familiarity with the Old (as compared with the New) Testament. When a Jew heard Jesus talk about the final invincible kingdom, they immediately remember Daniel 2. Why? Well, both markedly and uniquely speak of the unconquerable final kingdom, the kingdom of God or the Messiah. Why again? Because of the obvious allusions Jesus makes to it, in the circumstances in which He speaks of it and promises to establish it.

In Daniel 2, the king Nebuchadnezzar calls together his innner circle of wisemen. In Matthew 16, Messiah (= King) Jesus calls together his inner circle of disciples. The king asks his inner circle a question the answer to which cannot be answered save by some kind of divine revelation from God. Jesus asks His true identity of His disciples. The king's wise men fumble and fail and avoid the impossible task. Jesus' disciples answer wrongly multiple times as to who He truly is. But one among them stands up and offers the true answer: Daniel. Simon stands up and answers: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Daniel answers with the dream of Nebuchadnezzar which only God could reveal, namel a private dream known only to him. Hence, none of the wisemen could reveal to him — but, "there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries to men;" and, "flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father in heaven." How is the answerer rewarded? The king elevates him to a high station in the kingdom, and great honor, and makes him the chief officer of his kingdom. Jesus calls Simon the rock,/kepha and says he will buid his invincible kingdom upon this rock, and give him its keys, and tells him whatever he says goes; and historically the papacy, centered at Rome, has been the hub of the church, its anchor and symbol of orthodoxy. Rome you say? Yes, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the chief officer over all of Babylon. St. Peter, of course, writes from Rome under the pseudonym, "Babylon" (the tyrannical captor of Israel). (Cf. Revelation 17:18 where Rome is called Babylon also).

Furthermore, the whole episode in both Daniel 2 and Matthew 16 both uniquely address the Messianic Kingdom, or, the Church, such that the allusion is more or less unavoidable. This kingd of heaven set up by the God of heaven overtakes, suprecedes, absorbs the Roman Empire, or, the last kingdom of the great Empires—which indeed the Christian Church did and has, infamously, one could say.

Daniel 2:44 But in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people, and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand for ever.

Therefore corresponds to:

Matthew 16:18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(Yet another instance of the divine prerogatives of God undertaken by none other than the Son of God—or the conflation of God with Jesus. Cf. Luke 8:39[!!!!!]; Psalm 126:3)

The Being Prevailed Against

What makes "the kingdom of heaven," or "the kingdom of the God of heaven," unique is that it shall not fade into history or become some vestige like the former Empires (to be clear, kingdom in Daniel refers to Empire—"king of kings" = Emperor, or king over other lesser regional kings), but will remain "always," or, "forever."

As such, as you note in your question, it would be absurd for this kingdom to dissappear only to be restablished. Rather, it must endure through thick and thin. It will never be conquered by any other kingdom. And indeed, it's only much, much later sects that claim the church was corrupt because the doctrine of their church disagrees with the perennial doctrine of the perennial church. The church established in Matthew 16. No other reason exists or presents the needs for the claim of a 'mass apostasy.'

The "stone" which grows into a moutain in Daniel is the "Peter" which heads and serves as the starting point for the kingdom of heaven which absorbs the other kingdom. It's the small foundaiton on which the whole church is built, and grows from. Like a seed, that grows from the size of a mustard seed, to a great tree (Luke 13:19).


The Greek word Hades had baggage and meant in Greek a spiritual abode of the dead. It was used by the pre-Christian translators of the Septuagint because in Greek it essentially referred to the same kind of spirtual place as conceived by the Hebrews under the name of Sheol. When the New Testaments says Jesus rose from "the dead [ones]" it is referring to Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek). In other words, what the English word "Hell" means—and has always meant (not explicitly the place of the damned, which is a subset of those in 'hell').

Startlingly, there was a 'church' - temple - dedicated to the god Pan, and a well called "the gates of hell" in the place where Jesus said these words - Caesarea Philippi! Where was this 'church' (for Christ knew how the word 'church' would come to refer to the buildings in which His church met) or temple built? Only into the solid rock of a huge cliff.

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So Jesus is challenging this fake god in a visual way. 'I will build my church on Peter, he will be the rock. This faith he expresses will permeate my church. My temple. The gates of hell, which tyrannized the worshippers of Pan, will have no power over my kingdom.'


It's good to know what the ecelisa is that Christ is building.

1577 ekklēsía(from 1537 /ek, "out from and to" and 2564 /kaléō, "to call") – properly, people called out from the world and to God, [The English word "church" comes from the Greek word kyriakos, "belonging to the Lord" (kyrios).

The ekklesia are called out ones that Christ is assembling to form a temple for the Spirit of God to dwell in.

It is Christ who is building Gods dwelling place. It has taken on various forms throughout Israel's history of what that has looked like. But God does not dwell in buildings made by human hands. God knows that it is His life alone that gives true life to all his creatures that he dwells in.

Christ's fleshly body where God's Spirit was dwelling was put to death on the cross. The adversary of course could not thwart the purpose of God.
It was only through his death and resurrection that God's Spirit could find a permanent dwelling place within the heart of his creatures.

The gates of the unseen could not keep Him locked up and keep Christ from continuing to build up his eclesia.

Peter and the apostles had no idea that when Jesus spoke the words,

" I shall be building building My ecclesia and the gates of if the unseen should not be prevailing against it. Mathew 16:18

That Christ would be turned over by the leaders of Israel and put to death. They were the false teachers, teaching false doctrines and lead blind Israel away at that time from their Messiah. Jesus was encouraging His disciples ahead of time so when Christ was put to death that His words were true. It may have looked like the unseen realm triumphed over Christ at his death. Of course when the disciples saw him after He had risen from the dead hope was restored, for a little while.
. Even though Israel as a nation became apostate, God will raise up Peter , the apostles, the elect and Christ will continue to fit all the pieces in heaven and on earth together to form a temple for God's Spirit to dwell in. This will take on the form of the kingdom of God as it will grow into a holy temple for God to permanently dwell. 1 Co. 15:28

The gates of Hades will not prevail in the end over what Christ builds as a master builder. He is the son of David, the Christ who builds what started in David's heart. A place for God to dwell permanently.


In Matt 16:18, as the OP has already observed, "gates of hell" (KJV) is an unfortunate translation. "Gates of hades/grave" would be more accurate, as Ellicott observes:

The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.—The gates of Hades (see Note on Matthew 11:23), not of Gehenna, the place of torment. Hades as the shadow-world of the dead, the unseen counterpart of the visible grave, all-absorbing, all-destructive, into whose jaws or gates all things human pass, and from which issue all forces that destroy, is half-idealised, half-personified, as a power, or polity of death.

This phrase, "Gates of the grave/death" is an allusion to two verses in the OT:

  • Job 17:16 - Will it go down to the gates of Sheol/death? Will we go down together into the dust?”
  • Isa 38:10 - I said, “In the prime of my life I must go through the gates of Sheol/death and be deprived of the remainder of my years.”

In both cases, "gates of sheol/hades/death" is a simple idiom for dying. Thus, in Matt 16:18 we have a simple interpretation:

Matt 16:18 - And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades/Death will not prevail against it.

We can understand this in two natural ways:

  1. The rock and foundation of the church, Jesus Christ, conquered death and the grave (Rev 1:5)
  2. As a direct result of this, Jesus' resurrection from the dead enables all His disciples to be also resurrected from the dead (1 Cor 15:12-19);
  • 1 Cor 15:20-22 - But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Him.
  • 1 Cor 15:54, 55 - When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality,g then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (See Hos 13:14)

The beneficiary of [Matthew 16:18][a] Promise/Prophecy is 'Πέτρος'(Petros):"Peter". | Were Peter's biological descendants considered the 'ἐκκλησίαν'(ekklēsia):"Church"?

  • If observant-disciples of Peter symbolize the 'ekklēsia' on earth, then [Matthew 16:18] in 2022 CE remains true - Since "pylē hadēs" refers to the forgotten individuals in the land of 'Neshiyah'(נְשִׁיָּֽה):"Forgetfulness" (Based on Ivrit Theology of Psalm 88, 'Are Your wonders made known in the netherworld? Your beneficent deeds in the land of oblivion?')

If the Teachings of 'Peter' from NT are still observed/remembered, then [Matthew 16:18] is not a false prophecy.

[a] Matthew 16:18, NKJV / Textus Receptus: https://www.blueletterbible.org/nkjv/mat/16/1/t_conc_945018


In Matthew 16:18 Jesus talks about Himself. He is the rock and on Him the church has been built. If you believe that He died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, the gates of Hades (grave/death) will not prevail against you too.

One of the Old Testament foreshadows of what Jesus told Peter was the story of Samson in Gaza:

1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her. 2 And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him. 3 And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron. (Judges 16)

As the gates of Gaza did not prevail against Samson, so the gates of Hades (grave/death) did not prevail against Jesus. Now He has ”the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

12 I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men. 13 The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them. (Micah 2)

11 As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. (Zechariah 9)

17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed (singular - Jesus) shall possess the gate of his enemies; (Genesis 22)

60 And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed (singular - Jesus) possess the gate of those which hate them. (Genesis 24)


Shall their unbelief destroy the faith of God?

The question is valid: Did the Roman genocide of the Jews and then Christians, wiped out Christianity, thereby defeating the Church of Christ?

The presupposition behind the objection concerning the extinction of the true Church of God is the nature of formal Church/ekklesia/Synagogue. The Church of the New Testament was not limited to a formal organization of the congregation. It grew as a heretical branch of organic groups. Now, these true churches (especially the Jewish Church) were destroyed after the end times desolation by the Romans. However, the spiritual Church, that contains just a handful of believers has always survived. There is always a remnant, chosen by grace (Rom 11:5). Even though the Church which conquered the Roman Empire, fulfilling the prophecy, may not be the true Church, yet there were faithful believers in such Churches. Regardless if it was the Church of the Jews, the Romans, the Greeks or the medieval reformer branch of the Romans known as the Protestants. The true church is spiritual and not a formal organized religion. The established Church fell away just like the Jewish Church or the nation of Israel in the times of the prophets. This doesn't mean the promise of God failed. The end of Israel does not mean the end of God's promise.

Isaiah 28:16 ESV therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

Search for the keyword "Churches of", and you will find references of independent churches of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, Judea etc. Which shows, there was no organized hierarchy of the Church. They did not answer to any higher level of Church located in Jerusalem or Rome, but directly to God. While the sound doctrine has gone far off from the apostolic Church, there has always been a remnant in remote parts of the world, and even among the false Churches, just like the early Christians were. There is no need to require a historical record of a formal organized Church in order to believe their existence. The records (Bible) of the apostolic Church has survived. For this presuppose that the Church is merely an earthly organization of flesh.

The true faith or religion of God cannot be destroyed. It has always been invincible against the gates of hell or the powers of the devil. The argument only takes in account the fall or discontinuity of the organized Church of the apostles. The Church of God and the Holy Spirit are not limited to the formal organizational structure, it is spiritual. The same objection occurs among the believers throughout the history in the times of genocides of the people of God, questioning God's power. It does not mean the failure of God because men can only destroy flesh. There is no reason to believe the Church of Christ was completely destroyed and was only revived in the 19th century, like the nation of Israel. The Kingdom of God is not earthly.

  • 1
    Thank you for answering, but I did NOT ask, "Did the Roman genocide of the Jews and then Christians, wiped out Christianity, thereby defeating the Church of Christ?" It would be good if people who say Christ's Church ceased to exist, requiring a restored (resurrected) church in later centuries to arise, would answer.
    – Anne
    Jun 3, 2022 at 11:32
  • That's the only cause of the extinction or near extinction of the Church in historical context (the 666 Roman beast). But those who follow traditional religion of Rome and semi-Roman-German would not answer and defend the idea of Church being ceased, though they even believe it cease and would say it was in developing until 4th century.
    – Michael16
    Jun 3, 2022 at 12:07

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