Roman Catholics are constantly telling me that Matthew 16:18—"The gates of hell shall not prevail against [the church]"—is proof that the church did not fall in the 4th century, like I say it did.
The church fell, whether the Roman Catholic Church likes it or not. Facts are facts, and asserting that something is impossible when it clearly happened is irrational.
So what in the world did Jesus mean?
Gates as Offensive Weapons
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of gates being used as weapons.
Even Samson, when he tore the gates off the city of Gaza (Judges 16:1-3), just ran away with them. He didn’t kill any Philistines with them, nor use them as weapons in any other way.
Gates are defensive structures.
Surely if the gates of hell are not going to prevail against the church, it’s because the church is assailing them. Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it?
So the idea of Matthew 16:18 is not that the church won’t fall. The idea is that when and where the church exists, she will assail the gates of Hades and bring back the dead.
The Greek there is Hades. There’s several NT words for hell, and Hades is a reference to the place where the dead are. It’s very general, so it can mean the grave as well as the place where the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham were (Luke 16:19-31).
One of our jobs as Christians is, of course, to rescue those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. Thus, we need to destroy the gates that keep them in Hades.
If we’ll join forces, giving up our divisions—that we like to more pleasantly call denominations, since our imperfect English translations neglect to tell us those will send us to hell like divisions will—then we’ll be able to tear those gates down.
If we don’t … well, then, we’ll just be more proof I can use to unwisely try to convince Roman Catholics of the obvious.