Upon this Rock
Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:16-18)
Many have quoted this verse to prove the impossibility of the gates of Hades (the realm of the dead) prevailing against the church. They assume that regardless of the spiritual and moral condition of the church, God has never withdrawn His Holy Spirit from her, for a body without a spirit is dead, and that would mean the gates of death had prevailed against the church. But this is not what Yahshua was promising to Peter that day.
What Yahshua confirmed in Peter was that he was hearing from the Father -- receiving revelation -- not merely repeating what other men might have said. Peter had heard in his heart that Yahshua was the Messiah, and that revelation caused him to pledge his utter devotion and obedience to Him. Now that was something Yahshua could work with -- people who could hear from His Father and obey what they heard. Upon such revelation He could build an eternal dwelling place for His Father's Spirit, for that, after all, is what the church is supposed to be.
The Master said things like this to His disciples many times, such as in this familiar passage:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Hearing and obeying is the foundation of the house that will endure all that comes against it, and wise is the man who builds on that rock. But foolish is the man who builds his house on those who hear but do not obey. That house will not withstand the test. The floods of deception and the shifting winds of doctrine will prevail against that house.
So was Yahshua the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, a wise man or a foolish man? Was He contradicting Himself by saying that the house He was building would endure regardless of whether it was built on the foundation of hearing and obeying His words?
Many years later, in the waning days of the first-century church, the writer of Hebrews said these words to the church:
But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house -- whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:6)
The Greek word translated as "confidence" literally means freedom in speaking; unreservedness in speech. It is an outspokenness that comes from the confidence that one is hearing and obeying Messiah's words. Such outspokenness characterized the gatherings of the early church, when they were devoted to the apostles' teachings, but as the first century drew to a close and the churches were drifting from the simplicity of their first devotion, their gatherings degenerated to rote ritual and a professional clergy. That is the record of history. So were they still "His house" in spite of Hebrews 3:6?
Here is another promise the Master made to His disciples:
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him... If anyone loves me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:21,23)
Those who truly love Him obey Him, and He reveals Himself to them, which causes them to love and obey Him all the more. It is with such as these that He makes His home. He went on to say, "Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words." What can be said about them? Are they also His dwelling place?
If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Corinthians 16:22)