“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV)…
The way we typically think about this verse is that Satan will not defeat the church, but Satan doesn’t run hell, God does; so even though it’s true that Satan will not defeat the church, it’s doubtful that this is what Jesus means here. The language Jesus uses here is used in the Old Testament a couple of times. In Job we read, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness” (Job 38:17 ESV)? In Isaiah we read, “I said, in the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years” (Isaiah 38:10 ESV). These verse are worded the same in the Greek Old Testament. The idea being communicated here is the passageway from this life to the grave; so in a Jewish context the gates of hell would have been understood to mean just that: a passageway from this life to the grave. Put simply then, Jesus is saying that death will not conquer the church.
Though death is still a current reality, it will not have the last say; through the cross and resurrection Jesus began the work that will fully destroy death, and when He returns He’ll finish the job, but until that day we can rest assured that not even the gates of hell—death itself—will prevail against the church. Indeed as Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 ESV). Though we will die, death will not get the last say; indeed, in Christ it has become a gateway to eternal joy, because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). So we should have no fear of death, but rest in the promises of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But, what we should especially understand here, is that the church is built by Jesus, and is a forever community, that not even death can destroy. The church is an eternal institution that exists for the glory of Christ and the joy of His people, therefore it deserves our full dedication. The church will last forever, so every investment we make into it, be it time, effort, money, or whatever—all of it is an eternal investment, because nothing, not even death will prevail against the church. The church is worth pouring our lives into.
I am nothing; Christ is all!