I have an aging wooden fence with a funny gate. The wood is warped, so when you open the latch, the gate springs open. Fortunately, it is attached with hinges to the rest of the fence, so it can only spring so far. It cannot leave the fence or the yard; it cannot attack. Despite the warping, this gate, as all gates, is passive by nature.
Think back with me to the book of Matthew. Jesus had begun preparing his followers for His approaching death. They had to understand that His death would be neither beginning nor end to God's plan, but rather a transfer of responsibility to His followers so they could complete what had be begun.
Here’s a longer passage from Matthew 16:13-18, so you can catch the context.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Now that you’ve seen the whole conversation, focus on just one sentence: I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it, or as expressed more poetically in the King James Version, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
We can’t understand this statement in the same way Jesus’ listeners did. In Old Testament times the foundation of an empire was generally the strongest of several cities, and an empire often took its name from the main city. This was the case with Samaria, Babylon, and Rome. The disciples understood that.
If one empire wanted to conquer another, this could only be accomplished by capturing and either occupying or destroying the central city of that empire. In a time when arrows, spears and rocks were the strongest offensive weapons, the best protection was a solid wall, so these cities were surrounded by great walls. The only intentional gaps in the walls were gates so that people could come and go.
City gates were strong and imposing. But, like my warped wooden gate, they are also passive. They do not move to attack. They just stand there. When Jesus said, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” the picture was not one of hell attacking His church but of the church attacking - and conquering - the stronghold of Satan.
In other words, the church was and is not meant to be passively defending itself against the world, but actively moving out from where it is.
The church should be moving on the attack. Just as ancient armies would attack one city after another until breaching the final stronghold, the church should be consciously and visibly breaking into some of hell’s strongholds, anticipating and foreshadowing the final victory.
As encouraging as that may be, it is not the end of the story. If you go back to the passage with which we began, Jesus made it quite clear that He was not going to do all the work. He was giving the responsibility and authority to His church. He would provide the heart and power; it is up to the Church to provide the feet and hands.
Who is the church, but you and me, and all those who are following Christ.
And what are these gates of hell? Any person, group, government, nation, geographical area that stands against the church and the Lord we represent. We have the power of Christ in us, the active enabling of the Holy Spirit, and the command to break through to these strongholds of Satan, not to destroy, but to bring them into the kingdom of God.
Seems to me that’s called missions.