Matthew 16:18, The Gates of Hell

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

//Jesus’ endorsement of Peter, here, carries a lot more meaning than one might understand from a cursory reading. As with so much of the scripture, first-century context is critical.

Jesus is leading his disciples through Caesarea Philippi as he makes this statement. The home of Pan, the goat god. You can visit the site of Pan’s monstrous altar-in-a-cliff even today, and see the huge crack in the rock there, known as the Gates of Hell.

Upon this rock will I build my church. Peter’s name, of course, means “rock,” and Jesus is using a play on words to emphasize both a pagan cliff and the name of his chosen leader. Whether he refers primarily to Peter or to the cliff face is arguable, but one thing is clear: the context of the gates of hell cannot be ignored. Could Jesus be hinting that the foundation of God’s reign is moving not only from the priests to simple fishermen, but also from Jerusalem to Gentile lands?