One of the more misunderstood passages of the Bible comes from Matthew 16, when Jesus tells us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church. Everyone properly understands that this means the devil will not be able to conquer Christ and His church, but many people fail to understand the direction of the fighting implied in that language. Gates are defensive weapons, not offensive ones. The purpose of the gate is to keep your enemies out. And so when Jesus tells us this, He’s telling us that the gates of hell will not be able to keep Him from invading the devil’s home and conquering Satan with His bloody salvation.
This is something we see reflected in our reading from Joshua this morning in Israel’s battle against the Canaanite city of Ai, a battle that very much reflects the spiritual warfare that Jesus undertakes upon the cross. So prior to this battle, the people of Israel have sinned. They’ve disobeyed God, taking spoil that they were forbidden from taking, which results in them losing the next battle against their enemies. But Israel turns from its sin, and restored with God’s favor, the people go out to war against Ai. The people of Ai, pridefully thinking they can conquer God’s holy ones, pursue them outside the city. But then Joshua, whose name means “savior,” reaches out his hand and his warriors invade the city and take it, a victory which culminates in the king of Ai being put to death by a tree.
And in all of this, we see a foreshadowing of the glorious offensive war Christ wages against Satan. Adam and Eve, God’s people, fall into sin by taking the spoil denied them, the forbidden fruit, and so the enemy king, Satan, gains the victory over them. But in His mercy, God sends Jesus, whose name means “savior” because it’s the same name as Joshua, to win the victory. Satan, seeing God in the flesh wounded, pridefully thinks he can destroy the Son of God and pursues Him outside the city. But then Jesus reaches out His nail-pierced hands and conquers the devil. There, in the cross, Jesus destroys your sins, tears down the gates of hell and boasts to the devil that his power is no more. Even though Christ is nailed to the cross, it’s ultimately Satan who is crushed and killed by the tree.
So be at peace. You don’t just belong to the Savior who hides you away from the attacks of the devil. You belong to the Son of God and King of Kings who went on the offensive, who pursued Satan, who tore down his kingdom and shattered his power all to make you His own forever.