The gates of hell – what are they?
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus teaches, "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." What are these gates of hell?
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The idea of gates in the ancient world indicated a source of power. A small village may have only a simple entrance; a large, fortified city included a vast gate that could stand against a strong army. When Jesus made reference to the gates of hell, the most likely idea was an indication that all the power of hell and death could not overcome the power of the rock (Jesus Christ) to build the church (His called out assembly of people).
This understanding is consistent with other places in Scripture as well. In particular, Romans 8:38-39 teaches, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." It is clear no power can separate the people of God from the hand of God.
Further, the Almighty power of God is consistent through Scripture. It is superior to any human power: "For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?" (Isaiah 14:27). Job learned, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).
First John 4:4 also expresses Christ's clear power over Satan: "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." God ultimately will reveal His power in casting Satan and those with him into the lake of fire for all eternity: "and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10).
Others find in this verse an indication of Jesus speaking about His own power over death. In this view, the gates of hell refer to the grave. Jesus was therefore speaking of His resurrection. Acts 2:24 is certainly clear Jesus overcame the power of death: "God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it." Romans 6:9 also teaches, "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him."
Believers never need to fear Christ cannot conquer death or the power of Satan. He has already defeated the grave and the gates of hell cannot prevail against His strength or ever stop His plans.
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