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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.

Matthew 16:18 NIV

Gates keep people from passing both ways. Is Christ saying that his Church will break down the gates and set the captives free per His inaugural synagogue speech reading from Isaiah 61?

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  • Welcome to SE-BH. I have edited for presentation purposes only and so that you may see (within your own edit) how it is done. Please feel free to rollback to your own edit if you wish. Your question up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 30, 2023 at 20:32
  • There are at least 10 commandments. Breaking any of these would make an entrance. or a gate. to hell. Jan 7 at 1:14

7 Answers 7

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The New Living Translation translates "gates" as "powers."

Matthew 16:18 NLV

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

If a city had a gate, they would have power over any individual that wants to come in or come out.

Satan wants you to feel pain.

Satan can make you feel physical pain. For example, Job suffered from painful boils from Satan:

Job 2:7

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

Satan can also make you feel spiritual pain. For example, Job's children were killed, his property was destroyed, his livelihood was stolen, and his servants were killed. Satan was behind these losses (Job 1:1-13).

Satan can also make you feel spiritual pain by giving you more truth than you can handle. The word of God (or truth) is like a two-edged sword:

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Truth hurts (like a sword). Satan can give you so much truth that you reject more than he gave you. (It's known as "Throwing the baby out with the bath water.")

In conclusion, the gates of hell are the powers which Satan has over you. Satan can use those powers to tempt you to do evil. Those powers are:

  • Physical Pain
  • Spiritual Pain
    • e.g: Having a trusted and close friend betray you, more truth than you can handle, etc...

The meaning of the phrase "The gates of hell do not overcome you" is that you stay steadfast in the way of the Lord when you are being tempted by the devil.

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There have been two understandings of Matt 16:18 statement that "the gates of hades will not prevail against it [the church]" which are:

  1. Death shall not prevail against the church.

This view is supported by the statement in 1 Cor 15:55 -

"Where O death, is your victory? Where O death is your sting?"

  1. Since gates represent the place, in ancient cities, of the city council and deliberation -

Hence "the gates" here may represent the evil designs planned by the powers of hell to overthrow the Church, the wiles and machinations of the devil and his angels, Hades being taken, not as the abode of the dead, but as the realm of Satan. (Pulpit Commentary)

Based in the more explicit statements of Paul in 1 Cor 15, I am inclined to the first view without completely excluding the second view. Indeed, in Rev 20:14 we are told:

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire.

That is, the gates of Hades will not prevail, but will ultimately be destroyed itself.

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What did Jesus mean, that the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against his church?

Are not gates used to keep prisoners imprisoned? Whoever would want to break IN to a prison? Only those striving to release the prisoners!

The Gates of Hades keep mankind imprisoned in slavery to the fear of death and to sin. But Jesus Christ declares, "I have the keys of death and Hades!" (Rev. 1:18) Ultimately, once the grave has been emptied on the day of the resurrection, both death and Hades are thrown into the everlasting lake of fire - by Jesus Christ. (Rev. 20:14)

Jesus releases those who were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15). He does this by destroying the one who holds the power of death, the devil. Yet even before the destruction of the devil happens, the Church of Christ is triumphing over the various Gates of Hades, setting the devil's prisoners free. This world is a prison: "The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). Jesus came to "preach deliverance to the captives" (Luke 4:18) who, like King David, cry out in prayer, "Bring my soul out of prison!" (Psalm 142:7)

In every generation, the Church needs to identify which particular 'gates' are operating on their watch. In the Dark Ages, those were the gates of ignorance and chaining of the Bible, so that the masses of professed Christians hardly had any knowledge of what the Bible would say to them. There were gates of superstition also. Tragically, in this day of education and the Bible being available in thousands of languages, it can still be said that many professed Christians have little knowledge of what the Bible says, and many are still shackled by superstitions.

But in our era we have the gates of materialism, and of secularism, and of individualism, and of populism.

Christians must not spend time shouting to the prisoners beneath the gratings when so many Christians are, themselves, shackled by such things. And so much preaching is nothing more than marching the prisoners around the exercise yard. They are not set free by Christless preaching (2 Tim. 4:1-3). Only Christ's authority causes those wretched gates to yield to his command. Christians use that authority when they unapologetically proclaim the gospel of Christ, though it be "to the Jews a stumbling block, and to Greeks, foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Christ has given his Church weapons which are "mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

That's what Christ meant the Church to do, fortified with assurance of his power and protection, and Christ will destroy Hades, with all its myriad gates, on the Day of Judgement.

Source: Rev. Guy R Finnie series of articles in the Portsmouth Baptist Church magazine, 1996

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The gates of Hades

In ancient Greek literature the gates of Hades is a reference to death -- this is evident in many ancient writers, including Homer. In the Iliad, when Tlepolemus is insulting Sarpedon and telling Sarpedon he's about to be killed, he declares:

You are a coward, and your people are falling from you. For all your strength, and all your coming from Lycia, you will be no help to the Trojans but will pass the gates of Hades vanquished by my hand (The Iliad Book V)

You will pass the gates of Hades is a poetic way for Tlepolemus to say I'm going to kill you.

It is unfortunate that many translators render "gehenna" & "hades" both as hell in English -- they are different concepts in the Greek New Testament, and when "hades" in Matthew 16:18 is rendered as "hell", some of the meaning is obscured.

In context, this verse is saying that death will not prevail. But death will not prevail against what?

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What does "it" refer to

In another post I addressed the challenging question of what is the it referred to in Matthew 16:18. Both "the rock" and "the church" are grammatically possible antecedents to the feminine singular αὐτῆς ("it").

Since the church is only secure to the extent it is founded upon the rock, if death prevailed against the rock both the rock & the church are going down. The only hope for the church is that death does not prevail against the rock.

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Conclusion

This passage has been interpreted many ways. I suggest the simplest meaning is this:

It is Jesus who grants victory over death; it is the revelatory testimony of Jesus as the Messiah & Son of God (declared by Peter in v16) that is being praised in Matthew 16:17. The church helps people access the power upon which it is built, but it is neither the church nor Peter that overcomes death: it is Jesus the Messiah the Son of God, the truth of whose identity and mission was made known to Peter by revelation from God.

The Son of God would die, but He would rise again. In the end death would neither prevail against Christ nor revealed truth.

To address the specific question from the OP - though Isaiah 61 does not appear to be the focus of this teaching, it is because death would not prevail that the captives can be set free.

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    +1 – you are right, Gehenna and Hades are entirely two different things. But Simon is Petros and Jesus is “this Petra” (1 Cor 10:4) upon which the Church is built! In OT, Yahweh is the Rock of salvation (2 Sam 22:47)! Dec 31, 2023 at 4:58
  • Did a poor Galilean who only spoke Aramaic (and maybe Hebrew) use Greek expressions?
    – RonJohn
    Dec 31, 2023 at 5:55
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    @RonJohn whether this Greek passage is Jesus' statement in Greek or a disciple's translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic teaching into Greek we are not told (Stanley Porter, for one, believes Jesus was teaching in Greek on this occasion). But can a saying in one language be used in another? Of course--any time you say "the die is cast" you are using a Latin saying that is well-known in English. As for the historical evidence on what languages Jesus spoke, see my work here: What Languages Did Jesus Speak? Dec 31, 2023 at 20:22
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    A comprehensive answer indeed. When I say that I'm including your other posting on the matter of the "it", although that was not easy to follow. Liked the "Iliad" reference also. + 1. Jan 1 at 5:28
  • @OldeEnglish glad somebody appreciated the Iliad =) Jan 1 at 5:33
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In besieging an ancient city or fortress, the critical points of defense were the gates. Various means were used to try to break down those gates in order to conquer or "overthrow" a city or fortress, including battering rams, fire, or direct assault to gain control of one or more gates. Once an attacker controlled a gate, entry was simplified and the city or fortress was doomed.

Hades is here being portrayed as a fortress and the gates are the critical point of defense. Gates prevailing indicates that the attacker has been beaten off and the fortress kept safe. Saying that the gates shall not prevail indicates that the attacker will assault those gates and gain entry to the fortress.

Thus this is a statement not about Hades attacking the church, it is a statement that the church will assault Hades and break down its gates. Since Hades is the underworld, this means that the church has been given power over the underworld.

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You said that the church has been given power over the underworld. Are you referring to commanding/praying against satan and his demons? Mar 16:17  'And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils...'

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Context, Context Any interpretation must not ignore the context of the passage of Scripture. In this case, the geographical context is of utmost importance. Jesus and the disciples are having a seminar at Caesarea Philippi, in the northern part of Israel.

At this location was a large cavern which was called, the Gates of Hell. Its venture into the depths of the Earth caused many dreams of the underworld, and was foreboding. Several shrines and Temples were built here to appease the spirits, and there was even a Temple here in honor of Caesar (hence the name, Caesarea).

It is here that Jesus decreed that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). That is, He was strongly declaring that nothing, not even death or hell or any of the underworld spirits, would ever conquer His Church! Jesus was using an object lesson for His disciples to understand the invincibility of His Kingdom.

This is where a study of Judean geography, Greek and Roman history, and religious tradition would be important, and necessary in order to come to a proper interpretation of Scripture. {Read Historical Geography of Israel, etc.}

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