googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Matthew 16:18: The Gates of Hell

Friday, January 13, 2012

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.” Matthew 16:18

When Jesus uttered these words to Peter, it is the only recorded example where He used the term, “the gates of hell.” What exactly did He mean when He said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”? Over the years I’ve heard various interpretations and there are at least three that warrant serious consideration.

The Minions of Hell:

In Biblical times, the gates of a city represented the seat of power. Most large cities then were walled and whenever visitors and traders would enter a city, they had to enter through the gates. Merchants and notable men of the city would wait there to greet them. An example of this appears in Genesis 19:1:

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;”

Another example is from Esther where Mordecai was often seen sitting at the gate with the king’s servants (Esther 2:19, Esther 2:21, Esther 3:2, et al).

In this light, the “gates of hell” could mean the powerful forces of hell (the Devil and his demons). They will not prevail against Christ’s church.

The Dominion of Hell:

As mentioned before large cities in the Bible were walled. The obvious purpose of this was defense. Whenever an enemy army attacked the city, they would try to breach the gate. Strong walls and a strong gate would thwart the efforts of the attackers and the city would be safe.

The Devil is the ruler of this world (John 14:30). He seeks to protect his domain and his gates are designed to hold off the true King. The gates of hell are his defense. But even the strongest gates cannot prevail against the power of Christ’s church.


The Greek word used for Hell in Matthew is ᾅδης (hadēs). This is not the place of judgment or eternal torment but the place of rest for the dead until the resurrection. Other passages describe this as the Bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22). It’s the same word used in Acts 2:31:

“He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.”

Gates are often used to keep things out; but they are sometimes used to keep things in. The gates of hell that admit the dead, also keep them in. When Christ died, His soul descended to hell (hadēs). However, these gates were not able to keep Jesus in. The gates of hell could not prevail against the Risen Savior and neither will they prevail against His church!

Whatever the meaning of the term, the promise of Christ is clear. The gates of hell, whenever they stand before us, either to keep us out or keep us in, they will not prevail. Amen!


Steven J. said...

Does Hades mean "Hell," in the usual modern sense, or is it intended to represent the Hebrew sheol, the grave or the realm of the dead? Note that in Greek mythology and religion, Hades was the destination of all the dead, although it was divided up into places of punishment for the especially wicked, reward for the especially virtuous, and a shadowy, dreary, but not painful realm for everyone else. In some places in the New Testament, Gehenna (literally, the valley of Hinnom, the garbage dump outside Jerusalem) is used to refer to a place of punishment after death; I claim no expertise in this matter, but many commentators distinguish between Gehenna (Hell) and Hades (the grave or death).

As I recall, in the New Testament, Satan is sometimes referred to as the prince of this world, but not as the Prince of Hell; Hell is his prison or place of punishment, not his kingdom. So while it would make sense for Jesus to say that the power of Satan would not prevail against his congregation, the more likely meaning, in my perhaps insufficiently humble opinion, is that he meant that death would not prevail against it: either that it, or its members, would never perish.

Side note: you asked the other day what people thought of your new blog format. I'm not particularly picky about blog design; yours has never been hideous, which is all I really care about, but I agree that the new design looks crisp and professional.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comments. I started writing a reply but realized my response was getting too long. Then I realized what I was writing might make an interesting post so look for that soon.

You said, “Side note: you asked the other day what people thought of your new blog format. I'm not particularly picky about blog design; yours has never been hideous, which is all I really care about, but I agree that the new design looks crisp and professional.”

Thanks for the thumbs up. As I said, I still have some tweaking to do. Who knows, I may tire of it soon and change it completely again.

Stay tuned for my next post. God bless!