************ Sermon on Matthew 16:18b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 11, 2012
"The Gates of Hades"
Jesus promises that the gates of Hades will not overcome the church. Another translation uses the word "hell" – as in, Jesus promises that the gates of hell will not prove stronger than the church. Many Christians view this as one of the top ten promises of the Bible. But what does this promise mean?
I Militant Gates and a Militant Church
A "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." One popular interpretation suggests that the church is like a city. On the inside is God's people; on the outside are the heathen hordes. The church is under attack by the gates of hell but the promise of Jesus is that she will prevail.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." This sure sounds good and exciting and wonderful. The old Devil can try his hardest but he will not succeed.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." I am left with a couple of questions, however. Like, how do gates attack? When is the last time you saw gates on the march? When is the last time you saw gates attempting to overcome anything?
The problem with this interpretation is that gates don't attack. They fortify. They defend. They are there to hold their position. That's all.
Telling us what? Telling us, in this passage at least, that hell is not on the offensive. Telling us hell is not on the march. Telling us hell is not threatening to overcome the church.
B "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." A better interpretation is from a sermon I heard as a young boy. The minister preached on the gates of hell. The sermon was followed by a rousing rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers."
In my young mind, at least, was painted the image of the militant and triumphant church. The church, not hell, was on the offensive. The church went forth to do battle. The church is on the march. The church is reclaiming every square inch of the universe for Christ. The Devil, not the church, is under attack. The Devil is locked up behind walls and gates, not the church. And, when the church storms the gates of hell, Christ promises that we cannot fail, that we will not fail, that we will prevail.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." It is time to put the Devil on the run. It is time to save souls and destroy strongholds. It is time to reclaim this world for Christ. Because the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. What a wonderful, glorious promise!
However, there are problems with this interpretation too.
First of all, the number one command the church is given in regards to Satan is "to stand" (Eph 6:11,13,14). Nowhere does Christ tell us to storm Satan's walls and gates. Nowhere does Christ tell us to conquer the powers of darkness. I know that Frank Peretti's novels, "This Present Darkness" and "Piercing the Darkness," have popularized the notion that we take the battle to Satan. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that Jesus, not us, has defeated the Devil (Jn 16:11). Our responsibility is simply to hold fast and resist. We are not demon-slayers. The promise of Matthew 16 is not about venturing out on some spiritual crusade against the Devil, the Beast, and the Prophet of Revelation 13.
Second, one of the cardinal rules of biblical interpretation is that the Bible interprets the Bible. A passage does not mean what we want it to mean – even if the interpretation is popular and comforting. Rather, we must look to Scripture to interpret Scripture. When we do so, we see that this interpretation is not true to what Scripture says about the gates of Hades.
II The Gates of Death
A "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." The phrase "gates of Hades" is a Jewish expression literally meaning "realm of the dead." This expression is found in a number of Old Testament texts:
(Job 38:17) Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death ?In both passages we hear the phrase "gates of death" but the actual word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament is "Hades." In the Greek Old Testament, then, Hades is synonymous with the place of death.
(Is 38:10) I said, "In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?"
(Cf Job 17:16; Ps 9:13; 107:18)
Throughout the New Testament we see the same use of "Hades" – it is seen as the realm or place of the dead.
(Rev 20:13) The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
(Acts 2:31) Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave [Greek: Hades], nor did his body see decay.
So, in our text for this morning Jesus is NOT talking about the attacks of Satan. Nor is Jesus talking about the attacks of the church. Rather, Jesus is talking about death. So, what is Jesus saying to the church? On this Lord's Supper Sunday, what is Jesus' promise to the church?
Jesus is saying and promising that the church will not be vanquished by death. And, He has three things in mind.
B First, Jesus is talking about Himself. "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." Keep in mind the context. Peter has just made a confession, a wonderful confession, about Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). In other words, it has been revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. The Suffering Servant. The One despised and rejected by men and crushed for our iniquities. It is in this context that Jesus says, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Jesus is talking about His own suffering and death.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." It looks, at first, as if the cross and the grave are a victory for Satan. It looks, at first, as if the cross and the grave means defeat for the church. It looks, at first, as if Hades has overcome the church. But it only looks that way. It only seems that way. Because behind the scenes something quite different is taking place. The victory does not belong to Satan. The victory does not belong to Hades. The victory does not belong to death. The victory belongs to Jesus and, through Jesus, to the church.
In the Revelation we are given a picture of Christ's victory over death and Hades. Remember what Jesus said?
(Rev 1:18) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.Jesus is the One Who holds the keys to death and Hades. He locks and unlocks the gates that lets you in or keeps you out. He is the gatekeeper.
And notice, too, why Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. He is the Living One Who was dead but now is alive for ever and ever. By dying and rising, Jesus has victory over death and the grave and Hades. As Paul puts it in his letter to Corinth:
(1Cor 15:54-55) "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (55) "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." Death is not the end of Jesus nor is it the end of His body, the church.
Jesus is saying and promising that the church will not be vanquished by His death. Instead, the opposite happens.
C Second, Jesus is talking about church discipline. "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." Notice, again, the context:
(Mt 16:19) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.There is so much sin and evil in the church. In fact, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But sin and evil do not have the last word. To handle this sin within the church, Jesus gives her keys.
As pastors and elders, we are barely done with one problem and then another one pokes up. Sometimes, it feels as if the sin and evil will overwhelm us. For instance, we finally get a family attending worship and another family's attendance begins to decline. Or, the Lord uses us to straighten out a marriage and another couple develops marriage problems. Or, we help someone with their addiction and another person needs help.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." Why? Because Jesus gives His church the power of His keys to bind or to loose. This is the power to declare sins are forgiven when someone repents and the power to declare that sins are not forgiven when someone hardens their heart and refuses to repent. Meaning what? Meaning that in Christ the church has victory in her fight against sin that is within the body.
Jesus is saying and promising that the church will not be vanquished by the death and stench of sin.
D Third, Jesus is talking about our future resurrection. "The gates of Hades will not overcome it." This becomes a promise to each one of us as we face our own death or the death of a loved one. I want to remind you that death stalks each one of us. Unless Jesus comes first, each one of us will also die. But death is not the end. And death does not have the last word. Those who, like Peter, confess Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, know that they will overcome death. We have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57).
Jesus is saying and promising that the church and her members will not be vanquished by death.
"The gates of Hades will not overcome it." On this Lord's Supper Sunday, believe in this promise with all your might. But don't misunderstand the promise.
The promise is not about us and what we do. The promise is about the Lord Jesus and what He does. The promise is about His victory over sin and death.
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