“The gates of hell shall not prevail” ~ Matthew 16:18

"The gates of hell shall not prevail" ~ Matthew 16:18

What in the world was Jesus talking about?

First off, we should understand the difference between two Greek words translated "hell" in the New Testament. The first is Gehenna, which was talking about a garbage dump on the outside of Jerusalem. All the dead animals and other filthy things were taken here to be burned. It was always on fire. Hence the adoption of this term by Jesus accurately depicted a future punishment of the wicked whereby they would be burned forever and ever as the offscouring of this world. The word is used in conjunction with

#1~ fire, Matthew 5:22, 18:9, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, James 3:6,

#2~ the destruction of body and soul, Matthew 10:28,

#3~ damnation, Matthew 23:33, and

#4~ it is the place into which those deserving of judgement will be cast, Matthew 5:29, 30, 18:9, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, Luke 12:5.

That is NOT the term that Jesus is using here. The term here is Hades, which refers to the realm of the dead or the underworld. Hades was the name of the Greek god of the underworld as well as the name of his realm. All the dead went here according to the myths of the Greek culture. The adoption of this term by Jesus signified that He believed as the Old Testament did, that all were bound for the grave, no exceptions. However, in the Old Testament, there was this mystery that those who were righteous had this hope (in a way they did not completely understand) of somehow being rescued from the power of the grave. Check out Job 19:25-26, Psalm 49:15, Isaiah 25:8, and Hosea 13:13-14 (note the translation of the Old Testament term in verse 14, Sheol, to be Hades in I Corinthians 15:55).

As opposed to Gehenna, the word Hades is used in connection with

#1~ the underworld, Matthew 11:23, Luke 10:15 (as opposed to being exalted up to the heavens),

#2~ the dead, Luke 16:23 (yes the rich man was suffering in flame but he was in the same place as Lazarus only separated by a gulf fixed),

#3~Death itself personified, Revelation 1:18, 6:8,

#4~ the grave, I Corinthians 15:55, and

#5~ the temporary realm of the dead, Acts 2:27, 31, Revelation 20:13, 14.

Note the difference between the references in Acts 2:27, 31 and Revelation 20:13, 14. The Messiah, along with all the righteous, are resurrected from the power of Hades, but the unrighteous are left there until the Great White Throne Judgement, delivered up by death, then thrown into the lake of fire (symbolized by Gehenna) along with death and Hades. Again, note the connection between the Old Testament term Sheol and the New Testament term Hades. In Acts 2:27, Peter is quoting Psalm 16 which uses the term Sheol for hell, while Peter uses the term Hades. The Messiah would go to the grave, but would not be bound by it. Hades is always used in connection with death or the temporary dwelling place of the dead.

Again, what was Jesus talking about when He uttered the words, "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." What "gates" are Jesus talking about? Consider a few verses from the Old Testament which speak of the realm of the dead being enclosed by gates.

Job 38:17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Psalm 9:13 Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:

Psalm 107:18 Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.

Isaiah 38:10 I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years. 11 I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.

With these next references, I am not advocating the studying of apocryphal literature for the sake of receiving God’s revelation, but only to understand the way the terms were being used in the days of Jesus. We already have the solid foundation from the Old Testament concept of the gates of death to which all the dead (including Hezekiah) would pass through upon entering the realm of the dead. So let’s just see some of the other references for the sake of comparing.

Wisdom of Solomon 16:12 For it was neither herb, nor mollifying plaister, that restored them to health: but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things. 13 For thou hast power of life and death: thou leadest to the gates of hell, and bringest up again.

Psalm of Solomon 16:16 1 When my soul slumbered being afar from the Lord, I had all but slipped down to the pit, When I was far from God, 2 my soul had been well nigh poured out unto death, I had been nigh unto the gates of Sheol with the sinner, 3 when my soul departed from the Lord God of Israel– Had not the Lord helped me with His ever lasting mercy.

3 Maccabees 5:51 and cried out in a very loud voice, imploring the Ruler over every power to manifest himself and be merciful to them, as they stood now at the gates of death.

So we see the language of the Old Testament scriptures and other writings circulated in the days of Jesus used the terminology "the gates of death", "the gates of Sheol", or "the gates of Hades". These gates symbolized the imprisonment of the dead in the realm of the dead, yet the righteous had hope that they would be rescued from beyond the very gates of death itself. Jesus’ disciples would have understood the language He was using here in His promise to build His church as having victory over the realm of death itself. The gates of death would not be able to overcome the power that Jesus was giving to the disciples

In light of Jesus’ entire ministry, this promise is one of redemption from the power of the grave. Jesus had been healing the sick, diseased, and crippled. He had been raising the dead from the grave; one resurrection took place after four days in the grave, John 11:39. He said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." And here in this passage Jesus makes the promise that the gates of Hades will not be able to overcome, will not be superior in strength, will not prevail (see Luke 23:23 for another use of the word) against the power (the keys of the kingdom of heaven) that Christ would give to the church.

Immediately after this, Jesus tried to teach them about His resurrection, but they were not ready to hear it, Matthew 16:21-26. The power that would overcome the gates of death itself would come through the cross and the resurrection. That’s the real meaning of this promise. The gates of Hades will not be able to hold the righteous dead within its walls any more. The power of death will be broken as Christ leads out the captives from within the gates of death into life everlasting. The kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God, the terms are synonymous) would work through the church in a way which would overcome all the power of death itself. That power is at work in the church today.

We have the resurrection power of Christ working within our midst, yet we look forward to a future, bodily resurrection, at which time will happen the translation of living saints, also termed "the rapture".  We have the down payment of the promise through the Holy Spirit that Christ will complete our joy that He began when He saved us out of the world.

To close this post, I’m going to post the lyrics to a Keith Green song, The Victor.

Swallowed into earth’s dark womb
And death has triumphed
That’s what they say
But tried to hold Him in the tomb
The Son of Life
Rose on the third day

Just look
The gates of hell
They’re falling
Crumbling from the inside out
He’s bursting through
The walls with laughter (Hah!)
Listen to the Angels shout

It is finished
He has done it
Life conquered death
Jesus Christ
Has won it

His plan of battle
You know it
He fooled them all
They led Him off to prison to die
But as He entered Hades Hall
He broke those hellish chains with a cry
Just listen to those demons screaming
See Him bruise the serpent’s head
The prisoners of Hell
He’s redeeming (Oh!)
All the power of death is dead

It is finished
He has done it
Life conquered death
Jesus Christ
Has won it

Just look
The gates of hell they’re falling
Crumbling from the inside out
He’s bursting through the walls with laughter (Hah!)
Listen to the Angels shout
(Listen, oh, listen)

It is finished
He has done it
Life conquered death
Jesus Christ
Has won it

It is finished
He has done it
Life conquered death
Jesus Christ
Has won it

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

P.S. Special thanks to Ladd’s The Presence of the Future for sparking this little study.

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2 Responses to “The gates of hell shall not prevail” ~ Matthew 16:18

  1. Jason Brown says:

    Hey Darrin,

    Where in any of the passages that you quoted about the gates of hades is the term “realm of the dead”? It isn’t there. There is no realm of the dead or underworld. I was thinking you were in the forums at Oasis during our Berean studies. I was wondering if you reject that teaching and if so, why?


    Jason (remember me from the AIR forums?)

    • Hi Jason- I have never posted on any of those forums. The idea of the gates of death is embodied in the old testament. Hades is used on connection with death. The post has all of the information. Even though the exact phrase “realm of the dead” is not used, the teaching that death and hades together give up the dead [in order that they might face the judgment] is quite plain, see Revelation 20:13. Death was not the end of existence, but the beginning of another. Metaphorically speaking, death in the OT was a giant pit into which one fell. Here is a link to that post.


      Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

      -The Orange Mailman

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