What Are the Gates of Hell
that Shall Not Prevail?

by Tony Warren

Matthew 16:18
  • "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."
hile the subject of Peter as the Rock "upon whom the Church is built" is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that nowhere, other than in Roman Catholic interpretations of this chapter 16, do we ever find even a single suggestion that Peter is the Rock upon whom the Church would rest. Quite the contrary, throughout the scriptures, Christ is identified as the foundation of The Church, and the 12 Apostles as built upon Him. The fact is, neither Christ nor the Apostles ever recognized or acknowledged Peter as Pope. Nor did the Apostle Peter ever speak, act or claim to be Pope. In Matthew chapter 16, Peter acknowledges the Lord as Christ, the Son of the living God. And it is in this context that it is stated Christ is the Rock upon whom the Church will be built. Without Christ as that Rock, neither Peter nor any of the Apostles would be built up a Church. Because they all rest upon the primary keystone, Christ.

Ephesians 2:20-22

Clearly Christ is the foundation stone upon whom the Church is built. But just as clearly, Peter is the stone that is built upon Christ, along with the rest of the Apostles. But as I said, this is not the scope of this article, so we move on to the subject of the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church.

In the context of the passages of Matthew chapter 16, Peter is acknowledging Jesus as the prophesied Christ, the son of God. And in this revelation the Lord begins to illustrate the power given to build his Church, upon Him. In other words, that He is that prophesied corner stone, and he would give him the power (signified by the keys) to bind and loose. That's why Christ tells Peter that this was not revealed to him by the flesh, but by the Father who is in heaven. And that Peter and the Apostles tell no one of this revelation. Unto them it was given to receive the mystery of the Revelation, but to others it was not given. Likewise the keys that they might bind and lose what was bound and loosed in heaven.

The controversy comes in when some Christians are predisposed to understanding the word gates as if it were some sort of offensive weapon. But we should not forget that this phrase was uttered in the context of Christ being the Rock upon whom His Church would be built, and the power given to do so. And so it is in this context of Church construction that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the power of Christ.

First, we should define some Biblical terms. The word translated prevail is [katischuo], meaning the power to withstand or resist. It is from the two Greek words [kata], in this context meaning against, and [ischuo], meaning to be strong or to have power. So it means these gates will not have power to stand against the building of Christ's Church. That God's servants are given the keys to open the gates, or in other words hell/death would not have the power to overcome the assault of the Church. The second word we need to define is the Greek word that is translated hell. In this instance it is [hades], meaning literally "not seen," and by extension the state of the dead. It is also translated "grave" in other places of scripture. It is a synonym for the the place of the dead. The word that is translated gate is the Greek word [pule], and means the entrance. A gate is the entrance to a city, a section in a wall or a fence that is used as an entrance. It can be opened to allow access or closed to restrict it (Deuteronomy 3:5). Throughout history cities were sometimes surrounded by walls with gates, and the gates were the doorway by which the city was entered. Christ Himself used the gate to symbolize the way of Life and the way of death.

Matthew 7:13-14

This is the same Greek word [pule], and Christ is using this term to illustrate the way or entrance by which men will receive the wages of sin, versus the gate whereby one would enter into everlasting life. The gate is the doorway by which we gain access to these things. One is Christ's dominion wherein is life, the other is the dominion of Satan, wherein is death and destruction. Likewise, in that context of the power given the Church (which represents the dominion of Christ), the gates of hell represent the entrance to the dominion of hades and death. It represents the adversarial kingdom, whom Christ gives His Church the power to spoil. When Christ said to Peter that He gives him the keys to bind and loose, this is in reference to the evangelistic ministry of the Church. The Church comes with the keys, representing the "knowledge" and "power" of Christ to bind and loose. This whole scenario of matthew 16 illustrates this work of power in Christ, that would come through the Church. In the Church spreading the knowledge of the gospel, it sets free the captives behind those gates. Those who were held by Satan all their lives and subject to this dominion of Hell and Death. By Christ giving the Apostles the keys, He is signifying that He is the God of prophesy, to give power to bind and loose that the Church may carry on His ministry. For gospel knowledge is indeed power.

Revelation 1:18

He is the great and eternal "I AM," the only one who could empower the Church unto judgment and loosing the captivity. Because Christ went to the cross and overcame/prevailed over death and the grave, His church is thereby commissioned to carry that banner to the world. They are tasked with the work of spreading the knowledge of Christ that the whole world might also be loosed from behind the gates of Hades/Hell and death. Christ is putting the building of His Church in the historical framework of assaulting the gates of a Kingdom or dominion that holds men in bondage. In any battle, the gates would be the first place someone coming against it would assault and try to prevail over. Thus the adage, "a city is only as strong as the strength or power of its gates." The gates of the grave are strong and it's gatekeeper formidable, but not as strong or formidable enough to keep Christ from freeing its captives. In building the Church, prevailing over the "gates of hell" signifies that through Christ, the power of the grave or Hades is defeated. This is how the Kingdom is advanced around the world and mankind loosed and set free from the spiritual chains of darkness.

John 8:34-36

The wages of sin is death, but the power of Christ is to freedom from the grave and death. It is through the gospel of Christ that that we who were subject to its bondage might be set at liberty. Christ uses this spiritual language of the gates of the grave not being able to prevail or be strong enough to withstand the building of His Church to signify our ministry to go and make disciples of men. The stronghold of Satan will not withstand the Church set free from the gates of captivity. The keys or power of knowledge in the Spirit will bring them out, that they might be translated into Christ's Kingdom.

Romans 6:6-11

Death has no more dominion over us. If Christ make you free, you are free indeed. Loosed, because the gates of that grave couldn't prevail against Christ's Church.

We should understand these things in the same spiritual context as we are sent to feed the spiritually hungry with the flesh of Christ, give the thirsty to drink of the waters of life, clothe the naked in the robe of Christ's righteousness that the nakedness of their sins will be covered, and loose those in prison that they might find liberty in Christ Jesus. In that we do this to the least of these, we do it unto Christ. As the Church goes forth with the gospel, which is the sword of the Spirit, it is on the offensive in breaching the gates of the dominion of the grave to loose the captives that the Devil holds in spiritual bondage. Again, this fits the context of the Lord declaring that He gives the Apostles the Keys (power) that what they will bind in earth, shall have been bound in heaven, and whatsoever they shall loose in earth, will have been loosed in heaven. It illustrates that the power of hell and death, which Christ alone controls, is given to the Church in its ministry of evangelism.

Matthew 18:18-20

I should make it clear here for anyone who doesn't know, that verse in the original Greek actually reads, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth have been loosed in heaven." it is an unfortunate translation that leads some to believe that the apostles are the ones deciding. In reality, Christ said the Apostles were only binding and loosing what "had already been" predestinated and decided before by God. Not Peter, all the Apostles Matthew 18:18-20. Whoever becomes saved, or loosed because the Church prevailed over the gates of the grave, was predestinated unto that liberty beforehand by God. The Church is merely the tool that God uses to get the work done. The work that was truly already finished at the cross.

In this mission of the Church, it breaches the gates that those prisoners might be set free of death. There are some who have the idea that this is New Testament symbolism, but in the Old Testament dispensation, the Jewish congregation represented the Kingdom, and had been given those same keys or power of the knowledge of the gospel. But the Priests and Leaders abused that power and standing with God, and hindered the deliverance into the kingdom rather than promoted it. And the keys and kingdom were eventually taken from them (Matthew 21:43). Christ touched on this when He spoke to the lawyers of Israel about entering the Kingdom.

Luke 11:52

They (as we) symbolically had the keys of the Kingdom, but they stumbled, not only in hindering others from being loosed by the keys that they might enter that spiritual Kingdom, but they didn't even enter themselves. It is a spiritual portrait about the work of the congregation in evangelism. The keys of knowledge signify the power of knowledge even as the keys of the Kingdom signify the power of the Kingdom. He who has the key, has the power. The key will open up those gates and set men free from the power of the grave. But these whom Christ spoke to couldn't understand these spiritual truths.

The fact is, in superficially looking at these passages of Matthew chapter 16, a lot of Christians will subconsciously reverse the actual text and read it "as if" it actually says or means that, "Hell will not prevail against the gates of the Church." But a careful reading of the text will show that this is clearly not what the Lord said. Hell/The Grave isn't assaulting the Church with a gate, the Church is assaulting the gates of the Grave and prevailing. Again:

Matthew 16:18

It says the gates of hell will not prevail (or have strength to withstand or overcome) the Church. It is not the other way around, as it is so commonly explained. It is the gates of the graveyard (so to speak) that is being breached and prevailed over, not gates attacking the Church and not prevailing. The fact of the matter is, Gates are certainly not used for attack, and so it should be evident that the gates of hades are representing the doorway to "the dominion of death and the grave." It is that which is there to repel those outside of the grave and to confine those on the inside. Gates are either to keep people, animals or things in, or to keep them out. The common misreading of this as, it is attacking the Church, is a misunderstanding. And this is partly due to this view being taught by many theologians. More than it being about Christ's Kingdom withstanding Satan's attacks, it is actually about Satan's covenant of death withstanding Christ's assault through the Church. We are commissioned and sent to break through the gates of hades, overcoming strongholds and delivering or rescuing the Lord's elect held captive within.

2nd Corinthians 10:3-4

That Greek word translated stronghold is [ochuroma], meaning to hold, as by a gate or wall used for keeping in people or possessions. These gates or defenses of the grave aren't strong enough to withstand the building of Christ's Church. That is the symbolism of the building of the Church and our spiritual warfare in pulling down strong holds. These strongholds and gates are simply not able to prevail against us. And this is not at all unlike the faithful prophecy to the Fathers of just such spiritual gates that the Church comes against, "in Christ".

Genesis 22:17

The prophesy of Christ's people being as the stars for multitude and possessing the gate of Christ's enemies illustrates our victory over these enemies' strongholds. Not these gates attacking the seed as the stars for multitude, but the seed possessing the gate. The children of God prevailing over the gate of the enemy. And it is by efficacy of Christ's death and resurrection that they possess the gate. Because they have been given the keys that they might loose what has been bound behind that gate.

So we can indeed see how because we recognize Christ (Thee Seed) as the Rock upon which the Church is built, we are empowered to with they keys of hell and death, that we might go with that power to open the gates and loose those under the power of the grave. The Church goes forth prevailing over the gates of the enemy much more deadly than any physical military. Prevailing over the gates of hades is representing Christ's power to loose men from the power of the grave. As it is written"

1st Corinthians 15:55-56

That word translated grave there is the same Greek word [hades]. The grave can have no victory when the Church prevails over its gates that the election might be set free. To open those gates of Hell that it might not rule over the elect. That is our victory in Christ over sin and the grave. There is no sting of death when the spoil is loosed, and there is no victory for hades when we are given they keys to open the gate to take a spoil. We can also see part of this in the Parable of the strong ruler of the Palace that is spoiled by Christ. Christ spoke of just this type removing of his defenses and spoiling (taking by right of conquest) from this strong man's house.

Luke 11:20-22

This strong man represents satan. Satan armed and keeping his palace with armor (his defenses). Likewise, Gates are also a defensive structure to keep people out. This armed Palace or court with this armoured strong man ruling over his goods is the dominion of Satan and the grave. But when a man stronger comes along (Christ in this parable) and takes away all his armor (defenses), that man can then spoil (take by right of conquest) his goods. The palace here, as well as the gated dominion of the dead in Matthew 16, represents the captivity whom Christ came to spoil (Matthew 12:29). And his spoil represents the elect who are loosed from this pact with hell and death. That is the same picture we see in the Apostles given the keys and going forth to build the Church by the power of Christ to bind and loose. It is only in the Spirit of Christ that they have the power (keys) to defeat Satan's defenses and deliver men from the dominion of the grave. And indeed if we look at all of the verses of Matthew chapter 16 carefully, and in context, we can see that the elect given the keys to bind and "loose," illustrates just this.

Matthew 16:16-19

Again, it has already been loosed in heaven. Let's look at the similar language found in Psalms chapter 9:

Psalms 9:13-14

Here notice that the gates of death are contrasted with the gates of Zion, and are portraits of the precondition of man spiritually dead before salvation, and his condition after he is lifted of God from that state to the gates of Zion or salvation. The gates of death here are equivalent to the gates of Hell or Hades in Matthew 16:18. It should be clear by comparing scripture with scripture that the meaning of Hell's gates not being able to overcome the Church is that, with all death's powers of captivity, it still will not prevail against the power given the Apostles (and indeed the Church thereafter) to loose and bind. For Christ has given the Church the keys or power to loose the captives and deliver them from the grave. Consider Hebrews chapter 2:

Hebrews 2:14-15

Satan had the power of the grave, which represents death. And he held the elect in bondage behind those gates all their lives. Until Christ, through His own death and resurrection, delivered them from the grave. This is the spoil that was behind the gates, these are the dead that Christ came to make alive. This is the understanding of the imagery of building His Church, and Hell's gates not prevailing against it. This is the imagery of Him giving the Church the keys to bind and loose what has been bound and loosed in heaven. The question might be raised, "what does the Church loose that was already loosed in heaven?" And the answer is, the souls that were held in bondage behind the gates of hell, and predestinated unto that loosing. People of the grave, dead in trespass and sin, the Church was empowered to set free. The whole passage is a declaration that the Church will go forth in Christ Conquering and to conqueror. They are empowered to gain the victory over the power of the grave, and to spoil that dominion. That's the power given Peter, and it is the power given all those instituted to build christ's Church. To deliver from one dominion into another.

Colossians 1:13

  • "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:"
  • Before we are saved it is as we are in a dark spiritual prison, and after as we have been loosed from the power of the grave. Through the preaching of the gospel the spoil is delivered from the power behind the gates of hades. We are the kingdom of Christ reigning through Christ in the Churches.

    Isaiah 42:6-7

    To loose the prisoners in bondage to the grave is by the work of Christ, and the Church bringing the gospel to the nations of the world, accomplishes this. As Christ told Peter, Feed my Sheep. Which is just another way of saying, if you love me, go evangelize the world. The gates of the grave will not prevail over your work to loose from the power of the grave, because you go in the spirit and power of the Lord.

    In conclusion, if the gates of hell are the defences, that is to say, the power holding men in bondage to hades and death, then it would follow that in Christ's words to the Apostle, was the great commission to the Church to go forth in the power of Christ to overcome those gates. It is our encouragement that the Church should have no care about failure, as they have been given the keys of Hades and death, that in the power of Christ they will prevail over those gates--for whomever has been loosed in heaven, sgall be loosed on earth. And because they are built upon Christ, the true Rock and foundation of the Church, ultimate sovereign success against the power of the grave is inevitable. His church is comissioned to take the word of the victory over Hell and death to the ends of the earth. As it has been given the keys or the power, that whatsoever they loose from behind those gates, shall have been loosed from above. And been given judgment, that whatsoever they bind on earth, shall have been bound in heaven. We can see that by the word "gates," Christ is painting a portrait of the strong fortifications and entrance to the dominion of the death of the grave. A stronghold that can only be prevailed over with the key of knowledge, given to the Church, that is established upon the one true Rock of ages. When Christ says in Revelation 18:1, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death," this is the key or power He gave Peter to prevail over those gates. He bound Satan that the Church would go forth against those gates to loose its prisoners.

    May the Lord who is wise above all, give us the correct understanding of His most precious word.



    Copyright ©2011 Tony Warren
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    Created 01/01/11 / Last Modified 12/29/11
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