The Gates of Hell

What does it mean that the Gates of Hell will not stand up against the Master’s Assembly? Why would the Assembly of Messiah attempt to get into Hades?

A spooky church graveyard on a misty winter morning (Image © Bigstock)

Yeshua told Simon Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Assembly; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mathew 16:18). Some English translations say, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is puzzling because gates are a defensive structure. Gates do not overcome anything; rather they are overcome or not overcome. And why would the Assembly of Messiah attempt to get through the gates of Hades at all?

“Hades” is a Greek term for a mythological underworld of the dead, but Jewish-Greek (like the Septuagint) used the word as a translation for the Hebrew term She’ol. If we think of Hades or Hell as the capital city of Satan’s kingdom of darkness wherein his demon’s live and torture the souls of the deceased, we have accidentally borrowed some imagery from Greek mythology. The Hebrew She’ol does not have Satanic connotations at all. Instead, the Bible uses She’ol as a term for the place of the dead, a synonym for the grave.

In a Jewish reading of Matthew 16:18, She’ol means nothing more than the grave, a poetic way of speaking of the confines of death. For example, consider Isaiah 38:10 where King Hezekiah begs God to spare his life as he laments, “In the middle of my life, am I to enter the gates of Sheol? Am I to be deprived of the rest of my years?”

In Isaiah 38, the term “gates of Sheol” appears as a metaphor for the passage between life and death. Therefore, when Yeshua says that those gates “will not overpower” his Assembly, we should understand the gates of Sheol more as prison gates which prevent the dead from crossing back over to life. The gates of Sheol keep those inside them dead, so to speak. Rabbi Yeshua says that those gates will not be able to withstand His assembly. His assembly will overcome the grave, break through the gates of death, and return to life. In other words, the Gates of Sheol will be broken by the resurrection of the dead when the Messiah summons His Assembly back from the grave.

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