Matthew 16:13-28 Part 8

This morning, having spent three or four weeks focusing our attention on what Jesus had in mind with regard to the Church, we now need to take the next step.  For Jesus puts the Church “over-against” the gates of Hades!  As verse eighteen of our text says,


“…and upon this Rock will I build My Church, and Hades’ gates shall not prevail against it.”


This is one of those instances in Scripture where we just have to ask some questions.  Although the answers to those questions may not be complete (due to limitations in our abilities to transcend our own finitude), we still have to explore as far as we can in order to answer them!  Jesus uses terminology here which goes way past what we might normally expect, doesn’t He?  The figure of “the gates of Hades” is set against the Church; and the Church is, vice versa, set against the gates of Hades.

Jesus could have, might have, said something which, to our minds, might have been more concrete, such as … “upon this Rock I shall build My Church, and it shall never perish.”  Or, … “I shall build My Church, and it shall be triumphant.”  Or … “I shall build My Church, and it shall never be moved.”  But He did not do that.

He was very specific in using a figure which just “cries out” for some explanation – although any explanation we give is going to be, by definition, woefully short!  Why is that?  Because we can’t see as God sees.  And we can’t understand as God understands.  We don’t have a cosmic view of it all.  We have an inspired, language-representation of it all, and we have the Spirit as our teacher; but there are still severe limitations as we “see through a dark glass”.

But the point here is that Jesus uses a “figure” which is somewhat foreign to us – there’s no reference point or experience – and He sets it “over-against” the Church!  And we have to try to comprehend it as best we can.  “Hades’ gates….”

On the one hand there is the Church… built by Christ, built upon Christ, sustained and supported by Christ – a called-forth (called by the Holy Spirit) assembly of men, women and children in covenant with Christ; an assembly built upon the Rock which is Christ and which is fed with the body of Christ; a priesthood of “living stones” whose “keystone” is Christ, built up in service of Christ; a body of “warm koinonia” for the purpose of mutual edification and work-wide extension, and whose ultimate purpose is that Christ may be all in all and fill all –as was given to Him by the Father….

It is from this New Temple (this New Church) of God that “gushes forth” rivers of living water to the desert wastelands of the earth.  And everywhere the water flows, green trees sink their roots deeply and lift their boughs high to the glory of God.  It is the bride of Christ – in union with Christ!

And all of this is set, on the other hand, against “Hades’ gates”.  Now, as you can see, this is highly figurative language, and we have to exert ourselves to think with the mind of God and see with His eyes!  We have to wrap ourselves in Biblical language and extend ourselves past the limitations of our physical eyes and their perceptions of the physical world; for the Word Made Flesh – the One without Whom nothing was made – the One Who laid the foundations of His creation, perceives an abode called “Hades”, and it has “portals”!

Now, with regard to this, let’s first see that, whatever we understand “Hades gates” to be, it shall not prevail against the Church.  And Jesus quotes, here, from Psalm one hundred twenty-nine, verses one and two:


“Many a time have they afflicted Me from my youth; may Israel now say:  many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me….”


No matter what the affliction; no matter what the persecution; no matter what the intent and scheme (conspiracy) to destroy – God will preserve and make victorious His Israel!  The very words that Jesus utters concerning the Church – the Called Out Assembly of God’s People – are quoted from a Psalm which has, as its topic, the preservation of Israel from its enemies!  So we know this to mean that the New Testament Ekklesia – the Assembly – is the reality which was foreshadowed by the nation of Israel – the people called forth by God as holy!  The Church is the nation of God’s people foreshadowed by Israel.  It is Israel!

To illustrate that even further let me take you back to the time, in Genesis chapter twenty-eight, when Isaac sent Jacob to the original family in order to find a wife.  On the way from his father’s encampment in Beersheba – to Haran in Mesopotamia, Jacob rested for the night near a little village about twelve miles north of what was later to be Jerusalem.

The Scripture says that he gathered stones to lay his head on, and he went to sleep.  And during the night there appeared to him a ladder – from the earth extending into the heavens.  And angels were going up and coming down that ladder!  And Jahveh stood above it and told Jacob that He would be with him; and that he would give him and his seed the land; and that in his seed would all the families of the earth be blessed.

Jacob awoke in great fear; and he took the stone on which he had laid his head and set it up as a commemorative pillar and anointed it with oil!  He named the place Beit-el, or Bethel – the City of God.  And he said


“this is none other than the house of God.  And this is the gate (portal) of the heavens.”


Well, Jacob completed his mission; and, upon his return, he was commanded to go back to Bethel – which he did.  And God blessed him there, and He said that, henceforth, his name was Israel!  Then “Israel” set up another stone in the place where God talked to him; and he poured out a drink offering on it and, again, anointed it with oil!

Now.  Although this passage isn’t the subject of our Exegesis this morning, let me suggest to you that God didn’t dedicate eight chapters of the book of Genesis to this event because it was insignificant!  And knowing what we’ve already learned form the Gospel of Matthew, it shouldn’t be difficult at all to recognize the prophetic imagery involved here, and make the connections necessary in order to see that this is the Covenant cut by God with His people; and with Christ as the entrance and the surety!

It is obvious that Israel is God’s people gathered from the nations of the earth – the Church in Christ.  It is also obvious that Jacob’s anointed stone is the image of God’s Anointed Son Who was poured out for His people – and Who is the Rock foundation of the Church; and who could ever deny that this covenant establishes the relationship between the “house” of God and the “portals” of the heavens?  Out of the mouth of Christ (Matthew sixteen) comes the fullness of God’s revelation to Jacob – the portals of death and Hades shall not prevail against the Church (Israel) founded on the Rock which is Christ!

Now, we’ve been made aware, on various occasions, of the schemes and devices by which Israel was to be destroyed, or by which the lineage of Christ was to be interrupted, so that the Kingdom would be snatched away!  From the temptation of Eve to the killing of Abel to the deceptions of Laban to the taking of Joseph into the bowels of Egypt to the degradation of the Royal line of David to the captivity of Israel in Babylon to the slaughter of male babies in Bethlehem to the temptation of Christ – to the Crucifixion of Christ! – multiples of hundreds of conspiracies and devices and schemes have poured forth, in order that the Ekklesia might not be built upon the Rock foundation which is Christ; not to mention the conspiracies of the Balaams and the Jezebels and the Nicolaitans to degrade and compromise the Ekklesia from the inside!

As Psalm eighty-three says:


“…they have said, ‘Come and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance….”


And as Revelation twelve, verse four says:  “to devour the man-child….”  This is the design – to root out the name of Christianity and raze the city (the New Jerusalem) to the ground!  To oppose Gospel truth, to corrupt Gospel ordinances, to persecute ministers of the Gospel and Christian people, to persuade or draw to that which is inconsistent to the faith, to cut off the lineage in families, to cause sin and divorce in Christian families, to destroy the order in assemblies, to deceive assemblies by taking away parts of the confession of the faith, to sow alien seed and false prophets, to promote the “gall of bitterness” and disunity, or criticism, to promote the pride and envy of “self-hood”.  The enemies of Christ and His Church work for its ruin and its overthrow!

It is fallen humanity in rebellious conspiracy with the principalities and powers of the air, to destroy the Foundation and the Root; and the River of Living Water and the New Temple of living stones assembled for worship.  It is death against life.  It is the dragon coming up out of the “sea” of humanity to make war against the Lamb.  It is the “realm” of the dead which spews forth its evil in order to cut off the resurrection and ascension of the Ekklesia in its Risen Lord!

It is the Hebrew “sheol” and the Greek “hades” – death itself, in all of its forms and all of its consequences, which assails the Rock and the Ekklesia built upon it.  But the Rock which is Christ entered the realm of the dead and preached the Gospel in the midst of “death” itself.  And with the keys of the realm of the dead, He was raised in triumphant ascendancy and crowned as Lord of all creation – including the realm of the dead!

No matter how strong the portals of death are, and no matter how vigorously they assail the Rock, and no matter how hard they stand against the Ekklesia, and no matter how much vileness they pour forth, and no matter how hard “death” strains to gain the ascendancy, the Son of God, with the key in His possession, has entered those portals, preached the Word of God to death itself, and has emerged victorious as the Son of Man.  This God-man has defeated Hades – death – and He is the One upon which we are built as the holy, called-forth assembly of God!

So, if death itself has no sting – due to the “new humanity” going in and coming back out victorious – then the extensive work of the Church built by Him and upon Him is that which pushes back the portals of death from the families and tribes and tongues of the nations of the earth!  By the proclamation of the Gospel of God, the Ekklesia on the Rock enters the realm of the dead and proclaims the Risen Son of Man.  He even entered Babylon the Great – the great “whore” herself, the harlot of death, the greatest “death” in the midst of death, Jerusalem!  Hades’ “prime” location on the earth could not hold Him, but He was raised out of her portals “the Son of God with Power”.  And if the “foremost” in the midst of death had no success with Him, then how could “hades the lesser” ever anticipate His defeat? – especially since He’s now been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords by His Father!!

And not only does the Ekklesia extensively proclaim the Gospel to the nations in the realm of the dead, but it also, intensively, battles the portals of Hades in its own midst!  “Death” operates fiercely within the Ekklesia for its ruin!  But the Assembly of God’s people feeds, and is built up, from the Root which is Christ – Who has already defeated the realm of the dead!  Death has heard the proclamation of the Risen Lord, and its portals cannot stand!

Hades wishes to destroy the communion between the Church and its root.  Hades wishes families to have no lineage of Royal descent.  Hades wishes to hold just one of the Father’s elect within its grasp!  Hades works for dissension between husbands and wives of one flesh in order that the figure of Christ and the Church might be distorted! – and so that the picture of God the Father and His Son is distorted!  Hades fights for distortion and deception so that that which is evil looks good; and so that which is good looks evil!

You see, Hades is synonymous with the realm of death.  So that when a particular local congregation is full of false prophets, death has entered in and gained ascendancy.  When there are party spirits and strife and cutting criticism, the realm of death has entered in and gained ascendancy.  When there is immorality and no discipline, the realm of the dead had entered in and gained the ascendancy.  When rebellious, self-concerned men, and women and children split Churches and families, it is death!  O death!  There is thy victory; and there is thy sting!

But Christ! – upon Whom we are built up, and in Whom we are rooted – entered the realm of the dead in the flesh!  And He proclaimed the Gospel to Hades!  And He arose from the dead in the flesh!  He came out of Hades!

So, as Churches built on Him and rooted in Him expel the false prophets, the Church participates in His victory and prevails against the portals of death!  As Churches, feeding on His body, repent of the party spirits and strife and criticisms of each other, they participate in His victory and prevail against the portals of Hades!  As the Church puts away immorality with Biblical discipline, it participates in Christ’s victory and gains the ascendancy over the realm of the dead!  As families repent of rebellion and put away the distorted picture of Christ and His Church, they participate in His victory and prevail against Hades!  And when all of our children give us a royal lineage in Christ, then death has been pushed out of our families.  When husbands love their wives as Christ loves the Church; and when wives respect their husband with no hint of dishonor; and when children honor and obey their parents, then they participate in the victory of Christ and deal the realm of the dead another victorious blow!

The Ekklesia may grieve over its corruptions, and it may moan under the weight of its persecutions, but none of these are fatal.  And the Church may be sorely tried in its intensive and extensive work, but we


“are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans eight)


“And upon this Rock I shall build My Church, and hades’ gates shall not stand against it….”


“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about, in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh….”  (Second Corinthians four, verses nine through twelve)  “So then death is actively working in us, but Life is in you!”


Death reigned in the city of Jerusalem, “mystically called Sodom, and Egypt, where our Lord was crucified,” (Revelation eleven, eight).  And Paul says in Hebrews six that:


“It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly Gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the Good Word of God and the Powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame….”


There is great reason to fear, should one be defeated by the realm of death – hades, sheol – that a turning away from the body of Christ might result in everlasting death.    Although our Lord said, “upon this Rock I will build My Church, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it,” there is no security here for individuals and families and local congregations should they apostasize, and should they re-enter the realm of death!

What is assured is that as long as God’s creation stands, there shall be a called-out assembly of God’s people built on the Rock which is Christ.  And that being built on Him and rooted in Him, it participates is His victory over death!  Therefore the gates of death cannot stand.  Therefore if Hades’ portals are being pushed back and defeated, then you are driving out the realm of the dead which is operating in you, and in your family, and in your Church, then the portals of Hades are being pushed back and defeated.

Your accuser before God has been defeated by the blood of the Lamb.  His body was raised from being “down under” in the pit of Sheol!  And now you must be built up on Him and feed from His body; and suffer in His suffering; and joy in His victory.  And that means killing the death which operates in you, in order to manifest His Life!  His victory over death is your victory over death… His rising from the death of Hades is your rising from the death of Hades.  The portal of heaven has been opened to the New Israel.  As he defeated death, you must defeat death in Him, for sin must not reign in your mortal bodies!

This morning the sign of all of this is the bread and the wine.  It is the sign of participating in Him – of feeding on Him.  It is the sign of Life.  Not death.  It is the sign of the death of death.  It is the sign of victory.  Not defeat.  It is the sign of the portals into the Kingdom.  Not of the portals of hell.  It is the sign of obedience.  Not rebellion.  Love.  Not criticism and strife.  Poverty of spirit – not pride.  Salvation.  Not damnation.