Sometimes death is all over the news. We see the Las Vegas massacre. We’re painfully aware of the growing reality that not even our church pews can be considered safe anymore. We see reports of acts of violence almost every night on the local news. We’re continually reminded of the looming threat of nuclear war. But it’s more than just the acts of violence that grab the headlines. It’s the everyday car wrecks. It’s the loved ones with cancer. It’s ever-present “prayer lists” at church, continually filled with announcements funerals, illnesses, hardships and sufferings. With each day that passes we are reminded of our mortality and evil. We are continually forced to stare into the gates of hades.
The only way to stare into the gates of hades without fear is to be a part of the one Kingdom that is victorious over death. Of all the churches that may be established by man, only the Church established by Christ will be victorious over death. Of all the kingdoms on earth, only one has declared war on the grave itself and will emerge victorious.
When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus responded:
Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. – Matthew 16.17-19
Jesus came to preach the kingdom (Mt. 4.17). The theme of the kingdom was present in all of His teachings, His parables, and His actions. Here in His response to Peter, Jesus refers to His Kingdom as a church that would be built upon a rock.
Jesus goes on to tell Peter that the “Gates of Hades” will not overcome His church or Kingdom. The phrase “Gates of Hades” is sometimes misleadingly translated “Gates of Hell.” The word “Hades,” rather than referring to a place of eternal punishment, refers to the realm of the dead. When Jesus refers to the gates, He speaks of the ever-open, completely engulfing open door policy of the grave. By combining the two ideas, Jesus refers to the great strength, power, and dominion that death has over the world.
Jesus recognized that death is an extremely powerful force in this world. The power of death is a direct result of sin (Gen. 2.17; Rom. 6.23). When God created the world He said that it was good, yet death continually reminds us that our world falls far short of what God created it to be. Satan has filled this world with disease, tragedy, violence and corruption, all of which lead to death. The fear of death is what keeps wicked kingdoms in power; and the fear of death is what brings empires tumbling down to their knees. The poison of sin, death, and ruin has filled the entire material, moral, and spiritual world.
When other kingdoms see the all-powerful gates of hades, they seek to make death an ally. They look to use deadly weaponry and warfare to keep safe. And yet, Jesus believed His kingdom would do what no other kingdom has ever done: defeat death itself, that is to withstand the gates of hades.
In this response Jesus echoed the prophecy of Daniel.
In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. – Daniel 2.44
Just as Daniel had prophesied of a Kingdom that would never be defeated, Jesus too taught that His church would endure.
Other Institutions and Organizations
When Jesus stated that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His kingdom or church, He implied that the gates of Hades would be able to prevail against other kingdoms or other churches. If any and every kingdom or church were able to withstand the gates of Hades, it would not have made any sense for Jesus to specifically state that they would not prevail against His church. There is only one church that will be victorious over the gates of Hades. There is only one Kingdom that will be victorious over all the influence of death, destruction and ruin. Only the church built by Christ; the kingdom established in heaven, will endure.
Just a short time earlier, as Jesus was conversing with the Pharisees and the scribes, He stated:
Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. – Matthew 15.13
This was Jesus’s response when the Pharisees and the scribes questioned Jesus about ceremonial hand washing, through which they were invalidating the word of God to uphold the tradition of their Fathers (Mt. 15.1-9). In this response, Jesus stated that every law, every institution, and every organization which was not established by His Father will not endure. Ultimately, all others will be uprooted.
There Will Be A Judgment
Those who seek to domesticate Jesus as simply a “great moral teacher,” simply teaching His disciples a new, improved and more loving way to follow God, must be set aside. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom was a more loving way, but the good news of the establishment of God’s kingdom necessarily means that there will be a much needed judgement, wherein His disciples are seperated from the evil in the world and justified.
The victory of God’s kingdom necessarily meant that those who were not part of His kingdom would not be victorious. A distinction would be made between those who would follow Jesus’ way and those who would not; between those who would be victorious and those who would be defeated.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5.20
Jesus defined the boundaries of God’s kingdom. Without the judgement, we would all be destined to ruin. The only way to avoid that ruin is to live the way Jesus taught.
But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. – Matthew 6.15
Jesus taught a different way of living – a way of living that would bring peace. To reject His way of peace leads to destruction.
For all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. – Matthew 26.52
A distinction would be made between those who would pass through the narrow gate and those who rejected Jesus’ teachings.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7.13-14
Or to change up the metaphor slightly, only those trees which bore good fruit would escape the fire.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.– Matthew 7.20
Even those who thought they were following God, if they did not follow the lifestyle Jesus taught, would soon find out they were on the wrong side.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 7.21
The same theme was continually emphasized throughout Jesus’ parables.
When the harvest was ready, a sickle would be put to the crop (Mk. 4.29). The tares would be separated from the wheat, and then burned (Mt. 13.24-30; 36-43). The net would pull out all kinds of fish, but the bad fish would be separated out and thrown away (Mt. 13. 47-52). Those who rejected Jesus’ way would be like laborers who killed the king’s messengers who were sent to invite them to a wedding feast, only to ultimately be destroyed by the king himself (Mt. 22.7). At the banquet, those who took the best seats would be humiliated, and those who rejected the invitation would be replaced with others (Mt. 22.1-14; 25.1-13). When the king came to his people, those who refused to do the king’s business would be judged (Mt. 25.14-30).
It is impossible to separate the gospel of the kingdom of God from the idea that a distinction will be made between those who are part of His kingdom and those who are not. There will be a judgment separating those who are part of His kingdom and church from those who have aligned themselves with other kingdoms or religious organizations.
We stare into the gates of hades everyday. Yet because we know there will be a judgement, Christ’s church can stand boldly. All other religious organizations will ultimately be engrossed by the gates of Hades, and the ruin and destruction that death brings. All other kingdoms will ultimately be broken in pieces, shattered, and consumed by the kingdom of God, which will stand forever. But God’s Kingdom, Christ’s church, will be judged and justified, defeating the gates of hades.
Why would we want to establish any other “church” other than the one built by Christ? Why would we want to align ourselves with any other “kingdom,” knowing that all others are doomed to fail?
Becoming part of His church, and living as part of His kingdom is far more than simply calling on His name. We must follow the pattern of living which He set forth. The “keys” (or terms of entry) into His kingdom were established in heaven. His terms will endure when others will not. Living according to His teachings is the way to be victorious over the gates of Hades.