At our Hatchet session on Friday 8th, we kicked off a mini-season of talking through our ‘verse’ (Matthew 16:18) and what it means for us.

“…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

The ‘rock’ is the truth that Simon Peter spoke out after Jesus asked him, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

We’ve decided to dig into that one more in a later session – this time we ended up getting a bit dark by talking about Hades. What its Hades? Is it the same as Hell? What are the ‘gates’ of Hades meant to mean?

Despite the sketchy wi-fi signal at The Hatchet, we managed to access an old bible commentary written by a Bishop of Gloucester from the 19th Century, Charles Ellicott. The language he uses is fully old school – which we kinda like – the way he explains Hades is this:

“Hades [is] the shadow-world of the dead, the unseen counterpart of the visible grave, all-absorbing, all-destructive, into whose jaws or gates all things human pass, and from which issue all forces that destroy, is half-idealised, half-personified, as a power, or polity of death.”

Hades is like a temporary ‘holding place’ for unbelieving dead. Hell, on the other hand Ellicott says, is the final place – it kicks in after the final judgement.

Heavy stuff, huh? There is loads more to this that we could unpack, but rather than go into it here, we’ve posted some links below if you want to check them out.

So what about the ‘gates’ thing?

Ancient cities, a bit like our beloved Bristol, were surrounded by a city wall. The entrance gates of these ancient cities weren’t just the places where people came and went, they were also the main places where people did business, made announcements and held courts – so the identity and ‘heart’ of the city; its values and practices were formed, revealed and promoted in and through these gates.

So, going back to our old-school Bishop, he goes on to explain the meaning of the use of ‘the gates of hades’ in this bible verse:

“And as the gates of the Eastern city were the scene at once of kingly judgement and of the council of the elders, they became the natural symbol of the polity which ruled there. And so the promise declared that all the powers of Hades, all the forces of destruction that attack and in the long run overpower other societies, should attack, but not overpower, the ecclesia (church) of which Christ was the Founder.”

Or, as Albert Barnes more simply puts it, Jesus is making a promise here – that if the church (ie the people) build their lives together on truth of who Jesus is, then:

“…all the plots, stratagems, and machinations of the enemies of the church would not be able to overcome it.”

Boom! In a world where Christians and Christianity are under so much attack – physically, philosophically and culturally – this is a promise we as Christians should grab a hold of and be encouraged by! The power of the devil and all his instruments of death will never win – Hades and the power of death could not hold Jesus down, and it will never completely kill-off true faith in anyone’s heart, or stop the good news about Jesus from spreading through the world.

But as Christians we should be challenged by this too. Are we growing in our understanding about the truth of Jesus? And following on from that, are we applying it in our daily lives, especially in the face of so many challenges from the ‘gates of hades’?

If you still have brain space left after reading all that and want to find out more about this subject, check out the following links:

Got Questions

Canon Wired

Bright Christian Fellowship