Hell Gates were a real structure in Jerusalem, and every person in New Testament times knew what they were and how specific God's protection and power is for our lives!! If we understand how they were used, we learn more about how to fend off our Enemy, the Devil.
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, a Bulwark never failing.” - Martin Luther
A bulwark, or a bastion, is a structure projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, situated in both corners of a straight wall (termed curtain), facilitating active defense against assaulting troops. It allows the defenders of the fort to cover adjacent bastions and curtains with defensive fire. The bulwark was designed to offer a full range on which not only to defend a position but also to ATTACK oncoming troops.
Perhaps Martin Luther knew when he referenced the Bulwark that God intended more for His children than to cower behind a fortress wall awaiting with trembled knee the enemy’s killing blow. I like to think he was telling us all that God is more than our cover... He is our offensive!
“…We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37
Many people still worshipped the Roman gods during the time Jesus walked the earth. One such practice was to offer sacrifices to appease Hades, the god of death and the underworld. People feared Hades, much more than normal superstition, the wrath of this god meant certain death. It controlled every aspect of their lives. People were terrified and the evil was personified by a cave with a gate at its entrance. It became known as “The Gates of Hell.”
The Gates of Hell were located at Caesarea Philippi which was an ancient Roman city located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon (Har Hermon or Arabic Jebel esh-Sheikh). Caesarea Philippi was a religious center for paganism because of the massive amounts of water which flowed out from its’ ground. These sources of life sustaining water lent itself to the worship of fertility gods as the springs symbolized fertility. The source of the spring was known to the Greeks as the “Gates of Hades,” that is, they believed the streams flowed from underground, the location of Hades.
The pagan idea was the gods would spend winter underground, that is, in Hades, and return in the spring to return fertility to the land and the animals. Fertility rites were practiced to encourage the gods to come out and begin Spring. If the gods were displeased - then there would be no crops and no food. More than that, they may curse you with plagues and pestilence. During some periods of worship, people sacrificed their infants and virgin daughters to ensure the good pleasure of Hades. No one dare refuse their children to be sacrificed if they were chosen. When loving parents attempted to save their child, the community would take them by mob force and then kill the parents publicly as infidels.
To the south of this Gate of Hell, just some 20 miles, Jesus said “The Gates of Hell will not prevail”. Before going to Jerusalem , Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and full well knowing the power and oppression that ruled over these peoples, Jesus proclaimed He would overthrow its reign. Jesus spoke of His triumph over all evil rite and paganistic strong hold in Matthew 16:13-19.
“13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Notice Peter’s reference to the “Living God,” evidently in contrast to the pagan idols that were there.
Jesus made reference to “this rock” which was in direct correlation to the locals’ very rock where the idols sat and where their children were brutally murdered. In effect, Jesus proclaimed: I and my church have defeated all the evil, darkness, strength, and power that Satan (Hades) has had over you. Jesus said to these people: You will never have to sacrifice your children again… YOU ARE FREE!
When Jesus took the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, it was a commencement into a new season in life. Jesus had taught them for three years, and by going to this place of spiritual oppression, Jesus led them to the main point of everything they had learned so far. That their mission would be to claim victory over the very power of the ultimate enemy himself, not behind closed walls, but in the world in which they lived. This is the spirit of the Christian mission.
The proclamation that Jesus built his church on this rock—means that his way has replaced the power, religion, and strength of the devil—and the gates of hell will NEVER prevail. The church is the “Ekklesia” in Greek which translates “the called out”… this is us… you and I. Satan and all of his dark forces can never and will never triumph against us as long as we are in Jesus!
Likewise, as the church, our Lord has given us a top priority mission. This mission is to be implemented in our culture and in our society. This mission is to take on the gates—the very entrance and strength of hell itself. This mission is what we traditionally call “The Great Commission”. Commission is an act of doing, achieving and advancing. Matthew 28:16-20 gives Christians our marching orders to advance the Gospel, the very good news itself that Jesus has defeated death and hell and that we all, every single man, woman, and child has the hope of eternal salvation.
“16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee , to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This means GOD WINS! This means We WIN!
When we truly digest that Jesus said the “Gates of Hell” would not stand against his church. The image is that the “Gates of Hades” would not defeat spiritual victory by the church. However, Gates are defensive structures. In the Church, our attitude is often to be defensive, to build gates, rather than to challenge and knock down gates. When we picture this imagery, we typically envision the church as a massive fortress, and the devil continuously pounding against it to no avail. Sometimes, this image freezes Christians with fear. So if the gates of hell will not prevail against the church; who is attacking whom? As Christians, we must not be defensive and impish. The image of the church as a fortress keeping the devil out is absolutely backwards!
Christianity as a pleasant and polite weekly event in which we warm pews, sing songs and maybe, if we are really ambitious, dare to be a user or deacon is also backwards. Christian churches and schools should be training grounds for challenging and defeating Satan. Much of the unchurched culture sees us as whinny, wimps who are naive at best, and dishonest fools at least who speak about morals and a good life but are ineffective and unwilling to get our hands dirty to actually help. Brother and Sister, We must heed the Gospel Call. We must take our place beside our Great King Jesus and fight the good fight of faith.
King David knew God’s power is unmatchable. The victory is already ours. Who can be against us? Please read Psalm 18. Feel and experience the absolute power in the imagery put forth. It’s chilling, terrifying, beautiful, and comforting to know that God has your back in this battle against the gates of hell.
“David is the servant of the Lord.He sang to the Lordthe words of this song when the Lorddelivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: 1I love you, O Lord,my strength. 2The Lordis my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I call to the Lord,who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.4The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 5The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 6In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. 7The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. 8Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 9He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 10He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 11He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 12Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. 13The Lordthundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 14He shot his arrows and scattered [the enemies], great bolts of lightning and routed them. 15The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. 16He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lordwas my support. 19He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Jesus as the King of Kings reminded his disciples why he came to earth. It was not to be placed on Christmas cards in a manger scene; it was to defeat Satan’s death grip on our souls. Matthew 10:34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Likewise, the Apostle Paul appealed to the church at Ephesus to remember they were in the war of all wars, the very struggle for eternity itself. He said in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
We are to be on the offense. We are called to go into every part of the world and victoriously proclaim Jesus and the power He has given the church over all darkness and evil.
Just like the Bulwark, God has our backs like a mighty fortress, but he also provides us a means of offense where we are to cannon blast our way through the powers of darkness with the word of light.