The Church and The Gates of Hell
In Ancient Times the Gates of a City served not only to protect the city but they were the center of much activity both social and legal. It was there that important business transactions were made, courts were convened and public announcements were heralded.
Gates are mentioned often in Scripture, and gatekeepers were an important part of maintaining order in ancient societies. Gatekeepers were guards stationed for protection at various kinds of gates, which could be city gates, palace gates, or temple gates. Ancient cities had high, thick walls around them to keep out wild beasts and invading armies. Heavy gates were set within those walls to allow entrance and exit.
A gatekeeper had to be trustworthy and alert for any signs of trouble. A gatekeeper lax in his duties could bring ruin upon an entire civilization, so the idea of gatekeeping implies alertness and security.
David and Samuel appointed 212 gatekeepers for “positions of trust” in guarding the temple of the Lord (1 Chronicles 9:22) rotating through week-long assignments. They were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the special flour and wine, and the olive oil, incense and spices.” Temple gatekeepers were in charge of who went in and who went out. They ensured order and reverence for God’s house.
Verses 26–29 speak of the four principal gatekeepers, “who . . . were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning. Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out.
In Biblical Times, the Priests, the Elders and the Leaders of Government and Society would gather at the gates of a City and attend to both the religious and social affairs of the City.
In the Old Testament we are told that a Gatekeeper was a ministering Priest of the Tribe of Levi.
Some Gatekeepers were also watchmen on the walls. Gatekeepers were trusted with the role of protecting the Lord’s House. They were stationed at all 4 gates. They also appointed and taught others around them to guard the gates as well.
In the Law of Moses, parents of a rebellious son were told to bring him to the city gate, where the elders would examine the evidence and pass judgment (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). This affirms that the city gate was central to community action.
Business, bargaining, news and the reading the Law or the administering of justice were all done in the City Gates. And, sometimes, the City Gates were the King’s place of audience.
Understand this; To control the gates of one’s enemies was to conquer their city.
Abraham’s blessing from the Lord contained the promise that his seed would possess the gate of his enemies (Genesis 22:17).
The Gates of Hell
Sadly, the majority of Christians have no idea of where Jesus spoke about The Church and the Gates of Hell…There was a time when Jesus took the Apostles about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. This was where both King Herod and Philip the Tetrarch built beautiful temples and enlarged the city. Originally, in Old Testament times, the city was known as Baal Hermon and it sat at the base of Mt. Hermon next to a cave that had been sacred to the ancient peoples for as long as anyone could remember.
This cave or grotto was a place of Baal worship and when Alexander the Greek came and conquered the land he built a temple to the God Pan there. The city became known as Paneas – The City of Pan. You should recall that the god Pan was ½ man and ½ goat! He was known as “The shepherd god”… a complete perversion of Jesus; our Shepherd King!
The cave is along a rocky escarpment with a series of hewn niches and in them were statues of the gods and goddesses that were worshipped there. Now there were two things that made this Cave or Grotto of Pan so unusual and therefore a place of worship and sacrifice. The first was that the waters that flowed out of the cave fed the Jordan River and secondly and even more importantly was that there was a bottomless well or pit of water inside the cave that was so deep that it had never been able to be measured.
As far as the Nation of Israel was concerned though, this was the very place where Jeroboam, the first king of Israel led the nation into idolatry! The ancients believed that the cave was an opening to “Hades”, the Underworld, and, they actually called it “The Gates of Hell”!
That is why it is so remarkable that Jesus led the Apostles there and revealed Himself as The Messiah and made the great declaration of the power and position of The Church!
Matthew 16:13-18 (KJV) When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Petros – a rock), and upon this Rock (Petra – a massive rock – like a huge cliff) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Reading the Gospel story does not convey to us the dramatic events that were unfolding right before the eyes of the Apostles! Let me give you a visual so you can imagine just what took place that day as they walked along the Cliffside.
As they passed the niches that were carved out of the sides of the cliff they saw the statues of gods and goddesses in them and Jesus stops there and asks them: “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man am?” They begin to say the things that people have said but Peter, looking at the gods and goddesses has his eyes opened and The Father reveals to him that Jesus is The Messiah, The Son of the Living God… He is Emmanuel… God in the Flesh and he blurts out: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus looks him right in his eyes and blesses him and says… “…thou art Peter (which is the name Petros meaning a stone or a rock). And then, as He sweeps His hands towards the Cliffside at the foot of Mount Hermon, the city of gods and demons; the City of Pan the ½ man ½ goat “shepherd god” He says: “…upon this Rock” (which is the word Petra meaning a massive rock or a huge cliff) “I will build my church”…
I know everyone wants to point out that it is the confession that Jesus is the Messiah that is the Petra but Jesus is pointing to the cliffs at the base of Mount Hermon and says that He is building His Church right here… right at the place where Idolatry began in Israel… the place where the gods of the nations were worshipped AND He then adds to that statement one that is so spectacular that the eyes of the Apostles must have been wide with awe…
While pointing to the very Cave of Pan at the mouth of the Jordan River… a place of Holiness that had been hijacked by Satan to become his place of worship… the place known as “The Gates of Hell”; Jesus says: “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
He is declaring that He, Jesus the Messiah, is claiming this place that had become a place of idolatry and unspeakable evil was going to be taken over by His Church!
And He declares that He is going to place the Spiritual Foundation of His Church there! He will build His Temple right there where all of these pagan temples now stand!
Of course Jesus is not talking about building physical temple made with human hands… He is talking about the Spiritual World! He is declaring war on Satan and telling His Apostles that the Prophecy of The Angel of The Lord was spoken to Abraham was being fulfilled by Him!
Genesis 22:15-18 (KJV) “And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore;
And thy seed (Jesus) shall possess the gate of his enemies…”
Think of how important The Gates of a City are… Remember, to control the gates of one’s enemies was to conquer their city. So now, as I’ve shown you the place where Jesus spoke these words and where He was when He did… Doesn’t that bring you to a completely different level of understanding the importance of what He said?
Jesus came right to the Gates of Hell and challenged Satan there!
And, doing it the way He did, He was demonstrating to His Apostles that He wanted them to be filled with Faith and continue to do the same thing everywhere they preached The Gospel!
He didn’t want his followers running from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.
With this in mind… the question for the Church today is: Are you storming the gates of hell???
Look at these images of the area and you will begin to see how powerfully Jesus’ words were conveyed…
This is the Cave of Pan and the Niches where the Statues of the gods were in Caesarea Philippi
This is a close up of the Niches
This is Pan, the “Shepherd God”… an evil, perverse counterfeit of Jesus, Our Shepherd King!This is the “Gates of Hell” and the “bottomless pit” of water
This is what the site looked like at the time of Jesus