The GATES of HELL!
Shalom Partner and Friend of Israel,
The Lord burdened us to write on this subject as we are living in a time of unprecedented persecution of Christians in the Middle East and around the world …and at the same time a rise in anti-Semitism is also taking place as Jews are being persecuted. Just as the Lord warned His disciples that they would be persecuted …and that persecution would intensify as the time of His return draws near …and that those of us who are His disciples would also be persecuted. Today, we are witnessing His prophecies come to pass as never before. Nearly every day we are seeing in the media how Christians are being beheaded for their faith. Others are suffering immensely in dire conditions and there is a deafening silence as their cries for help are NOT being heard!
In the summer of 2014, a shocked world witnessed the phenomenal sudden rise of ISIS… now known as the Islamic State. Within weeks, a path of destruction swept through Syria and Iraq, leaving unimaginable carnage in its wake. The brutality of ISIS and its global jihadist’s agenda is reminiscent of the Assyrian Empire in the Old Testament. The Assyrians levelled villages and cities with such ferocity that in the 8th Century BC, the mere mention that the Assyrians were on their way prompted some villages to commit mass suicide rather than be skinned alive, impaled, taken as slaves, or allow women to be abused and kidnapped. In a fascinating twist of history, ISIS was birthed in the same region as the Assyrians, and one of their major objectives is now clear …to eradicate any presence of Christianity – the people of the CROSS!
Yeshua (Jesus) said that His followers would experience persecution for merely being associated with Him. He also predicted an escalation of intensity over time. On the night before He went to the cross, Yeshua spelled out the details; "They will put you out of the synagogue, in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God" (John 16:2). These Islamic terrorists believe that they are doing a service to their god …Allah, by killing Jews, Christians and others who do not agree with them. Whether it’s in the Middle East in places such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Somalia or Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa, Nigeria or Kenya in Africa, Christian persecution is erupting around the world …and those persecuted believers are leading the way. They have been given a burden from God that most of us would not want …the ability to endure enormous suffering and emerge even stronger. Church leaders in these remote places (outposts for the faith) are fully aware that passionately following Yeshua (Jesus) has them on a collision course with hardship. They will be beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and maimed and many will be killed by radical Islamist terrorists …but unfazed, they move forward, in love with Jesus Christ.
On the 21st April, 2015 the Lord gave us this specific WORD in Matthew 16:18 to stand upon and to write about… "The Gates of Hell would NOT prevail against His church!"
We the church have this promise! Few promises of Yeshua (Jesus) are as scary …and yet so encouraging as the one made by Him to His disciple Peter in the following scripture… "And coming into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, saying; ‘who do men say Me to be, the Son of Man?’ And they said, some say, John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He said to them, but who do you say I am? And Simon Peter answered and said; you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said to him, you are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father in Heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!" Matthew 16:13-18.
The very words... "the gates of hell" can be distressing and traumatic enough to rise up thoughts of fearful dark spirits who are evil agents of torment and temptation about to be released upon the church. The phrase the "gates of hell" is translated in some versions as the "gates of Hades." "Gates of hell" or "gates of Hades" is found only once in the entire Scriptures, in Matthew 16:18. In this passage, Yeshua (Jesus) is referring to the building of His church and NO devil in hell would be able to stop it! At that time Yeshua had NOT yet established His church. In fact, this is the first instance of the word "church" in the New Testament. The word "church," as used by Yeshua, is derived from the Greek "ecclesia" which means the "called out" or "assembly." In other words, the church that Yeshua is referencing to as His church is the assembly of people who have been called out of the world by the gospel of Christ.
In ancient times, the cities were surrounded by walls with gates, and in battles the gates of these cities would usually be the first place their enemies assaulted… This was because the protection of the city was determined by the strength or power of its gates. In ancient Israel specifically, the gates of the city were a public gathering spot, a market, and where the elders, judges, and kings held court. Because gates were so closely associated with the essential activities of a city, Scripture sometimes refers to "cities as gates." Therefore in Genesis 22:17 when God promises Abraham that "thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies" some translations read cities. In Isaiah 14:31, gates are directly equated with the city; "Howl, O gate; cry, O city, all Philistia is thrown down: for a smoke shall come from the north, and there is none that shall escape his troop." In returning to Matthew 16:18, we can now see that, by the phrase "gates of hell" Yeshua (Jesus) is referring to the entirety of hell …to its ruling powers!
What is Hell…? In the Old Testament, the main Hebrew word was "sheol" which had a double meaning. It was a generic term for the underworld to which the souls of the dead went, including sinners. But, it also had a specific meaning as the place where the souls of righteous Israeli’s awaited the Messiah. In the New Testament, the Greek word "Hades" was used instead of the Hebrew word "sheol." Hades retained the same double meaning as Sheol. In addition to Hades, the New Testament writers used the word "Gehenna" as a specific term for the place of eternal punishment for sinners.
In the New Testament, "Hades" is the realm of the dead, and in Matthew 16:18 "Hades or hell" is represented as …a mighty city with its gates representing its power! Yeshua (Jesus) refers here to His impending death (Matthew 16:21). Though He would be crucified and buried …He would rise from the dead and build His church. Yeshua was emphasizing the fact that the powers of death could not hold Him captive. Not only would the church be established in spite of the powers of "Hades" or "hell," but the church would thrive in spite of these powers! The church will never fail, though generation after generation succumbs to the power of physical death, yet other generations will arise to perpetuate the church and it will continue until it has fulfilled its mission on earth as Yeshua has commanded; "ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age," Matthew 28:18-20.
It is clear that Yeshua (Jesus) was declaring that death has NO power to hold God’s people captive. Its "gates" are not strong enough to overpower and keep imprisoned the church of God... The Lord has conquered death (Romans 8:2; Acts 2:24). And, because "death no longer is master over Him," (Romans 6:9) it is no longer master over those who belong to Him! Satan has the power of death, and he will always use that power to try to destroy the church of Christ. But, we have this promise from Yeshua that His church, the "called out" will prevail; "Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live," John 14:19. The gates of hell are not to be thought of as a monstrous opening from which hell vomits forth demonic armies upon the Church. Instead, the gates of death could be thought of as prison doors that once barred the way to heaven. According to His promise, Yeshua is saying that the "gates of hell" can NO longer hold back members of the Church …just as they could NOT hold Him!
"Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi," Mark 8:27. For most that have not been to Israel and with no geographical knowledge, this sounds no different than… "Yeshua (Jesus) took the disciples down the road to the neighbouring village." The Jordan River begins with three springs at the foot of Mount Hermon in that city. It was here that the Tribe of Dan had relocated (before Caesarea Philippi) in the area from their original inheritance, the Philistines being too tough to root out. So they moved to this area and built the City of Dan and where Jeroboam built the golden calf, 1 Kings 12:28-31 (the "high places" of the golden calf is still there). However, living in Israel, this means more and that Yeshua decided to take His disciples on a round trip of about 45 km to Caesarea Philippi, the only recorded journey Yeshua took to that region or anywhere remotely like it.
The ancient city of Caesarea Philippi was built on top of a rocky area that goes straight upwards at the foothills of Mount Hermon. There is a massive wall of rock that is well over 100 feet straight up and about 500 feet wide and the city was built on top of this enormous rock. Yeshua (Jesus) was making a huge contrast to His disciples here… on the one hand there was this huge wall of rock and the city built on top of it that was dedicated to false gods …and on the other hand there was Simon, now made the real Rock, Peter (in Aramaic "Kephas") and upon whom Yeshua would build His Church and… the "Gates of Hell" would not prevail against that Church, that would give glory and honour to the One, True God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Peter became the Rock because it was the "Rock-ness" of Christ that worked through him. There is an importance of Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:13-19 and the reason why Yeshua would have wanted to make an analogy here …He was saying that the Gates of Hell …whatever they are …may fight the church but they will not win! The battle will rage long and hard, soldiers will die on every side, and the "Gates of Hell" may win a few skirmishes, a whole string of battles, but they will not win the war. The Gates of Hell are strong, but they aren’t strong enough. This is the promise that the Lord has given to the church two thousand years ago. Just like the covenant that God made with the Jewish people so will the church survive any evil that Satan may bring. Furthermore; Revelation 1:18 "I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." How do you get the keys to Hades? You break the gate wide open. You die and then you come back from the dead. And that is why the gates of Hades …death itself …can never overpower the church. Because Christ has died and come back from the dead and He holds in His hand the keys to the gates of Hades (hell)!
BUT, we ask ourselves why would (Yeshua) Jesus choose this place…? Yeshua chose to go to a place overshadowed with the presence of the demonic …a place with a history of pagan worship and human sacrifice! Yeshua wanted His disciples to hear Him make the great prophecy at the very citadel of hell rather than in the courtyard of the Temple. It seems that Yeshua went to the place that was considered evil and knocked on the Devil’s front door proclaiming that He would be victorious over ALL the forces of evil. He would use flawed human beings but they would NOT go in their own strength BUT that He would build His church!
Caesarea Philippi, which stood in a lush area near the foot of Mt. Hermon, was a city dominated by immoral activities and pagan worship within walking distance of Yeshua’s earthly region of ministry! Even though Caesarea Philippi was close to the religious communities of Galilee, this city's religious practices were vastly different from those of the nearby Jewish towns…! Could it be that He took His disciples to a most degenerate place possible to say to them; "This is where I want you to build my church…? I want you to go out into the repulsive degenerate places where God is NOT even known… I want you to go out to a place that make Caesarea Philippi look tame …and THAT is where I want you to build my church!" Because, that is exactly what they did! They went to places in Asia Minor and the ends of the earth, where "gods" were worshipped in unspeakably awful manners and where Christians would be persecuted in horrific ways …and they gave their lives doing EXACTLY what they were told to do by Yeshua.
In Old Testament times, the north-eastern area of Israel became a centre for Baal worship and in the nearby city of Dan, king Jeroboam built the high place that angered God and eventually led the Israelites to worship false gods. Later the worship of the Baal’s was replaced with worship of "Greek fertility gods." Caesarea Philippi became the religious centre for worship of the Greek god, Pan. The Greeks named the city Panias in his honour. Caesarea Philippi was originally called Paneas because it was the centre for the worship of the Greek god Pan but today, the area is called Banias which is an Arabic variant of Paneas. When the Romans conquered the territory, Philip the Tetrarch the son of Herod, renamed Panias to Caesarea Philippi after himself and Caesar Augustus. But Caesarea Philippi continued to focus on worship of Greek gods! In the cliff that stood above the city, local people built shrines and temples to Pan. How interestingly is it that our Lord Yeshua (Jesus) chose to deliver a sort of "graduation speech" to His disciples at Caesarea Philippi …and in that very pagan setting He encouraged His disciples to build a church that would overcome the worst evils!
"The Gates of Hell…" To the "pagan mind" the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gateway to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the winter. And, the people of Caesarea Philippi committed detestable acts to worship these false gods. The location of this city was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff. In Yeshua’s day the pagans commonly believed that their "fertility gods" lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring and so they saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods travelled to and from that world through caves. During that time the pagan’ understanding was that the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gateway to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld …the gates of hell! In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of the city engaged in horrible acts, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats.
A sign at the site of Caesarea Philippi reads: “The Grotto of the god Pan: This cave is the nucleus beside which the sacred sanctuary was built. In this ‘abode of the shepherd god,’ pagan cult, the ritual sacrifices were cast into a natural abyss reaching the underground waters at the back of the cave. If the victims disappeared in the water this was a sign that the god had accepted the offering. If, however, signs of blood appeared in the nearby springs the sacrifice had been rejected.”
When Yeshua (Jesus) brought His disciples to the area, they must have been shocked as this place was like “Sodom and Gomorrah” and devout Jews would have avoided ANY contact whatsoever with the despicable acts committed there. Caesarea Philippi was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell!
Whilst Pan in Greek mythology was the Pagan god of shepherds and flocks (especially fond of remote mountains and caves) …Yeshua (Jesus) is our Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep and flock (John 10:1-14). And, whilst Pan the god of the pagans was considered the god of fertility …Yeshua is truly the “Author of Life,” (Acts 3:15) and He gives everlasting life to those who follow Him (John 11:20-26). Whilst Pan was considered to be responsible for sudden (phobos) “panic and inexplicable fear!” Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Satan holds people in fear and bondage. And unfortunately people often choose sin thinking that it is the path of pleasure without suffering …but it will inevitably bring about suffering at some point and often cause suffering to those closest to them too. However, our Lord broke that bondage of sin and fear, so that by His grace we can die to selfishness and have “new life in Him.” (1 John 4:18; 2 Timothy 1:7)
“So they took Jesus out to what is called the ‘Place of the Skull,’ in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him …” John 19:16-18. When taking a closer look at the cave of Pan in Banias it is said to closely resemble a picture of Golgotha “the place of the skull!” Yeshua (Jesus) death and Resurrection destroyed Satan’s power over us on Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where He defeated Satan and ransomed us by paying the price of our sins!
Yeshua presented a clear challenge to His disciples with His words at Caesarea Philippi …He didn't want His followers hiding from evil BUT He wanted them to storm the gates of hell…! “Jesus answered and said to him (Peter), you are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father in Heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven to you. And whatever you may bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven, and whatever you may loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 16:17-19
To understand the significance of Yeshua giving to Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” we need to think about the importance that “KEYS” have… To do this we need to reflect on the significance of what a lock does. If everyone had keys to a specific lock then that lock would serve absolutely no purpose at all. It would keep no one out! A lock only has value because only one key works. Only one particular key (or duplicate key) out of the whole range of different possibilities of possible keys, can open that given lock. Therefore, whoever holds the keys to a specific lock has the UNIQUE position of being able to open that lock. Of course keys can be used to open as well as lock doors … without Christ the doors to heaven is shut or barred (John 3:18).
In Isaiah 22:22 it tells us that Yeshua (Jesus) has the “key of David;” “And the key of the house of David I will lay upon His shoulder; He shall open, and no one shall shut; He shall shut and no one shall open.” And, we see in Revelation 3:7-8 the Church received that key. Yeshua gave it to Peter at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:18.
You cannot confront evil if you are embarrassed of your faith as a follower of Christ… After Yeshua spoke to His disciples about storming “the gates of hell,” He also gave them another word of warning; “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory,” Luke 9:26. Yeshua knew that His followers would face ridicule and anger as they tried to confront evil and His words came as a sharp challenge… no matter how great the resistance we should never hide our faith in God. The Lord taught with passion, even when many unbelievers may have thought Him to be a fool. And at the very “gates of hell” at Caesarea Philippi, He challenged everyone within hearing… “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul…?” Matthew 16:25. And, in this city filled with false idols, Yeshua asked His disciples to commit to the one true God. While false gods promised prosperity and happiness, they would ultimately fail to deliver. Yeshua didn’t promise an easy life …but He delivered on the promise of salvation …the only kind of prosperity that really matters! Sadly, our world is filled with many who have “gained the world” but have lost their souls. If we hide our faith, they may never find the salvation they need.
As we listen to Yeshua’ (Jesus) Word challenging us today, we as Christians should ask ourselves a very important question… When it comes to the battle against EVIL, are we on defence OR offence…? Unfortunately, many people have embraced a distorted Christianity that tries to be “politically correct” instead of being “Biblically correct.” They don’t want to offend anyone, so they accept sin rather than confronting it. But, Yeshua challenged His followers to be on the offence and to proclaim the truth without shame. Our schools and churches should become staging areas rather than fortresses …places that equip God’s people to confront a sinful world instead of hiding from it. Yeshua knew that the pagan world would resist, but He challenged us to go there anyway, and to build His church in those very places that are most morally decayed!
What we do not confront we will eventually loose… When God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites, He commanded them to possess it completely to confront and remove pagan influences. But instead of driving out the Philistines, the tribe of Dan allowed them to stay and in the time of Samson (Judges 13:1) some even participated in the detestable things of the pagans. Fortunately, God always remained faithful to His covenant. Even though the Israelites had failed, God would not allow the Philistines to ruin his plan for salvation! Though Israel’s disobedience had caused them to be defeated by the Philistines, God was faithful and sent them a hero named Samson. God blessed Samson and empowered him to do great things …He burned Philistine wheat fields, he carried the Philistine gates of Gaza about 75 km’s to Hebron, and he was able to kill many Philistine soldiers (Judges 15). As long as Samson remained faithful and obedient to God, he was effective in his calling to confront an evil culture. But, Samson faltered and became attracted to the Philistine culture. Instead of confronting their evil value system, he compromised his own values and disobeyed God and allowed his hair to be cut after committing sexual sin with Delilah. By adopting pagan values, Samson failed to be set apart for God. Consequently, Samson’s mission, walk with God, and body became weak. He lost both his spiritual and physical effectiveness. The Philistines were able to capture and imprison this once unbeatable man. Only when Samson finally acknowledged God as the source of his strength was he able to defeat the Philistines …BUT he lost his life in the process (Judges 16:28-30)!
The Philistines worshipped “fertility gods” such as “Dagon” the “god of grain” and his mistress “Ashtoreth,” who was associated with “war and fertility.” They also worshiped a god called Baal-Zebul, thought to be Dagon’s son. Worship of these gods was so evil and abhorrent that the Israelites changed the name of Baal-Zebul to Baal-Zebub, meaning “lord of the flies.”
Isn’t it amazing that the Palestinians who today claim to be the so-called ancestors of the Philistines have “Baal” on their postage stamps…? Isn’t it also so amazing that today the Muslim Arab Palestinians who have hi-jacked the ancestral claim to the Philistines has become a threat to Israel and its people just like the Philistines of thousands of years ago? Muslims have embraced Islam, a false religion, serving a false god called; “Allah” a god of war not peace as they claim …and today the world is witnessing this through radical Islamic jihad …“When you meet unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads until you have crushed them completely, then bind the prisoners tightly,” Surah chapter 47. Their Koran promises rewards for doing so of sexual pleasures with 72 virgins in the afterlife.
ISIS has made more Christians aware of the threat of terrorism, but most are still NOT getting the real Islamist picture. There are dozens of Muslim terrorist groups around the world with the common objective of forcing some so-called pure version of Islam and Shariah Law on all others. Radical Islamic armies try to choose their places and times and they use strategies so that they can gain the most favourable positions, then their forces can take maximum advantage. Satan always manoeuvres and deceives the West as he pretends to attack one place but really holds his biggest group of troops back for a better opportunity …and that is to eventually attack Jerusalem! He confuses, putting forth one group but holding a greater one in reserve. This is the intellect behind the events which cause such great confusion so that the West does not even know who the real enemy is…!
Did you know that 70 percent of all terrorist attacks in the world that result in murder are carried out by just the Muslim Sunni terrorists? And, with the rise of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, that figure will increase rapidly. Many hundreds of Christians and other people are being killed each year because they will not convert to Islam, but the West chooses not to see that Islamists are fighting a war of conquest. The media and politicians tell us that Islam is a religion of peace …but when is the last time you ever saw Muslim people in the streets calling for peace and love rather than hate and violence…?
We in the West need to get real…! For a possible preview of their future Christians should consider the persecution happening in the Middle East! There is currently a world war underway. There are dozens of Islamic terrorist groups now waiting to see if they should hook their wagon to the ISIS Caliphate. If we do not destroy ISIS where they are now located in Syria and Iraq, they soon will be located in most nations in the world. The ISIS fighters are Sunni ideologists and Sunni mercenaries that come from all over the world. If ISIS does not become the new Caliphate head terrorist group for the Jihadists, al-Qaeda will retain control of that role. More likely, these groups will find common ground to fight Islamic Jihad together. We are living in “never-never” land if people around the world think Islam is not evil and deadly! Muslims have been kidnapping, raping and mutilating little girls since Muhammad. Yes, there certainly are many Muslims that hate evil practices …BUT these are in minority and they cannot speak up for the fear that their heads will be cut off. It’s like asking honourable Germans in World War II to expose the Nazis atrocities and doing so is to the risk of themselves and their families. When the Islamic evil begins to be defeated just like Nazi Germany was defeated by the world forces that came against it, the Islamic leaders will lose control and Islam will fall like a house of cards.
A war with Israel on the horizon is inevitable! All the evil is ultimately directed towards there as Israel holds Yeshua (Jesus) treasures …the soil bathed in His blood and the places made holy by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem also contains …the mystery of Church unity that so many yearn for and the union of the Church with Israel (One New Man) that Paul desired and prophesied about. These are enormous blessings which God wants to pour out upon His Church and Israel. Satan understands God’s design and is preparing all his evil armies to destroy Israel before this happens. That is why we say that a war with Israel is inevitable! Everything else is just preparation or deception and the Lord warned us that before His return the world would be in a time of great deception. When this war breaks out, we want the whole world to know how great the stakes are. Indeed, the Church that endures to the end …the Church that frees the living from the power of sin and death …is also the Church that prevails against whatever trials and temptations the devil and the other demonic powers of hell bring against it. Put simply …"the gates of hell" NO longer can keep the people of God, the true members of His Church out of heaven! What a wonderful promise from God this truly is!
God’s Word is true! He IS watching to see how the nations are treating His people. God will have mercy on Israel through Gentile believers acting as mediators towards them… This is one of the most amazing revelations ever given to the church – an opportunity to do something that carries the highest priority in the heart of God. Yet… sadly, so few have seen the potential and the rewards of serving God in this manner, as agents of mercy to Israel and the Jewish people! Israel was and still is despised today… and a despisable nation continually turning away from God but nothing ever altered the purpose of God for that nation. The despised element is always a noticeable element in the purpose of God. When the Saviour of the world came, He came of that despised nation; like Israel… He Himself was "despised and rejected by men," …and there is that despised element, "things that are despised God has chosen," 1 Corinthians 1:28. Now more than at any time is the time to support Israel and the Jewish people… the Lord’s Brethren! And, more than at any time is the time to stand with persecuted Christians ...the bride and church of our Lord!
We hope that you enjoy and become more informed by our work. We serve an awesome God and we are humbled by this opportunity to bring you this information. With Shalom to you and your family always,
Alf & Julie Saunders
01st June, 2015
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