The Gates of Hell

Posted in: 2008
By Tom L. Ballinger
Apr 4, 2008 - 10:24:55 AM

March 29, 2008


In order for God to speak to man, through His written Word, He had to choose words out of man's language. The Lord did not choose to speak in an unknown language, but rather, He took the vocabulary of man, selected words and, then, gave them a meaning which He wanted them to have. The meaning which the Lord gave to the words He chose to use is found in the confines of the written Word, itself. The meaning of the words which God uses is not necessarily found in Concordances, Lexicons, or Dictionaries. The words which man uses are continually undergoing change. The meaning progressively takes on a lower meaning. Thus, God selected words out of man's vocabulary and assigned them the meaning which He wanted them to have.
We learn the meaning of God's words by carefully studying how He uses them. The greatest possible care should be taken when dealing with the words that the Holy Ghost uses to teach with (I Cor. 2:13). Since God has chosen to use man's words, He had to purify the words of man so they, then, could become the words of God. Human words were taken and were refined and purified.
"The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shall keep them, 0 Lord, thou shall preserve them from this generation for ever"( Psalm 12:6-7).
We learn from this that He has taken the words of earth and purified them, as silver is purified in a furnace, and note that the purification of the earth's words were seven times, the number of spiritual perfection. That's not all; the words He selected to use have not only been purified, but their meanings have been preserved within the confines of the Word of God, itself. The Lord didn't choose to use all of man's words, but the Holy Ghost chose to use only those words which are found in Scripture.
1. Some have been given an altogether higher meaning than what man has assigned to them.
2. Some are used in a totally different sense from that which man has ever used them. All of this should point to the fact that the Lord would have us consult His Word to assign meanings to words He uses. His words and their meanings are set (i.e. preserved) in His Word.
With the foregoing in mind, let's notice the subject, "the gates of Hell," as it is found in Matthew I6:18. Briefly, it can be stated that in the context where the subject is found, the Lord has just asked the disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" They answer that some say that He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The Lord, then, asked them, "But Whom say ye that I am?" Straight way, Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Now, based upon Peter's confession that Jesus was, indeed, the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord acknowledged that the response of Peter was not based upon deduction of the human mind, but rather, which God the Father, Who was in heaven, had revealed it to him. Peter's understanding was enlightened, and he acknowledged that Jesus was, indeed, THE CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD.
The Lord Jesus takes that acknowledgement and states that He will build His Church upon that premise, i.e., He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The church which the Lord has reference to, here, is the "Church of God", not the Church of the Mystery. The Church of the Mystery was still a secret, "hid in God," and the Lord Jesus, at the time, didn’t know about the Mystery. That’s not strange because He said that even He didn’t know the "day and the hour" of His Second coming. Only the Father knew (Matt. 24:36). So, upon the foundational statement that He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Church of God was to be built. To further emphasize the surety of His Church, He states, "and the GATES OF HELL shall not prevail against it."
Immediately, the Christian mind that has been raised upon the orthodox teaching of "hell" recalls that "hell" refers to a place of conscious torment, in a burning pit, somewhere in the middle of the earth. Thus, the expression, "the gates of hell", must refer to the gates in the middle of the earth that keep the inhabitants locked in. Let’s remember what has been set forth regarding the fact that the Lord assigns the meanings to words, not man. The Lord has taken the words of the earth and purified them seven times, as if giving them a much higher meaning, changing the meaning, or even coining new words. We purpose to show that the word, "hell," has a meaning apart from that which man has given it. However, we are only going to consider the word as it has reference to the context of the "gates of hell".
It is very hard to unlearn that which men have taught us. The student of Scripture needs to allow the Word of God to teach him, willing at all times to be corrected from that which is erroneous.
The "gates of hell" is, in reality, an OT expression which every OT Jew, at the time of Christ, recognized as being from Isaiah. 38:10. Hezekiah had been told by the prophet to set his house in order for he must die. Being sick, Hezekiah said:

"In the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the residue of my years."
When the word of Hezekiah’s deliverance came to him, he said:
“…Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: …for the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee …” (Isa. 38:17-18).
Notice, the connection of "gates of the grave" with the "pit of corruption," "grave," and "death." Hezekiah spoke of going to the "gates of the grave;" the Lord Jesus referred to the fact that the "gates of hell" shall not prevail against His Church. It is quite obvious that the grave does not have literal gates. Oh, there may be a fence around the graveyard, and it may have an iron gate on it which is closed and locked at dark, but the grave, itself, has no such gate. So, the reference to the "gates of the grave" must be a FIGURE OF SPEECH. A FIGURE OF SPEECH is used by saying one thing to suggest another. "The gates of the grave" is a figure of speech, using a physical object (gates) to explain, or suggest something that has no physical form at all (grave). So, the figure of speech implied in the phrase, "the gates of the grave," is a Metonymy, that being an object (gates) put in place of an attribute (power) for the subject, itself (grave).
An example of a Metonymy is, "The tea kettle is boiling," since the tea kettle, here, refers to the water boiling, not the kettle, itself.
We notice the same Figure in Job 38:17:

"Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?"

"Gates" being a figure implying that those which death holds cannot get out. The gates are opened to receive those who die. They are held in the state of death by "the gates of death."
“Have mercy upon me, O Lord, consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death.” (Ps. 9:13).
Again, the "gates of death" meets the eye in Psalm 107:18.

"Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death."
It is noted that in the OT, "gates" is used as a figure of speech denoting the power of death, or the grave, to shut up those that go down to the pit of corruption.
Thus, this figure of speech refers to the grave’s power to keep in its grasp those who die. The grave holds its captives; only the Lord has the power to bring anyone out from the grasp of the grave.
“He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death [i.e. the goings forth in resurrection]” ( Ps. 68:20).
With this, agrees Revelation 1:18 where it says:

"I am He that liveth, and was dead; and , behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
This, then, implies that the gates of "hell and death" are to be opened by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the saints will "issue" forth from the grasp of the grave and from the power of death. Therefore, the subject, really before us, is resurrection. Jesus Christ as the Son of God has committed unto Him resurrection.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live [i.e. live in resurrection]” (John 5:25).
It should be noted that those who are in the grave and "hear the voice of the Son of God" shall not be retained by the "gates of the grave," "the gates of death," or "the gates of hell."

In the OT, we notice a very close parallel between Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:54-55.
“I [the LORD] will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction:…”( Hos 13:14).

Those which the Lord is to call out of the grave will come forth because He will ransom them from its power, or grasp. He will redeem them with power from death. The, "thy plagues," of Hosea 13:14 refers to the "sting" of I Corinthians 15:54-55.
"Death is swallowed up in victory. 0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave where is thy victory?"
The student who will allow the Word to speak for itself should now have impressed upon his mind the fact that the Holy Ghost has chosen to use the word, "hell," interchangeably with the word, "grave." In this study, we only purpose to show the word, "hell," in its relation to the expression, "the gates of hell." If we gain an understanding of its usage in its relation to different thoughts, or expressions in the Word of God, then, we can come to a Scriptural understanding of the word, "hell." By so doing, we will be free from the teachings of men. It is surprising, when we examine ourselves, how much of what we believe has been received from the traditions of men. How little has really been derived from the personal study of the Word of God, itself. Generally, we believe what we have heard and been taught by man, then, go to the Bible to try and get what we believe confirmed. We need, now, to make some conclusion on the Holy Spirit's use of the word, "hell," in the expression, "the gates of hell."

1. "the gates of the grave" Isa. 38:10
2. "the gates of death" Job 38:17
3. "the gates of death" Ps. 107:18
4. "the gates of hell" Matt. 16:18

The verses listed above are speaking about two things, not three. The reference is to the grave and to death. Numbers 2 and 3 match, and numbers l and 4 match. If this isn't conclusive, Revelation 1:18 ought to clench it, for the Lord Jesus Christ says He has the keys "to death and hell." Thus, the close association of death with hell, in Revelation 1:18, ought to point out that the "gates of death" and the "gates of hell" (i.e. the grave) will be opened, and those who had been held in the death-state in gravedom will be raised from the dead to live, again, in resurrection.
The Church which Jesus Christ said He was to build, in Matthew 16:18, was never in danger of going to a place of torment; it was never in danger of going to the hell of orthodoxy where there is fire, weeping, screaming, and gnashing of teeth. But, it was in danger of individual members of it dying. THE GRAVE would hold them until the voice of the Son of God was heard, then, the "gates of hell" shall not prevail against it (i.e. the grave shall not have power to retain its captives)." The reason being that Christ holds the keys to DEATH AND HELL.
Those who are held by the "doctrines of men" are not expected to give any serious consideration to this study. There are those Christians who believe the translators made a blunder in translating the word, "hell." They contend that the word, in English, should be rendered, "the grave." But, the true Berean knows the Lord has given a meaning to words independently of the language of earth. He has purified the words of earth. His meanings are found in the Bible, the Word of God.

Tom L. Ballinger

(First written for Plainer Words: February 15, 1972)