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 What are the “gates of Hades”?  See Isa 38:10, as well as 3Ma 5:51, Wis 16:13, Psalms of Solomon 16:2 and from the Apocrypha[1].  See also Job 38:17, Psa 9:13, 107:18.  Note that “overpower” in Mat 16:18 means to overcome or prevail over, win out; see KJV and Luk 23:23 where the same word is used.  What would it mean for the gates of Hades to overcome or prevail against Jesus, whom Peter had just acknowledged as the Messiah?  What would that mean for the assembly of those whom He would call out of darkness into the light to be a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (see 1Pe 2:9)?  What then does Jesus mean that the gates of Hades will not overpower the church that He will build upon the solid rock foundation that He is in fact the promised Messiah?  See Mat 16:21, Act 2:24-32; cf. 2Sa 7:12-13,16, Psa 89:35-37, Dan 2:44, 7:13-14, Luk 1:33, Heb 1:8.  What does it mean personally to us as members of that assembly or congregation whom Jesus has called out of darkness that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it?  Think: In the eyes of unregenerate man and the world, what is the ultimate and greatest defeat?  Is death a defeat for the Christian?  See John 11:25-26, Rom 6:8-9, 1Co 15:54-57, Phil 1:21.  Should we then fear death?  Should we be afraid that if we were to lose our lives in service to the Lord that death would win out and we will have suffered defeat?  Think of the example of Stephen, or Jim Elliot and Nick Saint, or any of the multitude of other Christian martyrs throughout history; were their deaths a defeat?

What is the two-fold purpose of a key?  See Isa 22:22, Rev 3:7.  How does this help us understand what Jesus means by binding and loosing?  Cf. Luk 11:52 and note[2].  What did the keys open and shut that Jesus says in Mat 16:19 that He will give to Peter?  What is the significance of the future perfect passive tense that is used to describe the binding and loosing power of the keys[3]?  Think: Did the binding and loosing power of the keys derive from Peter’s own will and authority, or did it in fact derive from God in heaven with Peter as the steward who exercised God’s authority on His behalf?  Is the “kingdom of heaven” like the kingdoms of this world, as if Jesus was conferring upon Peter some sort of ecclesiastical power or authority over others?  See Mat 20:25-28.  Does this verse then invest in Peter and his successors any sort of supreme civil or secular power such as the Pope came to exercise over the Papal states?  Was it in fact to Peter only that Jesus conferred the authority of binding and loosing?  See Mat 18:18-20, Joh 20:21-23.  Again, is there any evidence here, or anywhere in Scripture, that this verse is to be understood in the ecclesiastical sense of a papal succession and primacy over others as taught by the Roman Catholic church?  Where in Scripture do we find Peter and others using these keys to open and shut the kingdom of heaven, to loose and to bind?  See Act 2:14-42, 3:1-26, 5:14-16, 8:5,14-17, 10:44-48, 13:15-16ff, etc…; Act 5:1-11, 8:20-21; 13:8-11,44-46, 18:6, etc….

Is there a relationship between the gates of Hades and the keys of the kingdom of heaven?  See Rev 1:18 and think: How central to the gospel of the kingdom is the understanding of how one may escape from death?  By what means only is one able to escape from death?  Is it possible to escape from death and not enter Christ’s kingdom?  Why did Jesus warn or “strictly admonish” (NASB text note) the disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah?  Do people today have similar preconceived notions about Jesus that prevent them from truly understanding what it means when we tell them that Jesus is the Savior?  What is the common understanding of even most Christians today in regard to Jesus saving us from our sins?  Do they think of that salvation in terms of deliverance from the power of sin, or only the penalty of sin?  What was the key that eventually allowed the disciples to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and opened people’s understanding of what that meant?  See Act 2:24,32.  In what way is the resurrection of Christ from the dead also the key that opens people’s understanding of what it means that Jesus saves us from our sins?  See Rom 6:5-11.  If people do not see the resurrection power of Christ displayed in transformed, holy lives, will they understand what it truly means that He saves them from their sins?


1. 3 Maccabees 5:48-51  48 When the Jews saw the dust raised by the elephants going out at the gate and by the following armed forces, as well as by the trampling of the crowd, and heard the loud and tumultuous noise,  49 they thought that this was their last moment of life, the end of their most miserable suspense, and giving way to lamentation and groans they kissed each other, embracing relatives and falling into one another’s arms– parents and children, mothers and daughters, and others with babies at their breasts who were drawing their last milk.  50 Not only this, but when they considered the help that they had received before from heaven, they prostrated themselves with one accord on the ground, removing the babies from their breasts,  51 and cried out in a very loud voice, imploring the Ruler over every power to manifest himself and be merciful to them, as they stood now at the gates of death (lit. “Hades”).

Wisdom 16:13 For you have power over life and death; you lead mortals down to the gates of Hades and back again.

Psalms of Solomon 16:2 Within a little [while] my soul would have been poured out to death, near the gates of Hades, with the sinner.

2. Some make the giving of the keys to allude to the custom of the Jews in creating a doctor of the law, which was to put into his hand the keys of the chest where the book of the law was kept, denoting his being authorized to take and read it; and the binding and loosing, to allude to the fashion about their books, which were in rolls; they shut them by binding them up with a string, which they untied when they opened them. Christ gives his apostles power to shut or open the book of the gospel to people, as the case required. (Matthew Henry).

3. Cf. the Updated New American Standard Version which translates this literally as “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

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