Guarding the Gates of Hell

Thou art Peter;

and upon this rock I will build my church,

and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

The temple of Solomon was built on a very special rock. The Foundation Stone was considered the center of all creation, and a junction between heaven and earth.

As Jeff Cavins notes, the Jews also believed that the rock served to cover and hence plug up the gates of hell. So long as God was worshipped there as his covenant demanded, those gates could remain (more or less) sealed.

Speaking of this same rock, Isaias explains that the Lord sometimes chooses certain of his servants to exercise power over it. When he lays “the key of the house of David” upon their shoulders, they acquire the authority to open and shut the gates of heaven, and guard those of hell (Is. 22:15-22).

Such a servant is to be “a peg in a sure place.” If that “peg be removed,” all hell may break loose, “and that which hung thereon, shall perish” (Is. 22:23-25).

In Cesarea Philippi, the Lord gives to Peter and his successors the keys to heaven, and with them the duty to guard the gates of hell (Mt. 16:19).

The rock upon which Peter was to exercise this authority is not the stone of Mount Moriah, whose temple the Romans were soon to destroy. Rather, the worship over which Peter is to preside, which will deter the forces of hell, is an adoration “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).

Peter receives this commission after proclaiming Jesus to be “Christ, the Son of the living God,” a truth not revealed to him by “flesh and blood,” “but by [our] Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:16-17).

Moments later, Christ rebukes Peter for causing scandal. When it came to the Passion of Christ, Peter had opted to favor “the things that are of men” instead of “the things that are of God” (Mt. 16:23).

Today, there seems to be no shortage of demons spilling forth from the gates of hell.

Though we must each take up our own cross (Mt. 16:24), let’s not forget to offer up sacrifices for the servant of the servants of God, who stands upon the rock facing heaven and covering the netherworld.

When Peter lifts his eyes to heaven, we are spared the full brunt of Satan’s assaults. When he turns his gaze to “the things that are of men,” the battle intensifies.

No matter what Peter does today or tomorrow, we know that one day “the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father” (Mt. 16:27), and all shall be well for them “that love his coming” (2 Tim. 4:8).

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2 thoughts on “Guarding the Gates of Hell

  1. I guess the way I like to think of this is that for gates of a stronghold such as a castle not to prevail – this would imply that they have been attacked and broken through from the outside. If the Gates of Hell will not prevail, then the Church must be attacking them – a rescue mission to free the captives in Hell?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment, Al! I have long wondered about this, until Cavins’s point seemed to shed new light on it.
      If we take “hell” to mean “the dead,” then Christ harrowed hell when he rescued those awaiting redemption, and the Church can be said to storm hell when through her prayers (united to the redemptive power of Christ) she helps liberate souls from Purgatory.
      But if we take hell to mean “the damned,” then its denizens are never coming back, and there is no point in raiding it.
      What Cavins points out is that gates are bi-directional. Before going in through the enemy’s gates, an invader has to go out his own gates.
      Verbally, “the gates of hell” can mean the forces that pour out of the gates of hell.
      The image of a rock blocking those gates and keeping them shut is very powerful, in my opinion. We are not going to liberate demons from hell, but it would be nice to keep them there, where they can do less harm. 😉


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