The Gates of Hell

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit. And all those who say “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” said … AMEN.
Jesus and His disciples are in the district of Caesarea Philippi. which is north of Capernaum, in the north of Israel, near the Syrian/Lebanon borders. Look at the cover of your bulletin, this is a temple of Zeus and Bacchus that was built by Philip the Tetrarch of this district. Philip was the son of Herod the Great, one of the few surviving sons. Since both he and his father owed heir titles to the Romans, they were careful to flatter the Romans to keep them happy and Philip built this temple to Roman Gods. Philip wasn’t exactly Jewish, he used his quasi Jewish status when it suited him and likewise switched to Roman “gods” when it suited his purpose. Philip married Salome, you might remember that Salome was the daughter of Herod and Herodias and after she danced for Herod asked for John the Baptist’s head. Yea, these people were more than a little messed up. Philip had enlarged the city and named it after Caesar and himself, which seems a little presumptuous. You can imagine, the Jews in this area hated Philip for his various offenses and saw this temple as a blasphemy, a sacrilege against their Jewish religion and they referred to this temple as the “Gates of Hell”. According to legend, this is where Jesus and the twelve disciples were camping when today’s reading took place. You can kind of picture them sitting around the campfire. Things are starting to come to a head, in the very next chapter the same Peter, with John and James are going to climb a mountain with Jesus and see Him transfigured and God the Father declaring Jesus to be His Son. For those who like to deny that Jesus is God the Son, seems pretty hard to dispute Peter’s confession, Jesus’ confirmation and then the Father confirming His Son. If Jesus isn’t God the Son, seems a big fuss is being made.
There are a few things going on in this passage and they might seem a little random.
Peter has his failures, and they’re pretty huge and he also has his high points, no question this is a high point. No doubt Peter is sure that this Jesus is someone pretty special. But when Jesus says “…who do you say I am”, Peter didn’t seem to hesitate. ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s saying a few things here and this temple is the effective backdrop of this exchange. You are the promised one. Christ isn’t a name, it’s a title. The Hebrew word Mesi,an is the equivalent word of Christ or cristo,j which means anointed one. According to John MacArthur Mesian in the Hebrew: “refers in the Old Testament to prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Lev 4:5, 16) and kings (1 Sam 24: 6, 10). In the sense that all of them were anointed with oil. This anointing symbolized a consecration for ministry by God. Jesus Christ, as the Anointed One, would be the ultimate Prophet, Priest and King (Is 61:1, John 3:34) … Peter declares his faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah.”1
Peter really stepped up and Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is saying that you are special Peter, God has chosen you to proclaim this, you know who I AM to the depths of your soul. Not because you had some great insight but because the Father chose you to declare that I AM the promised Messiah, the one who is the promised Savior of mankind.
Jesus builds on this, since you know this, I can also declare that I will build my church on your proclamation and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against My church. Church in the Greek refers to those who are called out, the Christian community of saints. Not just this building, or the Lutheran Church, all the saints, all those who are hagios, holy, separated people of Jesus, you.
If you look at this picture again, you might be able to tell that this temple has been carved out of stone, this whole thing is one big rock. So when Jesus says on this rock, on top of this pagan temple is where my church, my people will be. When I was there, hearing the tradition, I could almost see Jesus pointing over His shoulder. You see that big rock, that people here call the gates of Hell, my church is going to be built on this temple to false “god’s” and it will never prevail against My church, My church will always be on top.
I also took from this, that Jesus is making a direct reference to the idea that all false “gods” are of Satan. That all false “gods” are actually demons, evil spirits who have corrupted people to believe that they are “gods”. Jesus is saying that these false “gods” and we know that Satan is referred to as the “god of this world” John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11 will never overcome the Kingdom of Heaven.
In four more chapters Jesus will make His triumphant entry into Jerusalem to establish His victory over the world. He will be sacrificed then, He will die as payment for all of our sins and then will rise again in triumphant victory over sin and death. Sin and death are the very essence of Satan and His demons. They may rule the world now, but Jesus’ promise to His disciples and we are His … disciples, that in the end when it really matters He will defeat Satan and reestablish the world the way that God had created it.
In establishing His church, Jesus begins to empower His church. His church will possess the keys to heaven on earth. This means He has given His church the authority to declare what is sin and bind that sin. No other institution has that authority, only the church of Jesus, which the Lutheran Church certainly is. Our authority is based on Scripture and we bind or loose based on God’s Word. Because of God’s Word, we know what God has already bound, who He has locked heaven against. We are simply declaring what has been bound, and in a sense, enforcing that binding from what God has declared.
The world may try to deny the authority and even the legitimacy of the church, but Jesus has certainly declared the church’s authority in this passage. The church, made up of those who are separated, declared holy, will be those who have not just authority, but also responsibility to be the instrument of God’s will.
To those who ignore the church, deny the church has any real meaning, Jesus is clearly establishing His church. The disciples, represented by Peter, have recognized who Jesus is and that He is the promised One of God. He is the anointed One, anointed Prophet, Priest and King and now Jesus has established His church and declared that His disciples make up that church and they have the authority to represent Jesus. As His apostles, His sent ones they, and us, will do the things that the church is responsible to do, to declare the will of Jesus in the world. For those who think that “worship” is on the golf course or the beach, Jesus is saying these people are my church, they will lead in worship, do the work of the church. Anything else will only be personal preference and idolatry.
Take some time this week to think about how that looks, what does that mean to the world? Certainly it is proclaiming the Gospel, He who died to pay for our sins and who rose to give us the only way to eternal life. It is also going to those who are living a life that rejects Jesus and chooses to only be concerned with their own desires. The church is the institution that Jesus empowered to baptize, to be His instrument to bring people into the Kingdom of heaven. His church has been given the responsibility to offer the life saving Blood and Body of Christ. His church is responsible for preaching His proclaimed Word so that all will be able to hear the Good News of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. Take some time to think of how that should look to the world as we exercise that authority here at First St Johns.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

5 thoughts on “The Gates of Hell

  1. Emmanuel

    Good article Pastor Jim! We recently celebrated the feast day of Christ’s Transfiguration in the Orthodox Church a couple weeks ago on August 8th.

    An icon in the Orthodox Church describes the event as such:

    “In the icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration, Christ is the central figure (1.), appearing in a dominant position within a circular mandorla. He is clearly at the visual and theological center of the icon. His right hand is raised in blessing, and his left hand contains a scroll. The mandorla with its brilliant colors of white, gold, and blue represent the divine glory and light. The halo around the head of Christ is inscribed with the Greek words O on, meaning “The One Who is”.

    Elijah (2.) and Moses (3.) stand at the top of separate mountain peaks to the left and right of Christ. They are bowing toward Christ with their right hands raised in a gesture of intercession towards Him. Saint John Chrysostom explains the presence of these two fathers of the faith from the Old Testament in three ways. He states that they represent the Law and the Prophets (Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet); they both experienced visions of God (Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel); and they represent the living and the dead (Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death).

    Below Christ are the three Apostles, who by their posture in the icon show their response to the transfiguration of Christ (4.). James has fallen over backwards with his hands over his eyes. John in the center has fallen prostrate. Peter is kneeling and raises his right hand toward Christ in a gesture expressing his desire to build the three booths. The garments of the Apostles are in a state of disarray as to indicate the dramatic impact the vision has had on them.

    The icon of the feast directs our attention toward the event of the Transfiguration and specifically to the glory of God as revealed in Christ. This event came at a critical point in the ministry of our Lord, just as He was setting out on His journey to Jerusalem. He would soon experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the Cross. However, the glorious light of the Resurrection was revealed to strengthen His disciples for the trials that they would soon experience.

    The feast also points to the great and glorious Second Coming of our Lord and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.”

    Thought you would find that interesting. Thanks!
    –emmanuel

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    1. Pastor Jim Driskell, Lutheran Church Post author

      HI Emmaunel, great to hear from you and I very much appreciate all that detail and you taking the time to share that with me, I’m going to save this for our next Transfiguration worship, if you have a picture of that icon, I’d certainly like to use it. God bless and thanks again, I really appreciate your thought. Have to gallop off, but hope I can talk the next time.

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      1. Pastor Jim Driskell, Lutheran Church Post author

        Thank you, I really appreciate your thoughts. The Lutheran church doesn’t “venerate” icons. There is a “veneration” of the sort at the altar that is different from any of the Reformed churches. I know I’ve heard a discussion on it and I don’t think per se Luther would have “rejected” icons. I think there would still be a “Roman” attitude towards it, but not in any sense to reject. When I went to Israel it really struck me all the Orthodox churches, especially at most of the most important sites in Israel and I did appreciate the art. I got an Orthodox designed cross that I wear with clericals, which I like, but there’s one guy in the congregation who makes it a point to give me some good natured chiding. Where do you live. I hope that this is enough of an answer. I will say that there seems to be a notable amount of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastors that go on to become Orthodox priests, enough to draw interest from management. God bless and it’s great to hear from you.

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