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Pretend for a moment that you, like Simon Peter, are an ordinary and faithful Jew, awaiting the “consolation of Israel” and living during the time of Jesus’ public ministry. You’ve seen a lot of things: miracles, marvels, and masterful teaching. Who is this Jesus? He must be more than a prophet. He’s even greater than Moses. Peter comes to the inevitable conclusion: He must be the Messiah, the promised King, the Anointed One who would restore the kingdom of God upon the earth. Yes, Jesus says, and “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

The little word “gates” conjures up an image—or rather, a network of images, experiences, and associations, many of which might be lost to the modern reader. As Peter meditates on this prophetic word, his imagination will project a cosmic war between two kingdoms, the one besieged, built of death and darkness and protected by a great barred gate; the other triumphant, built of living stones and surrounded by wide-open gates, beckoning the multitude to enjoy its peace and light.

Perhaps your imagination was more meager in its reflections; a brief tour of “gates” in the Bible will help us better envision the victorious City of God.

The modern reader is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to the metaphorical description of the “gates” of hell. Metaphors often draw from lived experience, and most modern cities no longer have gates in any literal sense. The word “gates” no longer immediately triggers the same set of associations for us as it would have for an ancient reader. Ancient cities needed protection from their surroundings, and so most cities end up with some sort of surrounding wall (Deut. 3:5). The gates of these walls act as a centralized entry and exit location, and this in turn makes them a suitable place to meet and converse (2 Sam. 15:2; Ps. 69:12), a central marketplace (2 Kings 7:1), a spot for public announcements and legal proclamations (Ruth 4), and the prime location for community gatherings and celebrations (Judg. 5:11). In short, the “town center” or “public square” in the ancient world usually was not in the center of town but on the edge of town, at its gates. The gate thus symbolizes the city itself; it represents the people, culture, status, prominence, and life of the city. Thus, when God promises His people safety and security and peace and prosperity, He is promising them a city with high walls and strong gates (Rev. 21:9–27).

It’s interesting, then, that the picture God paints for us of the heavenly city has its gates thrown wide open. “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (Ps. 24:7). The psalmist is speaking of God’s sanctuary here, describing it as a kind of city. When the King comes into the city, the gates are opened wide to receive Him. The tone is celebratory and victorious. “The Lord of hosts” has entered the city (Ps. 24:10); He will protect its walls and secure its safety. Revelation is even more emphatic. The high walls of the new Jerusalem are punctuated by a dozen gates (that’s a lot), and these gates “will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:25; see Josh. 2:5). Indeed, the gates are always open, providing free and unhindered access so that all may “bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21:26). So many gates! And they are always open? This is a stunning and brazen display of confidence, security, peace, and camaraderie.

By contrast, the gates of hell are shut. The devil would have us think that this is a sign of strength, but in reality it is fear that bars these gates. “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against Christ and His church. In this image, Satan’s city is besieged, its gates crumbling before the hosts of heaven and the people of God (see Rev. 12). Properly understood, hell isn’t a mighty fortress or a flourishing city; it is a “prison” (20:7), and when this city-prison is finally destroyed, its demonic citizens will be thrown “into the lake of fire,” no longer able to harm or hinder the blessed people of God (v. 10). Praise be to God! Come, Lord, quickly! “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (Ps. 24:7).


Heart and Mind

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From the August 2022 Issue
Aug 2022 Issue