Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
The Gates of Hades (Unseen, Death)
April 22, 2009
Now I, also, am saying to you that you are Peter, and on this rock will I be building My
ecclesia, and the gates of the unseen shall not be prevailing against it. (Matthew 16.18 CV)
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the
gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18 NASB)
“Now I also say to you, that you are Peter [“a stone”] , and on this solid rock I will build my
Assembly [or, Church] , and [the] gates of the realm of the dead [Gr., hades] will not prevail
against it. (Matthew 16:18 ALT)
It is not uncommon to hear preachers quote the above verse with much bravado, proclaiming that the
dark forces of this world shall not prevail against the church. In other words, they interpret this verse in
light of Paul’s exhortation that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the
rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual
forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NASB). This is an undeniable truth,
but it does not mean that this is what was meant by the Lord Jesus in referring to the gates of hades not
prevailing. It should be noted that the thought of Jesus referring to the dark forces is reinforced by
some translations that use the word hell instead of the words hades or unseen . I have made the point in
many of my writings that the whole concept of hell as seen by so many, even today, as a place of eternal
torture and torment for the lost with the devil in command is based on pagan mythology and man
making a god in his own image. For further understanding, please refer to my book The Purpose and
Plan of the Eons , Volume 2, chapters 1, 4, and 5, in particular.
Recently, I heard a pastor-teacher declare that the gates of hades shall not prevail against the church
because the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is within us and it is to come out from us and
overtake the powers and principalities. Sorry, but this is not according to Scripture, for it is taking two
unrelated verses and joining them together to make what appears to be a spiritual statement that has
some measure of truth in it but, nevertheless, misinterprets and robs the meaning of the two verses.
Well, I have written much and will continue to write much on the kingdom of our Lord and of His
Christ, so I will leave this great subject to my other writings. What we need to understand is the
meaning of the gates of hades or of the unseen, which is actually the gates of death.
To begin, the word gate refers to a physical structure that controls (allows or denies) entrance or exit
into a place. Ancient city walls had gates to keep out intruders. Also, gates can be taken figuratively to
refer to the authorities or powers of a place. In the ancient cities, the authorities and powers of the city
sat in the gates. In this case, the power or authority pertains to the unseen. Thus, the gates of the
unseen simply mean the authority or power of the unseen , which is the realm of the dead.
According to Hebrew Scripture, the unseen refers to sheol , that is, death. The comparable word in the
Greek is the word hades or unseen , which is easily proven by comparing Psalm 16:10 to Acts 2:27, 31,
where the verses in Acts 2 are a direct quote of the verse in Psalm 16: For Thou does not leave my
soul to Sheol, nor givest thy saintly one to see corruption . The word corruption refers to death
(see 1 Corinthians 15:53-55). In other words, the state of death will not prevail against His ecclesia
because Christ died for the sin of the world, was buried, and then was raised from among the dead.
Jesus was declaring that because He was about to overcome death, so would His ecclesia overcome
death, not when individuals die but when the ecclesia is raised up together at His presence.
However, there is another way to prove the point, and that is to see if the phrase the gates of the unseen
or a similar phrase appears in other places of Scripture, particularly where it is mentioned the first time.
It is generally acknowledged that the first mention of something (e.g., word, phrase, thought, type) in
Scripture sets its meaning for all Scripture that follows, including the Greek Scriptures.
Such a phrase was first used by Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he was ill and literally about to die. He
cried out: “I, yea, I say: In the height of my days am I going into the gates of the unseen ,
made to miss the rest of my years” (Isaiah 38.10 CV).
Given the context of Hezekiah’s cry and God’s response of lengthening his days, there is no doubt that
the king was referring to his death and returning to the unseen. His life was about to be cut short, and
he was going to the place of the dead, where the dead know nothing whatsoever (Ecclesiastes 9:5-
6 CV). When people go to the unseen, they cease to be; and Hezekiah did not want to die in the height of
his days or, as we would say, in the prime of life. His spirit was about to return to God who gave it, his
body was about to return to the soil from whence it came, and his soul was about to return to the
unseen, which is a state of unconsciousness. There is no consciousness before birth and there is none
after death. Jesus described death as sleep, a fact reinforced by Paul (John 11:11, 14, 39; 1 Thessalonians
Strictly speaking, the gates of the unseen refer to the return or death of the soul. Soul is not life, but it is
intimately connected with life, for the soul comes forth from life and cannot exist apart from it.
Consequently, the soul going into the gates of the unseen means one has died. The human soul speaks
of the human experience or sensations (consciousness, feelings, desires). It is the experience or
sensation that results from the combination of an organic body with spirit (the breath of the spirit of
life) and has been described as a phenomenon resulting from the perception of the senses. When life
departs a body, the soul ceases, for it has no life apart from the spirit and the body.
What was Hezekiah referring to when he said that he was going into the gates of the unseen? It simply
meant that, in a figurative sense, the unseen has a particular power or jurisdiction (see Revelation 20.6
CV) over man and that power keeps the soul in the state of the unseen. With the spirit gone and the
body returned to the soil, no soul of the dead has ever returned from the unseen to tell about it. It is in a
state (not place) of unconsciousness. Hezekiah saw himself going into the power of the unseen not in
the physical or even the spiritual sense of possessing a life after death and entering into some unseen,
yet real, realm. Please do not read this into his words. He saw himself dying and ceasing to be, for death
is death and no one has the power to overcome death and return to life. By the way, this is why we
believe in Jesus, for He alone has conquered death. The power of the unseen could not hold Him in the
state of unconsciousness, for the power of God raised (roused) Him from among the dead. Hezekiah
was simply stating the truth that all mankind knows from experience. There is no way for man to rise
from the dead and become a living soul again, based on his own power. Mankind has no power over
death, for death passed through into all mankind (Romans 5.12 CV). When man dies, he has no
power to give himself life to rise out of the grave. Consequently, death is the last enemy of mankind that
must be abolished at the consummation of the eons (1 Corinthians 15:26).
The Psalmist asks: What master could live and not see death? Could his soul escape from
the hand of the unseen? (Psalm 89.48 CV). The answer is that no one is exempt from dying and no
one can escape from the unseen. Thank God; His Son has done it! David also cried out to the Lord as he
was in much anguish and faced possible death from those who hated him: Show me favour, O
Yahweh! Behold my humiliation due to them who hate me, lift me on high out of the
gates of death ; that I may recount all thy praises… (Psalm 9.13-14 REB). Notice that David
specifically referred to the gates of death. He was not physically dead at this point, but he thought he
might die if his enemies persisted. In a sense, it seems that he likened his state of mind to death, as well,
as all his enemies sought for his life. The point is that he joined gates or power with death.
Why will the gates of the unseen or of death not prevail against the Lord’s ecclesia ? The answer is in the
resurrection. Jesus’ disciples, in particular Peter, who declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of
the living God (Matthew 16:16), did not understand that their Master had to be killed and be raised
up on the third day, as evidenced by Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (Matthew 16:21-23). Because Jesus was
resurrected, meaning He overcame death, so too will His ecclesia, which is His body, one day be
resurrected and overcome death in His life, putting on immortality. As believers, this is our grandest
hope, and Jesus was and is today telling us to hold to this hope. Death shall not prevail!
The Upward Call: #03-0955
by: Stuart H. Pouliot