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JESUS PROMISED, “THE GATES OF HADES (OR SPIRITUAL DEATH MT. 16:18) SHALL NOT PREVAIL”
Every time Jesus’ believers declare the Truth of His Gospel, they unsheathe the Sword of Light against the ‘gates of Hades’ not “hell.” Allegorically, living people who are spiritually dead in their sin must hear the Gospel to live in Christ. Spiritually, they are in Hades, the realm of the dead or the grave; they are not burning in hell yet. “Hell” is where demon spirits and the human spirits of unrepented people spend eternity, (Lu. 16:19-31.) “Hell” in this verse is a mistranslation of Hades, (Mt. 16:18.)
Man is a tri-part being consisting of an ever-living human spirit or ‘heart’ and a soul, (the mind with its will, intellect and emotions,) which live in the physical body, (1 Ths. 5:23.) Hence, the forces of darkness in control of the lives, hearts, and souls (minds) of men closely guard Hades. To confront “the gates of Hades” by bringing Jesus’ spiritual life to it’s captives, will always unleash demonic attack, (2 Cor. 10:4-6, Mt. 28:18-20.) And demonic attack most effectively manifest through humans. That’s why Jesus made the following unchangeable statement, “Those who desire to live Godly [fruitful lives in Christ] will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12.)
Jesus’ warning and instruction concerning persecution will stand until His return to earth. He said, “I sent you out [into the political-religious world] as sheep in the midst of wolves… [The wolves are the secret masonic and other satanic agents in leadership positions.] They will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues [and churches.] You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake… Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child, and children will raise up against parents… But he who endures to the end will be saved… (Mt. 24:11-14.) He who loves [his family or anyone or anything else] more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross, [standing in My truth; boldly declaring My Gospel,] and follow after Me [as My obedient disciple,] is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life [in the acceptance of people,] will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake, [emotionally and even physically if necessary,] will find it [for all eternity…] When they persecute you in this city, flee to another… You will not have gone through the cities… before the Son of Man [returns.]”
What Jesus said, is that persecution is part of our lives here on earth. Persecution for righteousness (not our sin) is the baptism with fire, which no genuine disciple of Jesus can dodge. The world can only love it’s own. This world hated Jesus – and so, it will also hate His true disciples.
Completely possessed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:12-14) after the Holy Spirit indwelt them at Pentecost, Jesus’ Followers of The Way, the born again body of Christ, became so drenched in love for their King; so on fire for His cause; so empowered by His Spirit; so completely provided for by their Father according to His will, that Satan had to tremble as he realized that even though he may harass, persecute, torture, maim, and kill every citizen of Jesus’ Spiritual Kingdom, the Gospel would march on, ([Acts 9:2.)
Foxe wrote in his ‘Book of Martyrs,’ “Christ, hearing the confession of Peter, who first openly acknowledged Him as the Son of God… built His [body of sincere believers, not the secular “church,”] so strong that the gates of [Hades] would not prevail against [her, the bride of Christ.] Three things are to be noted. First, that Christ has a [Spiritual] Kingdom through His [believing body or bride] in this world. Second, that the same [ecclesia or assembly of believers] must mightily impact not only the [religious] world, but also the powers of [Hades or spiritual death.] Third, that the same [believers,] notwithstanding the efforts Satan, must continue [in the truth the Word] until the return of Christ,” (Mt. 16:17-19.)
Jesus’ metaphor, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [her,]” explains the constant, fearless, Holy-Spirit guided advancement of His born again assembly of believers on the forces and fortresses of evil, which demons have built through unrepentant sin in the thoughts (or minds) of the deceived. This advancement is the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission to preach His true Gospel throughout the whole world, to water baptize His sincere believers, and to teach them everything He has taught, (Mt. 28:19-20.)
In Jesus’ time, a battle was fought at the gate of a city to gain entrance to the city. If the gates could withstand the onslaught, the city was safe. If the gates fell, the city was invaded and overrun. Therefore, Jesus commissioned His followers to continually advance against the spiritual, fortified ‘cities,’ (Mt. 10:23; 28:18-20,) which is not a physical war but a spiritual offense against the deceived minds or thoughts of men under control of the kingdom of darkness. We must execute this onslaught prayerfully, in Holy-Spirit leading, and with the True Gospel of Light, while remaining under the protection of His mighty angels – (2 Cor. 10:4.) - [‘Early Church Video Series,’ by Zondervan.]
As the sincere servants of this newborn body of Christ (after Pentecost) are at the forefront of this assault against the ‘gates of Hades’ or spiritual death, logically then, they are the first to be slain for the Truth: the Spiritual Kingdom, and the Name of Christ, (Mt. 20:26; 16:18.)
However, they do not fall like flies. True believers standing on Scriptural and Holy-Spirit power are a formidable army of soul-winning soldiers. Jesus promised in Mark 16:16-17, “He who believes and [allows himself to be] baptized [in water according to Jesus’ own example,] will be saved… And these signs [or Holy Spirit gifts] will follow [these sincere believers.] In My Name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents, [or do spiritual battle with demons, Eph. 6:10-18,] and if they [accidentally or without their knowledge or choice] drink [or be attacked by] anything deadly, it will not harm them; [see: Acts 28:3-5.] They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’
Jesus’ promise of spiritual authority, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that follow them, became an immediate reality for all Scriptural obedient believers after the Holy Spirit founded the body of Christ at the cross and empowered them at Pentecost, (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3-5; Acts 2:17-18; Acts 5:32.)
Following Peter’s sermon that God used to save 3,000 souls, God healed a lame man through Peter and John.
And as they “spoke boldly to the people [and] the priests…” Guess what happened? “The Sadducees came down upon them.”
The Sadducees were part of the secret society of the governing temple leadership, the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Therefore, “they were greatly disturbed that the [disciples] taught the people and preached Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.”
Those religious chiefs of the Sanhedrin promptly arrested Peter and John. It was already evening and they put them in prison until the next day.
“But many of those who heard the Word believed; and the number of believers came to be about five thousand.”
In a very short time, the Holy Spirit, through the obedience of the believing body of Christ, already made thousands of born again “Followers of The Way” since He indwelt them for the first time at the Feast of Pentecost! (Acts 7:48; 17:24 - 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14.)
Not surprisingly, the infuriated Sanhedrin who crucified Jesus were becoming agitated beyond belief. They were again losing the members of their spiritually dead religion in massive numbers to that Man Jesus Christ, Whom they horrifically tortured and publicly murdered on the cross.
So, “their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest and Caiaphas’ – [the same two evil Judaists who headed Jesus’ all-night trial and crucifixion] – as well as the family of the high priest, [their persecution had now become a free for all,] confronted Peter and John.
They demanded, ‘By what power or by what name, [or on who’s authority,] have you done this?’”
As if they did not know the answer! This was merely a show of power. Those persecutors of Jesus were oblivious to the fact that, in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, they had no real authority over the disciples, just like Pontius Pilate only had the “power which God allowed Him from above” during the trial of Jesus. Jesus only allowed them to persecute His followers so that He could declare His New Testament/Covenant Gospel to them. Through Peter, the Holy Spirit made full use of their affliction. He turned the evil of the Sanhedrin into a wonderful opportunity to minister His omnipotence and grace to both the enemies of Jesus and the body of Christ.
“Let it be known to you all…” Peter answered unafraid, “that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Whom you crucified, Whom God raised from the dead, by Him the man, [whom Jesus had healed through our hands] stands here before you whole… Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, [except the Name of Jesus,]” - Acts 4.
When the Sanhedrin “saw the boldness of Peter and John… they realized that [the disciples] had been with Jesus. [Those religionists knew very well that Jesus had risen from the dead, although they made every effort to convince the people that His resurrection was a deception.] And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.”
So, they commanded Peter and John to leave the council, and conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to them? That a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwells in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no one in this Name.”
However, their threats (of no less than death by stoning,) left Peter and John undeterred.
The Followers of The Way faced the intimidation of the Sanhedrin in the same calm and courageous manner as their Master did.
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you must judge,” they answered. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
So when they “had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.”
No sooner had the (Cabalist) Sanhedrin ‘dealt’ with the ‘problem’ of the Hebrew Christ through false accusation and death by crucifixion, or the council had to face the same dilemma all over again – only this time, it had multiplied by the thousands! Their evil hearts still blazed with hatred for this Man and His disciples. Their bloodstained hands itched to get hold of Peter and John, but this time, they had the sincerity of the multitudes to consider. They realized that, if they were to crush the newfound zeal of Jesus’ followers, they had to bide their time while slyly and stealthily, just as they did with Jesus, send out their secret agents to destroy the credibility of the assemblies of The Way, (Acts 9:2; 22:4; 24:14.) They knew they were warring against the Highest God, but they did not lose heart because they have done it all before — and thought they had succeeded.
What they did not know, was that The Followers of the Way, calling upon the Name of their omnipotent God, Who now dwelt inside every one of them through His Holy Spirit, “raised their voices with one accord, praying, ‘Lord, You are God… Who… have said: Why did the nations rage and the people plot vain things [against Your spiritual kings and priests? – Rev. 5:10; 1 Pt. 2:9-10.] Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness [and without fear] they may speak Your Word…’”
Jesus, the Eternal High Priest of the body of Christ, interceded on their behalf as He had promised to do, and so, “believers were increasingly added to the Lord; multitudes of men and women. And they brought the sick out into the streets… [to be healed.] Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem… [to be touched by Jesus,]’ (Acts 5:15; Heb. 4:14-15.)
What a day of God’s Divine power had broken upon this world; what a time of incomprehensible grace! How their prayers, petitions, and persistence must have infuriated the devil and his evil companions! By now, the Sanhedrin had to know that the Risen Christ was, is, and always will be an awesome Reality in the lives of all true believers. Yet, even His omnipotent presence in and among His followers did not daunt their satanic plots to crush His blood-bought believers and stunt His Gospel Truth.
“Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him. Filled with indignation, they laid their hands on the apostles and put them in prison. But that night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, [sending them straight back to the temple, commanding,] ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak all the words of life!’”
What a shock and great investigation into their ‘escape’ that must have unleashed! The audacity of the disciples to ‘escape’ from prison to confront the Sanhedrin head on in the Name of Him, Whom they forbade them to speak about, must have been both baffling and infuriating.
God did not send them back to the Old Testament/Covenant temple to worship there or to fellowship with those evil adherents of religion.
God the Father sent them back to assault the ‘gates of Hades’ with the truth of His Gospel; to crack their satanic code and to break down the spiritual strongholds of the Kingdom-Now religion in the minds or thoughts of those who kept His dear Hebrew nation in bondage.
As a result, the disciples confidently declared the Real Gospel of Christ, ending their sermon with these words, ‘We are His witnesses to these things, [as it all happened right before our eyes.] And so also is the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to those who obey Him.’” (Acts 5:32.)
It is clear that their obedience to the Scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit, as well as their dedicated willingness to declare Jesus’ True Gospel under all circumstances, (Rev. 12:11,) made them an unstoppable, fearless force in the Spiritual Kingdom of God.
What followed, was a deadly consequence of their advancement on Satan’s strongholds of deception in the deluded minds of the Hebrews.
The Sanhedrin became “furious and plotted to kill them.” But a Pharisee named Gamaliel futilely suggested, “Let them alone, for if this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – less you even be found to fight against God.”
THE MAYHEM BEGAN
After the Sanhedrin “released the apostles, the Word of God spread. The number of [Followers] multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and [even] a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
“Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. So, some arose from the Synagogue of the Freedmen, disputing with him, but they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke,” (Acts 6:8-10.)
Acts 6:11-15, “Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses, [the Old Testament Law,] and God.’” The Sanhedrin, true to the sly character of that demonic fraternity, stirred up yet another religious revolt “among the people, the elders, and the scribes.” These troublemakers must have been the same secret societies, which operated under the control of the Sanhedrin when they falsely accused Jesus. Almost instantly, those satanic agents, fueled by demonic power, changed the mind and mood of the multitudes. Once again, everyone fell for their stealth and deceit.
Most Bible scholars believe the Freedmen were “such of the Jews as had obtained the Roman freedom, or citizenship, as Saul had, (Acts 22:27-28.) It is certain that Saul, [who became Paul,] was the most forward man of this synagogue of the Freedmen in disputing with Stephen, and engaging others in the dispute.” [M.H. Commentary.]
Enraged with unwarranted anger, the crowds then “came upon Stephen, seized him, and brought him to the council.”
Stephen, just like his Master, suddenly found himself on trial for his life because he spoke God’s truth to his people.
In contrast with all life, light, and truth, which flow from the “Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow of turning,” the cunning, clandestine thief “does not come except to steal, kill, and destroy.” God Alone is the Creator. Satan can never create anything. Thus, he does not have any new plans or ploys. The devil mostly uses the strategies that worked for him before, while he tries to distort, copy, and counterfeit everything that flowed from the hand of God, the All-good Creator of the universe.
So, Satan dug up the same plan he used against Jesus and brought it against Stephen. He even used the same mob to disperse of Stephen.
Before the Sanhedrin brought Stephen to trail, they “set up false witnesses” just as they did with Jesus. Those people said in court, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy [temple] and the law. We heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this temple and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
As always, everything Satan intended for bad, God turned around for good. While the devil tried to silence God’s Voice through Stephen, God used Stephen to declare His Gospel to the Sanhedrin and the people, so that none of them could have an excuse on Judgment Day.
It angered the Sanhedrin most that Stephen said the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ meant the end of that old temple order, which was the centerpiece of Judaism. Consequently, the Sanhedrin charged Stephen with committing the crime of blasphemy, just as Jesus supposedly did, (Acts 6 & 7.) They accused Jesus of blasphemy and inciting political revolution because He declared He Is the Son of God, and because He brought His Spiritual Kingdom to earth in the form of His born again temple of believers. Now, they feared the preaching of Stephen for the same Kingdom-Now reasons. They were worried they could lose their already outdated, religious order and thereby their religious rule and false power over the people; their lofty positions, and their all too generous income. Heb. 8:13, “In that He says, ‘A New Covenant,’ He has made the first [Old Testament covenant with old Israel] obsolete… [and at His crucifixion and resurrection] it faded away.”
The court must have been in an uproar after hearing the charges against Stephen.
When the high priest had called the court to order, he asked Stephen, “Are these things true?”
Miraculously, when the “judges who sat in the council, looked steadfastly at [Stephen to defend himself,] they [suddenly] saw his face as the face of an angel,” (Acts 6:15.) Still, they did not fear or respect God in the least. Not even that divine sight could distract them from their evil plan to murder Stephen.
Saul was sitting among them, his hateful, accusing gaze also fixed upon Stephen’s shining face.
However, the Holy Spirit would have kept Stephen calm by reminding him of His promise, “When they bring you to the synagogues, magistrates, and authorities, do not worry about what you should answer, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you must say,” (Lu. 12:11-12.)
Stephen, “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, (Eph. 1:12-14,) must have straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat.
Then, God gave him the immense opportunity to address the Sanhedrin in great Scriptural detail. (Acts Chapter 7.)
Boldly and directly, his voice a stern echo in the hostile silence, he explained the Old Testament Law and God’s old covenant with the Hebrews. Then Stephen made a sharp turn towards the Spiritual Kingdom and New Testament Covenant of Jesus.
[Paraphrased.] “By building the Old Testament temple,” Stephen said, “Old King Solomon did not really serve and honor God, for ‘the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands… He is Lord of heaven and earth... and is not worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needs anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. For heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool. What house will you build for Him?... Has His hand not made all these things?” Renouncing all religious ritualism and pagan pomp, God declared that He seeks most of all a pure and sincere ‘heart’ and renewed mind. So, He said, “On this one will I look, [provide for, save, redeem, and bless.] On him who is poor [according to worldly standards,] of a contrite [or humble] spirit, and who trembles at My Word,” (Acts 7:48; 17:24; Isa. 66:1-2.)
During the Old Testament dispensation, Israel blatantly rejected God’s Divine, Theocratic Rule over them because they coveted the political and religious ceremony, imperial and priestly honor, grandeur of palaces and temples, and the impressive temple rituals of the pagans, (1 Sam. 8:5-22.) Still, in His immense love for them, God allowed them to crown Saul as their physical king. Similarly, God allowed King Solomon to build Him a physical temple, (2 Chron. 2:1-6; 11-12; 3:1; 6:18.)
“[Nevertheless,] God often declared that temples made with hands were not His delight, nor could they add anything to the perfection of His rest and joy… The pretended deities of the pagans needed temples made with hands, for they were gods made with hands and had no other place to manifest [the spirits they represent,] than in their own temples made with human hands; but the One and Only, True and Living God needs no temple made by men, [as His delight is in manifesting Himself in the hearts, souls, and lives of His spiritual temple of true believers.]” [‘Jesus and His Times,’ Readers Digest.]
Therefore, Jesus came to destroy the temporal, physical, Old Covenant temple to set up an eternal, spiritual temple — His Holy-Spirit indwelt temple consisting of all sincere believers from all nations.’ “(Heb. 8:13; Acts 7:2-56.)
“The Sanhedrin ‘received the Gospel now by the disposition, not of angels, but of the Holy Ghost – not with the sound of a trumpet, but… by [Jesus’ New Covenant that was inaugurated at the cross; in God’s demonstration of miracles through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the bold preaching of His servants.] Yet, they did not embrace it. They refused to yield to the plainest demonstrations as their fathers before them did, for they were resolved not to comply with God,” [and accept the Spiritual Kingdom to which He was calling them once again.]” [M.H. Commentary.]
The Holy Spirit also came to tell us ‘things to come,’ so Stephen must have known that God would allow them to kill him, for during the last part of his sermon he openly and fearlessly called out God’s solemn warning to these leaders, (Jn. 16:13.)
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!” Stephen certainly raised his voice in earnest to convey God’s message to them through their resistance. “You always resist the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did… Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of Whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers. You, like them, have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it!” (Acts 7:51-60.)
When they heard this admonition, “they were cut to the heart.” They were deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit of their stubborn sin to continually reject God’s Savior, thereby actively blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Still, firmly under control of the evil one, they again decided to harden their hearts. Instead of falling to their knees before the mercy throne of Jesus, they “gnashed their teeth,” (Acts 7:44-51; Lu. 12:9-12.)
Tragically, the spiritually dead Sanhedrin was unaware of what was happening in the spirit world. Demons must have been dancing with joy while they continually steered the thoughts and decisions of those malicious murderers, but we can be certain that the angels of God were also watching.
Silently, the angels stood all around. Maybe their swords were unsheathed, as they would have been ready to defend Stephen if God were to give the command. It is likely that they were saddened, as they were the only ones in this assembly who heard the Holy Spirit pray with ‘groans which cannot be uttered,’ as He ‘made intercession’ for Stephen ‘according to the will of God,” (Rom. 8:26.)
Those religious Hebrews were also unaware of the fact that the God Himself, Whom they were actually attacking, was rising from His Divine throne to receive His first, New Covenant martyr into His eternal Kingdom of heaven – [Rom. 8:26-27; Acts 7; 8:1; Heb. 1:14; 1 Chron. 21:16.]
Only Stephen, completely possessed by the Holy Spirit, ‘gazed into heaven, and saw the glory of God...’
Steven would be the first of millions of born again martyrs, who, during the long centuries to come, were to suffer and die for the Name of Jesus, the Truth of His Gospel, and the soul-saving cause of His New Covenant Kingdom.