Gates of Zion
THE GATES OF . . . ZION (Matt. 16:18-19)
What is the ?church? in the earliest usage and what is the Church today? The first NT usage of ?church? (ekklesia) is found in the well known declaration of Jesus, ?And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it? (Matt. 16:18). This text is usually considered in terms of the ?advance? of the Church over against the idea that ?gates of Hades? are ?defensive? and thus do not advance. However, this misses the rich biblical and literal (historical) function of city gates. Easton notes, ?At the gates of cities courts of justice were frequently held, and hence ?judges of the gate? are spoken of (Deut. 16:18; 17:8; 21:19; 25:6, 7, etc.).?
The next passage also makes clear a similar connotation:
Matthew 16:19 - ?I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.?
The prior usage of concept includes the following:
Deuteronomy 17:5 - you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing?that very man or woman?and you must stone that person to death.
Deuteronomy 21:19 - his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city.
Nahum 3:13 - Your warriors will be like women in your midst; the gates of your land will be wide open to your enemies; fire will consume the bars of your gates.
The Apocraphal book of Wisdom 16:12-13 has an interesting parallel statement: ?For it was neither herb, nor mollifying plaister, that restored them to health: but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things. 16:13 For thou hast power of life and death: thou leadest to the gates of hell, and bringest up again.?
The ?gates? were therefore the literal place of authority and power (exousia and dunimis) and in the case of Matt. 16:18, the ekklesia has a power and authority which is not bound by Hades, literally the place of the departed, i.e., death.
This accords perfectly with a major theme revealed, from this point forward: Matthew 16:21 - ?From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.?
Later we see the theme of authority and power over death plainly stated:
Rev. 1:18: ?Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
2 Tim. 1:10: ?...our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.?
Heb. 2:14: ?He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.?
The Church therefore has power and authority over death! How is such power-authority dispensed? By the formation of Assemblies (ekklesia) which declare the gospel (via Word and Sacrament) which tells the Truth that Jesus is Lord since He has been raised from the dead. Through faith, disciples of Jesus are united to Him ?who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.?
Where does this lead in terms of our view and vision for the Church? What is our relationship to the Church and the ?congregation??
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more