After Simon Peter makes his famous declaration that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus tells the apostle, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:16, 18 NIV).
Jesus’ reference to “this rock” has been the subject of much debate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares,“ The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him the shepherd of the whole flock …” In other words, Christ named Peter the first in an unbroken line of popes.
Other interpreters say Jesus meant that He will build His church:
- On Himself (Jesus is “this rock”)
- On Peter’s profession of faith, or
- On the life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the apostolic record
The third view has much to commend it. Christ’s life and teachings are the foundation of the church. Ephesians 2:20 tells us Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. The prophets and apostles are the foundation as the bearers of God’s revealed truth preserved in the Scriptures.
As Michael F. Ross writes in Christian Research Journal, “Peter became ‘the rock’ not as an individual with an office, but as the leader of the apostolic band of men who received and recorded New Testament revelation…. The New Testament knows no Head but Jesus Christ.”
But there’s even more going on here, particularly with respect to Jesus’ reference to “the gates of Hades.”
This is the second in a two-part series on the whereabouts of Jesus between His death and resurrection.
In the previous column we addressed different views about where Jesus went between His death and resurrection.
Now, we briefly examine five New Testament passages that in some way touch on the subject. Keep in mind the most biblically faithful view: Jesus neither went to hell (Gehenna) nor to Hades (the temporary abode of the dead) but to heaven after His death.
Acts 2:27 – “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. “(KJV)
In this portion of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quotes from Ps. 16:10, a psalm of David and a Messianic psalm that Peter applies to Jesus.
The word translated “hell” in the King James rendering of Acts 2:27 is the Greek term Hades, which is similar to the Hebrew word Sheol. In both cases, it is a flexible term that most often refers to the temporary abode of the dead but can mean “grave.”
The New International Version (NIV) translates this, “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” This is preferable because the context emphasizes that Christ rose bodily from the dead as opposed to David, whose body is still there.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) renders this passage, “because you will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow your Holy One to see decay.” This translation acknowledges that David’s soul went to Hades without assigning Jesus’ soul to the same place.
Rev. 20:13 – Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. (HCSB)
Death and Hades gave up their dead
We should recall that the resurrected Jesus declares in Rev. 1:18, “I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Even before the cross, Jesus tells Peter that the forces of Hades will not overpower His Church” (Matt. 16:18).
Death is a reality that all people experience as a consequence of sin (Gen. 2:17). Hades is the abode of the dead. Therefore, Death and Hades are tied inextricably to sin. But Jesus, who added to His deity sinless humanity (John 1:14), tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9). Through His finished work on the cross, He paid our sin debt and conquered the grave so that Death and Hades have no lasting grip on those who place their faith in Him.
The bottom line of John’s vision of Death and Hades giving up their dead is that ultimately every person will be physically resurrected and spend eternity either in the new heavens and earth or in the lake of fire. A time is coming when there is no longer physical death or an intermediate existence where people wait to put on resurrected bodies and stand in final judgment. Just as Jesus is Judge of all (John 5:22), He is Lord over sin, death, and the realm of the dead.
This is the third in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.
Hades is a Greek god whose name means “The Unseen.” He is depicted as lord of the underworld, the abode of the dead. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus and the New Testament writers borrow from this familiar term to describe the realm of departed spirits.
What’s more, they cut through the mythology to present an accurate picture of the afterlife.
The word Hades appears 10 times in the New Testament, forming a linguistic bridge that takes us from the Old Testament view of life beyond the grave (in Sheol) to the New Testament position.
In coming to a biblically faithful understanding of Hades, it’s important to state what the word does not mean.
This is the second in a series of articles about the afterlife and the unseen realm.
Is there conscious existence beyond the grave? Where did Old Testament saints go when they died? Do the wicked really suffer forever in hell? Should you believe in ghosts?
These are important questions about the afterlife and the unseen world. Most religions deal in some way with these questions and appeal to a variety of authorities to provide answers.
This series explores the manner in which God’s Word describes life beyond the grave and the unseen world. In this column we examine the Hebrew term Sheol. In future columns we address Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus, and other terms.