Saturday, July 10, 2010

Background: The Gates of Hell Part 2

Banias, the Cave of Pan, also known as "the gates of hell"

After I sent out my article, The Keys to the Kingdom & the Vast Gates of Hell Prison System, I got a call from a Messianic Jewish friend in Virginia who has a ministry to Russian Jewry. He was excited to tell me some background on the location where the exchange I wrote about took place and said it flowed perfectly into what I had written. Indeed it did.

The Gates of Hell at Caesarea Philippi

To quote myself, one of the things I said in that article was, “Now here is where many interpretations of the text go awry – because of not taking into account the original Hebrew context.”

Boy! I only knew the half of it! Yeshua did not snatch the term “gates of hell” out of thin air, but in true parabolic form gave His disciples an object lesson about the spirit realm in the very geographical location that demon spirits and false religions had claimed so many victims by sacrifice.

The time frame of this conversation was at the beginning of His preparation of the 11 for His death as the Passover Lamb that would take place in Jerusalem. He was preparing them to graduate from being His disciples to becoming His apostles. This conversation was critical to that transition, which they did not know yet would be profoundly distressing and troubling in the process of unfolding. They were on a mighty threshold of transition and didn’t even know it yet.

What exactly was Yeshua communicating to His disciples? We are not just looking at the words but at the context His disciples would have readily grasped from the location this conversation took place. When Yeshua used the term “the gates of hell” at that site notorious throughout Israel for idol worship and ritual sacrifics, it cannot be without significance.

Let’s refresh our memory of the scriptural passage from Matthew 16:13-23:

When Yeshua came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying,
"Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?"
So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Yeshua answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,
for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My ekklesia,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth
will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Yeshua the Messiah.
From that time Yeshua began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem,
and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes,
and be killed, and be raised the third day.

Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying,
"Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"
But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me,
for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."

Who knew? Not me.
What else don’t we know about this?

As a Christian, there is no telling how many times I have read that passage without considering that the “gates of hell” might be an actual place with a long ignoble history. It was news to me that not only was there an actual place called the gates of hell in Israel where sacrifices to idols including human sacrifices were made , but it was also a shocker to discover this is the very location that Matthew 16:13-23 took place!

Yeshua chose to talk about the spiritual gates of hell while walking with His disciples past the location of the gates of hell on earth! Think that might be significant to what He told them in verse 19? “Whatsoever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Gates keep people either imprisoned in a bad place or fortressed from intruders in a good place. We can assume that the gates of hell are those gates which imprison people. So when Yeshua tells them that He is giving them the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, He is telling them that the gates that imprison humans in hell on earth cannot prevail against their own delegated power to bind and loose as they operate in the keys of the kingdom. We cannot just bind and loose at will, living any old way, but when we are living in the keys of the kingdom, we will find the power of heaven backing us in those things we bind and loose.

Binding and loosing is not just a spiritual declaration, it is also about forgiving. Often times, in order to release a person who is bound by the gates of hell, we have to release forgiveness to them. If we will not release our forgiveness to them, Heaven also does not release them for their trespass against us. Notice the similarity with Yeshua’s statement to his disciples in John 20:23. After first breathing the Holy Spirit onto them, Yeshas says, “Whose soever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins you retain, they are retained.”

To loose those held captive by the strong bars of the gates of hell, we have to be able to forgive or we will not have the compassion to even seek their release from captivity. It is what Yeshua did for us, and commissioned us to do for others.

Caesarea Philippi & the Gates of Hell

How do we know this is where the conversation took place? In Mark 8:27 it says, "Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?"

How do we know that Yeshua and His disciples were aware they were in the region of the gates of hell?

This vista view is taken from the vantage point of the ruins of Caesarea Philippi. Looming large over the northern part of the city is the gaping mouth of the “gates of hell” cave. There is little chance that Yeshua and his disciples walked through this region without seeing the gates of hell at the rising base of Mt. Hermon.

They had left Magdala on the western coast of the sea of Galilee(Mt 15:39) and traveled 30 miles up the road to the region of Caesarea Philippi. A Roman military road map of the period shows that the road ran from Tiberius through Caesarea Philippi then on up to Damascus in Syria.

To give you a perspective of the lay of the land, this illustration from shows the Gates of Hell (here labeled as the Grotto of Pan) on a cliff ledge of Mt. Hermon . Nearby are the ruins of Agrippa’s Palace in ancient Ceasarea Philippi.

Caesarea Philippi, the Israeli seat of Caesar worship & the worldwide seat for the worship of Pan at the Gates of Hell

What is the most important thing we can know about this region? It is that it was the seat of false religions in Israel. There was demon worship going on in this place dating as far back as the time of the Judges of Israel when the Ba’al gods were worshipped at this very site. (Judges 3:3)

Only 4 miles away in the city of Dan, the first king of Israel’s northern divided kingdom set up a golden calf as an ‘alternate’ worship site (1 Kings 12:26). The reason King Jeroboam offered a false god and false religious site was to keep his tribes from obeying the command of God to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to “appear before the LORD in the appointed Feasts (Exodus 23:17). Jeroboam was afraid if he allowed his subjects to return to Jerusalem to worship the true God at the site God had commanded them to appear, that their hearts would be turned back to the kingdom of Judah.

This is the first time in their history that Israel turned from God completely to worship false gods. It was the beginning of the end for the 10 northern tribes of the divided kingdom. It was also not the last false god to be worshiped at this site. During the time of Yeshua’s ministry in Israel, this place was dedicated to the worship of the Caesar worship and to the Greek “god” Pan.

Caesar worship was the exaltation of a government leader to be worshiped as a god, and Pan was the god of fright. Pan is where we get the word “panic” and “pandemonium.” Half-man and half-goat, Pan was known as “the god of thresholds.” It was Pan’s job to panic you when you reached a threshold in life, and at the threshold of death. If when you died Pan was not able to panic you, then your soul would cross the threshold of the cave and Hermes would take you to Hades from there!

It must have been no coincidence that Yeshua brought His inner circle of 12 here as He was beginning to prepare them for His death and to speak with them about how they would be able to deal with the spiritual warfare after He was gone; or that He was preparing Himself for His coming death in this place. That makes it difficult to believe Yeshua was not making a definite point by having this conversation in this particular place. He must have been saying something with a definite primary meaning when He told Peter and the others that the gates of hell would not prevail against the called out congregation He was building.

Now I am not excluding the broader applications of “the gates of hell” to encompass all our spiritual enemies, but the primary meaning in the context of this geographical place is clear: false religion and false gods will not prevail against Body that the LORD is raising up, that “assembly/congregation/church” that Yeshua is building.

That is exceptionally good news to those of us watching with horror as the false religion of Islam is sweeping across the world at a frightening rate of takeover and dominance by intimidation. This one word of the Lord is a word every believer can use in warfare against creeping sharia and militant Islam encroaching in our world: The gates of hell shall not prevail against Yeshua’s ekklesia! Islam will not overpower the faithful of the LORD. Nor will any other false religion prevail against His ekklesia.
Preparation for Death

In the context of preparing His disciples for His death, by initiating that conversation in this place Yeshua was also drawing attention to the contrast of the sacrificial deaths that had been performed at the mouth of the cave known as the gates of hell and His own. False gods demanded the slaughter of innocents as sacrifice, but the One True God provided His own innocent sacrifice, and as the fulfillment of the sacrificial Passover Lamb, Yeshua was about to willingly lay down His life in Jerusalem. The detour past real estate that demons have inhabited for thousands of years was surely no coincidence.

Yeshua was not only preparing His disciples for His death, was assuredly also preparing Himself. Six days later on an unidentified mountain in the upper Galilee, Yeshua would take Peter, James and John with Him to pray apart from the others. There, on what has become known as the Mount of Transfiguration, or Transformation, the glory of the Lord would radiate from Yeshua. His three disciples would be a witness to it and witness to the appearance of Moses and Elijah coming to speak to Yeshua about His coming death in Jerusalem.

There is some debate whether the “transfiguration” occurred on Mt Tabor or Mt Hermon due to an early misunderstanding of Mt 17:1 because the verse was taken to mean that Jesus took the disciples up a mountain "by itself," rather than up the mountain "by themselves." Mt Tabor is a lone standing mountain, while Mt Hermon is part of a mountain range. The latter understanding is the accurate one.

From the next mention of their location in Mt 17:22, it is clear “they abode in Galilee” and from the Mt 17:24 mention of Capernaum, it is also clear they remained in the upper Galilee, not lower Galilee where Mt Tabor is located east of Nazareth in the Jezreel Valley.

Mt Hermon is located about 1 o’clock under the word Syria. Mt. Tabor is located about 7 o’clock to the right of the word Galilee. Caesaria Phillipi where the Gates of Hell are located is under the word Mt Hermon. Capernaum is at the top of the sea of Galilee.

Clearly on foot they would not have traveled up from Magdla about 3 miles north of Tiberias on the western shore of the Galilee up to Mt. Hermon, then down to Mt. Tabor in the lower Galilee and then back up to Capernaum in uppermost part of the sea of Galilee.

These are all details that may not be interesting, but if the transfiguration took place on Mt Hermon instead of the tradition based on mistaken translation, then there is also a contrast that it appears Yeshua was deliberately making to His disciples by taking them to the seat of false religion and idolatry. Not only was this place called the gates of hell, but also Mt. Hermon was named after the false god, Hermes who conducted the souls of the dead into Hades.

It is as if Yeshua purposely walked into the high places of demonic trafficking, to demonstrate that their power and authority was inferior in every way. In the place where Hermes and Pan escort terrified souls into Hell, this is the place where Yeshua speaks of the transfer of His power and authority to His disciples so the gates of hell cannot prevail against them.

Consider this also. On Mt Hermon, Luke 9:31-32 says that “And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

If it is the case that the mount of transfiguration was Mt Hermon, then instead of the panic of Pan, Elijah and Moses appeared in glory to talk to Yeshua about His exit from this life which was soon to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Where Pan was said to cause panic to those crossing the threshold of death, Elijah and Moses were sent to confirm Yeshua in the powerful act of sacrifice God had sent Him to accomplish.

What must they have had to say to Yeshua about that? Fear not? Both had supernatural death experiences to share with Yeshua. Elijah was carried away in a whirlwind by the chariots of God and Moses was buried by the LORD Himself in a valley that no man knows his grave (DT 34:6).

In the place where the false god Hermes was to have carried away the souls of the dead to Hades, this was the place Yeshua chose to confront His own emotions about impending death. Instead of Pan and Hermes, Yeshua heard from Moses and Elijah, and God Himself confirmed Him from heaven before Peter, James and John saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"

What a contrast!

Many people had met their death as ritual sacrifices at the mouth of the Gates of Hell cave. They were thrown down from above into the natural abyss which in those days underground water flowed from inside the cave over the ledge and into the nearby springs. If the victim thrown from above disappeared in the water, it was a sign that the god had accepted the offering, but if blood appeared in the nearby springs, the sacrifice had been rejected.

What a contrast to the sacrifice Yeshua was about to make by laying down His own life to pay the price “once and for all” of humanity’s sins. It is also interesting to note that it was said that Pan was the only Greek god that ever died and that he died the moment after Yeshua was crucified. Satan is always trying to imitate God to steal His thunder but it falls flat.

Today the Grotto of Pan is empty of the idols that once sat in the niches carved in the stone of the mountain, and the waters in the Gates of Hell cave are stagnant, not flowing.

By contrast, Yeshua could not be held by death and the gates of hell shall also not prevail against us who are the called out ones to His assembly.
Upon the rock of revelation of the identity of the Lord, Yeshua the Messiah, He said He would build an assembly of those who had been called out and all the false religions in the world of men would not be able to prevail against that Body of Believers. Yeshua said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona” – the name that means “Hearing with acceptance” – “for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but My Father which is in heaven.” Simon son of Jona is blessed because Father God revealed to him that Yeshua is the long awaited Messiah of Israel.

Now, Yeshua says, not only has the Father given you revelation, Simon, but now I am emphasizing to you how critical your revelation is by making a play on your name Shimon Kefa, Simon Peter, which Kefa/Peter means rock. That upon the rock of revelation from God concerning who I am, I will build my ekklesia and the gates of hell – false religions – will not prevail against it.

Yeshua did not give Peter a new name, he was called Simon Peter from the first time he fell down at Yeshua’s feet telling him to depart from him because he was a sinner (Luke 5:8). Peter was not the rock that Yeshua was going to build his ekklesia on, but revelation from God in heaven is that rock.

Shimon Kefa – hearing what God is revealing with acceptance is the rock.