(Rodin's conception of the gates of Hell as inspired by Dante's Inferno.)
These powerful words from Jesus often bring to mind an image of a disciple, or a church, under spiritual attack - demonic forces trying unsuccessfully to destroy us through unconfessed sin, political plots, apathetic parishioners, or "wolves in sheeps' clothing." But our pastor, J. D. Greear, quoted this scripture recently (link to his blog on the topic) and mentioned that the gates of Hell are not an offensive weapon. Think about it: Can you imagine an army lifting up the gates of the city and pursuing their enemy only to drop the gate on them? Not a very effective battle strategy!
I could not get the image out of my mind over the next few days. The gates of Hell, like any gates, are intended to either keep someone out or to keep someone in. Or both.
Regardless of whether you picture literal gates or read these verses metaphorically, the notion is that those who are in Hell are bound there by the gates. But saying that they won't prevail against the church in this purpose is senseless, as the church isn't IN Hell.
But if the purpose for which the gates will not prevail is to keep the church out, why would the church want IN? Why would we even try to get through those gates?
An image came to mind of all the lost souls I know. Though still living, their destiny without Christ is Hell. Many live in situations that are just a glimpse of what is to come, in constant torment from one source or another.
Jesus has done all that is needed for their salvation - the keys to the gates that have them confined rest in His outstretched and nail-scarred hand - but someone must brave the gates of Hell to proclaim their freedom. To waken them from their slumber and show them where they are. To show them the joy of the Lord and entice them to follow us out of their prison and to take the keys to freedom that Christ offers.
Our marching orders are to storm those brazen gates and "rescue the perishing" as the old hymn proclaims. We've already been promised that we will be victorious.
What weapons will you use today to overcome the gates of Hell?