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The Day the Gates of Hades Were Broken

Psalms  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  29:52
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We have already encountered it, the dim view the Old Testament saints had of the afterlife, in Psalm 6 we read these words:
Psalm 6:5 ESV
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
I could read passage after passage, not only in the Psalms, but in the other books of the Old Testament which speak of death and the afterlife negatively. This place called Sheol in the Old Testament is where both the wicked (Psalm 31:17) and the righteous (Gen 37:35; 1 Samuel 28:13-14) went to dwell.
This negativity concerning death and Sheol is very confusing to Christians, we are taught that to “die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and to “be with Christ…is far better” (Phil 1:23). “Did Old Testament not believe in Heaven and the afterlife?” we ask ourselves.
However, not everything we read in the Psalms is negative. There are passages such as Psalm 49:15 which speak of a time when the souls of Old Testament believers would be “ransomed” from Sheol. If fact, there is a portion in Psalm 16 that is cited by both Peter Acts 2:25-28) and Paul (Acts 13:35) which they apply to Jesus and this passage contains a glorious promise. Let us turn our attention to this passage:
Psalm 16:8–11 ESV
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
The purpose of my sermon this morning is to clarify what the Bible means by Sheol and to explain how Jesus by His resurrection broke the power of death and Sheol, delivering the Old Testament saints from its grip and insuring that all believers will know the joy of God’s presence after they die.
I will begin with what I think is the root of much of our confusion about Sheol—our translations of the original Hebrew Old Testament.

Lost in Translation: Is It Sheol, Hades or Hell?

The very best English translation reflecting the meaning and structure of the original Greek and Hebrew text is the New American Standard Version. In it we read:
Matthew 16:18 NASB95
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
Now compare it to what we read in our pew Bible, the English Standard Version:
Matthew 16:18 ESV
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Hades or hell, what difference does it make? It makes a world of difference, because Hades has two neighborhoods. There is a “good side of the track” and a “bad side of the track.” On one side is Hell and on the other side is Paradise!
Let us take a guided tour of Hades. Scripture will be our guide.

A Scriptural Tour of Hades

As we begin our tour, I want to clarify that when I use the words Sheol and Hades I am speaking of the same place. Sheol is Hebrew and Hades is Greek.
The most comprehensive teaching on Sheol is found in the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16. Many people incorrectly call this story a parable. It is a story, and even if it is a fictional story, it is communicating true information about a real place. I will not read the entire story, but rather I want to focus on selected verses, beginning with Luke 16:22-23.
Luke 16:22–23 ESV
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
As you can see, both men are in Hades, but there is a “great chasm” between them and the two sides of Hades are very different! The poor man, Lazarus, is on the side where Abraham and the other Old Testament saints reside. Lazarus’ favored status is seen in his being carried there by angels and there he finds “comfort.”
In contrast, the rich man is in “torment”:
Luke 16:24 ESV
And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
This torment is described by Jesus as a place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (9:48).
As I said earlier, Hades has two neighborhoods. The “bad neighborhood” is translated as “hell” in our English Bibles. Hell is the English translation of the word Gehenna. Gehenna another name for the Valley of Hinnom, which lays outside of Jerusalem. This is where child sacrifices were made to the false god Molech (2 Ch 28:3; Jer 7:32; 2 Kings 23:10). Under Josiah, the false alters were torn down and in order to desecrate it, the whole valley was turned into a garbage heap. There, maggots and fires continually consumed the garbage. With this background is it easy to see why this valley became associated with the bad side of Sheol or Hades.
Although Jesus speaks of the good side of Hades being a place of “comfort,” we should not confuse this place with Heaven. As we saw a few moments ago, the “paradise” of Hades is within shouting distance from the “hell’ of Hades. All of Sheol, including the “good side” was considered to be beneath the earth (Num 16:30-33; Job 7:9; Ps 88:3-4; Jonah 2:2-9), God in contrast resides in the “third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2). In fact, God is specifically said not to be present in Sheol (Ps 6:5; 88:5; 88:10-12; Is 38:18); although God does have the ability to reach into Sheol (Amos 9:2; Ps 139:8). The absence of God’s presence is the reason the Old Testament saints viewed Sheol so negatively. Even though it was a Paradise, it was not Heaven. True joy can only be found where God is.
In addition, Sheol or Hades is described as having bars (Job 17:16) and gates (Is 38:10; Mt 16:18) preventing escape. This is important because it is only possible to worship God where He is present. Under the Old Covenant, God was present on earth in the Temple in Jerusalem. The gates of Sheol prevented the dead Old Testament saints from going to Jerusalem. Consequently, were are no longer able to worship God (Ps 6:5; 88:10-11; 115:17; Is 38:18).
With this depressing view of Sheol before us, we must not think the Old Testament saints were without hope. Scattered throughout the Hebrew Scripture are promises like these:
Job 19:25–27 ESV
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Psalm 49:15 ESV
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah
This brings us back to the glorious promise found in our text, the promise fulfilled by Christ when He tore down the bars and gates of Sheol.

The Day the Gates of Hades Were Broken

On most Sunday mornings, we recite the Apostles’ Creed confessing, “He descended to hell.” That confession is not without confusion. Once again, this confusion is primarily an issue of translation. The Apostles’ Creed was originally written in Greek and reads, “He descended to Hades!”
Which side of Hades are we confessing Jesus went to, Paradise or “hell”?
We do not need to guess, Jesus tells us.
Luke 23:43 ESV
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Some claim that this Paradise was the Paradise of Heaven. This cannot be, for Jesus said to Mary Magdalene:
John 20:17 ESV
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
So what was Jesus doing in the Paradise of Hades between 3 PM Friday afternoon and sunrise Sunday morning?
He was fulfilling Psalm 16:8-11!
Something very interesting happened when Jesus breathed His last on Friday afternoon and then again on Sunday morning after His resurrection.
Matthew 27:51–53 ESV
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
On Friday afternoon, the tombs of the saints around Jerusalem were opened and then on Sunday morning the bodies of these Old Covenant saints were resurrected! All this happened as a sign. A sign on Friday afternoon, that the bars and gates that held captive the Old Testament saints were about to be broken in fulfillment of the first halve of Psalm 16:10, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol!” Then, on Sunday morning that the second half of Psalm 16:10 was fulfilled, “or let your holy one see corruption.”
This liberation of Jesus’ soul from Hades, as well as all the other righteous souls, is probably what Jesus meant when He said of Peter’s confession,
Matthew 16:18 NASB95
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
On Easter morning, Jesus broke through the gates and bars of Hades like a hot knife through butter! Moreover, all of those who are united to Christ in faith are liberated from Hades! Death and Hades have no power over them because Death and Hades have no power over Jesus. Now they enjoy the presence of the Lord.
Psalm 16:11 ESV
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus has broken down the gates of Hades. No longer do the angles take the saints down to Hades, now they take them up to Heaven! This morning you are standing before the elevator doors of eternity. Well you press the up button by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior or will you press the down button by rejecting Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Very shortly the doors of Death will open, and you must walk through them. When you do, will you walk out into Heaven or Hell?
Let us pray.
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