Part Three – Hades’ Strategies
As soon as we come to Jesus and are born again, we are standing on the sure foundation of the two revelations – we now know who Jesus is, and we have a new identity in Him. However, Satan won’t give us up without a fight. Until the day Jesus returns, “the gates of Hades” will not stop trying to overpower us, tempting us to abandon this foundation by:
(i) questioning who we are
(ii) dividing us off into denominations, sects and cults
(iii) and tempting us to leave our callings.
We see this in Satan’s tempting Jesus in the wilderness where he begins by questioning His identity:
“If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread… If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down [from the pinnacle of the Temple]…”1
Remember, this is six weeks after Jesus has been baptised in the Jordan and had heard the audible voice of the Father saying:
“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!”2
(i) “Who Am I?”
In Jesus’ case, Satan tempted Him to pride, to strut His stuff. Since this had been Satan’s own downfall,3 he often tempts us to self-glorify too. However, if he can’t get us to be proud, he’ll try the exact opposite tack and get us to despair of having any worth at all – he knows the narrow way to life has two sides and we can wander off either side. Accordingly, we need to keep listening to God:
Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.4
On becoming a follower of Jesus in 1973, I didn’t know who to trust except two of my friends, Kevin and Tina, who had also come to Jesus and were trying to figure things out. I found the worst attacks on my new faith were not against my revelation of Jesus but against my own worth, or lack of it. I had no doubts at all about Him – I’d prayed and He’d answered by coming into my life, and I could feel His loving presence as He gently turned everything back up the right way – but I was plagued with doubts about myself. How long would I last? How could He put up with someone like me? Now convinced of my foolishness, weaknesses, selfishness, and pride, I could easily understand why He would give up on me.
Conviction or Condemnation?
To my relief, I found that Simon Peter had a similar experience. Soon after he met Jesus, Jesus used his boat as a speaking platform:
When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets. When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break so they signalled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”5
This overwhelming sense of unworthiness is ‘conviction’ – Peter suddenly became aware, absolutely convinced, of his own failings and sinfulness in the light of Jesus’ being truly righteous and close to God.
I once heard a man describe his pleasure at often looking out his window at sheep grazing on surrounding hills, at how white they were against the green grass. Then one day, there was a freak snow-storm and, to his astonishment, the sheep suddenly looked like grubby little worms against the snow. Similarly, it’s easy for us to be self-righteous when we compare ourselves in the light of the headline news until we find ourselves in the light of God.
Nevertheless, Jesus responded to Simon Peter:
“Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”6
Jesus was under no illusion about Peter, nor is He about any of us – He loves us despite knowing everything about us. What He’s looking for is us to catch up, to recognise for ourselves what’s wrong with us. Then, when we are convinced and acknowledge it all – our sinfulness, our old self – He gives us a new self, a new identity, and a new calling; in Peter’s case, from catching fish to ‘catching men’ by helping them to enter the kingdom of God.
Satan also knows us well but he instead condemns us. This is why he is called “the accuser of our brethren, he who accuses… day and night”.7 He tempts us to despair of any hope of redemption or long-term change. This ‘condemnation’ is “the gates of Hades” trying to overpower us. The biggest problem is, while Satan is “a liar and the father of lies”,8 his accusations can also be perfectly accurate – if we do wrong, we usually deserve to be condemned.
There is only one way out of this: confess and believe. We have to admit to God what we did and believe that Jesus died for what we did but, if Satan persists with his condemnation, we also have to take our stand on the second revelation – like Peter, we have been sinful but Jesus has forgiven us, made us into children of God, and called us to a new life in Him.
Truth Hurts… Then Liberates
Sooner or later, we have to recognise the depth of our own personal selfishness. For me, back in 1973, it initially took 8-9 months but I’ve seen it many, many times since. As Paul puts it:
Sin dwells in me… I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.9
Only when we know this can we truly appreciate the love and grace of God. He accepts and forgives us but He loves us far too much to leave us as we are so He sets about changing us from the inside out, restoring our souls. Thank God, He will complete the task of transforming us by Judgement Day, as long as we remain willing.10
In 1974, I met an ex-Salvation Army officer who asked me to speak to a group of alcoholics that he was mentoring. As I got to know him, I learned he’d renounced his faith, left his wife and kids, and run off with a woman he’d been counselling. Bewildered as to how anyone could leave someone as wonderful as Jesus, I listened carefully to his explanation. He said that he understood why I loved Jesus because he had once too, seeing Him as extraordinary and perfect in every way. However, he said, as he went on, he became increasingly aware of his own failings and, realising he could never become like Jesus, he gave up even trying, eventually yielding to adulterous desires. I had just learned of the second revelation so I tried to explain it to him but he didn’t even want to hear me out. He also wasn’t listening to Paul who explained that we have to:
…lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,… be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness…11
How ironic that my new friend rejected the very truth about his old self that could have set him free from it! Instead, he clung to it. I walked away grieved and shaken but also relieved that I could stand on the second revelation of my new self.
Like Neo in The Matrix, we are all being offered truth that may initially make us miserable because, as they say, the truth hurts, but if we stick with Jesus, it really will set us free. Remember Morpheus’s words?
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
Old Man, New Man
When Paul wrote that we are to ‘lay aside the old self… and put on the new self’, as above, his actual words in Greek call us to ‘lay aside the old man (Grk, anthropos)’, that is, our whole old identity. Then, allowing God to ‘renew’, or recreate, any and every plan, idea, and desire within us until they match His for our lives, we are to ‘put on’, literally clothe (Grk, enduo), that is, to enter, accept, stand for all to see as ‘the new man (Grk, anthropos)’.
Why? Because this is the only you that God is interested in working with or building up:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.12
Like Paul, you and I have died as the old man, crucified with Christ, to live as the new man. 13 Of course, the new man still has to pay the old man’s bills…
Unfortunately, our churches have not always helped us in this. Another friend, Brian, came to Jesus two or three years after I did. In 1972, he and I had worked together to set up a NZ branch of NORML (National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Guided by the US’s Playboy Foundation, we had recruited an oversight board of prominent New Zealanders to give us credibility, including a book publisher, a television personality and commentator, a government scientist, and a prison chaplain. We had familiarised ourselves with what they assured us was the best medical research.
However, when I became a Christian, I realised that marijuana’s pleasures and revelations were a pathetic counterfeit of the Holy Spirit14 so I stopped using it but Brian pressed on. Our paths diverged for a time and when I next heard from him, he was asking me to visit him in prison. He’d moved on from marijuana and hashish to LSD, then to morphine, and had been caught breaking into a pharmacy. After a year and a half in rehab, he was to spend another eighteen months in prison.
To my delight, he became a follower of Jesus and he’d write to me from prison, telling me of his Bible-studies and signing off, “From Brian, a prisoner but free!” He worried how he’d handle life after his release but, when he eventually was, he joined a good church. When I visited him sometime later, however, I was dismayed to see he’d re-adopted his old druggie mannerisms, language, and even clothing. On being fêted as the church’s ‘trophy of grace’, their ex-druggie, he’d begun to re-enact the role being assigned him.
I tried to talk to him about laying aside the old man to live as the new man but he was enjoying his notoriety too much and, eventually, he began using again and disappeared. I’ve not seen him since. The writer of Hebrews warns us to learn from ancient Israel’s wanderings and not look back too much:
And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.15
Tragically, Brian’s church encouraged him to think often of his previous life and he soon had opportunity to return to it. We must stand on the second revelation of who we are now in Jesus and resist all temptations to leave it, even from well-meaning Christians.
(ii) Dividing us off into denominations, sects and cults
I also found the two revelations could help me sort out the two major issues of all beliefs, denominations, sects, and cults.
The Heart of the Octopus
In 1973, I was surrounded by atheists, New Agers, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Krishna devotees, members of the Apostolic Church and the Assembly of God, followers of Witness Lee, and exclusive cults including the Worldwide Church of God, the Unification Church, the Children of God, British Israel, and the Evangelical Temple. All seemed nice people and all wanted me to join them so I talked to Kevin and Tina, listened to all these groups and read their literature, all the while praying and trying to sort out who was right and who was wrong.
However, as I prayed, I felt the Lord spoke to me about fighting an octopus: instead of trying to cut off its tentacles one by one, I should strike at the heart and that would deal with all the tentacles (yes, I know an octopus has three hearts – but you get the idea!). He taught me about the two revelations as above, confirming it from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The Colossians too had been under siege, in particular from pagan religions including Agnosticism, Jewish traditions, and Greek philosophy of all sorts. Paul prayed for the Colossians that they might gather:
…all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument… [Since] you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him… 16
Paul then noted how the collective wisdom of Hades can attack us:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.17
Notice what we need to always keep in mind – it’s the two revelations:
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…18
The first revelation is who He is, the deity of Jesus; the second is who we are, made complete in Him. Just as Jesus did with Peter, Paul encourages the Colossians and all of us today to stand on these two foundations to withstand all the strategies of the gates of Hades.
The Second Revelation
Paul then explains how the second revelation is as essential, as foundational, as the first – if we are truly ‘made complete’ in Jesus, we don’t have to please God by eating particular foods, keeping festivals or Sabbaths, following gurus or charismatic leaders, or jumping through spiritual hoops:
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement… These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.19
The first revelation helped me identify the non-Christian beliefs of my friends among the atheists, New Agers, Bahais, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Unification Church, and Krishna devotees – none of these believe that ‘all the fullness of Deity dwells’ uniquely in Jesus. The second revelation helped me identify those who think we have to add to the work Jesus completed on the cross, usually by joining their church – the Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Witness Lee’s Local Church, the Worldwide Church of God, the Children of God, British Israelites, and the Evangelical Temple.
That left me with the Assembly of God and the Apostolic Church so I attended both, the former when I lived in Wellington and the latter when I lived in Christchurch. Both encouraged me to worship Jesus, to keep coming to Him to remain filled with the Holy Spirit,20 and to develop my own convictions from the Scriptures, as it says:
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.21
(iii) Our service of God
In the late 70s and early 80s, I was appalled to watch Christian leaders, some close friends, being tempted away from their ministries by the Discipleship Movement. In every case that I saw, the deception was not regarding the first revelation of who Jesus is – they never lost their faith in Him – but the attack was against the second revelation of who He was calling them to be.
One was my friend, Eric. A successful minister in a flourishing Charismatic Baptist church, he was much loved by his congregation and co-workers as a man of God. I knew him to be an exhorter, enthusiastic and encouraging to all, and gentle in speech and manner. Unfortunately, he was introduced to an ‘apostle’ of the Discipleship Movement who told him that he was called to be a teacher. Eric, not being a teacher, didn’t have that ability but was then fed the Movement’s teachings which he began to teach every week. As he became increasingly harsh and domineering, the church split, five of the seven elders resigned, and nine of the ten home-group leaders stood down. When I questioned another ‘apostle’ at a leaders’ retreat about the New Covenant, I and our home-group were ex-communicated as ‘rebellious’.
When the first ‘apostle’ returned, he told Eric that he’d done such a great job, he was now promoted to apostleship too. Eric was ‘sent out’ from the church, a new ‘teacher’ was appointed in his place, and then his financial support was cut off. He eventually came to his senses and, I’m very glad to say, he and I were reconciled, but he died soon after. This whole mess began with Eric allowing himself to be wrongly identified and moved away from the Lord’s calling.
Another group I met in the 70s were followers of the American evangelist, William Branham (1909-1965). One of the pioneers of the Healing Movement, he was a very successful evangelist and many thousands came to faith through his ministry. However, he began to believe he was a prophet and teacher, becoming in the process a false teacher and false prophet. It seems clear to me that the gates of Hades were able to prevail against him because he failed to stand on the second revelation, abandoning what Jesus had called him to be and do.
Similarly with my friends in the Children of God, known today as the Family International. Their false prophet and teacher, Moses David Berg (1919–1994), also began as a very effective evangelist and pastor but he too abandoned his calling, ending up in gross immorality.
I believe this simple truth of the second revelation explains the origin of most cults and sects – their leaders have been overcome in the same way by the gates of Hades.
Jesus’ dialogue with Peter is far more important than both Catholic and Protestant traditions have taught us. Jesus wasn’t appointing Peter as the first Pope, but neither was He labelling Peter’s profession of faith the petra, the foundation on which He’s building His church. We need to identify the real foundation because it enables us to withstand “the gates of Hades”. However, we first have to catch up what His 1st Century Jewish disciples already understood by unpacking the six Jewish metaphors they were using – “the Christ”, name-changing, petra, “the gates of Hades”, “the keys of the kingdom”, and “binding and loosing”:
(i) Most Christians today understand that “the Christ”, lit. the Anointed, is a metaphor for the One who has the Holy Spirit and can give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him because He is uniquely God in the flesh. Those who don’t yet see this won’t understand the dialogue and need to pray for this revelation as that’s the whole point of it.
(ii) Most also today understand that in changing Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus was signifying a new era in his life, just as God had changed Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. However, we remain divided as to what Jesus was designating for Simon Peter.
(iii) Most also understand that, in this instance, petra means a rock-solid foundation but we remain divided over Jesus’ application, i.e. which foundation did He mean?
(iv) Few understand the metaphor, “the gates of Hades”, often thinking these gates are inanimate and passive. However, in ancient times, the city gates served as an assembly point where the elders and judges sat so the city’s deliberations and wisdom could be heard there. The gates of Hades symbolise the schemes and cunning of the unseen demonic realm, which explains how these ‘gates’ can ‘overpower’ people.
(v) The ‘keys of the kingdom’ is a metaphor for the means by which anyone enters the kingdom, i.e. by repenting, believing in Jesus, and being born again. Anyone who, like Simon Peter, has been born again holds these keys and can help or hinder others joining them in the kingdom by spreading or not spreading this wonderful news.
(vi) “Binding and loosing” is a metaphor for forbidding and allowing. Peter and every other born-again believer are not to decide for themselves what should or shouldn’t be done but to seek with others God’s decision on every matter – His kingdom is, by definition, wherever His will is done, and not ours.
At this point, we’ve caught up with what Jesus’ 1st Century Jewish disciples already knew. Pressing on now to Jesus’ application of petra as a rock-solid foundation, we have to differentiate between the three foundation metaphors they also already knew: bedrock, foundation-stones, and the Tabernacle’s foundation sockets of silver. Regarding bedrock:
(i) Jesus is the bedrock on which we are to build our lives by hearing and acting on His words – if we don’t, the storms and floods of life will reveal we’ve built on sand.22
(ii) Similarly, Paul wrote that ‘no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’.23 This time, it’s fire that will test how we’ve responded: selfish works will burn like ‘wood, hay, and straw’ but anything for Him will survive like ‘gold, silver, and precious stones’.24
Peter’s not mentioned in reference to bedrock and individuals. However, he is in the foundation-stones metaphor which applies to us corporately, writing of the ‘spiritual house’ or Temple in which all believers are ‘living stones’.25 Paul explained further:
(i) The Temple’s foundation-stones are all the N.T. apostles and prophets who were aligned with Jesus as the Cornerstone26 – Judas Iscariot was removed and replaced by Matthias.27 Peter’s clearly one of these foundation-stones.
(ii) Similarly, in John’s vision of the twelve foundation-stones of New Jerusalem’s wall, while Peter’s not mentioned by name, he, John, and Matthias are members of the Twelve and thus the ‘apostles of the Lamb’ (Rev 21:14).
However, in Matthew 16, Jesus is referring to neither of these metaphors but to the third, the Tabernacle’s foundation sockets:
(ii) Its solid silver foundations were exceedingly valuable, its fifty gold-encased boards each standing on two foundation sockets made of a talent of silver.
(iii) Accordingly, Jesus explained to Simon that he needed not one but two revelations to enable him to stand. Using a play on words, Jesus renames him Petros to link his new identity to this petra, the rock-solid foundation for his new life.
(iv) The first revelation is from our heavenly Father as to who Jesus is, and the second, from Jesus, is a revelation of who He is making Simon to be, Peter. In other words, Jesus is identifying, naming, what’s happening in Simon, a natural son of Jonah, that he is becoming Peter, a child of God. It is on this basis, this petra, that He will build Petros.
The application for us today:
(i) Peter is a prototype of all of us who have experienced these two revelations. This is how Jesus is going to build every individual in His church, His ‘true Tabernacle’: we each need a revelation from our heavenly Father as to who Jesus is, and from Jesus, a revelation of who He is making us to be.
(ii) Paul confirms this: ‘For in Him, all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete’.28 Both revelations are necessary to help us avoid being overcome by any kind of philosophy, tradition, and worldly principle, as well as erroneous church teachings on food, drink, festivals, Sabbaths, and self-abasement. We must remember – we truly are ‘complete in Him’.
(iii) We must remain alert to discern between conviction and condemnation: God convicts us of our sinfulness to offer us atonement and a new creation, the second revelation; Satan condemns us for our sinfulness as if we have no way out.
Lastly, in our evangelism today, we shouldn’t always try to prove who Jesus is. At times, ‘flesh and blood’ trying to ‘reveal’ Him is actually unhelpful, interfering with the Father’s revealing Him. Instead, we can urge listeners to pray for this revelation because anyone can receive it:”Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.29
Each of these three metaphorical foundations will be tested severely and that is their primary purpose – to help us withstand whatever happens to us in this life. Their true nature is revealed under testing: the house on rock or sand by floods and storms, our lives and works by fire, the true Tabernacle’s two sockets by the gates of Hades.
Now let’s consider how the two revelations apply to how we earn a living, issues of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation:
Part Four coming soon>>
- Matt 4:4-11, emphasis added
- Matt 3:17
- Isa 14:12-15, Ezek 28:5, 12-17
- Isa 30:21
- Luke 5:4-8, emphasis added
- Luke 5:10
- Rev 12:10
- John 8:44
- Rom 7:17-18
- 1 John 4:17
- Eph 4:22-24
- 2 Cor 5:17
- Rom 6:3-11
- cf. Eph 5:18
- Heb 11:15
- Col 2:2-7, emphasis added
- Col 2:4-8, emphasis added
- Col 2:9-10, emphasis added
- Col 2:16-23
- John 7:37-38
- Rom 14:22a, emphasis added
- Matt 7:24-27, Luke 6:47-49
- 1 Cor 3:11
- 1 Cor 3:12-15
- 1 Pet 2:4-6
- Eph 2:20-22
- Acts 1:24-26
- Col 2:9-10
- Matt 7:7-8, emphasis added