KEYS OF DEATH, Rev. 1:18

February 25, 2011 on 7:53 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on KEYS OF DEATH, Rev. 1:18

Have you ever wondered what happens when this life is over? There are many ideas floating around. Do we go to heaven, hell, purgatory, or limbo? Or is some form of reincarnation our destiny? Or maybe this life is all there is–only eternal nothingness ahead. And what about near death experiences (NDE)–do they prove anything? There is also the paranormal, seances, etc. This verse introduces a topic that can be quite controversial and is deserving of more extended treatment in a category of its own on this blogsite/website. But for now, perhaps we can pick up some hints from this verse and a few others related to it. What we really want to know is what the Bible actually teaches, not some news tabloid or merely someone’s opinion or even personal experience, for all must be judged by Scripture.

First of all, this verse is really about Jesus, which certainly fits in with the portrait of Him we’ve been studying in this chapter. He now speaks for Himself about a special power He has. First He says He is alive, which seems pretty evident, but then He reminds us that at one time He was dead. Thus He refers to His resurrection, an event so important that the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19: “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” His unique power is highlighted in John 10:17, 18 when He states: “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay id down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Because of this unique power to rise from the dead He can make the statement in Revelation 1:18: “I have the keys of Hades and of death.” What does He really mean by that statement, what does hades mean and what does that mean for us personally?

Some Bible translations render the word “hades” as “domain of the dead”, and others simply call it “the grave,” in other words, He has the “keys” to death and the grave. This seems to fit well with Jesus’ own comments in John 5:28, 29 in looking forward to that day we refer to as “resurrection day.” “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.” Because Jesus never sinned and was also divine, death could not hold Him in the grave and He now has authority to also release us from the grasp of death to be with Him forever. That’s good news for us. That’s the bottom line of that phrase. You can stop here. If you want to probe further, keep reading.

An interesting thought crossed my mind the other day. If everyone went directly to heaven, hell, purgatory, or wherever, who would be left in the grave? And what good would a key to death do if no one were dead–if they all were already in heaven, hell, etc. experiencing their reward? It would be like having a key to prison with no prisoners inside–what would be the point? As you can see, there is much more to explore–perhaps more another time.

But back to the key. Today we have a phrase “giving someone a key to the city.” It’s often used regarding a celebrity or dignitary visiting a city, perhaps for the first time, and the mayor presents him with a “key to the city,” usually a large symbolic one which is unable to literally unlock anything. But it indicates the individual is welcome everywhere and has access to all the city has to offer. So here, the key is a symbolic one–there is no literal jail or geographical location it is referring to. Rather is signifies Jesus’ access to “the realm of the dead”==the grave. It represents His power to raise the dead to life again.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 reminds us of our initial destiny as it states: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work of device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” But isn’t there a text somewhere that says something goes back to God? Yes, there is in Ecclesiastes 12:7: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” The dust part we seem to understand pretty well–the body disintegrates into its original components. But what is that spirit God gave to man? We go back to Genesis 2:7 to discover the original formula God used to create mankind in the very beginning. Here it is: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (the Hebrew word for “breath” is the same word translated “spirit”); and man became a living being (“soul” in the old King James Version).” So after using the dust of the ground to form man, what He gave Him was the breath of life, which enabled him to become a living person. Now if I breathed into a dead person, for example, nothing would happen. But God is the source of life, so His breath does make a difference. So that spirit that goes back to God who gave it is the essence of life. When that returns to God, the person ceases to exist temporarily. There was no conscious being in heaven before his creation and there is no conscious being left after death, at least temporarily. It is like going to sleep. Remember the verse in 1 Corinthians 15:18 which compares death to a sleep. When you are asleep you have no awareness of what is going on. When you wake up you have no idea how long you have slept–whether 10 minutes or 10 hours–until you look at your watch or see the sun coming up. It seems as though it was only an instant of time. Likewise, whether you have been dead a minute or a thousand years, it will seem as though it was just the blink of an eye till you wake up and see Jesus coming for you! There will be no awareness of the passing of time.

There are many other scriptures which use the word “sleep” to refer to the death experience.
This idea of death as a sleep is used by Jesus Himself as recorded in John 11 in the story of Lazarus. He was apparently a close friend of Jesus, so when Lazarus became deathly sick, his sisters sent a message to Jesus about it, expecting Him to come pronto. He didn’t, but waited awhile, with a specific purpose in mind. But in verse 11 He finally told His disciples, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well. ‘ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.'”

But another important question comes up: ok, if I go to the grave when I die and am then later resurrected, am I the same person? What happens to my identity, personality, etc., if I have no conscious existence in this interim period? The way I like to think of it is that as part of this “spirit” that returns to God, our life force, included in that package if you please, is my personal identity, my personality, etc., everything that makes up who I am. So, then, my identity is preserved in the mind of God–what safer place could there be?! God has an incredible infinite mind that is never overloaded. And He is like an artist who envisions a picture in His mind and then transfers it onto canvas. In the beginning God did that when He created earth. He simply spoke and what He saw in His mind became reality. So on the resurrection day all God has to do is speak the word and the dead come to life again, with their personal identity package restored. We will know each other in the resurrection–but we will have glorified bodies with no defects. Won’t that be great?! And since God is not dependent on pre-existing matter to create, it won’t matter whether our death came as a result of being burned at the stake or being eaten by wild animals. Our identity is always safe with God.

One thing to keep in mind through all this, is that God loved us very intensely to make all this possible. Jesus risked His own eternal life to come live and die in our behalf and take the punishment for our sins so we could live with Him forever. It was as if He couldn’t bear to live in eternity without us. Yes, He definitely has the keys to death and the grave so we can be assured death does not have the last word–God does. How much we owe in praise to our loving Creator!

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