Death and Hades' Keys
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7. Death and Hades' Keys
Revelation 1.17-20

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold death and Hades' keys. Therefore, write what you have seen, what is now, and what will occur later. The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands are this. The seven stars are the seven churches' angels, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.'" (Revelation 1.17-20) ✞

Don't Be Afraid

Transfiguration ChurchAs the Roman government stepped up its second-century Christian persecutions, the Apostle John must have wondered if the church would die out altogether or whether it could survive. When the glorious Jesus appears, he reassures John, "Do not be afraid," in Mark 6.50, for he and his fellow believers have God's strength to face these trials.

Calming Reassurance

The phrase "do not be afraid" is written in the Bible 365 times. That's a daily reminder from God to live everyday fearless lives. There are several New Testament instances when Jesus tells his disciples, "Don't be afraid." Jesus says to John, and the others on the notoriously turbulent Galilee Sea, when strong winds blow through the surrounding valleys and fierce storms result, "Don't be afraid." Matthew 14.27 reads, "Jesus immediately said to them, 'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.'" We hear Jesus' calming words at Jesus' Transfiguration when John is frightened by Moses and Elijah's appearance in an eerie cloud. In the Garden of Gethsemane, at the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, the soldiers fall fearfully to their knees when Jesus utters the holy "I am" name. Jesus then reassures his disciples, "Don't be afraid."

Death and Hades' Keys

KeyJesus Christ holds death and Hades' keys. Jesus alone can open these two compartments in the underworld. Death is under Jesus' sole power and authority. "Death and Hades' keys" keep people in or let them out. The Greek "Hades" means "unseen" and translates the Hebrew "Sheol" to describe the "dead's resting place in an unseen location" or "the place of departed spirits." "Hades" is also an ancient Greek underworld god emphasizing the afterlife dread of that awful place. "Sheol," on the other hand, describes "the home of the righteous and the wicked."

Rogue-lite Video Game

Hades may be related to the Greek mythological god of the underworld. Interestingly, "Hades is also a rogue-lite action video game developed and published by Supergiant Games, released in 2020." In a rogue-lite game, the player dies over and over to progress. The publisher released the game for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in 2021. The publicity material continues, "Players control Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he attempts to escape from the Underworld to reach Mount Olympus, at times aided by gifts bestowed on him from the other Olympians. Each run challenges the player through a random series of rooms populated with enemies and rewards. The game has a combat system; the player uses a combination of their main weapon attack, a special attack, dash power, and ability to defeat them while avoiding damage to progress as far as possible. While Zagreus will often die, the player can use gained treasure to improve certain attributes or unlock new weapons and abilities to improve chances of escaping on subsequent runs." The publishers said that they wanted to explore procedural narrative storytelling. "Hades" has sold over a million copies and was named 2020's game of the year.

Lazarus and Dives

Lazarus' and Dives' story speaks clearly about Hell and Paradise in Luke 16.19-21. We read, "There was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen who lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores." After their deaths, the wicked Dives remained in "Hell." The righteous Lazarus ended up in "Paradise" with Abraham. Luke 16.22-23 tells us, "The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, beside Lazarus."

Death's Shadow

Scorpion StingJesus elaborates in Revelation 1.17b-20, "I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold death and Hades' keys." Jesus Christ leads those who believe in him facing death into eternal life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the renowned Baptist preacher, wrote a devotional book called "Mornings and Evenings." He encouraged his readers, "God removes death's substance, and only its shadow remains. Nobody fears a shadow, for it cannot block a person's pathway even momentarily, nor can "death's shadow."

Shadows Cannot Hurt

The dog's shadow cannot bite. The sword's shadow cannot kill. Jesus alone frees human beings from death's fear. Jesus, the world's light, produces light that removes all shadows. Believers don't have to fear death because Jesus of Nazareth holds "the keys of death's terrors and Hades' eternity." Those who face premature death from Cancer, Covid-19, AIDS, or other terminal illness need to remember that Jesus' power was available to John and the Early Church in their second-century persecutions and is accessible to us today. He will lead those Christians facing the end through death's shadow into eternal life. From Psalm 23.4, we know, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me." There is no more incredible promise than this, "you are with me."

Life's Maze

MazeThe American speaker and author Roger von Oech (1948-present) writes, "Life is like a maze in which you try to avoid the exit." Christians don't have to avoid the exit! They can look forward to it, for they know the blessings beyond. When the end comes, and we confront the grave, be assured that death has no sting. All the body's life may ebb away, but the Spirit lives on in a Christian. Their soul, mind, and personality continue in a new incorruptible body. Jesus takes away death's power over those who love and serve him. Jesus said to Lazarus's sister Mary in her bitter grief over her brother's death in John 11.25b-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" This great question bears forth the earth-shattering truth that Jesus destroys even "death and its shadow."

"Death and Hades' Keys"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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