I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
~ Revelation 1:8
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
~ Job 19:25, Romans 14:8-9
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
~ Revelation 9:1, Revelation 3:7
Christ Has the Keys of Hell and of Death, Charles H. Spurgeon. 1869.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
~ Revelation 1:17-18
Death is a land of darkness, as darkness itself, without any order. Yet a sovereign eye surveyeth it, and a master hand holdeth its key. Hell is also a horrible region…But hell trembles at the presence of the Lord…Let us rejoice that nothing in heaven, earth, or in places under the earth is left to itself to engender anarchy. Everywhere, serene above the floods, the Lord sitteth King forever and ever. No province of the universe is free from the divine rule. Things do not come by chance. Nowhere doth chance and chaos reign. Nowhere is evil really and permanently enthroned. Rest assured that the Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens and His kingdom ruleth over all. For if the lowest hell and death own His government, much more all things that are on this lower world.
It is delightful for us to observe as we read this chapter that (the) government of hell and of death is vested in the person of the Man Christ Jesus. He Who holdeth the keys of these dreadful regions is described by John as “One like unto the Son of man” (Rev 1:13), and we know that He was our Lord Jesus Christ Himself…These keys are committed to the Son of man: and Jesus Christ—bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, made in all points like unto His brethren—ruleth over all…The metaphor of keys is intended, no doubt, to set forth the double thought of our Lord’s possessing both the rightful and the actual dominion over death and hell…Christ hath the keys of hell and death—that is to say, He is rightfully the Lord over those dark regions and rules them by indefeasible68 title of sovereignty…He actually rules and manages in all the issues of the grave and overrules all the councils of hell, restraining the mischievous devices of Satan or turning them to subserve69 His own designs of good. Our Lord Jesus Christ still is supreme! His kingdom, willingly or unwillingly, extends over all existences in whatever regions they may be.
What is intended by the power of these keys here mentioned? First of all, a key is used for opening. Hence, our Lord can open the gates of death and hell. It is His to open the gate of the separated spirits, to admit purchased possession. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise” (Isa 26:19).
But a key is also used to shut the door. Even so, Jesus will both shut in and shut out. His golden key will shut in His people in heaven…But, alas! There is the dark side to this shutting of the gate. It is Christ, Who with His key shall shut the gates of heaven against unbelievers…A key is used to shut and to open, and so it is used to shut in, in reference to hell, those spirits who are immured71 there. “Between us and you,” said Abraham to Dives,72 “there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luk 16:26). It is Christ’s key that hath shut in the lost spirits, so that they cannot roam by way of respite, nor escape by way of pardon…We understand by Christ having the keys of hell that He rules over all that are in hell. Hence, He rules over the damned spirits. In this life, they would not have this Man to rule over them; but in the life to come, they must submit whether they will or not. In that seething caldron, every wave of fire is guided by the will of the Man Christ, and the mark of His sovereignty is on every iron chain. This, the ungodly will be compelled to feel with terror; for though the ferocity of their natures will remain, the boastfulness of their pride shall be taken from them. Though they would still revolt, they shall find themselves hopelessly fettered and powerless to accomplish their designs…One of the great terrors of the lost in hell will be this: He Who came to save was rejected by them; now (He) only reveals Himself to them as (One) mighty to destroy… What must be the consternation of those that were loudest against Christ on earth, the men who denied His deity, the infidels who vented curses upon His blessed name—your Voltaires73 and Tom Paines,74 who were never satisfied except when they uttered bitter words against the Man of Nazareth? What will be their amazement!…What consternation and confusion shall overwhelm that man who said he lived in the twilight of Christianity, to find himself where the blaze of Christ’s glory shall forever be as a furnace to his guilty soul! O that none of us may know what it is to be ruled in justice by Christ because we would not be ruled by mercy…
As in hell, Christ has power over all the damned spirits, so our text implies that He has power over all the devils…An abject slave of Christ art thou, O Satan—a very scullion75 in the kitchen of providence. When thou thinkest most to effect thine own purposes and to over-throw the Kingdom of Christ on earth, even then what art thou but a mere hack, accomplishing still the purposes of thy Master, Whom in vain thou dost blaspheme! Lo, at Christ’s girdle are the keys of hell. Let the whole legion of accursed spirits tremble…
Joyous is the thought that Jesus rules over all redeemed spirits in heaven, for we hope to be there soon! This shall be among our dearest joys: without temptation, without infirmity, without weariness, we shall serve our Lord day and night in His temple. My brethren, of all the joys of heaven, next to that of being with Christ, one delights to think of serving Christ. Ah! How rapturous will be our song! How zealously we will praise Him!
68 indefeasible – not able to be lost or overturned.
69 subserve – to serve to promote; be useful to.
70 felicity – happiness.
71 immured – imprisoned.
72 Dives (dī ́-vēz; from the Latin Vulgate) – the rich man at whose gate Lazarus lay.
73 Voltaire, born Francois Marie Arouet (1694-1778) – French Enlightenment anti-Christian playwright and author.
74 Thomas Paine (1737-1809) – pamphleteer, revolutionary, deist, and critic of the Bible.
75 scullion – a kitchen servant employed to do unskilled, humiliating work.
When the time shall come for us to depart out of this world unto the Father, no hand but that of the Well-beloved shall put that gold-en key into the lock and open the pearly gate that admits the righteous to the spirit-land…He is the resurrection and the life. Because He lives, we shall live also. At His bidding, every bolt of death’s prison house shall be drawn, and the huge iron gates of the sepulchre shall be rolled back…Of all that the Father gave to Christ, He will lose nothing, but will surely raise it up at the Last Day (Joh 6:39). Christ has purchased the bodies as well as the souls of His people. He hath redeemed them by (His) blood, and their mortal frames are the temples of the Holy Ghost! Rest assured, He will not lose a part of His purchase. It is not the will of our Father in heaven that the Redeemer should be defrauded of any part of His saints one by one to their eternal felicity.
How earnest shall be our service! If He should give us commissions to distant worlds, as perhaps He will; if He shall prepare us to become preachers of His truth to creatures in unknown orbs;76 if He shall call us through revolving ages to publish to newly created myriads77 the wondrous grace of God in Christ, with what ardent pleasure will we accept the service! How constantly, how heartily will we tell out the story of our salvation by the precious blood of Jesus! O that we could serve Him here as we wish! But we shall serve Him there without fault or flaw. Oh, happy heaven, because Jesus hath the key of it and reigns supreme, when shall we stand upon thy sea of glass before His throne?
One more remark is wanted to complete the explanation of the power of the keys. Our Lord is said to have the keys of death, from which we gather that all the issues of death are at His disposal alone. No man can die unless Jesus opens the mystic door of death. Even the ungodly man owes his spared life to Christ. It is the intercession and the interposition of Jesus that keeps breath even in the swearer’s nostrils. Long since hadst thou been consumed in the fire of God’s wrath, O sinner, had not Jesus used His authority to keep thee out of the jaws of death. As for His saints, their consolation is that their death is entirely in His hands. In the midst of fever and pestilence, we shall never die until He wills it. In the times of the greatest healthiness, when all the air is balm, we shall not live a second longer than Jesus has purposed. The place, the circumstance, the exact second of our departure have all been appointed by Him and settled long ago in love and wisdom. A thousand angels could not hurl us to the grave, nor could a host of cherubim confine us there one moment after Jesus said, “Arise!” This is our comfort…Let us never fear death then, but rather rejoice at the approach of it, since it comes at our dear Bridegroom’s bidding…Though the prospect of our Lord’s coming is sweet, immeasurably sweet, yet the prospect of going to Him meanwhile—if He so wills it—is not without its sweetness too. Christ hath the key of death, and therefore death to us is no longer a gate of terror…
What is the key of this power? Whence did Christ obtain this right to have the keys of hell and death? Doth He not derive it first of all from His Godhead? In the eighteenth verse, He saith, “I am he that liveth,” language that only God can use…God saith, “There is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else” (Isa 45:6). And Jesus being God claimeth the same self-existence. “I am he that liveth.” Now, since Christ is God, He certainly hath power over heaven, earth, and hell…He is the creator of all things. He is the preserver of all things. All power belongeth unto Him. As for all things that are apart from Him, they would vanish as a puff of air is gone if He willed it so. He alone existeth. He alone is. Therefore let Him wear the crown, let Him have undivided rule.
That doctrine of the deity of Christ—how I tremble for those who will not receive it! Brethren, if there be anything in the Word of God that is clear and plain, it is surely this. If there be any doctrine that is necessary for our salvation, it is this. How could we trust to a mere man? If there be anything that can give us comfort when we come to rest upon Christ, it is just this: we are not looking to an angel nor depending upon a creature, but are resting upon Him Who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Almighty God!…Having such a rock of our salvation as the ever-living and ever-blessed God, let the thought kindle in our souls the purest joy!
But the key to this power lies also in our Saviour’s conquests. He hath the keys of death and hell because He hath actually conquered both these powers. You know how He met hell in the dreadful onset in the garden, how all the powers of darkness there combined against Him. Such was the agony of that struggle that He sweat great drops of blood falling to the ground. Yet He sustained the brunt of that onset without wavering and kept the field unbeaten. He continued to wrestle with those evil powers upon the cross. In that thick midday midnight into which no curious eyes could pry, in the midst of that darkness, He continued to fight—His heel bruised, but breaking the dragon’s head meanwhile! Grim was the contest, but glorious was the victory, worthy to be sung by angels in eternal chorus! Take down your sweetest harps, ye seraphs! Lift up your loudest notes, ye cherubim, unto Him that fought the dragon and overcame him…unto (Christ) be glory forever and ever! Well doth Jesus deserve to rule the provinces that He hath subdued in fight. He has conquered the king of hell and destroyed the works of the devil. Good right hath He to be King over the domain of the vanquished!
As to death, ye know how our Lord vanquished him! By death, He conquered death. When the hands were nailed, they became potent to fight with the grave! When the feet were fastened to the wood, then began they to trample on the sepulchre! When the death pangs began to thrill through every nerve of the Redeemer’s body, then His arrows shot through the loins of death! And when His anguished soul was ready to take its speedy flight and leave His blessed corpse, then did the tyrant sustain a mortal wound! Our Lord’s entrance into the tomb was the
76 orbs – heavenly bodies; worlds.
77 myriads – countless numbers of men.
taking possession of His enemies’ stronghold. His sleep within the sepulchre’s stony walls was the transformation of the prison into a couch of rest.
But especially in the resurrection, when, because He could not be held by the bonds of death, neither could His soul be kept in Hades, He rose again in glory, then did He become the “death of death and hell’s destruction” …As if to prove that He had the keys of the grave, Jesus passed in and passed out again; and He hath made free passage now for His people…By His achievements, by His doings, He hath won for Himself the power of the keys.
We have one more truth to remember: Jesus Christ is installed in this high place of power and dignity by the Father Himself as a reward for what He has done. He was Himself to “divide the spoil with the strong,” but the Father had promised to give Him a “portion with the great” (Isa 53:12). See the reward for the shame that He endured among the sons of men! He stooped lower than the lowest; He has risen higher than the highest. He wore the crown of thorns, but now He wears the triple crown of heaven, earth, and hell. He was the servant of servants, but now He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Earth would not find Him shelter—a stable must be the place of His birth and a borrowed tomb the sepulchre of His dead body—but now, all space is His, time and eternity tremble at His bidding, and there is no creature, however minute or vast, that is not subject to Him! How greatly hath the Father glorified Him Whom men rejected and despised! Let us adore Him! Let our hearts, while we think over these plain but precious truths, come and spread their riches at His feet and crown Him Lord of all!…
Should not this contemplation make us say, “Let us worship Him Who hath the keys of hell and death! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving and show ourselves glad in Him with songs”? Preaching is not the great end of the Sabbath-day; listening to sermons is not the great aim of Sundays. It is a means; what is the end? Why, the end, as far as we can attain it on earth, is for us to glorify God in service, and especially in the singing of His praises. Worship rendered to God in prayer and praise is the true fruit of the Sabbath, and I am afraid we are behind in this. I wish that when believers come together, they would oftener render unto Christ the coronals79 of their hymns to crown Him Lord of all. His enemies miss no opportunity to spite Him; those that hate His Gospel are zealous to bring shame upon it. Oh, miss no opportunities to extol Him with your praises and to honour Him with the holiness of your lives and the zeal of your service. Is He King over heaven, death, and hell? Then shall He be King over the triple territory of my spirit, soul, and body; and I will make all my powers and passions yield Him praise.
To conclude: If to the righteous the lesson from all this is, “Fear not,” methinks the lesson to the ungodly is, “Fear and tremble.” Christ hath the keys of death. You may die this moment; you may die ere you reach your homes. You have not the key of death. You cannot therefore prolong your life. But Christ hath it, and He can end the times of His longsuffering just when He so wills it. And what would it be to some of you if the gate of death was opened for you, and you were driven through it like dumb, driven cattle this very day? O man, what would become of thee? O woman, what would become of thee, if now those eyes should glaze and that pulse should stop? I beseech thee, consider thy ways, and turn thee unto God, lest thou die and perish (suddenly). Remember, soul, if thou wouldst fight it out with Christ and be His enemy, yet thou canst not: for He is Lord and will be Lord. Even shouldst thou fly to hell to escape Him, He ruleth there…Wherever you may go, there shall the remembrances of His rejected love pierce you like barbed arrows! Even in hell shall the glory of His power, which you could not thrust down though you tried to do it, strike you with a deeper despair. I implore you to listen to His Gospel. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mar 16:16). This is the message He gave us when He was taken up…O then, yield to His Gospel! Believe, that is, trust implicitly in Him Who died on the cross of Calvary to make atonement and now liveth to make intercession. Trust in Him…Be baptised in His name, confessing your sins and acknowledging yourself to be His disciple. This is the Gospel: reject it at your peril. Submit to it, I beseech you, for Christ’s sake.
“(Christian,) how you should praise the Son for having died to save you from the Lake of Fire! How you should praise the blessed Spirit for having quickened you into newness of life! And how your appreciation ought to be expressed now in a life that is glorifying to the Triune God!”
—A. W. Pink