One With The Keys To Hades (rev. 1:16-18)

… and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Rev 1:16-18)

The picture of royal authority and magnificence is further amplified by the shining sun-like light emanating from the Son of Man. In Mathew 17:1-2 at the transfiguration event of Christ similar description was used. There we read,

“Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”

The difference between the book of Revelation and the Matthew’s account is simple – in the gospels Jesus’ transfiguration is a temporary glance, but in the Letter of Revelation it is permanent. So overwhelming was the vision of John that he found himself on the floor struck and paralyzed with fear. This is what happened to the disciples at the appearance of the cloud during Jesus’ transfiguration. The hand of the Son of Man quickly touched John and the words of comfort followed. The Son of Man told him not to be afraid, since he was once dead, but now is alive forever. Not only that, but the ultimate authority over death itself and the entire kingdom of darkness now belonged to the resurrected Son of Man (the keys of death and of Hades were now in his hand).

Holding keys to a particular domain is a clear sign of ability to exercise authority connected to that domain. Keeping doors closed or opening them always restricts or allows access. During this time in Jewish religious though we see many references to this general idea. In Matt 16:19 Peter is promised the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew 23:13 Jesus speaks of Pharisees and Scribes not entering the Kingdom and keeping others locked out as if they had the authority and ability to do so. In Luke 11:52 parallel the Pharisees have taken away the “key of knowledge” so people cannot enter. In 3 Baruch 11:1-3 Michael the archangel is described as holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,

1 And the angel took me and led me thence to a fifth heaven. 2 And the gate was closed. And I said, Lord, is not this gate-way open that we may enter? And the angel said to me, We cannot enter until Michael comes, who holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; but wait and thou shalt see the glory of God. 3 And there was a great sound, as thunder. (3 Baruch 11:1-3)

Not only the Kingdom of Heaven has gates that can be locked and unlocked, but also the Kingdom of Hell (Hades), the underworld has gates as well (Mat 16:18). A Midrash ascribed to Rabbi Akiva cites this tradition,

“In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, takes the keys of gēhinnōm and gives them to Michael and Gabriel before the eyes of all the righteous, and says to them: Go and open the gates of ḡhinnōm … Forthwith Michael and Gabriel go and open the 40,000 gates of ḡhinn̄om”.

Jesus as the resurrected Son of Man, one whose face radiates God’s glory has the authority and control not only in heaven, but also in Hell (Hades). A passage often mistakenly published in the appendix of Josephus’ writings that was written by Hyppolitus of Rome (beginning of 3rd century CE) explains about the idea of the Hades as understood by him,

“Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness.” (Discourse on the Greeks concerning Hades, Dissertation V, 1).

In the light of this popular idea that hades are associated with deep darkness, it makes perfect sense that the face of Jesus shines like the sun at its strength (vs.16). Moreover, it is understandable why John is told not to be afraid.

Lastly, Jesus calls himself the first and the last possibly referring to the Alpha and Omega title. But he is also the risen one, the one who is alive right now. One can see the three aspects (past, future and present) in this symbolic statement. This phrase is similar to the skillfully veiled reference of יהוה, the one “who is and who was and who is to come” in Rev.1:8-9.


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  1. Cathy

    Thank you for your most interesting post concerning the gates of heaven and hell. I found your thoughts and explanations easy to follow and led me to study more!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for the feedback!


    I follow all the mail you have sent to me Daniel georges THIBAUD , I love the jewish religion , and Im learning more the about the truth ..

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      So glad you left a comment about the e-mails you get. Lets learn together.


    Dear Dr Eli LIzorkin, Could you tell me when the Hades will be lighten, and why Jesus has not revealed the time it will be ,and what is the mysterious things that god has hold ,do you thinks that the time is near to open the doors for a new world that Human can lives in real peace,

  4. Kat H

    I really enjoy your history lessons! This has helped me to consider two different descriptions of the transformations/mindsets of our writers (John – Rev 1:16-18 & 3 Baruch 11:1-3). If the Keys of death and Hades represents a place not finished, it makes sense that John would describe the beginning of his salvation as death and describe life as the Lord of the Spirits (Jesus’ permanent transfiguration). Baruch, on the other hand, seems to have started with salvation and worked his way backwards to Jesus. This doesn’t sound like a type of Judaism to me. I practiced a form of Judaism and here is a description of my transformation in a non-Biblical language. “I am standing on the edge of Hell (pre-gospel mindset); my feet are starting to slip (accepted Christ). Help me Lord, come quickly—then I felt His Mighty Grip (2 Cor 3:15-18 )”  “who was, and who is, and who is to come”

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      More to come! Glad to hear this.

  5. Sheyla

    Shalom and thank you so much for sharing this! I have a question the hades is the same place as hell? And how does it look?? is it literally full of fire? Thank you again and God bless you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This is a question complicated by the tradition and how much people know on the topic. I am planing to have this discussion a little later as I write on Revelation. Would you stay and keep reading till we get to this topic?

      1. Sheyla

        Yes!!!! :0)

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg


  6. Paulo Roberto Motta

    gostaria de receber estudos no meu idioma português / Brasil!!!

    1. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza


      Shalom Paulo!

      Eu te invito a explorar o site em português em:

  7. jane z. mazzola

    Thank you again, for your meditations on these passages, especially Revelation, which seems to engender much speculation, more than analysis, in my opinion. So i’ve always avoided it. Thank you, also, for your own comments and patient, gentle manner. Blessings again, Jane Mazzola

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      It is a pleasure, Jane. This blog is a good and safe place to study Revelation because of the largely non-theological approach. Sure there is theology in my posts but I have nothing to gain in presenting some particular form of theology based in Revelation and thus my historical and literary approach will help people see anther side of the book they might have avoided because of the divisive theology.

      1. nelson abaku

        I really need more on Revelation and the Gospel of John, it strengthens my understanding more every time I read the exposition.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          You are welcome to browse the site archives for lots of articles on these topics.

  8. Cesar ramos

  9. Isabel Saldivar

    SHALOM! Maestro es una gran bendición leer este estudio

  10. Fabian Molina

    Dr Eli deseo recibir el Libro de los Salmos gracias