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. jane z. mazzola

    Thank you, Dr. Eli, for including the info re: the art work. I have been very interested in that also, on each of the posts.
    Next, in answer to Kate’s question, you said in reference to John’s Gospel, “that Jesus is shown not simply as the Messiah, but as divine.” Not the same? What is the difference?
    Thanks again, Jane

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Messiah may or may not be divine Messiah. In John he clearly is.


  2. Keefa

    Greeting Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg. Did the Yehudim(Jews) in antiquity believe that Michael was doing to come down and be Messiah?

  3. Kate Kaplan

    Dr. Eli, Your cheerful intelligent and polite personality is so refreshing in this darkening, end of days world. I was wondering where does the image of the key in today’s lesson come from? I traced it right off my screen with tracing paper. The LORD is keeping me busy making art that glorifies Him. I may very well use that key
    with the cross shape in its neg. space!
    When I read this post I thought of when Yeshua was arrested by a mob secretly at night, so as not to arouse the thousands of His followers. He was completely calm and fearless. He went forward to meet the mob and asked,”Who is it you want?”
    When they replied,”Yeshua of Nazareth,” He replied,”I AM.”
    Do you agree Dr. Eli that He said HaShem at this moment? The mob’s reaction was that they all drew back and fell to the ground! Another proof that Yeshua was/is absolutely in control at all times; and that He allowed Himself to be arrested and to suffer because this was the only way to redeem US His beloved. Hallelujah to the
    Pesach Lamb!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Kate, thank you for your kind words. I think that for people to open up and share with each other, the tone of the forum should be welcoming and polite. 🙂 AND it is good to be welcoming and polite in any case :-). OK… back to your point. Yes, I do. The reason actually is not grammatical, but how I see John’s Gospel. In John Jesus is Divine Word of God come in Flesh. This is a high christology Gospel which of course means that Jesus is shown not simply as the Messiah, but as divine. My new book “The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel” is only 2 months away from release :-), so this is my shameless plug for you to look forward to getting it it. One example in John Jesus is Good Shepherd but the Good Shepherd in Ezekiel (a major backdrop of John’s gospel) is the Great I am. Hope this helps.

  4. Dennis Peterson

    If the son of man is the son of God and all authority has been given him, in Heaven and on earth- Jesus would have the keys to life and death. (Sheole, Hades, or he’ll have the same meaning in the ancient language- the keys to the kingdom as King and keys to the common grave of man –
    Jesus would then start at His Father’s command to begin the resurrection on earth as it is in heaven

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      That is the power of the Son of Man.

  5. kamara

    thanks for the good work sir Shalom

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your kind words and welcome!

  6. Steohen Yang

    Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I really happy to learn from most honourble Dr. Eli. I’m ignorance of the Baruch;

    ‘ 40.000 gates of ghinnom’ , or ‘ fifth heavens’. All those were very new information to

    me. andI am very interesting to hear that. I remember that only third heaven(2

    Cor.12:2). Thank you for your great knowledge. שלחם

    Stephen Yang

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am delighted you could join our study Stephen!

  7. Daphne Brown

    Dear Dr. Eli

    Thank you for opening this discussion. Could you please elaborate more on (1) The Greeks and Hades (Dessertation v.1) and (2) The appendix of Josephus’ by Hyppolitus of Rome.

    How may Christians exercise their authority over the gates of gehinnon?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Daphne, It is not my place to comment on whether people exercise their authority over the gates of Hades, sorry.

      On the Greeks and Hades – read the original attributed to Josephus here –

  8. Catrina

    This article made me think of The LORD in Isaiah 13:9-12 where the heavens do not shine their light, and man will be more precious than fine gold. And Ezekiel 33:30 where the children of Ezekiel’s (son of man) people were talking against him by the doors and walls. Also I reread in Ezekiel 37:12-14 where The Lord GOD would open the graves and put His Spirit in the people <3 <3 <3

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Catrina, thanks for your thoughtful reflection.

  9. Catrina

    Amen! thank you for sharing your studies <3 <3 <3

  10. Karl

    In Revelation 21 -22, J-sus STATES that He is the Alpha and the Omega, in BOTH chapters, verse 6 and 22: 13 . NOT POSSIBLY as you have mentioned .

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Karl, The reason I stated it the way I did is because of the previous discussion of Rev 1:4-8. If you read it I am sure you will see my point about Alpha and Omega.