Through His blood sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ paid the bond price for our sins and thereby saved us from eternal damnation at the hands of our enemy, Satan.
Additionally, by conquering the grave, Jesus not only claimed His authority over death, but He also opened the gates of heaven by offering us the gift of salvation, thus enabling us to live in eternal righteousness with God.
However, did Satan actually have authority over death and hell, and, if so, did Jesus fight Satan for these keys in order to free us?
Jesus Possesses the Keys to Death and Hell
In the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, John describes a vision he had of Jesus at Patmos. In his account, he scribes what Jesus spoke to him:
“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18).
In this Scripture, Jesus is declaring his authority over death and hell (Hades), by implying that the keys to the aforementioned, which once belonged to another, are now in His possession.
Does that mean that the keys to death and hell originally belonged to Satan and that Jesus fought him for them?
God Created Hell for Satan and His Angels
Satan originally abode in heaven as an angel by the name of Lucifer, which means “star of the morning.” However, he rebelled against God, and consequently, was thrown out of heaven along with his angelic followers:
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! (Isaiah 14:12).
So, what happened to Satan and his followers thereafter? 2 Peter 2:4 explains that God sent these spiritual rebels to hell:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.
Furthermore, Matthew 25:41 describes Satan’s accursed holding place as an eternal fire, which is a commonly associated image of hell, and one which God had prepared:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
One can conclude from these scriptures, and more, that Satan didn’t possess hell, and by association, its assumption as a place for the dead. Rather, God created hell to keep the devil at bay until his final judgment in Revelation 20:10.
That being said, the Bible also supports Satan’s presence on both an earthly (Job 1:7), as well as on a spiritual plane (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). However, a central theme of this article concerns Satan’s claim to death and hell, and not where he otherwise resides.
The Unsaved Are Also Destined for Hell
Although God created hell as a holding place for Satan and his followers, the Bible records incidents where humans went to hell as punishment for defying Him.
Consider the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who opposed Moses and, by extension, God in the wilderness:
…and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community (Numbers 16:32-33).
The Bible continues to make a strong statement that only death and damnation await those who choose to live according to their earthly desires, rather than in obedience to God:
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).
Interestingly, it is in fact Jesus, who preached the most about hell in the Bible.
As the One who was sent to be our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus knew the consequences of man’s decision to live in separation from God — eternal damnation. Hence, He gave up His own life, in order that we may live in eternal righteousness with God.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
Hades Versus Hell
In Revelation 1:17-18, Jesus declared His authority over Hades — not hell. What is the difference?
The term “Hades” was used by the ancient Greeks and corresponds to the Hebrew equivalent “Sheol.” Both describe an underworld resting place for deceased humans.
Over time, it is most likely that the terms “Sheol” and “Hades” fell out of use and were replaced with the term “hell.”
The Symbolism of Key Ownership
Whoever holds a key has the power and authority to open a door and gain access to what lies beyond. Irreversibly, the owner of the key can also close a door, thus shutting in what he wants to keep locked up.
Through His death and resurrection on the Cross, Jesus claimed the keys to death and Hades for Himself (Revelation 1:17-18). Therefore, not only is Jesus the ruler of heaven as part of the Godhead, but He also has authority of death and can determine who enters or leaves hell.
Jesus’ key ownership fulfills the Davidic Covenant, which God made with King David, in which Jesus would be born through his lineage and establish an eternal Kingdom.
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open (Revelation 3:7).
The Fight That Never Took Place
Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary hallmarked His ultimate victory over Satan and the end of the latter’s damned dominion over our eternal lives.
Satan didn’t fight Jesus for the keys over death and hell, as not only did he not possess the keys in the first place, but he also didn’t understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice until the Son of God had died, and by then, it was too late for Satan to throw his proverbial hat in the ring.
Where Was Jesus before His Resurrection?
The effects of Jesus’ key ownership were immediate following His death. Upon leaving His spirit, it states in Matthew 27:50-53 that the veil was torn, that is, the barrier between us and God was removed, making it possible for us to enter into His presence.
Additionally, this Scripture makes a direct reference to how the dead were resurrected as a response to Jesus’ sacrifice:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:50-53).
However, Jesus, for in the three-day interim period between His death and resurrection, had the purpose of rescuing imprisoned souls such as Adam and Eve from the days of Noah and earlier:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built (1 Peter 3:18-20).
Admittedly, there is contention amongst scholars, as to whether Jesus actually descended into hell or not. Nevertheless, the Bible does give cross-references to His three-day interim mission. Consider Ephesians 4:8-9:
When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people. (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?
Satan Used Another Key to Torment Humans
Satan didn’t possess the keys to death and hell, however, in Revelation 9:1, he is given a key to a bottomless pit:
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss.
Satan received a key to unlock an abyss that held a supernatural plague of locusts. Once unleashed, Satan used them to torment unrepenting sinners for five months.
However, note that Satan was not given ownership of the key, only transitory use of it.
Jesus’ Victory over Death and Hell Is Indisputable
Despite differing viewpoints regarding what occurred between the Cross and the Resurrection, there is one truth that is universal amongst scholars and believers alike: Jesus is inarguably the victor over death and hell.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:15).
How blessed and at the same time, underserving, are we, to have a Father, who loves us so much, that He sent His only Son to die for our sins! (John 3:16).
How wonderful and majestic a God we serve, who has the power to raise a sinless man from a borrowed tomb, thereby claiming victory over death and the powers of hell itself, in order that we may be able to live in eternal righteousness with God, free from the sting of death and damnation?
Praise be to God!
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Madeline Kalu is a Christian writer and the co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog. She was born in England but currently lives in Germany with her husband, Solomon. As a response to the fear, anxiety, and despair generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacob’s Ladder Blog has written a free EBook titled “More than Conquerors through Christ” to encourage, strengthen, and give hope in the midst of this pandemic. You can download the EBook or read it online at www.jacobsladderblog.com.