The Keys Of Hell And Death


The Keys Of Hell And Death

May 7th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM

Revelation 1:18

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.
Print Sermon
Downloadable Media
Share This Sermon
Play Audio

Show References:


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 1:17-18

5-07-61     10:30 a.m.


On the radio you’re sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the text in Revelation 1:18, The Keys of Hell and of Death.  This is the reading of the context, Revelation 1:10 through 18:


I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia … 

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me.  And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands;

And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle. 

His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as of a flame of fire;

And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. 

And He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword, and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 

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 I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death. 


And the text is the last avowal, “And I have the keys of hell and of death.” 

This is an assertion of the universal sovereignty of our Lord Christ.  King over hell, King over death, King over heaven, King over perdition; King over this earth and all that is under this earth, King in this life; King in the life that is to come.  The universal dominion and sovereignty of our Lord: “I have the keys of Hell and of Death[Revelation 1:13]. This is the same kind of an avowal as you find in the second chapter of the Book of Philippians:


Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[Philippians 2:9-11]


 The universal sovereignty, and dominion, and authority of Christ. 

Julian, called “the Apostate,” was born in 331 AD, a nephew of the Roman Caesar, Constantine.  He was brought up in a Christian household and in a Christian family.  In young manhood, he repudiated the Christian faith and embraced paganism.  It was his avowed purpose when he became emperor—and he became Caesar in 361 AD—it became his avowed purpose to blot out Christianity from the face of the earth.  He reigned for two years.  In the days of that reign and his bitter persecution against the faith of Christ, one of his arrogant subjects and followers said to a humble Christian, “This Jesus, your carpenter of Nazareth, what is He doing now?”

And in that dark day and despairing hour, the humble Christian believer replied, “Sir, He is building a coffin for your emperor.”

In 363 A. D., after he had reigned for two years, he fell mortally wounded on the field of battle in a campaign against the Persians.  And as they carried Julian the Apostate off the field, he said in his death, one of the famous sentences of all history.  It is this, “O Galilean, Thou hast conquered.”

In life, in death, in time, in eternity, in this world, in the world to come, the Lord God and the reigning King of all creation is Christ our Lord, “I have in My hands the keys of hell and of death.”  The keys speak of authority, of control, of government, and of possession.  Isaiah in the ninth chapter of his prophecy said, “And the government shall be upon His shoulder.” 

Terrible powers as they are, hell and death do not riot without control and without government.  There is an almighty hand that guides, and possesses, and controls.  Hell is a horrible place of terror and damnation.  There evil holds high court in great assembly, but hell trembles at the presence of the Lord Christ, and there is a throne higher than the throne of iniquity. 

Death is darkness; yea, it is darkness itself, but death does not waste and destroy without the sovereignty of God’s eye that watches it, and controls it, and possesses it.  There is nothing in heaven or in earth, there is nothing in hell or in glory, there is nothing in the grave or beyond the grave that is not under the sovereignty of the hands of our Lord Christ.  Nothing happens by chance, but in the elective purpose and will of God. He still reigns, sovereign above the flood and above all of the revolutions of time and of tide.

“I hold in My hands”—lest we might think another possesses them—“I hold in My hands the keys of hell and of death.” They are held in the hands of Christ and by right and by reality.  They’re held in the hands of Christ by right.  When the reigning king comes to one of his royal cities, the mayor meets him at the gate and turns over to him the key to the city.  It is his royal prerogative to own it and to possess it by right—by right.  He also possesses all dominion in reality, in actuality.  When a tenant turns over the key to the landlord, the landlord actually possesses the premises once again.  So the key in the hand of Christ, His sovereignty by right, de jure, and in reality, de facto, He is King over all.  God blessed forever. 

I am to speak first of the keys of Hades, translated in the King James Version, “the keys of hell.”  What the author is saying here is this, that our Lord is King over the souls of men.  And our Lord is King over the bodies of men, King over hades; our spirits, our souls— King over death, King over the grave— King over our fallen and prostrate bodies. 

First, “I hold in My hands,” our Lord God says, “the keys of Hades,” divided into two parts: into Paradise and into Gehenna, into heaven and into hell, into glory and into damnation.  Heaven adores our Savior and hell trembles before His presence.  And no man enters that iron gate into either perdition or into Paradise except as it is opened by the hand of the Lord Christ. “I hold in My hand the keys of Hades,” that other world, that unseen world of the soul and of the spirit. 

He is King over Paradise and over heaven, over the spirits of just men made perfect.  And He is king over all of the Lord’s hosts in glory.  They are His ministering spirits.  And He holds the key of our destiny in this world that is yet to come, lest any man think that He might finally perish or fail or fall from that high and glorious estate.  He’s shut in.  He is locked in.  He is kept by the hand of Christ, “I have the key of heaven.” 

Same kind of a thing as you find in the story of the ark.  God put Noah in the ark, and God shut the door, and God locked it.  And God kept and preserved Noah when the floods came, and the rains fell, and the winds blew.  So God shuts in His people and shuts out those that would harm or destroy, and we are kept by the power of God. 

He is also Lord over damnation, and over perdition, and over hell; over Gehenna, over torment.  These who would not bow in His presence in this life, would not confess Him in this life, would not own Him as Savior and Lord in this life, in the life to come shall bow in terror and in abysmal, abject horror. 

There are no infidels in hell.  The moment a man dies, he ceases being an agnostic, or an infidel, or an unbeliever.  They all believe in hell and bow down, confessing the Lordship and the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.  But the key has been turned.  And when once the day of grace is taken away from a man, that key is turned forever and forever.  You don’t ever unbar or withdraw the lock and the gate and the door of hell, and damnation, and perdition. 

One of those tragic situations you’ll find described in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew.  And those virgins who were not prepared; the Lord came, and they were not ready, and the door was shut [Matthew 25:10].  God closes it.  And they knocked at the door saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us” [Matthew 25:1].   And He said, “Depart, I know you not.” [Matthew 25:12].  It’s too late.  That lock has been turned, and no man and no god ever unlocks it or ever unturns it. 

I see that every day in my ministry.  That lock closed and that lock turned forever.  I’m thinking now of a physician who owned a drugstore.  And against the wishes of the finest people in the community, and certainly against the wishes of our church, he sold liquor in his drugstore.  I saw the day when he stood over the fallen prostrate form of his son.  His son became an alcoholic, drinking out of his father’s stock in the drugstore.  And his son died, drunk in an automobile accident.  And the father, wringing his hands and lamenting and crying; but you don’t withdraw that bar and you don’t unlock that gate.  It is closed forever. 

And there was a great gulf fixed between Lazarus and Dives, and one in Abraham’s bosom in Paradise, in glory, and the other, “I am tormented in this flame” [Luke 16:22-24].  They don’t go from here there.  And they don’t go from there to here.  It is an eternal fixation.  It is forever and forever. 

“I hold in My hand the keys of hell” [Revelation 1:18], of damnation and perdition.  These things strike terror to your soul.  O Lord, O Lord, O God!  “And I have the keys of death”—of death—He owns the key [Revelation 1:18].  He has the authority, and sovereignty, and possession, and control in heaven above us and in hell beneath us.  The souls of men are in His divine hands.  And He is the great Judge of the earth.  And the bodies of men are in His almighty hands. 

Hell to us is a horrible thing.  And no less horrible is the prospect of death without God.  Death is a forbidding fortress no matter how you describe it.  There are not enough flowers that bloom, or enough songs that can be sung, or enough poetry that can be quoted to hide away the terror of the grim visage of death.  God said death is an enemy, he’s an intruder.  It was not planned, it was not His purpose, it was not in the will of God that men die.  Death is an enemy of God.  And to us it seems as though death reigns universal.  There’s no strong hand to break his sovereign power.  He is king over all men, all generations, and all time.  That fortress is so terrible and those locks, and bars, and gates are so inscrutable, so unfathomable, so strong.  We are prisoners, apparently forever, and we face an ultimate and final defeat.  There’s no traveler ever returns from that terrible bourn, and that black camel kneels at every gate with measured pace and without favor in his coming, he knocks at every door. 

I’ve never been in a village, I’ve never been down any street, and I’ve never seen any house or any home where death does not enter.  But our Lord Christ says, “I have the keys of Death” [Revelation 1:18].  No one can open that mystic door except our Lord Christ.  Even the ungodly, and the unbelieving, and the blasphemer owes his life to Christ.  If we live, we live in the will and in the purposes of our Lord.  If we die, we die in the will and in the purposes of our Lord.  And no man shall ever die except it be in the elective purpose and will of God. 

There is a time when you shall die.  There is a place where you shall die.  There are circumstances where you shall die, and they are known to God.  And you will not die before, nor shall you die after that appointed time.  We may be in the midst of pestilence and fever.  We may be in the midst of war, but our lives are immortal until Christ opens that door of death for us.  This is in the elective authority and high sovereignty of the Lord Christ.  And it doesn’t come by chance.  It comes according to the purposes of God.  I may die in my bed, in quietness, in resting, in sleep.  Again, I may live in the midst of bombs and flaming fire falling out of the ethereal sky.  It is according to the purposes of Christ, “I hold in My hands the keys of death” [Revelation 1:18]. 

That’s why I had Brother Corder lead us in the reading of the Psalm:


Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. 

A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

[Psalm 91:5-7]


Our lives are immortal until God says it is enough.  And no man can turn that key but Christ.  A thousand devils could not drag us down to that tomb nor hurl us into the grave.  It’s in the will, and in the purpose, and in the hand of God our Savior, “I have in My hands the keys of death” [Revelation 1:18].  And that’s why death to a Christian is to be faced without trembling, and without fear, and without dread, and without crying, for just beyond the way as here, so there, stands our living Lord [Acts 7:55]. 

Death is not death to a Christian.  Death is a falling asleep in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:14].  When my grandmother died, my father left to go to the service.  And when he came back, the thing I remember his describing to me was the song that they sang.  She was a great, godly, Christian woman, and they sang at the service. 


Safe, safe, I have the keys of death. 

Safe in the arms of Jesus.

[author and work unknown]


A koimētērion, that’s what the Christians called the burial ground: a koimētērion,, “a sleeping place.”  And when you turned it in English, you made it pronounced “cemetery,” a sleeping place.  And when Jesus opens the door for His children, there does He stand to receive us, His very own [Acts 7:55]. 

I do not remember what sermon it was, but in a sermon the great pastor Dr. Truett delivered in this very pulpit, he described a little girl in this Sunday School.  And the little girl lay dying.  And when the time came for the little child to leave this home, she said to her mother, “O Mother! O Mother!  It’s getting dark, and I’m afraid.  O Mother!  Come closer, come nearer, it’s getting dark and I’m afraid!” 

And the great pastor said the mother drew the child to her heart and softly replied, “Dear child, dear child! Jesus is in the night as He is in the day.  He’s in the dark as He is in the light, and He will take care of His own.  Don’t be afraid.”

If He is Lord here, He is Lord there.  If He reigns King here, He reigns King there.  If He’s our Savior here, He is our Savior there, “I hold in My hands the keys of death” [Revelation 1:18].

We haven’t sung this old song in memory, but I copied out of an old hymnbook this week.  I haven’t heard it since I was a boy. 


There’ll be no dark valley,

When Jesus comes,

To gather His loved ones home. 

There’ll be no more sorrow,

When Jesus comes.

But a glorious morrow,

When Jesus comes,

To gather His loved ones home. 


There’ll be no more weeping,

But a blessed reaping. 

There’ll be songs of greeting,

And a joyful meeting,

When Jesus comes,

To gather His loved ones home. 

[from “There’ll Be No Dark Valley”;William O. Cushing, Ira D. Sankey, 1896]


Don’t be afraid.  Where are our beloved dead?  Where is my father?  Where are your parents?  Where are God’s people?  When the grave engulfs them, and corruption destroys them, and want and waste plays riot with the temple of the Holy Ghost of God, when His people fall into the dust of the ground and are buried into the heart of the earth, where are they? 

God says we are absent from the body, present with the Lord, [2 Corinthians 5:8]. God says, “Today—this day—today, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”  And when we fall asleep in this mortal frame, we are in the arms and in the presence of Jesus.  We live here in His love [John 3:16], and in His grace [Ephesians 2:8], and in His mercy [Titus 3:5].  And we shall live on the other side in His love, and in His grace, and in His mercy, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21].  And our loved ones are just on the other side.  Wherever Jesus is, there, there, there they are. 

May I read a sweet poem?  “The Rose Beyond the Wall.”  I don’t know who wrote it.  Nobody knows who wrote it.  It is so Christian:


Near shady wall a rose once grew,

But it enblossomed in God’s free light. 

Watered and fed by morning dew,

Shedding the sweetness day and night. 


As it grew and blossomed fair and tall,

Slowly rising to loftier height,

It came to a crevice in the wall

Through which there shown a beam of light. 


Onward it crept with added strength,

With never a thought of fear or pride. 

And it followed the light through the crevice length,

And unfolded itself on the other side. 


The light, the dew, the broadening view,

Were found the same as they were before. 

It lost itself in beauties new,

Breathing its fragrance more and more.


Then he applies it:


Shall claim of death cause us to grieve,

And make our courage faint or fall?

Nay, let us faith and hope receive,

The rose still grows beyond the wall.


Scattering fragrance far and wide,

Just as it did in days of yore,

Just as it did on the other side,

Just as it will forevermore.

[“The Rose Beyond the Wall”; A. L. Frinks]


It just blooms.  It just grows.  It just unfolds on the other side, while we remain here.  “I have the keys of death,” and the Christian is not to tremble [Revelation 1:18]

When they nailed His feet to the tree, and when they nailed His hands to the wood, and when He entered into the dark gloom of the grave, there did He trample down and forever the kingdom of death [Acts 2:24]. And when He arose triumphant from it, He carried death as a captive chained to His chariot wheels.  And when He entered in glory and in triumph through the streets of heaven, He carried death chained to His chariot, leading captivity captive, death—death [Ephesians 4:8]

And may I close with the prospect of this future, this consummation, this final word from God?  Shall death hold forever in its arms of decay and corruption, these who fall into its dread and terrible embrace?  Over this earth the vast, illimitable cemeteries; all prisoners in the iron hands of corruption and decay.  Are we to be persuaded that He is king forever and shall reign forever?  Shall there ever be a breaking of his bands? 

Someday in the elected purpose and time known to God, someday, some great, and final, and triumphant day, someday our Lord God shall speak the word, shall use the key, shall give the commandment to the archangel.  And the archangel shall sound the trump, and the dead shall rise, and the bonds of the grave shall be broken forever and forever:


He must reign until He hath brought all enemies under His feet, and the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

[1 Corinthians 15:25-26]


Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

But I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible… 

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortality must put on immortality. 

When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death, death is swallowed up in victory. 

O Death, where is thy sting?  O Grave, where is thy victory

[1 Corinthians 15:50-55]


This mortal frame, this decaying body, sown into the ground:


Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption. 

Sown in dishonor, raised in glory.  Sown in weakness, raised in power. 

Sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.

[1 Corinthians 15:42-44]


Think of that day, that ultimate and final day, when the Lord God in heaven shall say, “It is enough—it is enough!”  And He comes down with a chain and with a key, and He binds Satan forever and forever [Revelation 20:10].  And He comes down with another key, and He opens the graves of the world, and He casts hell and he casts death into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone [Revelation 20:14].  And all of the captives of dreaded death are free; all of us, all of us [Romans 8:2].  Not a bone shall be left behind, not a relic for the devil to gloat over.  We shall all be changed; all of us, all of us. 

That’s why the psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” [Psalm 116:15].  That dust is precious: may be in the sediment at the bottom of the sea, may be scattered to the four corners of the earth by the winds that blow, but the sovereign eye of God is upon us.  And there shall be a full redemption of the purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14].  When Christ saved us, He saved our souls, and He saved our bodies [Romans 8:23].  And when we are regenerated, we are regenerated in our souls [Titus 3:5]; and when we are resurrected we shall be regenerated—immortalized, incorruptible—in our bodies! [1 Thessalonians 5:23].

And Christ bought the whole possession [Ephesians 1:14]; my soul is His by faith, and this body shall be raised incorruptible from the dead by faith [1 Corinthians 15:52].  O grave! O death! O Christ!  [1 Corinthians 15:54].  “Wherefore my brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable” [1 Corinthians 15:58], fearless in the presence of the dread monster as he comes; in the presence of the terrible castle in which he flings our failing frames.  For out of it—like the lily resurrected out of the muck and the mire of the pond—for out of it God shall raise to grow, and to bloom, and to live unto Him His immortal children: you, my brother; we, my sisters and brethren; all of us in the congregation of the Lord.  What a faith, what a hope, what a victory, what a triumph! “For I hold in My hand the keys of hell and of death” [Revelation 1:18].

While we sing our song of invitation, somebody this morning give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], would you come and stand by me?  In this great throng in the balcony ‘round, coming down one of these stairways at the front, at the back, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front.  Give the pastor your hand, “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart in trust to God.  Here I am, and here I come.”

On this radio, as you drive down the countryside listening to this message, or in your living room, or in your bedroom, if you have never given your heart in trust to Jesus, if you are in a car, stop by the side of the road, bow your head over the wheel, give yourself.  O, Lord!  In this life and in the life to come, give yourself to Jesus.  Kneel by the side of the bed, bury your face in the pillow if you can’t arise.  Get down by the side of the chair in the living room, say, “Lord, Lord!  I ‘m not equal for these great judgments that lie ahead, not equal for death, not equal for judgment, not equal against that great day of the resurrection.  O, God!  Remember me, remember me!  And see, see if the Lord Savior does not turn to you as He turned to the dying malefactor who was crucified by His side, and see if the Lord does not say to you, as He said to us, as He said to him.  Someday for us, today for him, “Thou shalt be with me in Paradise, I have the key in My hand” [Revelation 1:18].

  “O, Lord God!  Remember me, remember me, remember me!”  Will you?  Will you?   “This day, humbly, humbly, I give my soul and my destiny to Christ.  Now, I do it now” [Romans 10:8-13].  While we stand and while we sing.




Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 1:17-18



I.          The universal dominion and sovereignty of our Lord

A.  Similar avowal to the text in Philippians 2:9-11

1.  Julian the Apostate

B.  The “keys” symbols of government, authority, control, possession

1.  Our Lord is ruler (Isaiah 9:6)

2.  Hell is a horrible place of terror and damnation – but hell trembles at the presence of the Lord Christ

3.  Death is a land of darkness – but it does not waste and destroy without the sovereignty of God’s eye

4.  Nothing happens by chance

C.  He rules according to rightful possession and actual dominion


II.         Rules over Hades

A.  Hades, translated in KJV “hell” – the unseen, other world of spirit and soul

1.  Includes both paradise, heaven, and Gehenna, hell

2.  Our Lord is king over the souls of men

B.  He is King over paradise, over the spirits of just men made perfect, over all the Lord’s hosts

1.  Holds the key of our destiny in the world to come

a. Noah – God shut the door, locked him in

C.  He rules over the souls of the damned, the spirits of evil and wickedness

1.  Those who in this life would not confess Him will bow in terror and horror in the life to come

2.  The key has been turned – they are locked out of heaven(Matthew 25:11-12, Luke 13:25)

a. Drugstore owner who sold liquor, lost his son

b. The great gulf fixed between Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16:24, 26)


III.        Rules over death

A.  Death is a gloomy fortress no matter how you describe it

1.  So terrible, with locks, gates inscrutable, strong

2.  No traveler returns from that terrible bourn

B.  But our Lord has the keys of death – no one can open that door except Christ

1.  There is a time and place where you shall die, known to God

2.  No man shall die except in the elective purpose and will of God(Psalm 91:5-7)

C.  Death no longer death to the Christian, but a falling asleep in Jesus

1.  Song, “Safe, safe, I have the keys…”

2.  Koimeterion, “a sleeping place”, in English is “cemetery”

3.  Sermon of Dr. Truett – the death of a little girl in Sunday school

4.  Hymn, “There’ll Be No Dark Valley”

D.  Absent from the body, present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:21)

1.  Poem, “The Rose Beyond the Wall”

2.  When Christ arose triumphant, He carried death captive chained to His chariot wheels (Ephesians 4:8)

E.  Someday command will be given to sound the trump, and the dead shall rise, and bonds of the grave broken forever (1 Corinthians 15:25-55)

1.  There shall be a full redemption of the purchased possession – souls and bodies (Psalm 116:15)