There is a common thread in Scripture concerning “Death”. First, in the Hebrew Bible (the Scriptures of Judaism), the word “death” is often accompanied with “grave”. “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days” (Numbers 19.16, and so on, where the word, “grave” is ‘qever’). Often times, it occurs with the Hebrew word, ‘sheol’ (translated ‘hades’ in Greek): “the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me” (Psalm 18.5, where some translations have ‘grave’ for ‘sheol’). “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home” (Psalm 49.14). Numerous other verse can be cited where Death and Sheol appear together in parallellistic form.
I bring this up only to point out the usage of the coupling in Revelation. The first occurrence is in 1.18 where Jesus says to John, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” If this were in Hebrew, ‘sheol’ would used instead in ‘hades.’ Nonetheless, Jesus is not stating something that is on the horizon, but something that He has in present possession when he spoke to John. It is undoubtedly linked to the fact that he says, “I was dead.” Being risen from the dead, the Lord is now “alive.” This is the man, Christ Jesus (for, although Jesus is God the Son incarnate, he cannot be speaking here of his divine nature, but of his human nature, which ‘died’). Holding the keys of Death means that He has authority over Death gained by his resurrection.
What is further revealed is that when Jesus opens the fourth seal of the scroll from God’s right hand, John saw a fantastic image: “When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” (6.7-8). Now, a few things are to be noticed here. First, since it has been revealed that Jesus holds the keys, Death and Hades are commanded. Second, they are “given power” by Him (who else?). Third, their mission is to “kill” by means of war, famine and plagues, and by wild animals. This unquestionably tells us what “death” is. It is physical death.
Jesus was “dead and now alive”, and since he was raised from the dead, he now has total mastery over death only from the standpoint of being a man. A man holds the keys of death. A man has triumphed over death. And now, at the right hand of God, a man gives death power to kill. That what Death does, it kills people. This is not “spiritual death” in the sense of “estrangement from God”, for that would hardly make any sense in the passage. Only a fourth are made to be “separated from God”? No, this is a scene of Death doing what it does: killing people, and the Grave follows right behind (logically so).
Throughout John’s revelation we see a great deal of death; that is, people dying. By his revelation we know what is causing it: death. More than that, the one who holds the keys to death. Yet, the next time we see Death mentioned, along with the Grave, is in 20.13, where, “and Death and Hades gave the dead that was in them, and they (the dead) were judged”. Then, finally, “Death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire.” As a result, “The Death shall be no more” (literal Greek translation, 21.5 – throughout the revelation, Death has the article, ‘the’ always).
Death is a killing machine. It kills people. These people go to the grave, and in the end, they give up the dead “in them.” Ultimately, The Death will be no more. That means, killing by death will cease to be. If in the revelation Death is the agent of killing mankind, then the end of Death means the end of mankind being killed. With Death out of the picture, the Grave logically serves no purpose (which, interestingly enough, is omitted when it says, “the Death shall be no more” instead of, “the Death and the Hades shall be no more.” If the Death is gone, then Hades, who is on its coattails, vanishes.
Now, what is of further interest to me is that the Death is mentioned in the context of the new heavens and the new earth: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (21.1-5). It has long been recognized that this passage is allusive to Isaiah 65.17, and 25.7-8: “or behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind….And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up THE Death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.”
From these passages it is quite obvious that the revelation and the Prophet envision the same thing. The Death covers over “all peoples” and is a veil over “all nations.” John sees the demise of The Death, when it will be cast into the Lake of Fire, and will be no more. Dying will cease to exist.
What is of also great interest is that one of the Foundations of the Church, the Apostle Paul, quotes Isaiah 25.7 in his letter to the Corinthians (15.54,55): “And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘THE Death is swallowed up in victory.’ What is this “the Death” in Paul (who uses the article)? Well, “the last enemy is THE Death” (15.26)! What does The Death do: it kills people. What does Jesus do? HE raises the dead that The Death has killed! Praise His Holy name! When does he swallow up The Death? When the fullness of the New Heavens and New Earth come. The Death is not found there at all. It’s gone.
Now, to further our theological message, Paul gives us the answer as to where The Death came from: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (15.21). This is also found in Romans 5.12: “because of this, even as through one man the sin did enter into the world, and through the sin The Death; and thus to all men The Death did pass through, for that all did sin” (Young’s Literal). The Death kills people. This is not “separation from God” death (or what some call “spiritual death”). The revelation has defined it. It is killing death. This death kills people. It kills all people. It is a shroud over all the people, and “in Adam all die”. It is an enemy. A principality, a power. Jesus holds it in his hands. Jesus sends it on its way. And, Jesus will swallow it up, hurl it in the Lake of Fire and be absolutely through with it forever from that time forward. Maranatha!