“I hold the keys” (Revelation 1:17-19)
We live in a time of anxiety. This anxiety is on a conscious and unconscious level. More and more people tell of intensified anxiety dreams they lately experience – an indication of deep anxiety in our sub-consciousness. But we also experience real anguish: will we survive, financially or physically? Are we safe? What is the future holding? And let us admit it: we all live with a fear of death. We cannot avoid seeing the Covid-19 statistics on TV. Death and dying is not something we can easily shift aside, we have to face it.
How should we think about dying? Of course we cannot glorify it. Death brings pain and sorrow; it means a terrible loss; it is the opposite of life, the ultimate enemy. It does hold distress and fear. We dare not speak of death too lightly. But neither should we be too fatalistic about death, as if it is something awaiting us all, our natural fate, the end of life, the entrance into an oblivious nothingness, as if death will unavoidably have the last say and we just have to accept it. At least, this is not how the Bible speaks of death.
In a vision the Holy Spirit made John, the exile on the island Patmos, see and meet Christ Jesus, the Ascended and Exalted. This has been a terrifying sight. To see Christ the Glorified, the Pantocrator (ruler of the Universe) was like looking into the sun shining in all its brilliance. John could not but fall down at Christ’s feet, as though dead.
Christ then put his right hand on John saying: “Do not be afraid!” For what reason should John not be afraid? Hasn’t he just had a death experience, being faced with his own mortality?
The reason he should not be afraid rests in the “I am” utterances Christ then expressed. Because “I am who I am”; therefore you need not be afraid, John. What do these “I am” statements mean?
- “I am the First and the Last” is an Old Testament formulary (see Isaiah 41:4, 44:6 and 48:12) referring to God as the Creator of everything, who was at the beginning, and who is fulfilling everything, keeping and steering everything towards God’s destiny. In this, Jesus Christ is one with God. Christ Jesus is the First and the Last, our past, our present and our future.
- “I am the living One”, Jesus also declares. Yes, Christ was dead, he went through the horror of dying, but look, now Christ is alive, living, for ever! Christ conquered death. Christ, so to speak, killed death! That Christ rose from the grave is the most significant truth in our faith; it is the heart of the gospel. It makes all the difference in the world; it changes how we look at death, even our own death. Death remains a frightening reality, yes, but Christ overcame death. And so shall we, who are kept in Christ. By dying and by rising from death, Christ became the first of us, his sisters and brothers, who will follow.
- To emphasise it even stronger, Christ declares: “I hold the keys’, the keys of Death and the place of the dead (Hades). I can, no; I have unlocked the door leading out of death to eternal life. This is our deepest consolation: Christ holds the keys!
Therefore John: “don’t be afraid!” Rather rise to your feet, and go on with living. Live with hope. Endure, despite the circumstances. Persevere in hope and faith. Do good and gratefully enjoy the life you are receiving as gift from God’s hands – a life here on earth, and a life in the hereafter. And go write what you have seen; go testify and witness to the gospel of Jesus’s resurrection, ascension and exaltation, remembering his words: “I hold the keys!” GvdW