Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Lord of Death and Hades
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Hebrews 2:14NKJV
Question 52 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?” It gives the answer, “Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that not having seen corruption in death (of which it was not possible for him to be held), and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof, (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life), really united to his soul, he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power; whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his Church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.” Last time we looked at the nature of Christ’s newly risen body. Today we consider how His resurrection declared His victory of death and Satan, and His Lordship over the living and the dead.
The Scripture at the head of this article is cited by the Westminster divines after the phrase “to have vanquished death and him that had the power of it.” Clearly the divines were identifying, in accord with Scripture, “him that had the power of death” as Satan. But in what sense did Satan have the “power of death?” In the sense that Satan successfully tempted the human race so that it fell and became subject to death. The word translated power here is the word kratos and it means “dominion.” Satan had the dominion of death because by His temptation man sinned and so death, as God’s punishment for sin, entered the world. Satan’s dominion through the power of death was absolute for the sting of death is sin and sin infects all. It is in this sense of Satan ruling over fallen man by sin and death that Satan is said by Scripture to have the power of death. With reference to this absolute power of fallen man, three times Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Similarly, he is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4); the one who “deceives the whole world,” and “accuses” the saints of God “day and night” (Rev. 12:9-10).
Now as Heb. 2:14 above declares, Jesus defeated Satan, sin, and death not through His resurrection, but through His death. Thus, Col. 2:15 tells us that it was by the cross that Jesus “disarmed principalities and powers and made a public spectacle of them.” Being obedient to God to the point of death on the cross was how Christ triumphed over Satan. Though He died, sin and death could not hold on Him for He never sinned and therefore He could not be justly given over to God’s punishment of sin, which is death. God’s Word plainly states “it was not possible for death to hold Him” (Acts 2:24). However, we would have no certain knowledge and proof of this total victory of our Lord’s apart from His resurrection from the dead. It was only when He appeared to His disciples on ten different occasions over a period of 40 days that the gospel of salvation was made possible and certain for believers! Accordingly, Scripture says, “He was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). His resurrection infallibly demonstrated His total victory.
Moreover, the resurrection declared Jesus to be Lord of all the “quick and the dead.” Here the word “quick” simply means living. Jesus is the Lord – that is to say the king and master – of all of the living and the dead. He has completely defeated and replaced the regime of Satan and death. He has shown Himself to be conqueror and king of all. Thus, no longer can Satan be said to have the power of death, but as Scripture reveals, Christ now has “the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18; Hades means place of the dead). To have the keys is to have the power, as any teenage driver knows! Christ has power over all. For now Satan retains the power of death over the unconverted, but for believers his power has been forever broken: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). And we can know this for certain because of His resurrection.