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The day death died

One of my favorite pictures of the resurrection comes from the Old Testament book of Judges.  It is the story where Samson is inside the city of Gaza (Judges 16).  His enemies are outside the gates of the city.  They are convinced they finally have Samson – they’ll just wait by the gates until he comes out the next morning.  He can’t possibly escape their grasp this time. 


Ahh, but he does.  Samson gets up in the middle of the night, rips the gates from their posts and walks off, carrying the them with him!  Most of us have seen pictures of city gates and know how enormous they were.  Samson must have looked the way an ant does when it carries something several times its size.  Off he goes, all the way to the top of the hill facing Hebron.  What a sight that must have been!


Prior to the cross, Jesus speaks of gates when He tells Peter He will build His church and “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).  This verse is often explained to mean that Satan cannot defeat the people of God; the church will always be around no matter how bad things get.  While this is true in principle and it makes for good preaching but I don’t think that's what Jesus means.


To understand what He is saying we must understand that Hades is not the same thing as hell.  Hades was where a person’s spirit went after death, regardless of whether they were good or bad.  When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), their spirits both went to Hades after they died.  The rich man ended up in the part of Hades where there was suffering and Lazarus in the part where there was comfort.  Hades was then an intermediate place of waiting that was neither heaven nor hell.


Christ too went to Hades when he died (the Greek in Acts 2:27 should be translated “Hades” rather than “grave” or “hell”).  He told the penitent thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in “paradise,” (Luke 23:43).  Evidently, paradise was a way of referring to the part of Hades where there was comfort.   


Christ went to Hades but unlike anyone else who had ever gone there, He didn’t stay there.  He couldn’t stay.  It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him,” (Acts 2:24).  He went to that city swollen with the spirits of all who had gone on before.  The gates rang shut behind Him as they had previously on all others but this time they didn’t stay shut.  Like Samson, He tore them right off their hinges!  The grave could not hold Him – He rose from the dead. 


Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.  He sent the Holy Spirit as He had promised.  The church began as He had promised.  The gates of Hades were unable to stop Him.


The apostle John sees the risen Christ in a vision he has while on the island of Patmos.  He falls at the feet of Jesus “as though dead.”  Christ places His hand on John and reassures him with these words:


"Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 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,” (Revelation 1:17-18).


Here’s an even better picture than Samson carrying of the gates of Gaza – Christ jangling the keys to death and Hades.  Isn’t that a marvelous truth – once dead but now alive forever and ever?  Make no mistake about it; death died the day He rose. 


No one who belongs to Jesus gets the gate shut on them!


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