The ‘keys of death and hades’ (Rev. 1:18 (ESV); ‘keys of hell and death’ (KJV)) are a metaphor for authority over death and the grave.

Sometimes in the Bible ‘keys’ represent authority. For example, in Isaiah 22:22 God says the following about Eliakim:

…I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

The context of Isa. 22:22 shows Eliakim is being given the authority to govern the Jews — the ‘key of the house of David’ symbol represents this authority (he didn’t literally get a key on his shoulders; but he was given authority to govern the Jews).

The Book of Revelation is a book full of symbols, as many other prophetic books are, and the symbol of ‘keys’ — which represents authority or control — is in Revelation. Rev. 9:1-2, for example, says the following:

{1} And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. {2} He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.

This picture language has an angel being given a key, which he then uses to open a bottomless pit. Because the angel has the key to the bottomless pit he has control over the bottomless pit. Rev. 20:1-3 has an angel locking things in the bottomless pit, too — the angel has control over the pit. Keys represents control over something.

So, we come to Rev. 1:17-18:

{17} When I saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, {18} and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

This passage records Jesus speaking and he describes himself as the ‘living one’ — i.e. he has been raised from the dead and made immortal: he is ‘alive forevermore’. Because he has been raised from the dead and is immortal he has been given authority/control over death and hades (i.e. the grave). This is exciting and comforting news for Christians: Jesus has control over the grave so, even if we die before he returns to the earth (Acts 1:11), he can open the grave and free us from death when he returns (1Thess.4:16) — Jesus can resurrect us and give us immortality!

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  • Donna

    where is it in the bible where it says that jesus went right into hell and got the keys of death and hell from satan

    • Rob J Hyndman

      That doesn’t sound like anything in the Bible. The *only* reference in the Bible to the “keys of death and hell” is Revelation 1:18.

  • Ed

    The keys of Rev. 1:18 are a symbol of power and jursidiction. Compare on Matt 16:19; Luk 11:52.

  • Brandy Williams

    Actually it says he went to hades. its in Acts 2 but hell and hades are not the same place if its translated correctly. Hades was the place of the dead with 2 seperate places Abe’s bossom and a place of torment. Jesus had to go there because He died. He rose again which took back the power over death which Adam lost at the fall. Because if he had never fallen he would have never died. So therefore Jesus had to be made sin so that He could die and enter that plain of death and be risen again because the grave can not hold Him. Guess what!? Now if you hold Him it cant hold you either! Thats why He said He gives us the keys to death, hell and the grave!