John calls Him ὁ ζῶν [ho zōn] , the living one (present, active participle). Life is an essential attribute of God Who is consistently described as the living one over and against other idols and gods who are lifeless.1
and was dead
Here is the fatal text for those, such as Jehovahs Witnesses, who maintain that Jesus Christ is not fully God. For when did God die except for Jesus on the cross? In this verse is a contradiction so profound that it would be the height of nonsense if it were not also the manifestation of the genius of God: that God Himself would take on the form of a man, to come in the flesh, to be oppressed by men, and nailed to a tree! The infinite and omnipotent Creator bound Himself in time and space and stooping to be abused by His finite and puny creatures (Mtt. Mat. 26:67-68; Luke Luke 22:64). I the source of all life stooped even to taste of death2 (Heb. Heb. 2:9). Yet such is the depth of Gods love for us that He endured such shame!
The Maker of the universe
As man to man was made a curse;
The claims of law which He had made
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough
That grew the thorns that pierced His brow;
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.
He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung;
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years -
But a new crown adorns His brow,
And every knee to Him shall bow.
F. W. Pitt, Maker of the Universe
Christ sets Himself forth here as the overcomer of death natural; which it must always be remembered is rather death unnatural; for man was made for immortality (Gen. Gen. 2:17), and death is the denial and reversal of the true law of his creation (Rom. Rom. 5:12).3The work of Jesus makes possible the wonderful promise set forth later in this book which describes the condition of those who place their trust in Him: There shall be no death (Rev. Rev. 21:4+). Jesus reiterates this fact to encourage the persecuted church at Smyrna (Rev. Rev. 2:8+). When confronted with members of any non-Christian religion, here is the central issue at stake: Is Jesus God or is He not? Only orthodox Christianity will assert His full divinity. It is fruitless to engage in lengthy interaction with all such cults who deny His divinity because every other issue pales into insignificance compared to this central issue. This particular verse is of great benefit for it removes all wiggle room from those who would try to deny that Jesus Christ is the One here described as the First and the Last Who is alive forevermore for the same was also dead! Until the cult member can answer you, When did God die? there is little point in further discussion.
This purpose of revealing the deity of Christ is thus seen to permeate the whole book, and no unbiased reader of Revelation can reach any conclusion other than that Christ is God, with the full endorsement and approval of the Father. He has received His throne from the hand of God, unlike Satan who tried to usurp the office. Jesus Christs powers and attributes are all those of deity. Any doubt of His deity must be laid to rest. [emphasis added]4behold, I am alive forevermore
Literally, Καὶ ὁ ζῶν, καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς καὶ ἰδοὺ ζῶν εἰμι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων [Kai ho zōn, kai egenomēn nekros kai idou zōn eimi eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn] , I am the living one and I was dead and behold living I am into the ages of the ages.5 The Son has eternal life and has been given authority over all flesh by the Father. For this reason, Jesus is able to give eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him (John John 17:2). This is the basis for His amazing statement to Thomas. Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John John 14:6). Jesus is the life. He alone , among men, has immortality (1Ti. 1Ti. 6:16) and offers it to those who come to Him. The eternal life which Jesus offers is not some future promise, but is granted the instant a person believes on Him: Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John John 11:25-26). During His earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated that He was the life, in numerous ways. The Law of Moses stated that lepers were unclean (Lev. Lev. 13:44-45). They were to be separated from others and to cry unclean! unclean! in order to warn others of their presence. To touch a leper or any of his clothing made one unclean and also carried the very real risk of infection. It was unthinkable to touch a leper! Yet when lepers approached Jesus for healing, Jesus did the unthinkable, He touched them! But instead of Jesus getting leprosy, the lepers got Jesus-sythey were instantly healed (Mtt. Mat. 8:3; Mark Mark 1:41; Luke Luke 5:13)! Because Jesus is the life, it is impossible that He could be defiled. Instead, His life-giving power went out to others in the performance of healing miracles and the restoration of the dead to life (Mark Mark 5:41-42; Luke Luke 7:14-15; Luke Luke 8:54-55; John John 11:43-44). The primary demonstration that Jesus is the life is found in His resurrection from the dead. Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up [emphasis added] (John John 2:19); Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again [emphasis added] (John John 10:17). Not only would Jesus rise from the dead, but He Himself would be the agent of His resurrection!6
Then ὁ ζῶν [ho zōn] expresses not so much that he, the Speaker, lived, as that He was the Living One, the Life (John John 1:4; John 14:6), αὑτοζωή [hautozōē] , having life in Himself, and the fountain and source of life to others. . . . To Him belongs absolute being (ὄντως εἶναι [ontōs einai] ), as contrasted with the relative being of the creature, with the life which be no life, seeing that it inevitably falls under the dominion of corruption and death, so soon as it is separated from him, the source from which it was derived7Christ says, behold, emphasizing that His demonstration of life beyond the grave is of paramount importance, for Christs resurrection bears witness that those who trust in Him will likewise rise from the dead (John John 14:19; Rom. Rom. 6:8-9). If it were not for the fact of the resurrectionwithout the Living OneChristianity would be meaningless (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:12-17).
keys of Hades and of Death
With rare exception, all who enter this life face the certainty of physical death. In some passages, death and Hades are personified as enemies of the living (Hos. Hos. 13:14; Rev. Rev. 6:8+), for it is by death that people enter Hades.8 The reference to keys points to many passages in which the entrance to death and Hades is described as being controlled by gates (Job Job 38:17; Ps. Ps. 9:13; Ps. 107:18; Isa. Isa. 38:10; Mtt. Mat. 16:18). Those who are held therein, are described as prisoners (Isa. Isa. 24:22; 1Pe. 1Pe. 3:19). As in real life, keys in Scripture denote the power to lock and unlock, to open and shut (Isa. Isa. 22:22; Mtt. Mat. 16:19; Rev. Rev. 3:7+; Rev. Rev. 9:1+; Rev. 20:1-3+).9 The keys of Hades and of Death unlock the gates of Hades and death so that those who would previously have been held securely by death and Hades are now set free to eternal life. Whereas death holds the bodies of men, Hades holds their souls.10 Jesus offer of eternal life to those who accept Him overcomes the power of Hades and death (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:55). In this sense, death and Hades were raided by Jesus Who liberated man who was destined to this fate by the curse (Gen. Gen. 3:19). Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:20) and in His resurrection demonstrated dominion over death. It is because Jesus is the living One that He has the keys of Hades and Death. His resurrection turned the key in the gates of Hades and death liberating us to eternal life. Our liberation grants us freedom from the bondage of the fear of death (Heb. Heb. 2:15).
What millions have gone down beneath [the power of death], and are now held by it! Every acre of the earth is full of them, and the bottom of every sea. I have seen their grim skeletons on mountain summits, eight thousand two hundred feet above the level of the sea; and I have walked upon their ashes more than a thousand feet below that level. And from far deeper depths to still more elevated heights, on all the slopes and hillsides, and in all the fields and valleys of the earth, deaths victims lie in fetters of darkness, silence and dust. Even on the life-powers of the Son of God were these manacles made fast. But by him they were also opened: for he hath the keys of death.11
1 Ex. Ex. 3:6; Deu. Deu. 5:26; Jos. Jos. 3:10; 1S. 1S. 17:26, 1S. 17:36; 2K. 2K. 19:4, 2K. 19:16; Ps. Ps. 42:2; Ps. 84:2; Isa. Isa. 37:4, Isa. 37:17; Jer. Jer. 10:10; Jer. 23:36; Dan. Dan. 6:20, Dan. 6:26; Hos. Hos. 1:10; Mtt. Mat. 16:16; Mat. 22:32; Mat. 26:63; John John 6:69; Acts Acts 14:15; Rom. Rom. 9:26; 2Cor. 2Cor. 3:3; 2Cor. 6:16; 1Ti. 1Ti. 3:15; 1Ti. 4:10; 1Ti. 6:17; Heb. Heb. 3:12; Heb. 9:14; Heb. 10:31; Heb. 12:22; Rev. Rev. 7:2+.
2 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 47.
3 Ibid., 48.
4 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 1:17.
5 And the living, and I became dead, and behold, I am living for evermore.Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 47.
6 The resurrection is attributed to all three members of the Trinity. To Jesus: John John 2:19; John 10:17. To the Father: Acts Acts 4:10; Acts 10:41; Rom. Rom. 4:24; Rom. 6:4; Rom. 8:11. To the Holy Spirit: 1Pe. 1Pe. 3:18.
8 The word death probably refers to the location of the body, whereas Hades refers to the location of the immaterial part of manhis soul. Israel My Glory, July/August 2001, 22. The former describes the state of the dead whereas the latter describes the location of the dead. [Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 112] Luke 23:43) and Gehenna (Luke Luke 12:5)Abrahams bosom and the state of torment and anguish (Luke Luke 16:22-28).Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 433.
9 The Rabbinical proverb said: There are four keys lodged in Gods hand, which He committeth neither to angel nor to seraph: the key of the rain, the key of food, the key of the tombs, and the key of a barren woman. M. R. Vincent, Vincents Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002), Rev. 1:18.
10 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 48.
11 Ibid., 47.