Some victories are limited. A smashup on I-45 south of Conroe, Texas, left a victim with thought-to-be-fatal injuries. Skillful surgeons at the Medical Center saved his life but said he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The life-saving work was a limited victory; the doctors, the victim, and his family had hoped for more.
Some victories are temporary. Whoever wins the Super Bowl or the World Series this year will have to compete for the championship again next year. Whoever wins the Grammy for Song of the Year this year will have to be on her toes to repeat next year. The patient who is given a clean bill of health today knows it doesn’t give him a free pass for the future.
The words “limited” and “temporary” can’t modify death: death must be defeated totally or not at all. Jesus’ victory over death was total: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” is the way Paul put it (1 Cor 15:54).
Jesus’ victory over death was once-and-for-all: game won; victory forever. Death tried to stop him but couldn’t; tried to keep him from building his church but couldn’t. He said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt 16:18). Bible scholar Jack Lewis noted that “hades” means “the powers of death,” confirming The New Century version: “I will build my church, and the power of death will not be able to defeat it.”
Gates aren’t weapons of offense: they don’t attack; their function is to keep something out or keep something in. The purpose of the gates of hades—the gates of death—is to keep people in. But they couldn’t keep Jesus in. He had the key to the gate: “I hold the keys to death and to the place of the dead,” he said (Rv 1:18).
When Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” he was pointing to his coming resurrection. He would be crucified; the gates of death would slam shut behind him. But those gates would be powerless to keep him in. Death, Satan’s most feared and final weapon, would not spell the end of Jesus because it could not stop the resurrection of Jesus. “I was dead,” Jesus said, “and behold I am alive forever and ever!” (Rv 1:18).
Acts 2:31 says that when David said, “He was not left in the grave,” he was speaking of Jesus, “looking into the future and predicting the Messiah’s resurrection.”
Jesus’ death on the Cross could not keep him captive. As Peter said to the Pentecost crowd: “[You] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead . . . because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:23–24).
We have an everlasting stake in that victory: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn 5:11–12). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “[W]e are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:37).
Many places are restricted: you aren’t allowed to enter unless you have a ticket, a membership, or a reservation. By his death and resurrection, Jesus paid your admission and punched your ticket to heaven.
He said, “I tell you for certain that everyone who has faith in me has eternal life” (Jn 6:47). Etch his words in the forefront of your memory: “I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Rv 1:18).
And he left this note for you: “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn 14:19).