I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. Revelation 1:18
I find this to be one of the most comforting verses in all the New Testament. It means that right now, as I write these words and as you read them, the risen and ascended Christ is living and real and present and near with grace and love and power for his people. He ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). It means that his promise, that he will be with us to the end of the age, is not an empty one. And throughout history, the saints have found it to be so.
I love the testimony of John G. Paton, a missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, who ministered and preached the gospel to cannibals there. At one point, he was hidden in a tree by some of the natives who were of questionable reliability while war went on all around him. Many on that island wanted him dead. Many were looking for him to kill him. And there he was, all by himself in a tree! But this is what he says: “I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus! Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone!” Our Lord is not some sage we simply look back upon with respect. He is our very present help in time of trouble. He is not far, he is near. And all this is because he is risen from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the most important truths of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul put it this way in his epistle to the Corinthians: “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:14-20). According to Paul, it is the linchpin of the faith. If you don’t have this, you don’t have Christianity.
There have been a lot of people, theologians and philosophers, who have tried to argue that you can have the essence of Christianity without the miraculous – without believing things like resurrection. But this is false! You cannot be a Christian without believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The essence of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the consequences that flow from that reality. The truth is that if you take the resurrection of Christ out of the gospel, you are left with a hollow gospel.
So we need, we must, believe in the risen Christ. It is our only hope in life and in death. And we are invited in this text to consider this great truth. You hear it in the words, “Behold, I am alive.” We are told to look. Upon what are we told to look? Upon the one who was dead and is now alive. We are to look upon the resurrected Christ who said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” No one else in the universe can say that. How do we know he can say that? Because he is risen. There is our hope: Christ is our hope. He is the resurrection and the life. Our Lord put it this way to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Jn. 11:25-26) Do you? Do you believe it? Our Lord in his word asks us this question today. You can have no hope apart from Christ. We have perfect hope in Christ, in the one who is risen, who is alive today and has the keys of death and hell.