[Below is an extract from my upcoming 693-page, 212,000-word, book on the Book of Revelation, entitled “The Essential Apocalypse: Making Sense of the Book of Revelation”. The words below are an 8000-word exposition of the text, “Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood”, which occurs in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, verse 5. It is being reproduced here as a fitting message for what is known as “Easter”. I hope you find it helpful and encouraging].
IN VERSE 5 OF CHAPTER 1 IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION, Christ is presented to us as the One who “has released us from our sins by His blood”. Disciples of Christ understand immediately what is meant by this saying. But for those who are not familiar with it, those words need some considerable enlargement. For these words really encompass the entire nature of the gospel of Christ. But yet they probably seem like mumbo-jumbo to most people in the world. I am not going to make the mistake of assuming that all my readers know what they mean, because I know that I am not just ‘preaching to the choir’ here. So I will write at some length in this section because this is the heart of everything else which is written in the Book of Revelation — a true revelation of Christ — in fact, it is at the heart of the whole Bible and the transformation of the entire cosmos!
Stealing Satan’s Possessions
The idea that those who become disciples of the Christ should be seen as having been ‘released’ was not only the real meaning behind His miraculous acts (for example, see Gospel of Luke, chapter 13, verses 11-16), but it was also a part of His verbal ministry. As He said parabolically on one occasion, after having been accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons from a man who was blind and dumb by using the power of Satan, “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12, verse 29). The ‘strong man’ there is Satan, and ‘his possessions’ refers to all those who are under the power of Satan (which is everyone before they become disciples of Christ or submit to the rule of God), and the plundering of the strong man’s house to steal his possessions refers to the way that Christ releases souls from Satan’s clutches. That is plunder! (We will be looking in detail at the whole idea of Christ ‘tying up’ Satan in chapter 9 when we examine the symbolic ‘one thousand years’ during which Satan is said to be ‘chained’ in ‘the Abyss’). This promise of release by Christ was prophesied long ago, when it was said that He would “bring prisoners out of the dungeon and those sitting in darkness out from the prison house” (Book of Isaiah, chapter 42, verse 7). This spiritual release from the power of Satan is the doorway to discipleship of Christ. But why is that release necessary? This is a question which must be answered.
Christ the ‘Litmus Test’
The root problem today is this: Human beings are living in spiritual darkness, wilfully ignorant, either inventing a ‘god’ in their own image or making a little ‘god’ out of themselves, or refusing to believe in the true God and Creator of this cosmos, while in denial that there has been a catastrophic ‘Fall’ of humanity which has led to the state in which the world is now in, refusing to believe that there is such a thing as the demonic realm, while also rejecting the idea that God has sent to earth the panacea to all these issues — namely, the incarnated Christ.
Essentially, as soon as Christ “dropped” into this world, He functioned as a ‘litmus test’ or ‘touchstone’ for the authenticity and spiritual integrity of any human with whom He came in contact. Everywhere He went, people revealed their true selves, in all their darkness or light, merely as a result of His presence being among them. This provided a perfect opportunity for their learning and their spiritual growth if they would take it. But if they refused to accept His authority as the Christ who had come in the flesh and wilfully refused to learn the lesson that His presence imparted, this would be to their terrible detriment.
To set oneself up as an enemy of God is the height of stupidity. For Christ still functions as that ‘litmus test’ and ‘touchstone’ even today. He may not be physically present for now (as we are living in a comparatively brief hiatus between His first and second comings), but He is absolutely present through His Spirit. It is no exaggeration to say that one’s attitude to Christ is the true revealer of one’s spiritual condition. Those who automatically reject the Christ are in an unhealthy and potentially calamitous spiritual condition and those who willingly receive Him into their lives are in a healthy and blossoming spiritual condition. It really is that simple.
For the Christ came to unearth the true nature of humanity and restore that out of its corruption if one will follow Him. Everywhere He went, He exposed hypocrisy and pseudo-piety. He exposed works of darkness. He revealed the works of demons. He epitomized and personified truth and justice. He functioned as the intermediary between God and human beings, and He could not be bought off by anyone (even by Satan, who tried to do so). He fingered people’s individual moral failure merely by His presence. He demonstrated real authority and genuine spirituality, thus exposing false authority, pseudo-spirituality and rote religionism. He became a focal point for attacks from the forces of darkness, which built up to a climax in the naked evil of the cross. Frankly, there was and is no place in a world such as this for a Man such as that. Therefore, His violent death at the hands of humans was inevitable. For humans will always do everything they can to suppress truth, and He even referred to Himself as “the truth” (Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6). Thus, it is the world which must be changed; and it will be, by Him, all at the right time and in the right manner, as we will see by the time we have reached the end of this book.
Christ was Ravaged by the Forces of Darkness
Christ came here so that He could be treated as the scum of the earth who was betrayed by all and who even His closest disciple would deny. His humiliation had to be complete: crucified on a stinking rubbish dump, utterly forsaken — for out of that humiliation would come the pinnacle of redemption (for that is the nature of the spiritual paradox), as I will show below. He was God, yet, in some extraordinary manner, He set aside all the power of that ‘Godness’ — emptied Himself of it — in order to perform the task which He came here to do. Thus, Christ,
“existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be held onto, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross”.Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 6-8
Theologians can argue about the minutiae of those amazing words if they are so inclined (which, of course, they are!). I will just leave them to it. I do not have any time for pedantry. But it is pretty obvious what those words mean. Yet people get so worried about using a ‘religiously incorrect’ word or two, or displeasing their pastors, that they dare not state the obvious. There is much mystery here. Leave it at that! I have no idea how it was even possible for God to become a man. That in itself is a puzzle enough. But His becoming a man did not undo His ‘Godness’. Do not ask me how; but it obviously didn’t. I don’t need some inadequate formula to state that. I just accept the mystery for the mystery that it is. It is similar to what was being revealed in a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, “Just as many were appalled at Him—His appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form was marred beyond human likeness” (Book of Isaiah, chapter 52, verse 14). You might say, “how is that possible with God?” I can only answer, “Because He was really human”. Occasionally, an inkling of His ‘Godness’ would suddenly be revealed, stunning or offending everyone around Him when it happened. (For example, see Gospel of Matthew, chapter 8, verses 26-27, where He quieted the wind and the waves; or another example in the Gospel of John, chapter 18, verse 6, where, when He said, “I am He”, to those who came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is said that “they drew back and fell to the ground”. That is power!). Nevertheless, He set aside the fullness of the power of His ‘Godness’ when He walked the earth as a man, so that ultimately He could be humiliated and increasingly assailed by the forces of darkness as His crucifixion loomed — all for an extraordinary purpose, as we will see below.
When Christ said in the Garden of Gethsemane to the authorities who came to arrest Him (and ipso facto to the demonic discarnate entities who lay behind their dastardly actions), “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verse 53), those mass forces of darkness were already beginning to assail Him in every way possible. Also, in the Garden of Gethsemane, a short time before saying those words to those arresting Him, it is noted in the Gospel of Luke that, “having been in agony, He [Christ] prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verse 44). That was evidence of those massed forces of darkness already assailing Him before He had even reached His trial or the horrors of the cross. You can see clearly here how the fullness of the power of His ‘Godness’ had been set aside in order for Him to have been able to be “in agony”. He had “emptied Himself”.
Those evil powers, both human and discarnate, concentrated their venom on that one innocent man, who even the Roman state had declared to be innocent of the charges (Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verses 13-15). On Him, all the darkness of this fallen world in an evil age — human and discarnate — would amalgamate and congeal into an inconceivable mass of evil and force of destruction focused solely on that one innocent Man. No mere human can understand the full extent of that assailment and no mere man could withstand it; that is why only He could accomplish the task (the uniqueness of which we will see when we come to look at the seven-sealed scroll opened by Christ in the first five verses of chapter 5 of the Book of Revelation).
So, for a time, Christ (from a human standpoint) was utterly crushed by forces of darkness, the might of which cannot even be conceived by a mere human mind. Readers need to understand that the sheer malevolence, ferocity and ruthless barbarity of Satan and his demonic realm has no parallel even in brute human terms. No matter how many horror movies you watch, or Dennis Wheatley novels you read, you cannot even begin to grasp the horrific nature of what Christ went through towards the end of His life at the tender age of thirty-three years.
What Satan can do to a soul in extremis is beyond human imaginings. If you want an image of one tiny part of the sort of suffering which the demonic realm can inflict, when the fifth trumpet is said to sound in chapter 9 of the Book of Revelation, the resulting demonic infestation was so horrific in its spiritual and psychological torment of humans that it is said, “In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will escape them” (Book of Revelation, chapter 9, verses 1-6). Try to imagine that multiplied an infernal amount in the attack on Christ. Bear in mind the glorious irony that the more suffering they inflicted on Christ, the more they were contributing to their own destruction and the salvation of the cosmos — not to mention the massive deception that was pulled on Satan! I will have more to say about that deception under another subheading below in this section, entitled “Satan Outwitted”.
This is what the Father had prepared for Him, and this is what He came to experience. On the cross, for all the world to see, the perfect Christ became the focal point of all evil, both human and demonic. Such forces would have crushed an ordinary man. Even the Christ, for an instant, knew what it was to experience a sense of complete separation from the Divine. We cannot conceive how this could be possible, but we have the proof of it in a couple of Christ’s terrible exclamations.
First, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ said, “My soul is engulfed in sorrow to the point of death” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, verse 38). In many ways, Christ’s experience in that Garden tells us so much about the atonement — about Christ’s vicarious suffering in our place as He identified with the experience of humans. Here He is identifying Himself with all the anguish and despair which lies at the core of the human heart when it is not wearing its mask of respectability and is not immersed in diverting entertainments. When He says, “to the point of death”, he is not merely referring to physical death but to the pangs of spiritual death, which He was on the cusp of suffering — again, as part of His vicarious experience on our behalf. God in the flesh entered into all the experience of humanity as forsaken and alienated from God. He was not actually forsaken and alienated but underwent the experience of it.
The second saying which proves Christ’s experience of separation from God is this: “My God, why have you forsaken me!” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, verse 46). In other words, He knew what it is to experience the pangs of “the second death” — that utter desolation of soul which will be the experience of all those who die having wilfully and completely rejected any desire for a relationship with the Creator or with His Son, the Christ (as I discussed in an excursus on the ‘second death’ in §2 of chapter 1 in my book above). In those words — which involved so much more than merely quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 — He was expressing in extremis that separation which humans experience from God because of the Fall at the beginning of human history. He was not actually separated from God as that would be an impossibility as He was Divine Himself (now there’s a mysterious spiritual conundrum for you!). But He suffered that separation as a necessary experience of atonement on our behalf.
The big question which arises here is this: why did He undergo all this hellish experience? The answer is that it was a vicarious act. He experienced this on behalf of all those who would be His disciples, so that they could become such and be released. It was not for Himself or on His own part. But “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin [like a sacrificial sin-offering in the Old Testament] on our behalf, so that in Him we might be accepted as righteous by God” (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21). The same idea is written here: “He became a curse for us” (Letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 13; see also the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 3). That completely sinless, perfect Being was treated as if it were He who was guilty of our moral failure. But it was all so that we who follow Him would be regarded as being righteous. That is what the oft-heard saying means to be “washed by the blood of Christ” or by “the blood of the Lamb” (For example, Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 7; chapter 2, verse 13, First Letter of Peter, chapter 1, verses 2 & 19; Book of Revelation, chapter 7, verse 14, chapter 12, verse 11); and here in our text in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, it is expressed as “released us from our sins by His blood”. “The blood of Jesus” or of Christ or of the Lamb is a ‘buzz-phrase’ in the Bible referring to His vicarious experience on the cross, though it does need explaining if it is to be understood by those not familiar with it, or it just becomes an unintelligible cliché which only preaches to the choir. He was the sacrifice on our behalf. He took upon Himself what should really have been our experience at the hands of the demonic realm and in what we can call the ‘Cosmic Vortex’ of Divine ‘fury’ (This will be discussed in full in §10 of chapter 6 in my book in an excursus on what is known as “the wrath of God” or “Divine fury”). It is a hideous but beautiful exchange.
Because of what Christ has done — sacrificing Himself to be treated venomously by all the forces of darkness as the moral failure that He was not, and undergoing the full sting of satanic oppression, plus experiencing the pangs of the ‘second death’ — those who follow Him are therefore treated as righteous by God. “God made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21). Our unrighteousness was accounted to Him (and He fully ‘paid’ the price for it), and His righteousness is thereby accounted to us who follow Him. Beautiful exchange, lovely contrast: He was treated as if He was the epitome of moral failure and as a result of that we who follow Him as His disciples are made righteous through His purity. We are made righteous in two senses: firstly, we are regarded as righteous if we are bonded with Christ (Letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 5), solely on the basis of what Christ did for us in exchange, which I will explain more about below. Secondly, after we become His disciples, we have the Holy Spirit cleansing us and purifying us on a practical everyday basis. It is a win-win situation about which I will have much more to say.
Christ was a Sacrifice
It is clear that there is a deliberate link between sacrificial offerings in the Old Testament and the sacrifice of Christ. But we must not think that the purpose of sacrifice in the Old Testament was to ‘appease an angry god’, such as it was with pagan religions. It was never about appeasement, as if a sacrifice would sort of ‘change God’s mind’ about us. Christ even plainly said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 9, verse 13, quoting the Book of Hosea, chapter 6, verse 6). The primary purpose of sacrifice in the Old Testament was to bring an awareness of one’s moral failure and a restoration of relationship with the Divine. This is precisely the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice also. Sacrifice was never really about bringing ‘satisfaction’ to God through ritual killing — implying that God’s mind can somehow be changed though the act — but about Divine restoration. Many people imagine that God is some kind of invisible ‘dragon’ who is just itching for the moment He can ‘breathe fire’ on any hapless “sinner”. This is a very common delusion even among people calling themselves “Christians”. It is yet another example of people making God in their own image. For one very often finds that such folk are themselves somewhat censorious of others, always looking to spot other people’s ‘errors’ and are extremely hypocritically judgemental. Frankly, if one perceptively examines their backgrounds, one will often find that they themselves were treated harshly when they were small and have not worked that out of their system. Thus, it colours their extreme authoritarian idea of God as a stern judge who is implacable without animal or even human sacrifice in the case of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Christ is the ‘Face’ of His Father
So, if God is not some ‘fire-breathing dragon’, what is He really like? That is very easy to discern. The Christ gave us a perfect way of knowing that when He said: “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 9). In other words, if you want to know what God is like, just examine the life and deeds of the Christ. Watch the way that He worked and responded to people, dealt with them. Christ was not generally censorious towards ordinary people struggling in their lives, no matter how much they messed-up. He handled them with grace, mercy and love, though without giving them a ‘pass’. In contrast to the religious leaders of the day, with wisdom and insight, He always tried to get people who messed-up to examine themselves, discern the ways they have fallen short, and thereby have a restored relationship with God (for example, see Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 18-23; Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 2-11). His censoriousness and extreme disapproval were mainly reserved for the religious leaders of the day — the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees (and, sometimes, the Essenes also, as we see in such implications as the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43, which is likely to be a reference to that sect). All these sects had variously descended into either legalistic hypocrisy, or deliberate misapplications of the Old Testament, or obscurantist asceticism, arrogance, and personal greed or ambition. Thus, the righteous anger of Christ was poured out on such characters, who He called “offspring of vipers!”, “progeny of the devil!”, “whitewashed tombs!” and so on. Whether it was His compassion or fury was determined by His love. God IS love. He does not punish in the way in which humans understand. He chastises. There is a vast difference. Human-style punishment is solely about retribution; whereas Divine chastisement is for teaching, to lead the person into a better way. If you work with God in His programme of chastisement, then you will be superlatively blessed. But if you wilfully reject His chastisement, then you will fall foul of Him and find yourself spiralling into a welter of destruction. This is not at all an unjust situation, for you will have brought that destruction upon yourself. (I will be explaining this process fully in an excursus on the ‘wrath of God’ or ‘Divine fury’ in chapter 6, §10).
This brings us right back to what happened to Christ on the cross where, as the sacred prophetic text says:
“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all”.Book of Isaiah, chapter 53, verses 5-6
On that Cross, God permitted His Christ to be assailed by all the forces of evil, both human and demonic, as they all converged on Him with their lies and vituperation, plus the experience of the “second death”, complete conscious separation from God — being “pierced” not because of His own transgressions but for ours! He was there in the place of all those who would be His true disciples. Without wishing to sound irreverent, to put it in modern vernacular, He was “taking one for the team”. That was “the chastisement that brought us peace” and will bring us peace if we follow Him as His disciples. The Hebrew word translated as “chastisement” there is מוּסָר, musar, which means discipline, correction, or moral instruction. That is God’s primary way of working. He is not really willing that any should fall into destruction (perish), but that all should come to that wonderful state of metanoia (see the Second Letter of Peter, chapter 3, verse 9, and see §3 of chapter 1 in my book above for more details about the precious process of metanoia). Even when He was permitting Christ to be “crushed for our iniquities”, it was designed to be a lesson for us. For, by the “stripes” which He received, we are healed, if we will enter into that New Covenant in Christ as His disciples. The word “stripes” there means the marks that are on the back of someone who has been whipped. It refers not only to the actual marks on Christ’s back as He was literally flogged, but also symbolically to His sufferings in general.
It is not enough merely to believe with one’s mind intellectually. That may be a start, but it is only when we immerse ourselves in Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then take up our crosses, and follow the ‘strait way’ (the afflicted pathway of life in this wilderness of a world) that we can become His disciples. When we follow Him and become His disciples, with a thoroughly penitent heart, that is the trigger for the healing of the cross to be ‘fast-tracked’ into our lives. Part of that healing is that the disciples of Christ, those who are guided exclusively by His Light, discover that their former wayward lives have been forgiven and the slate wiped clean. We are given a new start (and a new ‘heart’) and thus begins a journey which will take us not merely to death but through death and beyond, ultimately into the new creation. For He broke the bondage to death when He burst through it in resurrection. Furthermore, those who are Christ’s disciples will be those who populate the new heaven and new earth in the new aeon.
However, the work of Christ through His death and resurrection is not merely about personal forgiveness (for we can easily become far too self-obsessed about that) but is about wiping out the dominion of moral failure and Satan over our lives and throughout the whole cosmos, as well as overcoming death. For “Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil”. Those works are the impurity of moral failure (sin), and death. That is the beauty of the cross. It is a two-pronged victory for those who will cling to the coat-tails of Christ for the rest of the journey of their lives — those who pledge themselves to turn around their lives completely to be ‘in sync’ with the Divine will. It brings the complete forgiveness of our former wayward lives and also overthrows the power of Satan over us, which he had through death — the tearing apart of our body and soul — and our moral failure or, to use the old-fashioned word: sin — a word which needs to be grasped and understood. So allow me to deconstruct it here…
Deconstructing the Idea of “Sin”
From the early New Testament manuscripts (which were written in Koine Greek), the word ‘sin’ is an English translation of the word ἁμαρτία, hamartia, which is derived from ἁμαρτάνω, hamartano, which means ‘to miss the mark’ (as in missing the bullseye of a target with a bow and arrow). These words are derived from the negative prefix “ἁ” coupled with μέρος, meros, meaning a part or a share. Thus, what really lies behind the word translated as ‘sin’ is a moral failure, failing to hit the target in one’s life in some way and thus losing one’s share in which one should rightfully have a part. That, in turn, is merely a symptom of something far deeper. There is no point in merely being sorry or regretful about a single act of moral failure if what caused that act in the first place — the underlying cause of it — has not been dealt with. It is that underlying cause which is the problem, rather than any individual sins themselves, which are symptoms of that much deeper causation. When the underlying cause has been dealt with, then the propensity for moral failure will diminish accordingly.
Thus, one does not need primarily to ‘repent’ of each of our individual sins as that could go on forever! Instead, one needs to be completely transformed through the renewing of our minds and hearts so that everyday sins, moral failures, then become far less prevalent in our lives. That involves re-establishing a relationship with one’s Creator. For that is the underlying cause behind all moral failure, behind all the many ways that one misses the mark with one’s actions, ‘sin’ — call it what you will. When a person truly rediscovers his or her Creator and begins to understand that alienation from God is the root cause of moral failure, sin, then s/he will naturally and humbly ask for forgiveness from the bottom of his or her heart for all one’s foolishness and will begin to live in tune with the Divine law which has been established by the Creator at the heart of this cosmos. This way, inevitably, there will be an individual personal transformation of gargantuan life-changing significance — the metanoia that I wrote about earlier.
It should additionally be loudly stated here that this overthrow of the power of Satan by Christ will also ultimately mean the healing of the entire cosmos. For, as it is revealed,
“the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time”.Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 21-22
That is an extraordinary thought: That the entire cosmos is also filled with a deep longing to be released from its state of corruption and decay — one of the by-products of being made of ‘solid’ matter in a three-dimensional matrix. When Christ returns to wrap up this present age, world, and cosmos, the new cosmos — “the new heaven and new earth” — will then be inaugurated, as we will see when we come to look at chapters 21-22 in the Book of Revelation. All of this… our own wayward nature and the corruption of the cosmos is what has been dealt with by Christ on the cross. We can begin to be healed of that wayward nature right now; whereas the cosmos and our resurrection bodies will have to wait until Christ’s return. Even the angels are watching this process with great interest! (see the First Letter of Peter, chapter 1, verses 10-12). So all this is what lies behind the saying in our text that Christ’s disciples have been “released from our sins by His blood”.
Thus, once that utter condemnation of the pure Christ had been poured out on Him in our place, there came a point when it was over, for it could ‘hold no water’ over Him. The payoff of moral failure in this world is death. That is stated as a bald fact in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 23. But Christ was guilty of nothing and thus Satan had no claim on Him, as He said Himself, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world [i.e. Satan] is coming, and he has no claim on Me” (Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 30), and death could therefore have no hold on Him.
Thus, Christ could cry out on the cross, “It is finished!” (Gospel of John, chapter 19, verse 30). For death and darkness can have no hold over a human who is without any stain of moral failure, and there has only ever been one such human. In fact, it is said that “God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s clutches” (Book of Acts, chapter 2, verse 24). That is why Satan’s blasting of Christ with all the power of the forces of darkness which had been permitted by God could never gain any real traction. As Christ had said, “the ruler of this world is coming but he has nothing on Me”. When people die who are not bonded with Christ and restored into relationship with God, having deliberately rejected Him, Satan has a whole lot ‘on them’ and they are only deserving of “the second death”, which they will have brought on themselves. Thus, it was in this way that Christ overcame Satan and released people from their sins “through His blood”, through His sacrifice.
But there is much more to say about all this…
Releasing Prisoners, Literally and Figuratively
Our text says that Christ “released us from our sins by His blood”. Being released is what happens to prisoners. In this life, people are incarcerated in a prison constructed of the compulsion to sin, to commit moral failure, and being subject to death — having body and soul torn asunder at the end of our lives. Christ came to release us from that prison. After His death on the cross, Christ literally went to the abode of the dead in another dimension, known in Hebrew as Sheol and in Greek as Hades, and proclaimed that release. This is what was intended to be encapsulated in the words of the so-called “Apostles’ Creed” in the words about Christ, which say “He descended into Hell” — though it should not be the word “hell” being used there but “Sheol” or “Hades”.
Sheol/Hades was divided into two distinct zones, between which there was a chasm — one for the faithful of God and the other for those who have rejected God. That is graphically shown in the parable about the heartless rich man and the unfortunate beggar Lazarus, where we read that at his death Lazarus went to the comforting side of Sheol/Hades, symbolized as “Abraham’s bosom”, while the rich man who had ignored Lazarus in life went to the other part of Sheol/Hades where he was said to be “in torment” — literally “on the rack of torture”, as the Greek signifies (see Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31). The side of Hades for the saints was referred to as “paradise” by Christ when He promised the thief on the cross next to Him that He would that day be in paradise with Him (Gospel of Luke, chapter 23, verse 43).
After Christ’s sufferings on the cross were over — summed up by Him exclaiming, “It is finished”, or more literally, “It has been accomplished!” (that wonderful Greek word, Τετέλεσται, tetelestai), a reference to the completion of His necessary sufferings — He gave up His life to death and straightaway went to Sheol/Hades, while His body went to the tomb. This was not at all in the same manner as any of the other inhabitants but as the One who could say, “I hold the keys of Death and of Hades”, as it says in verse 18 of our text. Peter makes the extraordinary statement that Christ heralded an announcement “to the spirits in prison”, the inmates of Sheol/Hades (First Letter of Peter, chapter 3, verse 19). That announcement would surely have involved the fact that as the Victor it was He who now held ‘the keys of death and Hades’ and not Satan. That Peter mentions this in the context of Christ’s resurrection and ascension shows that he was referring to what happened after His death. Peter refers elsewhere in that same letter to Christ “proclaiming to the dead” (First Letter of Peter, chapter 4, verse 6). What effect that had on those in the torment section of Sheol/Hades is not known. Neither do we know in full what the proclamation consisted of. It is another mystery, but one we can live with. One can surely safely assume, though, that Christ proclaimed His victory and that He was now the “keeper” of the keys of death and Hades.
The Old Testament saints had already foreseen that there would come a time when they would be released, liberated, from Sheol, as David announced in his psalms: “God will redeem my life from Sheol, for He will surely take me to Himself”, and “Great is Your loving devotion to me; You have delivered me from the depths of Sheol” (Book of Psalms, 49, verse 15; Psalm 86, verse 13). After the ascension of Christ, at the giving of the Holy Spirit, Peter made special reference to a psalm of King David declaring, “You will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay”, a clear reference to Christ as well as to himself (Book of Acts, chapter 2, verse 27; Book of Psalms, 16, verse 10).
Up till that time, Sheol/Hades contained both the faithful and unfaithful, although divided by a vast chasm. After His resurrection, at His ascension, Christ presumably moved the dead faithful saints from the paradise side of Sheol/Hades to heaven to be with Him, awaiting the time of their resurrection when Christ returns to earth. Paul confirms this change of scene for the saints when he equates ‘paradise’ with ‘heaven’ in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 1-4). That movement of those saints from Sheol/Hades to heaven is pictured as a victory parade by Paul when, quoting Psalm 68, verse 18, he writes:
“This is why it says, ’When He ascended on high, He led captives away, and gave gifts to men’. What does ‘He ascended’ mean, except that He also descended to the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the very One who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things”.Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 8-10
This is where all the saints go who subsequently die, thus being in some way “with Christ” while they await full resurrection, as Paul stated to the disciples at Philippi: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 23), and to the disciples at Corinth:
“Therefore we are always confident, although we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, then, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”.Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 6-8
At the time of His resurrection, as a visible token on earth of His victory over death and having the keys to Hades, many dead saints in Jerusalem emerged from their graves as a kind of “first-fruits” of the resurrection, then presumably were taken with Him to heaven in the ‘victory train’ (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, verses 51-53).
So what Christ accomplished on the cross, through His vicarious sufferings is a releasing of prisoners on so many levels. Releasing from slavery to sin, to moral failure. Releasing from the cords of death. Releasing from having to undergo the second death. It is all about release. But if we want to partake in such release, we have to want that release with all our heart. The wanting of it — yearning for it ardently — will bring it to pass with certainty. So now we know the meaning of our text here in the Book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 5: “To Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood”.
Satan Outwitted by Divine Stealth
Christ’s victory on the cross was, in fact, a superb strategy to outwit the evil powers, both human and demonic. Our lifeblood is tainted with the corruption of moral failure and, ultimately, spiritual death. So because humans are made of flesh and blood,
“Christ too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”.Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 14-15
No mere human being could undo the power of moral failure and death, for they are tainted with both. But Satan’s crazy and uncontrolled rage against Christ blinded him completely from comprehending the real scope of God’s plan of redemption for this cosmos, planet earth and its inhabitants, and the part that the Christ would play in the shadow of the cross. In other words, the satanic forces of darkness had no foreknowledge that it would be the death of Christ which would bring about the destruction of their world-system, so they went ahead and killed Him, thinking they would thus be getting Him out of the way! But in doing so, Satan and his forces of darkness simply brought ridicule upon themselves.
There is an interesting corroborative statement about the secrecy surrounding this genius coup d’etat in Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the members of the Ekklesia in Ephesus (John’s church before his exile to Patmos), written only seventy-five years after the death of Christ and only fifteen to twenty years after John wrote the Book of Revelation:
“Now the virginity of Mary, and he who was born of her, were kept in secret from the ruler of this world [Satan]; as was also the death of our Lord; three of the mysteries the most spoken of throughout the world, yet done in secret by God”.Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 19. Ignatius is also believed to have been a disciple of John, the writer of the Gospel and the Book of Revelation
Thus, Satan, by his own inadequate strategy, brought about his own downfall. As Paul the apostle put it: “None of the archons of this age understood it. For if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 8). This is “the mysterious and hidden wisdom of God, which He destined for our glory before time began” (First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 7). Satan was not only completely out of His depth in taking on the real Ruler of this world, the Christ, but he was also on a hiding to nothing and a journey to nowhere! The usurper pseudo-ruler of this world was coming, but he had nothing on Christ. In this way, Satan was fooled, and Christ was victorious, because the inevitable outcome was resurrection as “death could not hold Him”, no matter how much He was assailed by the forces of darkness. In this way, God “forgave us all our trespasses, having cancelled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross!” (Letter to the Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13-14)
It is so important to understand this, for it is knowledge which has been deliberately kept from most people all their lives. So many do not know that Christ was the overcomer of Satan, thus making the fallen archangel a laughingstock across the cosmos. As the sacred text specifically says: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities”, God through Christ “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Letter to the Colossians, chapter 2, verse 15).
Christ thereby became “the forerunner” (Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 6, verse 20), the holy harbinger, the trailblazer, for all those who are bonded with Him through their life-changing metanoia transformation, and who are therefore restored into relationship with Christ. To those who become His disciples, eternal life and the cleansing of righteousness are credited to them as a result of that victory over Satan and his darkness.
Here is the bottom line: “This is a trustworthy saying: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him” (Second Letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 11). To die with Him reflects this saying of the Christ, “For whoever clings to his life will lose it; but whoever relinquishes his life on account of Me will save it” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, verse 24). That is what it means to die with Christ: That we give up our previous life which is lived solely for ourselves and we live to serve His will for us and thus serve others. We will then be in a sacred union with Him: “For if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Letter to the Romans, chapter 6, verse 5). One basically ‘buries’ oneself in Him, having finished with one’s former life and taking on a life ‘in Christ’, and then reaps all the spiritual benefits of the fact that He was/is our forerunner! As it is said: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Letter to the Galatians, chapter 2, verse 20). Yes, He gave Himself up for all those who will follow Him as His disciples. That is what He came to earth to do: To destroy the works of the devil and to bring us out of a life of moral failure and spiritual delusion “into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you” (First Letter of Peter, chapter 1, verse 4). This is the “release by His blood” (as it says in our text) into which we are all called, if we will accept it with our whole being. Such acceptance will totally transform our lives if we follow that call.
So now you know the meaning in our text of the word “released” in relation to disciples of Christ. The same idea of release also appears in another verse of this first chapter of The Book, “I hold the keys of Death and of Hades”, verse 18. From the words of Christ Himself, this is a reiteration of His releasing of the prisoners by His blood. He holds not only the keys of death itself but also of the place of the dead (symbolised in the word “Hades”). So, it is no longer Satan but Christ who holds the keys of death and Hades, the name for the place of the dead — yet another reason (and a very big one!) to have no fear, if one is a devoted disciple of the Christ. Through His death, resurrection and ascension, Christ now has those keys. The idea of “the keys” here is symbolic of complete control and mastery. As He said Himself to His disciples after His resurrection, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verse 18). You had better believe that!
Whether we join Him in the new creation in the next aeon or undergo the second death which we looked at in §2 of chapter 1, lies in our hands from a human standpoint, but in His hands from a Godward one. All I know is this: If with all our heart we truly want to be His disciples on this earth and then follow Him into the new creation, then we will. He has revealed Himself as the One who has the keys. We only need to “knock, and the door will be opened” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 7).
What better thing could anyone do but hang onto Christ’s shirt-tails so that one can be with Him wherever He wants to take us. If we rely on ourselves, we will be in a jam. But dependence on Him is one ‘addiction’ which is completely healthy!
[You have been reading an extract from my upcoming book on the Book of Revelation, entitled “The Essential Apocalypse”. I hope you have found it helpful and encouraging. Blessings to you from me]
© 2022, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]