One of the Daily Texts verses today includes the statement “I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) It reminded me of something important about interpretation that I like to pass along when I get a chance, so I’m going to run down a rabbit hole here for a bit.
The little English word “of” can mean a LOT of different things and the reader/hearer is absolutely required to *interpret* the word and *choose* from different options. Most of us do that easily and subconsciously on the fly, so we’re not even aware that we’re interpreting.
For example: “house of sticks” means house *made* of sticks.
But “love of money” means love *directed towards* money.
And “love of your dog” means the love *felt by* your dog for you.
Except when it means the love *felt for* your dog by you.
Now, watch how this can have a huge impact on how you interpret.
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus refers to the “keys of the Kingdom. What does “of” mean there? The keys “to” the Kingdom? Could be. That would imply that the Kingdom is locked and you need the key to get in, though. Hmmm…
Or, it could mean the keys *belonging to* the Kingdom. That’s a whole ‘nother thing there. If you have these “Kingdom keys” what do you think you might be able to lock… or unlock? Might it be the “gates of Hades” that Jesus refers to in the previous verse?
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Mt. 16:18b
You’ve got to admit… a gate isn’t likely to “prevail” against you if you have the key that can open it.
Popular culture has latched onto the “pearly gates” image from Revelation 21:21 in a way that has even us thinking of heaven as a gated community. Seriously… a gated community!?!? If you don’t have a key yourself you better be on good terms with Saint Peter, right! After all he has the “keys *to* (?) the Kingdom” right?
Well, how about this instead. What if the only “gated community” that even exists is Hell/Hades/Death, and the *problem* is not “How can I possibly get *into* heaven when I’m locked out?” but rather, “How can I possibly get *out* of H/H/D when I’m locked IN?
Sit with that image for a minute, and then see how it feels to consider that the Kingdom keys have unlocked the gates and no one can ever be locked in again.
Pearly gates that are locked, or gates of Hades unlocked – which image resonates more powerfully with what you know as the message of Jesus?
It is, of course, a matter of interpretation. Gotta keep an eye on those great big theological words like “of.”