Power of Death, The

Heb. 2:14, “…destroy him who had the power of death…”

While Jesus Christ said that His initial establishing of His Kingdom had come (“was ready to break into,” “had arrived on the doorstep,” “had come upon them.”) during His first century ministry while here on earth (Matt. 12:28-29), and that it was rooted and advancing at that time, and that He had started to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), it is vital to remember the present condition of that 1st century spiritual world at the time of His ministry:

  • Satan was the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • Satan was the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) 
  • The kingdoms of this world belonged to Satan (Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-7; Rev. 11:15)
  • The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)
  • Satan was the “Prince of the Power of the Air” (Eph. 2:2)
  • And as we were just looking at in Heb. 2:14, Satan had the “power of death.”

So, a question we need to ask is, what was the “power of death?”  To answer that question, we need to see from the Bible what happened to someone when they physically died prior to the resurrection?

Christ’s physical death and shed blood on the cross destroying the “power of death” from sin:

As discussed under the CHARACTER OF GOD heading above (and more in depth in the eschatology Study Series 1 “Character of God”), the Bible reveals how God’s character is Holy and Pure and Righteous, and that He could not be in fellowship with sin, and recalling from the eschatology Study Series 3 “What Happened in the Garden?, how man had freely sinned in the Garden and in “that day” came under the condemnation to eternal death.  God performed an animal sacrifice to pay for the immediate penal death Adam and Eve should have suffered that very day, which provisionally forgave them.  While they were put out of the Garden forgiven, able to live out the allotted days God would provide them, their true forgiveness and propitiation of their sin would only come through faith in the true substitutionary sacrificial Lamb of God who would come in the future and crush the head of the serpent and satisfy the wrath of God paying for the wages of their sin and bringing full forgiveness and salvation from the condemnation to eternal death.

Fallen history of mankind starts and now all of their prodigy are born with a fallen nature where one who sins is: captive and slaves of sin and Satan (Rom. 6:6; 16-18; John 8:34, “…slaves of sin;” Luke 4:18, “…proclaim freedom to the captives…;” Col. 1:13, “He has delivered us from the power (dominion) of darkness…;” Eph. 4:8-10).

A sinful human could never be able to go into the full presence of Holy God again, and live.  Due to each person’s sin, Satan then had the power and claim, both in this life as a slave to sin, and upon physical death to then hold the disembodied soul “captive” and separated from its God in Hades/Sheol.

After the fall, all mankind now sins and thus earn the “wages of sin,” and Satan (and the Death Angel) held the keys to Hades/Sheol to hold all disembodied souls captive after their physical death because of their sin in the “power of death” =

1) For those who had rejected the Messiah to come: upon physical death their soul was held captive under the wages of their sin in the compartment of torments in Hades/Sheol (Luke 16:23, 26) waiting for the final resurrection for judgment of their sin and condemnation in eternal death in the Lake of Fire (second death).

2) For those who had in faith believed in and were waiting for their Messiah to come: upon physical death their soul was held captive because their sin had not yet been propitiated (paid for and removed) by Christ.  They went to the compartment of Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom in Hades/Sheol (Luke 16:22, 26) waiting for the Messiah who would come and die as their substitutionary atonement on the cross and pay for in full their “wages of sin.”  Upon which, He would descend to them in Hades/Sheol for three days.  Their faith is then able to be actualized in the Person of their Messiah.  After three days Christ would then be the firstfruit raised/resurrected out from among the dead ones in Hades/Sheol –> to never die again, or to ever have to return to Hades/Sheol (Rom.6:9) –> thus destroying the “power of death” (Heb. 2:17), and becoming the forerunner/firstfruit for all those believers to be resurrected from out of Hades/Sheol (Col. 1:18).  At the final resurrection they would now be raised out of Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom to receive eternal life in their new immortal bodies to enter heaven forevermore.

Thus, we see the absolute necessity that the Messiah to come had to be without sin (therefore, not able to be held captive in Hades/Sheol), so that He would be able to be the substitutionary sacrifice to propitiate the sin of man (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).  His shed blood on the cross would propitiate sin: satisfying the wrath, justice, and righteousness of God, thereby paying for the penalty/wages of sin, making peace, and thus removing sin, and the penalty of sin = condemnation to eternal death –> thus stripping the power of physical death from being the gateway into the afterlife sealing the soul in condemnation and eternal death. 

The Messiah was the One whose sinless physical death would “destroy him who had the power of [physical] death.”  Thus, setting the “captives” free (Eph. 4:8-9).


See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:

Sin (After AD 70)



Related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 3 What Happened in the Garden”]