The use of a key is known to all. One possessing the key of a city, gate, or door controls whatever is within and is responsible for its safety and its use. In Scripture the use of the term key is largely symbolic, though it is used in its literal sense in Judges 3:25, where the servants of Eglon king of Moab use one to open the door that Ehud had shut after he had slain their lord. A key is used to shut or open, and the Lord Jesus is presented to us in Scripture as having different keys, some of which He uses Himself, and others which He has committed to servants to be used for Him.
The Key of the House of David
In Isaiah 21 we learn that Shebna, who was of the lineage of David, was over the house of Hezekiah, but, because Jehovah was displeased with him, his office was to be given to another, even to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah. Regarding Eliakim the Lord said, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). With the key of David upon his shoulder, the government of the royal house was committed into the hand of Eliakim, and he was to minister in his high position, as called of God, for the good of “the inhabitants of Jerusalem and…the house of Judah.”
Eliakim in this is surely a type of the Lord Jesus Christ who, in the coming day, will order all in Jerusalem, in Judah, yea, in all Israel for the glory of God and the blessing of His people. This gives us in type what is proclaimed in the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6–7: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder..upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.”
Although the Lord will rule over all as Son of Man in the day of His glory, Eliakim typifies only that part of the Lord’s rule connected with Israel. All the glory of Israel will hang upon Him, the Nail in the sure place, the One who was “removed, and…cut down” but who, in resurrection, fulfils all that has been foreshadowed and prophesied concerning Him in the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Key of David
Though no doubt alluding to this Scripture, the passage in Revelation 3:7 has something different in view. In Isaiah 21 it is the future government of the Lord Jesus that is referred to, whereas in Revelation 3 it is the present government of the Lord in the midst of the assemblies. He is not yet ruling over the house of David—this awaits His coming to earth again—but His present place of authority over God’s kingdom is exercised among those who profess allegiance to Him. The Lord will soon come out of heaven to rule publicly over the kingdoms of the world, but He has all power given to Him now in heaven and on earth, walking in the midst of the assemblies, and acting behind the scenes in regard to this world, His government in control, not allowing the forces of evil to overstep the appointed limits.
How encouraging it is for the saints to realize that all power and authority are in the hands of their Lord and Master, and that men are limited in the evil they can do. To the Philadelphian assembly the Lord said, “Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation 3:8). Whether it be a door into the exhaustless and unsearchable riches of the heavenly Christ, or a door of testimony to proclaim all that Christ has made known to us, no man can shut the door He has opened. The saints may have but “a little strength,” but it is not their strength that opens the door, or that keeps it open; it is the strength of Him who has the key of David.
The Key of Knowledge
The doctors of the law in Israel had a special place of privilege as being instructed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but this privilege had its commensurate responsibility. They were responsible to the Lord for the instruction of His earthly people, and those to whom the Lord spoke in Luke 11 had been unfaithful to God, not having given to the people the knowledge of God contained in His word. The Lord therefore said to them, “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Luke 11:52).
According to the many promises of the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus had come to His people Israel, and the doctors of the law ought to have welcomed Him at His coming, for they knew the Scriptures that spoke of Him, as they had the key of knowledge. Instead of gladly receiving God’s Christ and becoming His followers, they joined with all who opposed Him, and spoke against Him, hindering the poor of the flock who sought His company and blessing, and meriting the exposure and condemnation of the Lord in the words of Luke 11:46–52.
How highly favoured are the saints of God of this day, having the key of knowledge in Christ that opens out to them all the great treasures of the Old Testament and the New. It is in the Son of God that God has been revealed, and it is in the mystery of God that centers in the Son of God that there are hid “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Knowing Christ, we are able to range over the Scriptures, as guided by the Holy Spirit, to see in them the things concerning Him (Luke 24:44–45; 1 Corinthians 2:12).
The Keys of the Kingdom
After Simon Peter had received the wonderful revelation from the Father concerning the Person of the Son, and had received from the Son of God the revelation concerning the building of His assembly, the Lord said to him, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shat bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16–19). As has been often pointed out, the keys that the Lord gave to Peter were not the keys of heaven, but of the kingdom of heaven; and Peter was to use these keys on earth, not in heaven.
Peter used the keys given to him by the Lord to let the Jews into the kingdom of heaven when he preached to them on the day of Pentecost, three thousand being converted and baptized. Simon Peter was the divine instrument to bring these converted souls under the sway of the Lord who had gone to heaven, and who ruled His kingdom from His heavenly seat. The keys of the kingdom of heaven were again used by Simon Peter to bring the Gentiles into the Christian circle when he was sent by God to make known to Cornelius, and those gathered with him, the way of salvation (Acts 10).
With the keys there was also given to Peter the authority of binding and loosing on earth in the Name of the Lord, and in Acts 5 he binds upon Ananias and Sapphira their sin against the Holy Spirit, and this was ratified in heaven by the immediate judgment of God upon them. What was initially given to Peter in Matthew 16 by the Lord is also given by Him to the assembly, yea to two or three gathered to His name (Matthew 18:18–20). Governmental binding and loosing of sins is shown in the case of the man who sinned at Corinth, who had his sin bound upon him according to the instructions given in 1 Corinthians 5:3–5, and who was to have his sin loosed, according to the instructions of 2 Corinthians 2:6–11.
The Keys of Hell and of Death
How different was the appearance of Jesus when the Apostle John saw Him in His official glory in Revelation 1. John had known Jesus on earth in blessed intimacy, knowing the rest and joy of reclining in His bosom, but now he sees Him with “His eyes as a flame of fire…and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:13–16). Was it any wonder that he “fell at His feet as dead”? Once before John had been “sore afraid” in the presence of the Lord in His glory (Matthew 17:6), but then there was no sword in His mouth, and nothing of the judicial character now seen in Revelation 1.
It is the same voice that had said on the glory mount, “Be not afraid” that now says to His servant, “Fear not”; and it is the same hand that is laid upon him to still his fear that once was used to wash his feet. Having presented Himself to John as “the First and the Last,” Jesus said, “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 1:17–18).
On earth the Lord had said, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). Men may take the lives of others, or even take their own lives, but only One has the keys of hell and of death; only One can both kill and cast into hell; and He only can bring out of death those who have entered there. Man has not the right to kill, not having been given this authority, saving as under divine instructions in the government of God given to Noah in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.”
Risen from the dead, the Man Christ Jesus, the Son of Man, has the authority over death and hell; and how wonderful it is that just before He entered into death’s domain to break its power, He said to the repentant thief who was about to follow Him into death, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The One to whom the Father had given authority to execute judgment, and whose voice would bring out all in resurrection, and who, in resurrection would speak of His having the keys of hell and of death, in wondrous grace told the dying thief that He would open the door for him into the paradise of God.
The Keys of the Bottomless Pit
The bottomless pit is evidently the place from which come the darkening spiritual influences that affect men in this world, which bring delusion and sorrow upon those who are affected by the diabolical teachings of those who are the agents of Satan. It is evident from Revelation 9:1 that Satan has not control in an absolute way to do his will, for the key of the bottomless pit is not in his hand. The star that fell from heaven was given the key for the time being, but the key did not belong to him. For a limited time this star, some great intellectual or spiritual dignitary, was allowed to bring up from the infernal regions influences that would bring delusion and trouble upon those who had not the seal of God in their foreheads.
When we come to Revelation 20:1 we see the key of the bottomless pit in the hand of the angel who binds Satan with a great chain and casts him into the bottomless pit, shutting him up and sealing his prison house. How good it is to see that the control of evil is not in the hand of Satan, the originator of sin. God, in His wisdom, has allowed evil to rear its ugly head in His fair universe, and to invade the world, but it never has been beyond God’s control. There is One in heaven by whom “all things consist” (Colossians 1:17), who holds all things together to secure His will and for the good of His saints, and who only allows evil to reach to the limits that He has appointed, saying to Satan and to all the evil forces that abound, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.”