O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
I'll admit that "Key of David" is not a title for Christ I have ever heard of outside of this song, and I'm not sure that I've ever heard it sung. The line is based on Isaiah 22:22, which says, "I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one can close; what he closes, no one can open." Now, that sounds just like Jesus on its own! The problem is that if you read the surrounding verses, things get weird.
The person Isaiah is speaking of isn't the Messiah, but someone named Eliakim. This particular prophecy is directed to Shebna the steward and basically states that God is not happy with him, and will give all of his things to Eliakim. The two men were officials in the king's palace. We don't know much about them, but Eliakim is mentioned in 2 Kings 18 and 19 a couple of times. There's also someone called Shebna the secretary, but that is probably a different Shebna. Either way, it's strange that Isaiah devotes so much time to little known political figures.
However, if you read 2 Kings 18, you can see why Isaiah's prophecy about Eliakim was important. After he had conquered Israel, Assyria's King Sennacherib approached Jerusalem. By all appearances, he was unstoppable. If being conquered wasn't bad enough, the Assyrians were well known for their excessive brutality, and would often torture prisoners of war before battle to strike terror in their opponents. All of Jerusalem shuddered. Eliakim was one of the messengers that went between Sennacherib and King Hezekiah of Judah. It is stated in 2 Kings 18:18 that he was in charge of the king's palace. Later in chapter 19, God tells Hezekiah through Isaiah the prophet that Assyria would never set foot in Jerusalem. That night, an angel struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and sent the rest back home in retreat. Sennacherib was later murdered in a temple to his god.
Though his role in the story is minor, Eliakim was the manager of the palace. He had the keys to let people in or lock them out. He was a symbol of safety and security. He was in charge of keeping the king's enemies out. God's favor towards him in Isaiah 22 is manifested in 2 Kings 19 when God drives away the king's enemies. The locks held, and what Eliakim had shut remained shut!
We can also think of Christ in this way. He is the one who holds the keys to the kingdom. What He opens will remain open, and what he shuts will remain shut. There is no way heaven outside of Jesus. Whoever enters into the kingdom by Christ will ultimately live in security, free of any outside threats, because no enemy will ever be able to break in. The finished work of Christ is an incredible thing because it makes salvation a settled matter. Whoever has faith in Christ will be saved, no if's, and's or but's about it. No circumstance or enemy can change that. Christ alone holds the keys, and He alone determines who will enter.
There are a few takeaways from that idea. First, we should strive to enter the Kingdom by Christ. Like the song says, we should pray that Christ would make safe the way that leads to Him and close the path to misery. It is by His grace that whoever asks will find that way to heaven if they believe.
Secondly, we must beware not to add any other conditions to salvation. Christ holds the keys, not us. His condition for entry is simply faith. Now, faith is a loaded term that means more than simply agreeing to an idea. It involves trust, and therefore a commitment to obedience. However, it is still simply faith and nothing else. When faith must be demonstrated by obedience, it is Christ who gives the commands to be obeyed, not us. We should be careful not to put laws and commandments on people that God does not give. What the Bible says, we should say. When the Bible does not speak on an issue, we should not make that issue a measure of faithfulness or prerequisite to salvation. There are too many who have made everything from dress codes to the voting booth a sort of unholy baptism--the outward sign by which we can see who's really saved. It needs to stop. Salvation comes through faith. That faith is demonstrated by obedience, primarily to the two great commands: love God and love your neighbor. Those with faith are visibly marked through Baptism and by taking the Lord's Supper. We should be careful not to add much more to these things.
Finally, on a more positive note, we should take great comfort that Christ is the key. I know very well now that I can't please everyone, and thank goodness I don't need to. When I enter eternity, there will be only one opinion that matters, and that is the opinion of Christ, who died for me. None of the critics, complainers, or adversaries will have any say over my destiny. My life belongs to Christ, and no one can snatch me out of His kingdom!
Passages for further reflection: 2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 22:20-25, John 10:1-30
This post is a part of a series on the song, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Be sure to check out the other posts in the series and my original post explaining why this is my favorite Christmas song.