This is the fourth in an Advent sermon series on “The Seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons.”
“O Key of David, Come” (Isaiah 22:20-25; Revelation 1:12-13, 17-18; 3:7-13; Luke 1:26-33)
O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse. And now today, O Key of David, the fourth of the seven great O Antiphons. You see it there opposite Hymn 357, and it’s also in your bulletin. So let’s begin by praying together the Key of David antiphon: “O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
What is this “Key of David” antiphon all about? It’s about authority, and who it is that’s using it, and how he’s using it. That’s the “key” to understanding this antiphon.
Keys are used for opening and closing things. If you’ve been given the key to something–a door, a building–that means you’ve been entrusted with a certain amount of authority. If you’ve been given the key to the city, that means you’ve been given the run of the town, all things are now open to you. An officeholder, someone who’s been inducted into an office, can be said to exercise the authority vested in that office. He holds the keys, so to speak, to exercise the powers of that office in a responsible manner.
And so to say the “key of David” means that someone is exercising the powers that King David had as the king of Israel. David, of course, was the preeminent king of Israel, the head of a whole line of kings descended from him–David and Solomon to start with, and later on, men like Hezekiah and Josiah.
Now the term “key of David” is first used in connection with a certain man named Eliakim. Eliakim was not himself the king, but he worked for the king, and he would come to a position where he would be able to exercise the king’s authority. Eliakim became the steward, the person in charge of running things–sort of like a prime minister–for King Hezekiah. We heard about it in our reading from Isaiah 22. There the Lord declares that he will invest Elaikim with that kind of authority: “In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”
Eliakim will be elevated to a position of high honor: “And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.”
But even with all that honor and authority and power, Eliakim’s run would not last: “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken.”
In the case of Eliakim, we have someone who had placed on his shoulder the key of the house of David–he had been given great power and authority, power to open and to shut–but the office was greater than the man.
But then we meet a man who is equal to the office. This is not just a man who is a steward or a prime minister. This is one who is, in fact, even greater than any of the Davidic kings–greater than David himself. Here is a case where the man exceeds the office and takes it beyond what it had ever been before. We meet him in the only other place in the Bible where the specific term “key of David” is used, and that is in the Book of Revelation. In one of the letters to the seven churches, this one identifies himself as follows–basically quoting from Isaiah 22–when he says: “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”
This of course can only be the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. He holds the key of David in a much greater and more glorious way than any prime minister or king ever did. What he opens, no one can shut. What he shuts, no one can open.
This is the same Lord Jesus Christ we meet in Revelation 1. There we see what it is that he holds the keys to, and how he gained that authority. John sees “one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest,” who says to him, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Dear friends, see the authority of your Savior, see how he gained it and how he uses it! The one who is “the first and the last,” that is, the almighty, eternal Son of God, came down from heaven, emptied himself of his rights and his honor, humbled himself, and died. Yes, that is who the man Jesus is, God in the flesh, dying on a cross. He did that for you. That was his saving mission, to rescue mankind from their sins, by dying in our place. His blood, shed on our behalf, purchases our forgiveness. He has the authority to forgive sins, and he does.
And so by his death, by his taking away our sins, Christ Jesus took away the power that Satan held over us. Death and Hades are conquered, defeated, powerless to hold us any longer–they lie vanquished at the feet of the mighty King. Christ’s own resurrection proves this, shows what Christ has won for us.
Remember what Jesus said after he rose from the dead. He told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” All authority! What Christ opens cannot be shut. What he shuts cannot be opened.
And Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He opens our prison doors and sets us free from our dark, dank dungeon of death. He brings us out into the light and freedom of his everlasting kingdom, full of life. The path of misery we were on has been closed, and now we have been set to walk on a new road, the path of life. The way ahead is open and clear, with Christ himself leading the way.
And so when we pray to Christ as the “Key of David,” and we ask him to come and rescue us, we are first acknowledging that this is what he has already done by his coming at Christmas to carry out his saving mission. And then also we are praying that he would come again, so that we would see, and enter into, the consummation of that rescue, when death and darkness will be no more and only life and light remain. And we pray that with confidence, because he has that key, and he knows how to use it.
The key of David that Christ exercises is the key to our future. It’s an open-and-shut case. Jesus opens the prison doors and sets us free. He shuts the road to hell and opens up the gate of heaven. Christ Jesus has the keys of the kingdom, and he uses them on our behalf.
“O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death.”