Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Oh, Key of David

Today''s "Oh" antiphon keys in on one title given to our Lord by the Beloved Disciple John in the book of Revelation , and foreshadowed in the prophet Isaiah.
Christians of the first century lived in an uneasy relationship with Judaism. Most Jewish Christians probably attended the synagogue, took part in ritual worship and used the Hebrew Scriptures as their Bible.

At the same time, the church considered itself the rightful spiritual heir of Judaism -- the new Israel (Galatians 6:16). It had accepted Jesus as its Lord, the Messiah spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures. The church saw itself as composed of spiritual Jews who had received "circumcision" through the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:28-29). This naturally caused a rift between Christians and Jews, as they both claimed to be God's people.

That meant Jewish Christians often endured exceptional pressure and stress. They were, no doubt, called apostate Jews by their own people. Non-Christian Jews accused Christians of being usurpers. They insisted that Jews and not Christians had the open door to God's presence and the keys to the kingdom.

The Christians in the Asian city of Philadelphia were among those who took the brunt of these claims. Then, in about a.d. 96, the Elder John, in the book of Revelation, assured those in the church that they were, indeed, the heirs to salvation (Revelation 3:7-13).

John wrote that Christ is the One "who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (verse 7). Christ had set an open door before the church that "no one can shut."

What was this key that unlocked a door that could not be shut? The answer lies in analyzing the key and door metaphor, which is found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He referred to an individual of his time named Shebna who had charge of the palace of the Judean king. Today, we might call him the chief of staff.

The prophet Isaiah said the Lord would replace Shebna with a man named Eliakim. The Lord would "place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open" (Isaiah 22:22). Thus, Eliakim would be a kind of gatekeeper with power to control entry into the royal kingdom. As the king's steward, he would decide who could or could not have access to the king.

In the book of Revelation, John used this Old Testament metaphor to get across a vital message to the church in Philadelphia, and thereby to all Christians. That is, Christ has the key of David. He opens the door for the church -- his royal household -- and allows it to come into the presence of God. In short, Christ has granted Christians access to God. No one can deprive them of that access, which really means God's bestowal on them of the gift of salvation.

The key in Revelation does much more than open the way to an audience with a national king. In Christ's hand, the key opens the door into the presence of God, his kingdom and eternal life.
O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel,
who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens:
come, and bring forth the captive from prison,
the one who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

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