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The Key Bearer

In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will 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 22.20-22.

These words are addressed by God through the mouth of his prophet Isaiah to a man called Shebna who (we learn from previous verses) was the steward in charge of the king’s palace in Jerusalem (Isaiah 22.15). Shebna had (in his own eyes at any rate) become a mighty man, driving a splendid chariot and now thinking himself entitled to a royal grave (Isaiah 22.16-18); but, “Not so,” says God. “You will be taken into exile and in exile you will die; and your place here will be taken by Eliakim.”

Who is Eliakim? We don’t know. He is as obscure as his predecessor Shebna — except for one thing: he gives us a picture of Jesus that, centuries later, Jesus himself draws upon both in an earthly conversation with his disciples and in a heavenly vision given to John the Seer in the book of Revelation.

Eliakim has on his shoulder the key to the house of David, which is to say that he has the key to the royal palace. Keys in those days were something of a rarity, possessed only by the very wealthy, and fashioned in a way that permitted them to be borne by a steward on his shoulders as a kind of badge of office. And it was literally true that what the key-bearer opened no one could shut and what he shut no one could open. There were no duplicates, no spares, and a key was too big to lose! The key therefore was an instrument of power and invested its bearer with immense authority in the kingdom. It was through him, and him alone, that there was access to the royal presence.

So it is that, in John’s vision, Jesus himself, dressed like Eliakim “in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (Revelation 1.13) tells John: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1.18). Then, later, he tells the church at Philadelphia: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut” (Revelation 3.7-8).

There is not space here to consider the significance of all those different keys or what Jesus is meaning when he speaks to the church at Philadelphia; but what is important to me this morning is the truth that, like Eliakim in the palace of the king, so Jesus is the faithful steward over the household of God. All authority is vested in him, and through him alone can anyone gain access to the presence of God.

But I have to recognise too that there is a sense in which he delegates that authority. For he says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16.19); and when I look at what happened through Peter, I can begin to see just what that meant. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter spoke to the crowds in the power of the Spirit and three thousand Jews entered the kingdom (Acts 2.41), but then, more significantly, he opened the door of the kingdom first to the Roman Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) and then, because of that, to all the Gentiles (Acts 15). And I have to remind myself that, in a very real sense, I am in the kingdom this morning only because Peter opened that door.

I have to remind myself too that, in a way, even I have the keys to the kingdom. By my life and witness, by my words and works, I too can open a door through which others can glimpse the loveliness of life with God and the glory of the age to come — rather like when Dorothy opens the door of her sepia world in Kansas to reveal the technicolor world of the over-the-rainbow Land of Oz. And not only catch a glimpse of the kingdom but enter into it too, if they so wish.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for opening up for me the doorway into life. Thank you for giving me access to the throne room. And thank you for giving me the privilege of opening the door to life for others. Please make today a day of open doors. Amen.

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