Why Do We Call Jesus “Key of David”?

Moving on to the next O Antiphon, I read:

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens.  Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This time I felt marginally better that I at least knew who David was—Israel’s best, though still imperfect—king.  But why would we call Jesus the key of David?

Jeanne Kun in a great online article explains that Jesus is the key of David because He has both the power to open the gates of heaven for us as well as unchain us from the power of sin and death. Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah in chapter 22, verse 22, “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.” And later in chapter 42, verses 6-7 says,”I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness”.

If the opening and shutting part sounds familiar from when Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, promising that whatever he bound and loosed on earth would be bound and loosed in heaven, you’re on the right track. Jeanne Kun writes:

The key and scepter are traditional symbols of kingly power and authority. Christ, the anointed one, is the heir of David and possessor of the kingdom. Jesus himself also made use of this symbol, showing the prophetic relationship of the earthly kingdom of David to the kingdom of God.  All power and authority was given to him after the resurrection, and he entrusted this power to “bind and to loose” to Peter and the ministers of his church.

I marvel at what a humble God we have, who would share His authority with His creatures. Familiarity with the sacraments and friendships with our beloved priests can make it easy for us to forget what an awesome share in Jesus’s salvific power they’ve been given. This Advent we can pray in thanksgiving for the gift of the priesthood, our priests, and the sacraments, truly all key in our journey to heaven.


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