Our lives are full of keys that control the locks that secure assets we feel the need to protect from others who might seek to deprive us or mis-use what belongs to us. Our homes, vehicles, money, valuables, essential documents - all that makes it possible carry on in life free from insecurity, free from threat to our identity and well being.
Mechanical keys and locks have been part of human life in one form or another for the past six thousand years. In the digital era access codes to secure websites or areas of a computer system have complemented if not supplanted plain mechanical locking systems in many areas of life we wish to keep secure, but long before the information age flooded our lives with codes to keep track of, passwords were used grant access privileges to people visiting guarded fortified places. One of the earliest recorded instances dates from a millennium before Christ, where difference in a word being pronounced was a matter of life and death at a guarded river crossing.
"Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:6)
Important information was concealed to protect it by encoding written words in ways that could only be read by use of a cipher key. It's not surprising that keys and locks of all kinds should find mention in holy scripture. The image of a key to treasury of knowledge found its place in many ancient religions. Isaiah uses it and speaks about the nature of the key.
"He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure." (Isaiah 33:6)
Jesus was fiercely critical of the religious teachers of his day, whom he regarded as those who were entrusted with teaching about the mysteries of God but failed in their duty.
"Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52)
The chief royal steward is responsible for the security of the household, represented by the keys in his possession. Key of the House of David also comes to refer to unlocking the meaning of the Psalms of David, seen as a treasure house of wisdom, and source of some of the essential texts thought to refer to Jesus the Messiah.
"And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." (Is 22:22)
In the Revelation to John the divine, the risen Christ is this particular key-holder
"He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens" (Rev 3:7)
He also declares himself in the opening chapter as the key-holder to the ultimate secrets of human existence.
"I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." (Rev 1:17b-18)
Most familiar of all, perhaps, is Jesus commissioning Peter as a leading witness to his own teaching and ministry.
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19)
The kingdom of heaven is not a physical dwelling, nor a body of teaching, nor form of government as would normally be understood, but rather a state of being in right relationship to God and each other, characterised by justice peace truth and love expressed in every dimension of activity here on earth and hereafter in God's eternal presence.
The key to the way into this state of being, is the teaching of the Gospel and the grace it releases into the universe through the death and resurrection of the One who gave the Gospel for the world to freely share. The power of forgiveness, attached to the gift of the keys, is the core action that Gospel teaching proposes. It requires a strength to love which God freely imparts to all his children, not only those whom he calls to take the lead.