In Revelation, Jesus tells His disciple John that He holds the “key of David.” What does He mean? Specifically, Jesus said, “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.” (Revelation 3:7)
What is the key of David? What door does it open?
To understand the answers to these questions, we must understand the covenant God made with David: “…the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. … my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)
Here, God referred to a descendent of David’s who would one day be much greater than him. About 1,200 years later, Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of the virgin Mary, probably during the Feast of Tabernacles, came and fulfilled this prophecy (and many others!). I surmise that God made this covenant with David during the Feast of Tabernacles because the prophecy was made shortly after David had the Ark of the Covenant brought to the City of David and placed in a tent (or tabernacle). (2 Samuel 6:17) This event was a symbolic foreshadow of what John described in his gospel when he wrote that Jesus is “the Word [who] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) If the Ark contained words written on stone, Jesus was the living embodiment of those words. In other words, God Himself came down from heaven to tabernacle with us.
There are many Old and New Testament scriptures explicitly linking Jesus and David. There were many symbolic parallels in their lives. And the Israelites clearly recognized Jesus as David’s descendent when He made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. They shouted, “Hosanna (Hebrew word for “save us”) Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) Interestingly, the only other place in the Bible where the word hosanna appears is in David’s Psalm 118, verse 25. The Israelites were calling out the words of David’s Psalm to Jesus when He entered Jerusalem to fulfill His mission on Earth!
In Revelation, Jesus affirmed His fulfillment of God’s covenant with David when He said: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16)
Jesus also affirmed His divine and eternal nature when He told John He is the aleph and the tav. Literally translated, aleph tav means “A to Z.” The Greek terms are alpha and omega. In English we understand this to mean “the first and the last” or “the beginning and the end.” (See Revelation 1:8 and 22:13) Jesus’ repeated emphasis of this point in His revelation to John is an important clue to understanding what He meant when He said He holds the “key of David.”
So, what is the key of David? Hebrew scholar Edward Chumney believes the key of David is Psalm 119, which was written by David probably some time after he confessed and repented of his sin with Bathsheba. David referred to his sins and his repentance in multiple places in Psalm 119. For example, he wrote: “You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed and who stray from your commands.” (Psalm 119:21) “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word.” (Psalm 119:67)
Psalm 119 is an “acrostic poem,” meaning the verses in each stanza begin with the same letter of the alphabet. There are 22 stanzas in Psalm 119, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, from aleph (the first) to tav (the last). Go ahead and read Psalm 119. (I’ll wait here.) What do you notice about it?
Chumney calls attention to its three main features.1 First, its emphasis on the Hebrew alphabet is unusual; none of the other Psalms are styled this way. Second, every stanza has eight verses. To the Israelites, the number eight signified a new beginning in eternity. For example, the Feast of Tabernacles is a seven-day festival (seven signifies perfection) but it also has an added eighth day known as Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, Hebrew for “the eighth conclusion” and “rejoicing in the Torah,” respectively. (Leviticus 23:33-43) In short, the feast’s eighth day was understood to represent a time beyond time when God’s chosen people will rest in His presence.
Third, the main message of Psalm 119 is very repetitive. David focused every stanza on his love for God’s Word, which is synonymous with torah (the Hebrew word for “law” or “teaching”), and which the Gospel of John equates with Jesus. John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)
Notice what David is emphatically saying over and over throughout Psalm 119. To paraphrase, in short, he’s saying: “I love God’s Word (torah, law, teaching, or son) and with all my heart I seek to obey it for it alone can save me and nothing else matters.” David articulates that sentiment in all 22 stanzas and, thus, he equates the idea with the nation of Israel following God’s Word (hence his use of the Hebrew alphabet) and dwelling eternally in God’s presence (hence his repeating 8-verse pattern).
So, if the key of David is Psalm 119, what door does the key open? Jesus gave His disciples many clues to the answer but they couldn’t seem to grasp His meaning until later in their lives. For example, Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) Jesus also said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David. Jesus is the Word! Thus, Jesus’ words are the doorway, and that doorway leads to eternal life in the presence of God the Father.
I like how Oswald Chambers explained it: “Once, the Bible was just so many words to us — ‘clouds and darkness’ — then, suddenly, the words become spirit and life because Jesus re-speaks them to us when our circumstances make the words new. That is the way God speaks to us; not by visions and dreams, but by words. When a man gets to God, it is by the most simple way—words.”2
2. Chambers, Oswald: “Clouds and Darkness.” Published in My Utmost for His Highest. (January 3rd daily devotional accessed January 2015.)