What is the key in Isaiah 22:22?                                                                By Jack Kettler


“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.” (Isaiah 22:22)


What exactly is the key of the house of David? This key of David is mentioned in Revelation 3:7. In Matthew 16:19, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are mentioned. Are these keys related? 


Cross Reference Scriptures:


“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)


“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; these things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” (Revelation 3:7)


Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers does a good job of answering the introductory questions:


“(22) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder . . .—The key of the king’s treasure-chambers and of the gates of the palace was the natural symbol of the chamberlain’s or vizier’s office, and, as in Isaiah 9:6, it was solemnly laid upon the shoulder of the new official, perhaps as representing the burden of the responsibilities of the duties of his office. In the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” in Matthew 16:19, and again in Revelation 3:7, as also in the custom of admitting a Rabbi to his office by giving him a key, we have a reproduction of the same emblem.


So he shall open, and none shall shut . . .—The words paint vividly the supremacy of the office to which Eliakim was to be called. He alone was to decide who was to be admitted into the king’s chamber, and for whom the king’s treasury was to be opened. In Revelation 3:7, the symbolism is reproduced in its higher application to the King of kings.” (1)


Barnes' Notes on the Bible adds to this and connects the two cross-reference passages:


“And the key - A key is that by which a house is locked or opened. To possess that is, therefore, to have free access to it, or control over it. Thus we give possession of a house by giving the "key" into the hands of a purchaser, implying that it is his; that he has free access to it; that he can close it when he pleases, and that no other one, without his permission, has the right of access to it…

So he shall open ... - This phrase means that he should have the highest authority in the government, and is a promise of unlimited power. Our Saviour has made use of the same expression to denote the unlimited power conferred on his apostles in his church Matthew 16:19; and has applied it also to himself in Revelation 3:7.” (2)


Matthew Poole's Commentary enhances the information regarding the significance of the key upon the shoulder:


“The key; the government, the power of opening and shutting, of letting men into it or putting them out of it, whereof a key is a fit emblem; whence the delivering of the keys of a house or city into the hands of another, is a sign to signify and confirm the giving him the power and possession of it.

Lay upon his shoulder; he mentions the shoulder rather than the hand, in which keys are commonly carried, either from some ceremony then in use, of carrying a key upon the shoulder, either of the officer of state himself, or of another in his name and stead; or to signify that this was a key of greater weight than ordinary, and that government, which is designed by this key, is a heavy burden, and therefore in Scripture phrase said to be upon the shoulder, as Isaiah 9:6.

None shall shut against his will, or without his commission or consent.” (3)


Key from the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon:


מַפְתֵּחַ noun masculine key (opening instrument); — ׳מ absolute Judges 3:25; 1 Chronicles 9:27; construct Isaiah 22:22 = (figurative). (4)


Dictionary of Bible Themes on keys:


“A tool for opening a locked door. Used mainly symbolically in Scripture to speak of Jesus Christ's victory over death and his authority over believers or of the need of deliverance from the imprisonment brought to human nature by sin and the law.


Keys for opening doors


Judges 3:23-25; 1 Chronicles 9:27; Luke 3:20; Luke 11:7; John 20:19, 26; Acts 5:23


The symbolic use of keys


As a symbol of Jesus Christ’s, complete authority


Revelation 3:7 See also Isaiah 22:22


As a symbol of Jesus Christ's ultimate victory over death and hell


Revelation 1:18


As a symbol of Satan's ultimate defeat


Revelation 20:1-3 See also Revelation 9:1


As a symbol of Jesus Christ's authoritative ministry through his church


Matthew 16:19 usually understood as illustrating how God's forgiveness is made effective through preaching the gospel.


As a symbol of living faith


Isaiah 33:6 See also Matthew 13:52


Being locked up as a symbol of obstacles to faith


Galatians 3:23 See also Luke 11:52” (5)


In conclusion:


From the commentary evidence, it is seen that the keys are related. The key of David prophetically looks forward to the true and final key holder, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16:19, the keys were given to Peter initially. Later in Matthew 18:18, the keys were given to all the apostles. They were apostolic keys, enabling the apostles to act in the name of Christ.


“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)




1.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Isaiah, Vol.4, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 479.

2.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Isaiah, Vol. 3 p. 604.

3.      Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Isaiah, Vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 375.

4.      Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers), p. 836.

5.      McConville, Manser, Martin H., Dictionary of Bible Themes (Kindle Location 7). BookBaby. Kindle Edition.   


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com