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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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KEYS.—The word (κλείς) occurs 6 times in the New Testament, twice in the Synoptic Gospels, and 4 times in Revelation. In Luke 11:52 Jesus upbraids the lawyers on the ground that they have ‘taken away the key of knowledge,’ the instrument by which entrance into knowledge could be obtained, and thereby hindered the people from the privilege which should have been theirs. This they had done by substituting a false conlidence in the wrong kind of knowledge, with the result that the right kind was ignored and forgotten. The knowledge from which the people are thus excluded is ‘that of the way of salvation’ (Plummer), or, more profoundly, that knowledge of the Lord, for lack of which the ‘people perish’ (Hosea 4:6), to seek which they had been urged by the prophets (cf. John 17:3).

In Matthew 16:19 the word is used again metaphorically, in the address to Peter: ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ The apparent limitation of the promise to one Apostle is to be controlled by the repetition of the following and interpretive clause addressed to the Apostles in general in Matthew 18:18. The keys are to be intrusted to Peter as to a steward of the house (and in like manner to the Apostles in general), to whom might be given the power of locking and unlocking, but not of deciding who did or did not belong to the household (Weiss). The significance of this promise would be fully met if it announced the effectual proclamation, through the Apostles, of the gospel by means of which the believer obtains entrance into the kingdom. On the passage as a whole see artt. Caesarea Philippi, p. 249, and Peter.

In Revelation 1:18 the Son of Man in John’s vision says: ‘I have the keys of death and of Hades,’ i.e. control over the entrance to the realm of the dead. The figure of death as a realm with portals comes down from Psalms 9:13, and was freely developed in the Rabbinic writings. The ‘key of death’ was one of the three (four) keys which were said to be in the hand of God alone. Thus in Sanhedrin, 113, ‘Elijah desired that there should be given to him the key of rain; he desired that there should be given to him the key of resurrection of the dead: they said to him, “Three keys are not given into the hand of a representative, the key of birth, the key of rain, and the key of resurrection of the dead.’ ” There is therefore strong significance in the claim here made by the Risen Messiah.

In like manner a claim to at least Messianic dignity is involved in the phrase in Revelation 3:7 ‘he that hath the key of David.’ The allusion is clearly to the promise in Isaiah 22:22 ‘I will give to him (Eliakim) the key of the house of David upon his shoulder,’ a passage which, according to Zullich, was commonly referred by Jewish commentators to the Messiah.

In the two remaining passages (Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:1) the use of the word (‘the key of the pit of the abyss,’ ‘the key of the abyss’) depends on the idea familiar in Jewish cosmogony, viz. that there was a communication between the upper world and the under world or abyss by means of a pit or shaft, the opening to which might be conceived as covered and locked. According to Rabbinic tradition, this opening was placed beneath the foundations of the Temple, as the Moslems hold to this day that it is to be found beneath the Dome of the Rock, or Mosque of Omar (see Gunkel, Schopfung und Chaos, pp. 91–98).

C. Anderson Scott.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Keys'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​k/keys.html. 1906-1918.
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