In my previous study about the church in Philadelphia, I demonstrated that spies had probably infiltrated the church throughout Asia, including this church that is often thought of as a perfect church, one of the two that had no faults for the Lord to mention. However, I believe this is a misconception. Jesus is addressing problems and praiseworthy matters that each of the churches have. Each one may accentuate one or the other, but, in reality all the churches have problems, and all have good works.
Earlier I pointed out that Jesus departed from his normal means of introduction when he addressed the church in Philadelphia. Up to this point he had used descriptions of himself found in Revelation 1:17-20, but in Revelation 3:7 he described himself as holy and true and “he who has the key of David, he opens and no man shuts, he shuts and no man opens,” (Revelation 3:7). In my previous study I addressed Jesus’ description of himself as holy and true, so here I intend to address the rest of verse-7, but remember that I did point out in my previous study that Jesus’ descriptions in this verse have their foundation in the Old Testament.
The prophet Isaiah tells of a man named, Shebna (Isaiah 22:15-19), who held an office over the house (of the king – i.e. he had authority over the land, the nation). He was proud and lived in luxury, but instead of bringing glory to the king, he used his office to bring glory to himself (Isaiah 22:16). He oppressed the people, unlike the father (cf. Isaiah 22:21) he was supposed to be, and he alienated himself from God, instead of serving him (cf. Isaiah 22:20). The Lord judged Shebna with violence and tossed him away like a ball (Isaiah 22:18-19), and in his place the Lord put his servant Eliakim into Shebna’s office, and he would be a father to his people (Isaiah 22:20-21). The Lord would lay upon the shoulder of Eliakim the key to David (cf. Isaiah 9:6), and “he shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). In other words, Eliakim would control who had access to the king.
The high priest, Annas, controlled the priesthood through his son-in-law, Caiaphas, and his five sons and grandson who arose to that position during the first century AD, and before the Temple was destroyed. Not only was Annas the one controlling the priesthood who condemned Jesus to die, but each time persecution broke out against Jesus’ disciples, one of Annas’ sons (or his son-in-law) was in the office of high priest. Annas was Rome’s first choice to the high priesthood in 6 AD, and Annas was killed on the 6th day of the 6th month of the year 66 AD by Jewish rebels only days after the war with Rome had begun (cf. Matthew 26:64). In fulfillment of Isaiah 22, and with Annas in the part of Shebna, the Lord replaced him with a true High Priest, Jesus, in the part of Eliakim in the prophecy.
When Jesus says he opens and no man shuts, he is speaking of the key of David or the Messiah (Revelation 3:7 – i.e. David = Messiah), which represents access to Christ and the Kingdom of God, and it also represents the authority of Christ or the Kingdom of God. The king’s steward in Isaiah 22:15 (Shebna) and Isaiah 22:20-21 (Eliakim) wore an embroidered key on his shoulder to represent the authority the king placed upon him (cf. Isaiah 22:22). Notice what Jesus did just before ascending into heaven:
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Notice that Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and earth, has given his disciples a key (authority) to enter any nation and make disciples of its citizens, baptizing them and teaching them to be obedient to Christ. Jesus disciples are stewards of the King and are told to spread the good news (Gospel) to all nations. So, Jesus has opened the door that no man may shut (Revelation 3:7; cf. Acts 5:17-25; 10:34-48; 12:1-19) and commanded his disciples to walk through that door with the authority of the King, they were his legitimate stewards to reach out to the world as a father calls to his children (cf. Isaiah 22:20-21).
Contrariwise, Jesus, often through his disciples, but not exclusively so, shuts, and no man opens (Revelation 3:7; Matthew 16:19). He knows about the spies who seek to enter the church in an effort to bring it under the authority of another power (cf. Acts 5:1-11, 13). He is, also, aware of those who are drunk with power and seek to exploit the church for gain (Acts 8:9-23; 13:4-12). Moreover, he is aware of those in authority who seek to destroy the church in an effort to establish their own power and glory (Acts 12:1-3; 19:23-41). Yet, in and through it all, Jesus would often preserve his elect and destroy his enemies, but during the first century AD he also permitted some of his disciples to fall before that salvation was established. Nevertheless, at the end of the day the door was shut and no one would have been able to open it.