posted on Jun, 13 2014 @ 05:16 PM
What exactly is Jesus offering, when he says to Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”? (Matthew ch16 v19)
There are two other points in the gospels where he talks about keys and opening doors, and these passages may throw some light on the question.
Later in Matthew, in the middle of the teaching in the Temple, we read;
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow
those who would enter to go in”- Matthew ch23 v13
While in Luke, in a different setting, he responds to one of the lawyers-
“Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering”- Luke
In both cases, he’s addressing the people who are studying, and trying to follow, the Law of Moses.
Both rebukes are pointing out the same fault. These people are “not entering themselves, and preventing others from entering”.
If these are two different ways of saying the same thing, then each of them can help us to understand the other.
From the passage in Luke, we learn that the lawyers have a key which consists of or would have given them knowledge.
Then we can draw in the information from the other passage, that the door opened by this key provides access to the kingdom of heaven.
Alternatively, we learn from the passage in Matthew ch23 that the scribes and the Pharisees could have had access to the kingdom of heaven.
Then we can draw in the information from the other passage, that this access would have come by means of “the key of knowledge”.
Taking the two statements together, we find the message that “knowledge” of some kind is the key which enables people to go through the door and
enter the kingdom of heaven.
We have learned in the process, incidentally, that this “knowledge” was already available to the Pharisees and scribes and lawyers in the
scriptures of the Old Testament, if only they had known how to use it.
Not knowing how to use the key, they were failing to enter the kingdom.
Without that knowledge, they weren’t able to teach other people how to use the key.
And so their ignorance meant that others were also failing to enter the kingdom.
The natural conclusion, then, is that the keys of the kingdom here offered to Peter are the same kind of keys.
They are to be found in the knowledge which enables people to enter the kingdom.
The offer of the keys came in response to Peter’s confession in the earlier verse, identifying Jesus as “the Son of the Living God”.
The link between the two events must be that entering the kingdom depends on properly understanding the person of Jesus.
Knowledge of the Living God, at least, and the promises he made to his people, had been available in the scriptures.
But Peter had seen the connection, between the promises and the living fulfilment of the promises, which the scribes and the Pharisees had failed to
This is “the key of knowledge”.
So the significance of “giving the keys of the kingdom” is that Peter (along with his brethren) is being commissioned to present this knowledge,
in the form of the gospel centred upon Jesus.
Every time they present this gospel, they are using the key and “opening the door” which enables people to enter the kingdom.
The following words, about “binding and loosing”, need to be understood in terms of the effects of the gospel.
An earlier passage in the teaching of Jesus helps to explain what they mean;
“How can one enter the strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?” (Matthew ch12 v29).
The binding of the “strong man” in this picture represents the overcoming of the power of Satan.
But there is also an implied “loosing” in this picture, because men are released at the same time from Satan’s power (“his goods are
And these are the two aspects of the impact of the gospel; Satan is bound, and men are made free, as the overcoming of Sin breaks his hold over
Those are the two powers presented in the second half of the verse.
The normal translation is;
“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”.
However, the impression we might gain from those words needs to be modified in two ways.
Firstly, it could be argued that “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed” are mistranslations.
Getting technical for a moment, the Greek verb is not a simple future tense but something closer to what English grammar calls the “future
It’s possible that the right translation is not “shall be” but “shall have been”.
The difference would be important, because it reverses the order of events.
Instead of “binding and loosing” on his own account and having his actions endorsed by heaven, Peter would simply be echoing what had
already been decided in heaven.
Secondly, in any case, this is not so much Peter’s work as the work of the gospel which he’s presenting.
It is the gospel that binds Satan and the gospel that frees men from their sin.
The offer of the “keys” is the commission to be messengers of that gospel.
But this commission carries with it a grave responsibility.
The fact that someone holds the keys of knowledge cannot be a guarantee that the keys will be properly used.
If someone claiming to wield the keys of the kingdom presents wrong or irrelevant teaching, in such a way that the central message of the gospel goes
unheard, they may expose themselves to the same rebuke that was addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees.
It may be said of them, when they come to judgement, that they were neither entering the kingdom themselves, nor allowing other people to enter.