The Church Part 2: What are the Keys of the Kingdom?

Over the course of time, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:15-19 have caused many problems within the church.  This is why it is vital for christians to examine them closely so that we can be faithful to the words of Jesus rather than the words of man.

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”” (Mt 16:15–19)

Keys in the NT imply authority to give someone access or open a dour (Luke 11:52, Rev. 1:18, 3:7, 9:1, 20:1, Isa. 22:22).  So what kind of authority is this and why does this matter for the church today?

Authority to Preach the Gospel

This implies that the one(s) with the keys of the kingdom have at least the authority to preaching the gospel of Christ. This may be what Jesus was focusing on considering that his stamen was sparked by Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).  This confession and realization is the way of eternal life, and the one who has this gospel, has the keys to the kingdom.  What I mean by that is the church has the power to allow and hinder people from entering into the kingdom in the sense that they control who they give access to the kingdom based on who they preach too.  This seems to be the focus of Jesus in John 20:21-23.  This means that the entire church (every believer) has the keys to the kingdom in this sense.

Authority to Exercise Church Discipline

Jesus concludes or explains this statement with a promise about binding and loosing. This binding and loosing here is the same terminology used when dealing with Church Discipline just two chapters later.  Clearly Matthews arrangement clearly suggest he wants us to understand these verses together.  Read below and compare.

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:17–18)

The idea here in this unusual Greek construction (a periphrastic future perfect) is that the action of the church will have heavenly sanction in the way in which it has already been given and ordained in an eternal way. We can woodenly translate this, “whatever you bind on earth shall be having already been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be having already been bound in heaven.”  As the followers of Jesus are together in God’s will, their activities have heavenly sanction.

Misunderstandings in application

  1. This text is talking to Peter and therefore supports the Pope and Catholic Church’s authority. Clearly there is absolutely nothing in the text to suggest Jesus has this in mind.  Even if Jesus was thinking only of Peter when he says this, (though he is not) connecting this with a succession of popes who share the authority of Peter is uncalled for. Even if Peter had that authority, why would we automatically assume that those who lead the same church he did (Rome) have the same unquestionable authority especially considering that many of them were immoral, unregenerate, and corrupt.  Furthermore, we must also look at Matthew 18:17-19 where Jesus says nearly the same thing referring the local church, not simply to Peter.  Notice it says there to tell it to the church (ἐκκλησία ekklésia meaning congregation or gathering) not the church leader, not an organization, or a building.  Next, notice the command is for the church as a whole to remove that man, “let him be to you (plural in greek) as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).  Paul applies this the same way in 1 Cor. 5.  It is the entire church in Corinth that is a fault for not exercising discipline and the church is to gather and remove the man from the body.  This authority is not for only Peter and most definitely not for those who claim to be his successors, it is the authority of the congregation, the gathering of born again believers.
  2. The text is talking about defining right and wrong. The binding and losing could not refer to the authority to define what is right and wrong or what is deserving of punishment or not. This authority belongs to God (Rom. 1:32, 2:16, 3:4-8, 9:20, Ps. 119:89, 142, 160).  The church though the ages has tried to claim this authority while it held to the doctrines of man rather than the doctrines of God (Mark 7:8-13).  Not even Jesus claims this authority (Matt. 5:18) why would the church?  The binding and losing also does not refer to the authority to forgive sins in an eternal sense, for only God himself can do this (Isa. 43:25, 55:7, Mark 2:7, 10, Ps. 103:3, 1 John 1:9).
  3. We can and should bind and loose what we want through God’s power. (the devil spirits, demons, thoughts, emotions, people, events, ect.) It must be stated clearly that through the power of the gospel and the finished work of Christ on the cross we do have authority to destroy the works of the devil.  He has no authority over us and we are called to resist him and he will flee from us (James 4:7).  On the other hand though, saying “I bind you satin, or I bind you spirit of lust” is not what Jesus is calling for here in this text and this is not Matthews or Jesus intention here.  He is clearly not talking about binding spirits or emotions, he is talking about following God’s will in the church when it comes to sharing the gospel, exercising church discipline, and other related matters.


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