Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
In Matthew16:16 Peter spoke some of Christianity’s least controversial words. In 16:18 Jesus spoke some of the most controversial words of the faith. In verse 19 Jesus straightforwardly referred to a duty for sure assigned to not only Peter, but to all believers, as evidenced by Matthew 18:18.
Matt. 16:19a (Holman) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of
heaven,. . .”
In Jesus’ day, keys were the badge of honor given to the scribes, the men on whom authority to interpret and explain the Scriptures had been conferred. The education to become a scribe began at age 14 and ended at age 40. Once a scholar became a doctor of the law, keys were put in his hand to access rooms in the temple where the sacred books were kept, along with the writing tablets.
The key indicated its owner was capable of unlocking the storehouse of Bible knowledge. Jesus, by giving His followers the keys, was saying believers can unlock the knowledge sinners must know to become part of the kingdom. We are to convey to unbelievers truths they have to know to become believers.
Peter did this on the Day of Pentecost. He explained what the crowd had to know in order to be saved. As he spoke of the crucifixion and resurrection, and how the two were connected to the hearers’ sins, “they were pierced to the heart” and asked, “Brothers, what must we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter continued using the kingdom keys by explaining their need to repent and be baptized.
Peter, by his example, taught us a vital lesson. People cannot be saved unless a believer explains the Bible to them, and applies the Word directly to their situation. Having and using the keys of the kingdom is no minor duty. Christ-followers cannot escape this obligation. We are, whether we like it or not, key-keepers for our children, relatives, friends, and other acquaintances.
Only Christians hold the keys of the kingdom. Have we ever used our kingdom keys to explain to a lost person the way of salvation for the first time? We can unlock this treasure chest of knowledge for an unbeliever. Let’s do so.
Matthew 16:19b “. . .and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
Having kingdom keys emphasizes not only our need to teach and explain the Bible to unbelievers. Keys also imply another important function, the option to shut or open. Grandma Marshall never fully understood this aspect of keys.
We for years cajoled and encouraged her to lock her doors. She finally consented, but never fully grasped the concept. When she left home, she locked the front door, but taped above the lock a note, “Front door locked. Use back door.” She didn’t quite get the point of keys. Let’s not make the same mistake.
Keys give us power to permit or deny entrance. At Cornelius’ house, Peter had to confess Gentiles were being admitted into the family of faith (Acts 11:17). In Samaria he had to say Simon the Sorcerer was denied entrance to the family. “You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21). We must be careful here in our interpretation. Peter was not exercising his own authority to bestow or withhold God’s forgiveness. He was merely telling what was actually happening. In our text, Jesus said we bind on earth what has already been previously bound (past tense) in Heaven.
Our words have authority only to the extent they line up with the Bible. We can verbalize what God’s Word has already allowed or disallowed regarding a person being forgiven, but power to predetermine the outcome is not ours.
We can teach conditions of how to receive God’s forgiveness, and how a person should live if they have been forgiven, but we cannot on our own bestow or withhold God’s forgiveness to others. Remember, keys were the insignia of scribes who opened Scripture, not of priests, who offered the blood sacrifices.
We rightly use the keys when we help people truly understand and accurately apply the Bible. If we err in our teaching of Scripture, all else goes haywire. We have the responsibility to teach in a way where people can be sure whether they are on the way to being admitted or refused entrance to Heaven.
A pointed question seems appropriate here. Have we ever been the one who used our kingdom keys to open the door to Heaven for another to enter?
Matthew 16:20-21 And He gave the disciples orders to tell no one that He
was the Messiah. From then on Jesus began to point out to His
disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from
the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.
Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfiller of Old Testament predictions, but the people had incorrect notions of what the Messiah would be like. They expected a political King, a rampaging warlord who would cast off the yoke of Rome.
Even the disciples misunderstood the role of Messiah. Thus from now on Jesus intensified His efforts to draw for them a precise, exact picture of what Messiah would do. He spoke more and more about the cross and His suffering.
“Must” is the key word in verse 21. Jesus was driven by a divine imperative. Jesus’ flesh wanted another way, but no back-up plan was available.
Jesus said He must go to Jerusalem, the last place the Twelve wanted to go to. It was hostile to Jesus. When He wanted to go heal Lazarus (John 11:8), they feared, but Jesus could not be deterred. This obligation to die in Jerusalem was a major theme in the four Gospels. I remember in seminary being taught the hinge verse of Luke’s Gospel is 9:51, “When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem.”
Jesus, to be offered up by His Father, had to go to the mount where Abraham offered Isaac (GN 22). To be the Passover Lamb, Jesus had to go to the city of the Temple and its sacrifices. To stop the hand of destruction lifted against us, Jesus had to go where David stopped the destroying angel (2 SM 24).
In the holy city Jesus would deal with unholiness. In God’s favorite city Jesus would deal with God’s least favorite thing, sin. In the prototype of Heaven Jesus would confront Hell and for us drink its cup of condemnation dry.
Jesus said He must suffer, become an object of hate. He also said He must be raised, lifting a beacon of hope. The disciples were obviously too much in a state of shock to absorb the hope, but they heard the hate loud and clear.
Hate flowed from the Elders, the leaders of tribes or towns. These men were venerated, explaining why their title was bestowed on the office of Pastor.
Chief Priests were Saduccees. They were wealthy, largely due to their controlling the temple market. Scribes were scholars, self-righteous Pharisees.
The respected, the rich, the self-righteous–these are still the types of people who have trouble with Jesus. The respected have much to lose if they let the status quo be changed, if they repent of sin and turn from their wicked ways. The rich often don’t want to run the risk of giving their lives to One who might require them to give up things. The self-righteous see no need for God. As smug scholars, they often pit their own brains against God’s wisdom.