Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 36. Keys of the Kingdom
Mt 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The analogy that we find in this verse is difficult because there is no explanation to go with it that shows really what Jesus meant and so commentators generally have wondered and wondered. Let’s first of all observe the context for that might help.
They have travelled up to the region of Caesarea Philippi where Jesus had asked the disciples who people said he was (v.13). Various answers had been given – John the Baptist resurrected, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets (v.14). Jesus prodded them: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (v.15) and it is at that point Peter bursts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v.16) Jesus indicates that Peter is absolutely right for this is indeed revelation from his Father in heaven (v.17) and on that declaration, Jesus will build his church (v.18)
It is at that point that Jesus declares, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (v.19) Now I would suggest that the two parts of the verse are linked – the keys reference and the binding & losing reference. Why?
Consider what keys do. What is the purpose of a key? It is to open a door, to provide entry or exit. Now Isaiah had previously used this expression: “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isa 22:20-22) This was a word spoken to the palace steward, Shebna, (Isa 22:15) and was saying that God was going to replace him and give his authority to Eliakim. Now no doubt the palace steward had keys to the palace and so literally he had the keys to the palace in Jerusalem that had been David’s but this is a prophecy that speaks more of the authority of David to rule.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus appears to John and says because he is the risen one, he holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:18) and then later when he speaks to the church in Philadelphia he describes himself as follows: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open,” (Rev 3:7) the same as the Isaiah quote. It is clearly all about authority. Jesus alone is the one to whom all authority has been given (see Mt 28:18) and he alone determines who will go to heaven and who will not.
Now how can the same be said of Peter and the other apostles (and us?). How did this authority work and what was the significance of the binding and loosing reference? Well a clue comes in the tense of the verbs used for you will see in your Bible footnotes so that the verse reads, “whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” In other words, whenever we speak such words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we are simply declaring on earth the will of God that has been decreed in heaven. Now note the crucial words that I inserted in that previous sentence: “whenever we speak such words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” This is where it starts and finishes!
So what happens? We are confronted by people and as we seek to be instruments of the Lord, our hearts are open to Him and our spirit listens to the Holy Spirit. As we respond to what we hear or as we respond to His prompting, so we speak out His will and as we do that, so we comply with His will and open the way for Him to act. Suddenly it is as if the doors of heaven are opened and the power of the Lord is released and things happen, people are saved, people are released, the enemy is thwarted.
What happened between Ananias and Saul (Acts 9:17) was an example of this ‘releasing’ as he simply spoke out the will of God over Saul. Peter bringing healing to Aeneas (Acts 9:33,34) was another such case of releasing, as all such healings are. An instance of ‘binding’ might be that of Paul speaking against Elymas (Acts 13:8-12). Of course, perhaps the greatest example of Peter using the keys was on the Day of Pentecost when he preached under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and three thousand were saved (Acts 2). Perhaps we might also add when he preached to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10) and they were all saved.
So what are these ‘keys’? They are speaking a) by faith, b) under the direction of the Holy Spirit. When we do that, the Lord opens the door of heaven and blessing ensues, people are saved, healed and released and the enemy bound. It is that simple.