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What on earth did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when He told Peter in Matthew 16:19: "And I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven”?
Here is the passage in its context:
"The Kingdom of Heaven": a Biblical term found only in the Gospel of Matthew. All other Gospels use only "The Kingdom of God", even in parallel passages. This indicates a special meaning that is restricted only to the Jews, since Matthew was written specifically to the Jews in order to help them see that Jesus Christ was their Messiah, and the Son of David who would inherit the throne of His "father" David (actually Jesus was the step-son of Joseph, not his real son, but this meant that Jesus was the rightful heir of the Davidic throne of Israel by his relationship to Joseph, who was descended from king David). So in consideration of the context in which the term is found, the term "Kingdom of Heaven" refers to the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant.
Jehovah (the only true God in the Universe) dwelt personally on the earth within the Temple in Jerusalem. His presence was both visible and glorious; it was known as the "Shekinah Glory". During Israel's 40-year march through the wilderness toward the Promised Land of Canaan, the Shekinah Glory was seen as a cloud that descended from Heaven and abode upon the Tabernacle tent that accompanied the people of Israel and guided their way. After Solomon's Temple was constructed circa 1000 B.C., the Shekinah Glory was visible at the inauguration of the Temple, and within the Holy of Holies. The Shekinah Glory was removed from the Temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and, although the Bible doesn't specifically record the event, it seems clear that the Shekinah Glory returned to the rebuilt Temple about 538 B.C. and remained there until the veil of the Temple was torn in two when Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, terminating forever the Aaronic priesthood and the system of animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant. Jesus referred to the presence of Jehovah God in the Temple as a present reality in Matthew 23:21 "And whoso shall swear by the Temple, swears by it, and by Him that dwells in it."
Israel was a Kingdom, which should go without saying. It was a special Kingdom among the nations of the world, because it was a nation that had been created by the personal intervenation of Jehovah God Himself. God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
When the Lord Jesus Christ began to preach, the Gospel of Matthew records Him saying, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).
Let's think about that for a moment: was He talking about Heaven itself, that the violent were taking Heaven itself by force, and that Heaven was suffering violence? That doesn't make sense, since Heaven is ruled by God Himself, and therefore it cannot be overthrown by either man or fallen angel; and Satan and his demons are only allowed there by God's permission (Job 1:6; Revelation 14:10).
So what are some other alternatives? Does it refer to an "invisible, universal church" that so many Evangelicals believe in today? In other words, is the "Kingdom of Heaven" the same as the "Universal Church" (so-called)? If we assume that this "Universal Church" actually exists (A page for details on why it doesn't exist except in Catholic and Protestant theory is coming soon; haven't had time to prepare it yet), then it might work except for one thing: Jesus spoke these words when the only "church" (i.e. the Assembly) in existence was the group of disciples that He was leading about the land of Judea on foot. And even then, Jesus had not yet ever mentioned "the Assembly" as being a reality since He was still trying to reach Israel with the Gospel of the Kingdom at that point in His ministry. It wasn't until Matthew 16:18 that the Assembly (or the "church") is first mentioned in the Bible, which was some time after Matthew 11:12. So clearly, this reference to the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 11:12 could not refer to the Assembly or the church in any way, no matter whether you accept the idea of a "Universal Church" or not.
The only other alternative which satisfies both the literal meaning of the text and the entire context of Scripture is that the Kingdom of Heaven is referring to Israel or Zion, which at that time was being ruled by Herod, a Gentile vassal king of Rome. And history tells us that the Romans had overthrown the existing government of the Jews by force and violence and had installed a series of iron-fisted rulers over them until that day. This is historical fact. Zion was, in fact, the Kingdom of Heaven, because it was the rule of God on earth in a specific place, in Jerusalem from the Temple. Ideally, of course, the rule of God was exercised by a direct descendent of King David on the throne of Israel, but in those days, there was only the evil and violent Gentile King Herod (in agreement with Jesus' words), and the Bible tells us that there would be no more sons of David ruling in Israel until Jesus comes and takes His rightful throne to Himself (Ezekiel 21:25-27).
The Kingdom of Zion (Judea) itself was in tatters, being ruled by a regime of evil priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in Jerusalem. The only genuine prophet of the day (outside of Christ Himself) was John the Baptist. The people of God were oppressed by both a foreign occupying power and their own rulers, and were longing for the coming of the Son of David promised in the Old Covenant Scriptures. The Kingdom of Zion was still in existence, because Jesus Himself said that God was still dwelling in the Temple in Jerusalem: "And whoso shall swear by the Temple, swears by it, and by him that dwells in it." (Matthew 23:21). Logically, if Jehovah God was still dwelling in the Temple at the time Jesus said that, it makes sense that the Old Covenant with the Jews was still in effect, at least, until the Crucifixion of Christ put it out of business forever. After that, God the Father could only be accessed by faith in the crucified and risen Christ and His shed Blood, and God no longer dwelt in the Temple.
Ok, so back to Matthew 16:19: Let's read the text closely, and it will yield the answer very clearly: Jesus said "the keys OF the Kingdom of Heaven", not "the keys TO" the Kingdom of Heaven. The case of the Greek noun for "Kingdom" is genitive, meaning the keys "OF" or "BELONGING TO" the Kingdom. You could translate it literally as "I will give unto you the keys belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven". In other words, the Lord Jesus was not planning on handing over to Peter "keys" that gave him the right to decide who would go to Heaven and who would not. This is what the Popes of Rome claim, and those claims are absolutely false.
In fact, no one on the face of the earth has any right to deny another person the right to call upon God for salvation, just because that other person may not belong to their church or group. Salvation is not found in a church or group of any kind; it is only found in the Person and shed Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ who died for all mankind, amen!
Now here is where it gets good, my friends. Again, let's think about this carefully: Israel (or Judah), as the Kingdom of Heaven/Zion, was the only nation on earth that had the right to claim to worship the only True God Jehovah, who literally dwelled in the Temple in Jerusalem; no other nation had that honor and privilege. And, as such, they had "the keys OF the Kingdom of Heaven", which meant that Israel had the right as a nation to bind and loose others in the name of God Almighty and with God's approval, because God had delegated His authority to them. This is a difficult concept for people in the 21st Century to comprehend, because we like to think in terms of many cultures and democracy where all religions and beliefs can compete in a marketplace of ideas without fear of persecution (I'm speaking mainly of the United States here). But in the Israel of the Old Covenant, only worship of the One True God Jehovah was allowed, and any competitors could lawfully be put to death; indeed, God had commanded in the Law of Moses that such should be done in His Name and with His authority.
"Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written; this honor have all his saints." (Psalm 149:5-9)
Don't those words make a lot more sense to you now that you understand what the Zion of the Old Covenant really represented? The Old Covenant Zion (Israel) was literally the Kingdom of God on earth (The Kingdom of Heaven, or God's rule reestablished over the earth in one small place). As such, they had to use the force of military arms to defend it from "the heathen" who were their enemies, and who also worshipped other "gods" (who were really demons).
But that context has not existed since the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ when the Old Covenant was done away with and the preaching of the Kingdom of God (as opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven which only existed under the Old Covenant) was inaugurated at Pentecost. There is no "Kingdom of Zion" on the earth today, not even in the nation called Israel, because it is a democracy, not a Kingdom, and also rejects completely any notion of Jesus Christ as their Messiah.
The Old Covenant Kingdom of Zion exercised both SPIRITUAL, MILITARY, and LEGAL authority over the people of God, the Jews. After the Babylonian Exile, the MILITARY and LEGAL authority (exercised by a King) over the Kingdom of Zion passed to foreign occupying powers, such as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, but the SPIRITUAL authority over the people of God (exercised by the Priesthood of Levi) remained in place until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ which ended the Old Covenant with Israel.
During the earthly lifetime of Jesus Christ, as the rightful Son of David, He exercised His own LEGAL authority over the Kingdom of Zion by passing the SPIRITUAL authority of the Kingdom of Zion to the head of the first Assembly of Believers, Peter. Subsequent leaders of the same Assembly, starting with the half-brother of Jesus (James), received the same SPIRITUAL authority as Pastor of the Assembly in Jerusalem. And every God-called Pastor of every Biblical Assembly of Christ in the world today exercises this same SPIRITUAL (not MILITARY or LEGAL) authority over their individual flocks of God as God's Spokesman to them.
And it should go without saying that Muslim claims to be or have a Kingdom like the Old Covenant Israel (they call it a Universal Caliphate) are completely preposterous and false. Muslims are total slaves to the demonic doctrines of Mohammed their false prophet. May God deliver them in His great mercy from their complete captivity to Satan and his demons. Islam has no basis whatsoever in the Old or New Covenants in the Bible, because they believe the lie of Mohammed that someone else died on the cross instead of Jesus Christ, and that Christ was only a prophet and not the Son of God. The murderous Islamic suicide bombers do NOT go to Heaven, my friends, or meet with 72 eternal virgins as a reward for their evil murderous acts. Only Satan could dream up such an evil religion that would promote such lies.)
So, the "keys" of the Kingdom of Heaven symbolized the spiritual authority that up to that time had been lawfully exercised by the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem. But now, the Lord Jesus (as the lawful King of Zion) transferred to Peter, as the leading Apostle of the Twelve, the spiritual authority that had previously belonged to the Old Covenant nation of Israel. Why? The context and the Themes of the Gospel of Matthew give us the answer: Part One (Matthew 1:1-16:12) is the story of how Jesus, the Son of David, came to offer the promised Millennial Kingdom of Zion to the Jews, but which the leadership of the Jews (Pharisees and Sadducees) flat-out rejected.
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force: for all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you will receive [the offer of the Millennial Kingdom of Heaven/Zion], this is Elijah, the one who was planned to come. He that has ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 11:12-15)
After the Jews had rejected His offer of the Kingdom of Heaven/Zion, now Jesus comes to Peter with the announcement that He was transferring the spiritual (not earthly) authority of Old Covenant Israel to His newly-founded Assembly (or church), of which Peter was the leading Apostle (Matthew 16:18-19).
Some might ask, why only spiritual authority, and not earthly also? The reason is clear in light of the entire Bible: the Assembly (or church) was not invested with earthly authority in the sense of setting up a government that ruled with force over the people who lived within its borders. Israel was invested with earthly authority, because it was a earthly Kingdom and had to defend itself from its many enemies.
Christians under the New Covenant, on the other hand, do not have a nation that we can call "home"; our home is in Heaven, and our inheritance is with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:20-21: "For our citizenship is in Heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like his glorious body; according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself."
Christians have many churches in many nations, making the Christian Faith a Universal faith, not a faith centered around a particular ethnic group, like the Jews under the Old Covenant. The Bible teaches that each Assembly is a Body of Christ:
"Now all of you are a Body of Christ, and parts in particular." (I Corinthians 12:27)
Here is the Greek from the Scrivener Greek Received Text: "υμεις δε εστε σωμα χριστου και μελη εκ μερους."
"υμεις" (ye or all of you) δε (now) εστε (are) σωμα χριστου (body of Christ)"
The Greek is unambigous: Paul wrote, under Divine Inspiration, "ye (or all of you) [Christians in the Assembly at Corinth] are A Body of Christ" In other words, the church/Assembly at Corinth was a Body of Christ, the church at Jerusalem was a Body of Christ, etc. There are many Bodies of Christ on earth at any one time, not one gigantic invisible Universal "Church". Even the Critical Texts of Aleph and B agree.
That is to say, "you Corinthians are a Body of Christ", because Paul was writing a letter to them. The letter applies to all Christians, being Holy Scripture, but the context and the Greek text is clear that the Assembly at Corinth was a Body of Christ distinct from other churches, which were also Bodies of Christ.
Most translations (like the KJV) translate 1 Corinthians 12:27 as "Now ye are the Body of Christ...", using a definite article, but there is no definite article in the Greek. I believe that the KJV translators deliberately added "the" to the text to make it appear that the Bible did not contradict the Anglican Ecclesiology that makes the "Anglican Church" a national Church, like Israel. Why would the Anglican "Church" publish a Bible version which contradicted one of the main foundations of their reasons for existence as a "National Church"? The KJV translators weren't going to bite the hand that was feeding them and making their work possible.
Other Protestant Bible Publishers continue to publish Bible versions that place a definite article in this text in order to run interference for the big Denominations that sponsor their Bible versions. They also aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them, and supplies their Bible translators. All of the major Bible publishers are ecumenical and work with many Denominations, including Roman Catholicism, so they aren't going to publish Bibles that contradict their financial supporters.
JHS Publishing is different: only in the KJV 2014 have I left the Authorized Version text intact, because my goal was to publish an update to the KJV 1611 without changing the spelling of any words or any words at all: only adding and updating punctuation and some capitalization. I am independent of these ecumencial "powers that be" and publish Bibles that are aimed at pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ, without fear or favor; and that is the way that God wants it to be, and so it will remain, as long as I am still on this earth.
Some "Universal Church" theologians point to Ephesians 5:28-32 as support for their theology:
"He that loves his wife loves himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord nourishes and cherishes the Assembly: for we are parts of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. “For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Assembly."
The problem with using this analogy is that the Apostles write with the assumption that all Christians have been baptized and are members of some local Assembly. You will never find any reference in the writings of the Apostles to Christians who are not church members somewhere. So with this understanding then, the words of Ephesians cannot apply to people who claim to be Christians but have never been baptized and joined a church somewhere.
Also, the reference in Revelation (see below) shows that each Assemby is a star in the hand of Jesus Christ, and each pastor is "the messenger" of Christ to that church/Assembly/Body of Christ. When the Bible says, "The Lord nourishes and cherishes the Assembly", it simply means that each Assembly, working as His body in the world to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth, is important to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He deals with each one individually, and not as an amorphous "blob" with no deacons, no pastors, no organization, no tithing, no preaching of the Gospel, etc. This is not how the Bible defines what the church or Assembly is. I Timothy goes into great detail on the structure and rules given by Christ for a true Assembly of Christ to follow if it wants to be blessed of God.
Now the Ecclesiastial theology that I've just explained used to be known as "Old Baptist" theology. It is widely disrespected among many in "Fundamentalism" in the United States, because a more "Protestant-friendly" theology has been taught in most Baptist colleges for at least 100 years or more, due to the advent of the "Fundamentalist movement" which sought to bridge the gap between Baptists and Protestants and focus on the things that they agreed on rather than the things that divided them, like Ecclesiology. Many Fundamental Baptist pastors that I know personally preach Universal Church ideas, like the "Rapture of the Church" (which is actually just the "Rapture of all Believers" at the first Coming of Christ. This "Universal Church" theology comes from Rome, which teaches that the "Church" (meaning the Roman Catholic religion headed by the pope of Rome) is like the Ark of Noah, and if you aren't "in the Ark" (a baptized Catholic), then you will go to Hell.
The Protestants of the Reformation modified this "Universal Earthly Church" idea from Rome to make it a "Universal, Invisible Church" of which all Christians are members, so as to be more inclusive. The problem was that this is still not Biblical teaching, which most Baptists (as far as I can discern) of those days believed in.
Then came the Fundamentalist Movement around the turn of the 20th century, and they (Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, etc) adopted a broad-minded Ecclesiology that was inclusive rather than divisive. The "Universal, Invisible Church" fit right into this, and so the doctrine spread to most Christian colleges, so that today most pastors are thoroughly indoctrinated with this ideology, which originally came from Catholicism. The "Old Baptist" Ecclesiology is despised and widely misunderstood as "sectarian" and "divisive."
Well, my question is, "Do you want to be Biblical, or do you want to misuse Scripture in a lame attempt to 'get along with everybody'?" The Lord Jesus Christ is not interested in "getting along with everybody"; God is interested in only one thing: obedience to His Word. We are going to be judged by the Lord by that measurement, and many are going to be greatly surprised when much of what they have been teaching all their lives is going to result in wood, hay and stubble at the Bema seat of Jesus; and it will all be burned up with no reward given for all that labor.
Take note of the words of Revelation: the seven stars are the "messengers" of the seven Assemblies, and these stars are being held in Jesus' Almighty hand. Who are the "messengers"? None other than the pastors of each Assembly.
Christians have no king but Jesus Christ, and not in the same sense as the Israelites. He is our Heavenly King to whom we will one day give an account for our service to Him, but Christians will not inherit even one inch of the Holy Land of Israel: that land belongs by an Eternal Covenant to the elect people of Israel who will receive their Messiah, King Jesus, when He returns in glory to claim his Kingdom very soon.
The point I'm driving at here is that the Lord Jesus Christ transferred only spiritual authority to individual Assemblies, so that they have the right to not only preach the Gospel of Christ in His Name, but also to remove sinning church members from their ranks, and rebuke local and national authorities when they openly do things against the Word of God. In short, the Pastor (all true pastors) speaks for God and with the authority of God in his church (he is invested with the Spiritual Keys which once belonged to Old Covenant Israel), but not outside of his flock except as a Spokesman for God (like any other Christian).
Notice that Jesus held the "messengers" (the pastors) of the seven Assemblies (or churches) in His right hand (symbolic of power and authority). Christ gives his authority to conduct His business on earth (Go, Win, Train, and Send) to the pastors of each Assembly; and not one of them was "more equal" (as Rome claims that it is to other "branches" of Christendom-so called) to any other pastor or Assembly. This is extremely important Biblical theology that has been rejected by Protestants, Catholics, and even Conventions because they do not believe in truly Independent Biblical Congregations with the authority to do as God bids them without regard to some human "President", "Elder", or "Pope" who is not part of that particular Assembly.
Therefore, if you as a church member rebel against the authority of your pastor, you had better be right or you are in trouble with God! Better yet, if you feel that your pastor is not right with God, the best thing to do is not to rebel against him, but simply to leave and join another church that IS more obedient to the Word of God. Or, if there are no other churches in your area to fellowship with, then ask God to use you to start your own church or help someone else start a new Bible-preaching, Fundamental Assembly.
The answer is absolutely, praise God, YES! The Bible clearly teaches that when Jesus Christ returns to claim His rightful throne as the King of Zion, then He will retrieve those keys from the Assemblies and His Kingdom will extend over the whole of the earth from Jerusalem, in both a political and a religious sense; UNLIKE the churches of today, which exercise authority only in the spiritual realm.
There is much, much more that could be said, but I will stop here. I hope it was helpful and a blessing to you. Please do not hesitate to send any questions or comments to me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Max Day, BBE & MBE (Bible and Theology), AS & BS (Computer Science)
P.S. As additional support for the doctrines that I have tried to explain above, I will take the liberty to quote extensively from the Radio Bible Class website, which addresses this same exact question and gives the same answer I did, although not with so much detail. The RBC, to my knowledge, does not understand the Kingdom Bible version and may not even know anything about this website. I personally do not endorse all of the positions nor all of the affiliations of this ministry. However, they are basically Evangelical in their theology (I wouldn't call them "Fundamentalist"), and so there is enough agreement so that I feel comfortable quoting their words at least on this subject, because I think they said it well. I do not know if this information is still on their site. It was when I first copied it years ago.
"What did Jesus mean when He told Peter He was giving him the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven"?
After Jesus had declared that He would build His church on the truth of Peter's noble confession, He went on to say, "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" ( Matthew 16:19 ). Later, addressing all the disciples, our Lord repeated the words, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" ( Matthew 18:18 ).
Jesus gave Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven," not the keys to heaven. A key was a badge of authority ( Luke 11:52 ), and then as now was used to open doors. Peter used the keys Christ gave him to open the door to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost ( Acts 2 ), to the Samaritans after the preaching of Philip ( Acts 8:14-17 ), and to the Gentiles after the Lord had sent him a vision and an appeal from Cornelius ( Acts 10 ).
The concept of "binding and loosing" found in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 was commonly used among the Jewish people in relation to the authority of the rabbis to forbid and permit certain practices. Jesus gave Peter and the apostles authority over both the doctrine and practices of the first-century church. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, they would be given wisdom to know what to forbid and what to permit.
This authority, not on exactly the same level as during the apostolic era, still resides in the leaders of the local church. They may not receive the same kind of supernatural guidance as the apostles did, but they possess the entire New Testament along with the direction of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when church leaders discipline a church member who promotes incorrect doctrine or is involved in evil behavior, they act with divine approval. They are carrying out God's will, and what they do is ratified in heaven. Since their authority is not ultimately derived from their personal qualities or their office but from Scripture and the instruction of the Holy Spirit, they should exercise it humbly and prayerfully." (RBC)