Q&R with Brad Jersak – Keys to the Kingdom?
In Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, I have never been satisfied with an explanation of “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” My former church called them “The Office of the Keys,” claiming the church plays a huge roll in those who go to heaven and those who don’t go to heaven. Now, after understanding God alone is faithful to guide his children to recognize He is in us and we are in Him (from John 17), I am seeking a new interpretation of these verses. Thank you for your help.
“The Office of the Keys”? That’s new to me. Sounds ominous! And they are difficult passages for sure. Not that I’ll have a satisfying response, but let’s have a look.
Let’s begin with the text itself. And we dare not do that without the immediate context. Words extracted without the paragraph they’re embedded in are too easy to misuse. I’ll try to address each passage in turn:
- 13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
- 14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
- 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
- 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
- 20 Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
It’s impossible to do this passage justice in a blog, or even a book. But I will say that Peter receives two gifts here. First, a gift from God the Father: the revelation that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That recognition was so above his pay grade that Jesus lets him know it. “You didn’t figure this out. Heaven told you! And that confession will be the foundation stone of your whole lifework!”
Second, Peter receives a gift from God the Son: the assurance that in this mission, heaven will have his back. It’s not just a carte blanche for Peter to do whatever he pleases. But wherever the gospel he’s just discovered is preached, Christ himself will open the door to the good news. Whether Peter speaks to the Jewish Sanhedrin, the first Christian council, or to the Emperor Rome, his confession will win the day. When he heals the lame man in Acts 3, when he raises Dorcas from the dead, and when he announces the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church, these will be confirmations from above of his confession Jesus Christ.
- 15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
- 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
- 19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
This passage is speaking to something more specific, more in-house. It’s based on the Old Testament laws around having to deal with accusations and hostility in the assembly. Even under Moses, you didn’t get to condemn someone else without any corroborating witnesses. Dealing with disciplinary issues was a community affair, but was never to be a ‘witchhunt’ or ‘kangaroo court.’
It seems, in context, that with the establishment of the “Jesus Way” community, that dynamic would now be supplemented by the assurance that when it came to establishing healthy boundaries and a pathway to redemption (which is always the goal in the New Covenant), that Jesus himself will be present as a witness. How so? Perhaps through a gift of wisdom, discernment, and, most of all, grace. Again, the ‘binding and loosing’ is not a free-for-all grab for authority and control. Instead, it is a call to exercise the Jesus Way in all our communities, including our conflicts, because he is an ever-present Redeemer.