The keys of the kingdom
Once you’ve been through the screening process your work may assign you a pass, a swipe card and the keys. Now you’re in. Now you’re trusted. And now you can bring others in too. You have the keys.
Well in Matthew chapter 16, Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven! What could prompt such massive trust being placed in him? Let’s listen in:
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)
Everyone else had answered in generalities. Their responses sounded like my undergraduate essays, full of hand waving and caveats and quotations of other people’s opinions because actually I hadn’t a clue. But what’s interesting about the straw poll of verse 14 is that no-one can explain Jesus away easily. Wherever people stand along this spectrum of belief they are all convinced that He is out of this world. John, Elijah, Jeremiah – the prophets – they are all dead! But seeing the kingdom authority of Jesus, everyone concludes He has some kind of back-from-the-dead power.
But it’s Peter who nails his colours to the mast. And he gets it absolutely right: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That is the best identification possible. Jesus is the Christ – the Anointed One, full of the Holy Spirit. And He is the Son of the living God – the Beloved of the Father. There is no greater way of describing Jesus. He is the One who shares eternal fellowship with the living God and His life-giving Spirit.
And Jesus rejoices to be known and proclaimed…
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
Jesus repeats His teaching from Matthew 11:27 – we do not piece together the truth of God from our wise and learned ways. We must receive this revelation from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit (that is according to the Scriptures). But now that Peter is on the inside of this truth, the keys are his!
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
Peter (Petros in Greek) means Rock. And there’s a great incongruity to Simon being given such an exalted title. This unschooled fisherman is now “Rocky”. And not just “Rocky” to his mates – “Rocky” to the Lord God of Israel.
It should be clear that he is renamed not because of his inherent qualities, but because of this revelation from the Father. And now Jesus uses a play on words: “You will be called “Rocky” and on this rock I will build my church.”
This, together with “the keys of the kingdom”, has become a key teaching for the Roman Catholic church. Peter is, supposedly, the first pope. And this office of “Rock” is the foundation on which the true church of Jesus is built.
But that is not how the Apostle Paul reads it. In 1 Corinthians 3 he identifies the foundational rock of the church as “Jesus Christ”, or more specifically, the proclamation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). And this is precisely what has happened in Matthew 16. Peter has proclaimed Christ and this is the rock on which the church is built.
The mark of a true church is not apostolic succession back to Peter. The mark of a true church is true confession of Jesus Christ. All those who confess the Lord Jesus are members of His body. And with membership, comes privileges and responsibilities.
In verse 19, Jesus says “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This authority is not for Peter alone. When Jesus appears to the eleven in John 20:21-23 He reiterates just this kind of authority to them all. Like those with keys to their workplace, they can now bring people in and out.
Peter will go out and proclaim Jesus to many. Those who share his confession of Christ will be ushered into the kingdom through Peter – not because he is a pope but because he is a preacher! Those who deny Christ will be condemned by that word, no matter how churchy they appear on the outside. This is the “binding and loosing” that happens through the declaration of Jesus the Christ.
The keys of the kingdom represent an awesome trust. But they ought not to make us papists but proclaimers!