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Matthew 16:19 (ESV) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 16:19 Greek NT: Westcott and Hort / [NA27 and UBS4 variants] δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν δήσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται δεδεμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, καὶ ὃ ἐὰν λύσῃς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἔσται λελυμένον ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

What were the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven"? I am seeking an exegetical answer, not a theological one.

  • I edited my question to reflect what I really wanted to ask. :) – Radz C. Brown May 6 at 13:38
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    I tried to streamline the question some. If it isn't in line with your intent please revert. – Ruminator May 6 at 18:38
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    Radz C Brown - suggest you begin with a better translation of the text - ESV if most excellent but at this verse it misses the verb tense. Look at NASB or CSB. – user25930 May 7 at 2:13
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The demonstrative pronoun "this" points "this rock" away from the little rock "petros" and toward another rock.

"And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem." (KJV)

Jesus (Yeshua) was the rock of Israel from OT prophesy. This "petra", Strong's Gr. 4073 by definition was a large mass of rock, also a cliff, ledge, cave, or stony ground.

"2 And he said, The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; 3 The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence." (2 Sam. 22:2-3, KJV)

So, Jesus was pointing in another direction than Peter (Petros, a stone or boulder, Strong's Gr. 4074). The demonstrative "this" points to an object close the speaker. As Christ Jesus was "the rock" of our salvation (2 Sam. 22:47), then picture Jesus pointing to himself.

Jesus was the rock of His church.

"2 He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved." (Psa. 62:2, KJV)

"But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge." (Psa. 94:22, KJV)

"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner." (Psa. 118:22, KJV)

"Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." (Isa. 28:16, KJV)

See also Jer. 51:26; Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-7.

Christ gave the keys to the kingdom to Peter. Keys open locked doors, and treasure chests to great wealth. Peter was the primary speaker on the day of Pentecost that opened the doors to the kingdom of God to those listening in Jerusalem (Acts 2), and Peter was the one sent to the house of Cornelius to open the door to the kingdom of God for the gentiles (Acts 10).

The section in Matt. 16:15-19 was a check for His disciples. Christ knew what the people were saying. He didn't need to ask His disciples to learn that. But, by asking His disciples whom they say He was, He elicited the truth from the one He knew would speak - which was Peter. Peter's faith grew, as did his reward and responsibility in the kingdom.

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    Peter was the first to preach the gospel to gentiles. Peter was the first to write scripture in Greek (his first epistle to the diaspora). Peter,as you rightly say, had the keys to open many things. The foundational 'rock' - as you rightly say - was the revelation of who Jesus Christ really was. 'Thou art the Christ'. +1. – Nigel J May 6 at 15:21
  • Nigel - it is highly doubtful that Peter wrote anything in Greek. By his own admission he used Silas to write 1 Peter. There must have had other help for 2 Peter because its quite different style,. – user25930 May 6 at 21:41
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The person who asked the question specified that she seeks an exposition of the text, not deduction from theology. So looking at the context we see that Jesus has tightly coupled the administration of the keys with Peter acting as judge:

[Mat 16:19 CSB] (19) "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven."

The Jewish Encyclopedia has a great deal to say about the practice of "binding and loosing" so I refer you to the article:

Rabbinical term for "forbidding and permitting." The expression "asar" (to bind herself by a bond) is used in the Bible (Num. xxx. 3 et seq.) for a vow which prevents one from using a thing. It implies binding an object by a powerful spell in order to prevent its use (see Targ. to Ps. lviii. 6; Shab. 81b, for "magic spell"). The corresponding Aramean "shera" and Hebrew "hittir" (for loosing the prohibitive spell) have no parallel in the Bible.

The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees, says Josephus ("B J." i, 5, § 2), "became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind." This does not mean that, as the learned men, they merely decided what, according to the Law, was forbidden or allowed, but that they possessed and exercised the power of tying or untying a thing by the spell of their divine authority, just as they could, by the power vested in them, pronounce and revoke an anathema upon a person. The various schools had the power "to bind and to loose"; that is, to forbid and to permit (Ḥag. 3b); and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (Meg. Ta'an. xxii.; Ta'an. 12a; Yer. Ned. i. 36c, d). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin (see Authority), received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, ix.; Mak. 23b)...

I would also point to this article on rabbinic authority on the same site which I only partially cite below. It explains the role Jesus is commending to Peter:

...As a matter of course, the Rabbinical Authority and legislative power rested with the entire body of the court of justice or rabbinical academy, and not with the president or patriarch only. Still, the more eminent the latter in knowledge and wisdom, the better he succeeded in making his opinion or propositions prevail in the deliberation; and so the newmeasure or institution was ascribed to him, or to him and his bet din (R. H. ii. 5-9, iv. 1-4; Yeb. 77a, and elsewhere). At any rate, the Nasi, or patriarch, announced the decision, proclaimed the New Moon, and represented on all official occasions the whole rabbinical body as its highest authority. The power of investing others with Rabbinical Authority was therefore presumably his exclusive privilege. It is known that from the beginning of the third century before the common era, rabbinical authorization by the patriarch consisted in the bestowal of authority and power ("reshut") to teach, to judge, and to grant permission regarding "the forbidden first-born among animals" ("yore yore, yadin yadin, yattir bekorot," Sanh. 5a). But it is obvious that this is no longer the original form of rabbinical authorization. Far more significant and expressive of the idea of Rabbinical Authority are the words used by Jesus when ordaining Peter as chief apostle, or his disciples as his successors, and undoubtedly taken from pharisaic usage: "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" (Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18). This corresponds exactly with what Josephus, or rather his source, tells of the Pharisees in the time of Queen Alexandra: "They were the real administrators of the public affairs; they removed and readmitted whom they pleased; they bound and loosed [things] at their pleasure" ("B. J." i. 5, § 2). The terms "bind" and "loose" ("asar we-hittir"), employed by the Rabbis in their legal terminology, point indeed to a sort of supernatural power claimed by the Pharisees for their prohibitory or permissory decrees, probably because they could place both men and things under the ban, or "ḥerem...

So essentially Jesus was conferring on Peter the role of "Chief Justice" of the Israel of God as he promised elsewhere and the "keys" are a metaphor for authority as judge of the Israel of God:

[Mat 19:28 NASB] (28) And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me [IE: the Twelve], in the regeneration [IE: of Israel] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The "regeneration" referred to is the resurrection of Israel that took place in the first century beginning with the baptism/mikveh of John and ending with the ending of the age circa 70ad (see Matthew 24). The gathering and resinewing of the bones took place in the earthly ministry of Jesus and the breath was breathed into the mighty army on Pentecost. It ended with the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy. Now Israel is a non-covenant nation just like all the other nations. It was necessary that Israel be resurrected in order to fulfill all the promises to the fathers.

It was during this season, before the arrival of the kingdom of God that Peter acted as Chief Justice:

[Luke 22:28-32 NASB] (28) "You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; (29) and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you (30) that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (31) "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; (32) but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

The Revelation of John also refers to this period of time when Peter and the other apostles reigned with Christ:

[Rev 20:1-6 ESV] (1) Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. (2) And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, (3) and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (4) Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

That the binding of Satan refers to the limits placed upon Satan such that the Messiah and his Israel of God should "spoil Satan's house" is shown in this interaction:

[Mat 12:29 ESV] (29) Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

[Luk 13:32 ESV] (32) And he said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.

[Luk 10:16-20 ESV] (16) "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (17) The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" (18) And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (19) Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (20) Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

This period of the NT judges was just to last for a period of time (IE: "a thousand years") to be followed by the destruction of Jerusalem:

[Rev 20:7-10 YLT] (7) And when the thousand years may be finished, the Adversary shall be loosed out of his prison, (8) and he shall go forth to lead the nations astray, that are in the four corners of the earth -- Gog and Magog -- to gather them together to war, of whom the number is as the sand of the sea; (9) and they did go up over the breadth of the land, and did surround the camp of the saints, and the beloved city, and there came down fire from God out of the heaven, and devoured them; (10) and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night -- to the ages of the ages.

[Rev 12:12 YLT] (12) because of this be glad, ye heavens, and those in them who do tabernacle [IE: the saints]; woe to those inhabiting the land [IE: natural Israel] and the sea [IE: Rome], because the Devil did go down unto you, having great wrath, having known that he hath little time [IE: 7 years].'

The new, heavenly Jerusalem that Jesus built of living stones did, as he had spoken have as its foundation Peter and the other eleven apostles:

[Rev 21:14 YLT] (14) and the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

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In Matt 16:16-19 we have an unusual grammatical construction:

“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros (masc), a stone], and upon this rock [Petra (fem), large rock, bed-rock] I will build My congregation; and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven.’”

(my translation, see also NASB) We observe several things about this passage.

  • The community/congregation of believers is to be based either on Christ as the Rock (see appendix below), or, the truth that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. It is obvious that both are intended.
  • The authority delegated in this passage is such that the disciples could only decide what was consonant with heaven, because they decided (bound and loosed) that which heaven had already bound and loosed. Conversely, decisions not in accord with heavenly will have no authority.
  • Matt 18:18, is almost verbatim repeat of the above passage: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed [simple future + perfect participle passive] in heaven.” This provides the same message as contained above. The authority delegated here extends only as far as it accords with the will of heaven. Further, in this passage, authority is given to resolve disputes and “wrongs” between members of the Christian community. (v15-17) See also NASB version.

Thus, the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" enabled those to whom they were given to act in accordance with the will of heaven. There are several examples of this:

  • In Acts 15 the point that decided the first Jerusalem council was the evidence provided by the obvious work of the Holy Spirit Acts 15:8, 9, 12. See also Gal 5:22 & 23, 24-26.
  • Another example is provided in 1 Cor 5 where Paul specifically asks them to make a decision in accordance with the divine will 1 Cor 5:4. See also 1 Cor 12:3.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus and make us like Him and to imitate Jesus John 15:26, 16:12-15, Rom 8:4, 11, Eph 3:17, 18, 1 Thess 1:6, 4:8.
  • Jesus also specifically said that He wanted to provide specific guidance to the church members John 16:7-12, 14:17, 15:26.

The comments (in an appendix) of J B Phillips in his translation of the New Testament in Modern English are helpful:

Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, "forbidding" and "permitting". There is a very curious Greek construction here, viz, a simple future followed by the perfect participle passive. If Jesus had meant to say quite simply, Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in Heaven", can anyone explain why the simple future passive is not used? It seems to me that if the words of Jesus are accurately reported here, and I have no reason to doubt it, then the force of these sayings is that Jesus' true disciples will be so led by the Spirit that they will be following the heavenly pattern. In other words what they "forbid" or "permit" on earth will be consonant with the Divine rules.

APPENDIX

Let as recall that the church is founded upon the Christ Jesus as the Rock (1 Cor 10:3, 4, Isa 44:8, 26:4, Ps 118:22, Isa 28:16, Dan 2:34, 35, 45, Matt 21:42-44, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:4-8, Acts 4:11, Rom 9:33, Ps 28:1, 33;1-3, 42:9, 61:2, 62:7, 71:3, 78:35, 92:15, 144:1, Deut 32:4, 15, 31, 37, 1 Sam 2:2, 2 Sam 22:32, 23:3, Isa 30:29, Hab 1:12, etc, etc.) A very closely related concept is the Christ as the cornerstone of the Christian church predicted in the Old Testament (Job 38:16, Psalm 118:22, Isa 28:16, Zech 10:4) and answered in the New Testament (Matt 21:42, Mark 2:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, Eph 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6, 7.)

Thus, the image of Jesus as the eternal and only Rock is very prominent in both New and Old Testament typology.

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