I like to imagine being there among the twelve when they see Jesus doing and saying some of His most powerful things. One of those scenes I imagine is when Jesus and the twelve came to Caesarea Philippi as recorded in Matthew 16. Jesus asked the most important question ever asked after setting them up by an easier question, “Who do men say I am?” The big one was “But who do you say I am?” What would you have said? It’s pretty easy to read Peter’s response and say, “Yea, that’s my answer.” I think the other eleven were doing exactly that. Truthfully it was probably the right thing to do since Jesus declared to Peter and the rest that it wasn’t an answer that had arisen out of his own mind, but that the Father had given it to him.
Do you remember those days in third grade when your teacher would ask those questions? Some kid would always have their hand up. I was never that kid. Truthfully I thought they were just trying to show off for the teacher. But I was thrilled if the teacher recognized them and took the pressure off the rest of us. I suspect it was that feeling on steroids for the twelve when Jesus asked questions of them. It wasn’t their habit to get them right. But this time Peter nailed it. God had intervened for him and Peter was thrilled to that he got it right. “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” What is the rock? It is the one Peter confessed or what he confessed. Jesus would build the church on the foundation of Jesus’ deity. Satan and all his demons wouldn’t be able to stop Jesus from this building project. Satan’s most powerful weapon is death. He would succeed in having Jesus put to death and would certainly believe the victory was his and he would stop the greatest building project the world had known, in Jesus building the church or community of people who belonged to and followed him. But death couldn’t hold him. He was raised from the dead and sure enough he launched the church.
If we had been back there to hear along with the twelve, things like buildings with crosses on top wouldn’t have entered our minds. Massive organizations with exact structure of importance and privilege among those who lead wouldn’t have either. Notions like buildings and denominations were not at all included in the meaning of the word for “church”. Their vision would have been of a gathering of people, a group or community. A picture such as a town hall meeting might have come to mind. Imagine having such a vision in mind with his statement “I will build my church” but what would you have done with the next statement that went with it? “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.”
I’m quite certain the first thing that would have jumped into their minds is that this is about the kingdom Jesus and John had been referring to as they sent out disciples preaching “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” They would have put feet on the notion of that kingdom as they heard it tied to the world “Church”. Until now there had to be confusion in their minds because the word kingdom conjured up for them the idea of an empire that could defeat Rome and reestablish their rule as a nation or kingdom. They would have seen royalty, reigns, palaces and armies in their minds. But what made that so confusing for them was that as Jesus constantly described the kingdom he would establish it was so different from any of those notions. He would say, “The kingdom of heaven is like, leaven, a mustard seed, a man looking for beautiful pearls or a treasure hidden in the field. How can the kingdom that conquers Rome be like a seed of any kind? What could the idea of leaven and kingdom be? Now Jesus has pulled together two major concepts of people gathered or called out to God and a kingdom which he would reign over as king.
But what are the keys? We tend to think in terms of a set of keys carried around on a key chain to get into the building. Jesus was more likely calling up an incident found in Isaiah 22:20-22. “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 people 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.” Isaiah’s picture is of a change in who is in charge of what goes on in David’s house or family. He would determine the going out and coming in. So when Jesus said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom and immediately applies the point by saying, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” it gave greater clarity. Jesus was putting Peter and the others in charge of the affairs of the church or kingdom he was about to establish. They were in charge of setting out what was bound and what was loosed. Two chapters later he would again apply the same principle as he talked about how to deal with a brother who sinned and wouldn’t repent. Go first alone to talk with them. If it works, great, you’ve gained your brother. If that doesn’t work take another person or two with you to talk with them. If that works it stops there and the person is forgiven. But if that doesn’t work take it to the whole church who will attempt to bring the person back, praying and talking to convince them to repent. If that works the person is forgiven and things are great. But if it doesn’t then the person is to be treated as an outsider. After saying that, Jesus added, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)
So the keys of the kingdom have to do with what is bound to get into the kingdom, to live as part of the kingdom and in dealing with a person who is a member but is involved in sin that needs to be corrected. What the twelve bound was bound. What they loosed was loose. Did they have free reign to set their own ideas? No they had been in training for three years with Jesus and when he left them to go back to heaven he was giving them the Holy Spirit to guide their words and actions. So they would bind and loose based on what they had seen and heard in Jesus and in what the Holy Spirit would lead them to say and do. The Holy Spirit was to guide them into all truth. He was to bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said. So they had a game plan. But they were the ones to execute the plan and lay out what was bound and what was loose.
Understanding that point, what if we come along today and see that the apostles bound some point for example on what it takes for one to get into the kingdom of the Lord but we decide that we had rather have it loose. Can we just change it? No I don’t think so since what was bound by them on earth was also bound in heaven. But notice it is just as true that anything left loose by the apostles was left loose in heaven and we can’t suddenly turn around and add a few rules or laws of our own. While there may have been other people around as Jesus talked to the twelve that day, his question was specifically to them. His promise to build the church and give the keys of the kingdom was specifically to them. We aren’t given the keys so that we can determine what to bind or leave loose for our time. The principles laid down by the twelve are still the ones bound today and still the ones loosed today.
Too many folks in our time are trying hard to get the keys for us. But they have been assigned and nothing indicates there has been any reassignment or updating for our time. The need is to follow what they set up by the guidance of the Holy Spirit given them.