“I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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” (Matthew 16:18-19).
These are exciting words spoken by Jesus Christ to one of his disciples. Peter and all followers of Christ have been given the same key to the same kingdom. What is this key, and what is this Kingdom it unlocks for them?
At the beginning of Matthew 16, Jesus was being questioned by the Pharisees. Clearly, this Rabbi from Nazareth was special; he had already given them many signs and performed numerous wonders.
Matthew 15 depicts the feeding of more than 4,000 people with only a few loaves and fish. Jesus had been teaching the crowds who God is, contrasting a relationship with legalism (“How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:11)).
But while the religious leaders wanted more signs, Jesus wanted the disciples to know how to recognize the Kingdom of God.
The religious leaders could quote Moses, Abraham, and Isaiah, but they did not know God. Therefore, their students (the Israelites under their teaching) did not know God either.
Christ taught his disciples how to know God and also how to lead others to the Kingdom. Binding and loosing were words meaning to “declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed.”
What Is the Kingdom?
An old nursery rhyme goes like this: “This is the key of the kingdom. In that kingdom there is a city. In that city there is a town. In that town there is a street. In that street there is a lane. In that lane there is a yard. In that yard there is a house. In that house there is a room. In that room there is a bed.” Etc., etc.
This nursery rhyme speaks of a literal location, structures, and everyday items.
According to Christopher Morgan, “The kingdom of God is the rule of God over his people in his creation, established through his Messiah in the new covenant, which is now present in the world, though it is awaiting its fulfillment at the second coming of Christ.”
R.C. Sproul’s explanation, regarding Luke 10:11, adds another dimension: “The kingdom of God was near to them because the King of the kingdom was there.”
The presence of Christ brings the Kingdom close to his believers, but the Kingdom is not a series of buildings and rooms.
Although Christ has ascended and now intercedes for all believers at God’s right hand, every believer is indwelled by the Spirit who is One with the Son and the Father; therefore, the Kingdom of God resides in each Spirit-filled believer.
The Kingdom has been manifested in the past, and it will also come down when Satan is defeated, and the earth is restored to its Edenic beauty and wholeness. But the Kingdom is near to each believer through the Spirit of God.
How to Recognize the Kingdom of God
How does one recognize the Kingdom of God if it is not a place? If his Kingdom “is a sovereign rule, a dynamic power, and a divine activity” (Ibid.). then how does one know where to locate the entry point?
Morgan explains that Christ is “the bearer of this kingdom,” so we recognize it in the person of Jesus. “The only way the kingdom of God is going to be manifest in this world before Christ comes is if we manifest it by the way we live as citizens of heaven and subjects of the King.”
Sproul indicates that, for believers and for unbelievers, the Kingdom of God is manifested in the Fruit of the Spirit, which is on display in the lives of Christians.
Christians reflect a Kingdom-focused reality by demonstrating “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). They bring Christ to the world in a tangible way.
The Key to the Kingdom
There is no literal door, and therefore no physical key to this door. “Jesus requires repentance to enter his kingdom community, since the present way of the world must be rejected and the new age of God’s rule and its corresponding way of life embraced. As such, repentance is not only the way into the kingdom but also the way of the kingdom.”
Sproul explains that Christians possess the key at all times. This is love and reverence for the Lord, who “is the King of all the earth” (Psalm 47:7).
It is essential to confess and repent of sin, to allow God to make one new in him. Without confession and repentance (dying to self) there can be no resurrection in the spirit. There is no surrender to Christ.
Going through the motions like the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing equated to putting up a smokescreen, which obscured their and their students’ view of the door to heaven. They were not being changed; they did not know God.
Therefore, they failed to recognize Jesus Christ as “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the key, the door, and the Kingdom wrapped into one.
Knowing him is the key to knowing God and living with him for eternity. Knowing things about him, about the Word of God, and about his prophecies and commandments, is not enough.
Repentance is a sign that one has come to God through Jesus because it is a sign that one understands what Christ did for humankind at the cross and why it was necessary. It is a signal that one knows and loves Jesus and is being transformed by him.
Jesus told the disciples that they possessed the keys to the Kingdom. He alluded to this idea when he told them “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Knowing him was the special gift they had received. Their power came from him, it was nothing special about the disciples themselves. The keys come from the Lord and is available to anyone who will confess and repent and be reborn in Christ.
You Have Been Given the Keys
Peter and the other disciples walked with Christ, so it might seem as though only they had the keys.
John Piper explained that although Jesus said to Peter “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19), he said the same thing “to Christians in general, with the very same words, two chapters later in Matthew 18:18.”
The promised keys belong to every Christian; that is, to every faithful, repentant, individual who has ever or will surrender his or her life to Christ until his return.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.