What are the Keys of the Kingdom?

In Matthew 16, we read that in response to Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:17), Jesus says:

And 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 verses have been used by the Roman Catholic Church to support the concepts of papal authority and papal succession, suggesting that Peter’s successors hold the keys of the kingdom.

But is this correct?

What was Jesus speaking about when he said “on this rock I will build my church”? And what are the “keys of the kingdom”?

In a recent Sermon Extra video, Pastor Mike and I discussed this topic. Here are some highlights, and then you can see the full video below.

What was Jesus speaking about when he said “on this rock I will build my church”?

There are 3 possible options:

  • Jesus is speaking about Peter as the first leader of the church
  • Jesus is referring to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and the Son of the Living God (deity)
  • Jesus is referring to himself as the rock (cornerstone) upon which the church is based

The strength of the first view (that Jesus is speaking about Peter) is the fact that Peter’s name means “stone.” So, perhaps Jesus is speaking about Peter through a play on words.

However, when Peter himself writes his first epistle (1 Peter), he writes that we who are believers are like living stones which are being built together into a spiritual house (temple), with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he says that we who are believers are members of the household of God, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).

When John (who was present when Jesus said those words recorded in Matthew 16) wrote his gospel, he made this statement his grand culmination:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

It’s surprising just how similar John’s words are to Peter’s statement: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. John says that this is the way to receive eternal life. So, is this confession of Jesus as Messiah and God the foundation of the church?

Here’s the thing: even if it is referring to Peter, and Jesus was giving Peter a position of primacy of leadership in the early church, it does not necessarily follow that Peter’s primacy of leadership would then be handed down in succession to whoever held his position in the future. This is especially true, since Peter’s position changed over the course of time in the early days of Christianity. Early on, we see Peter as a leader in the church in Jerusalem, but eventually he left Jerusalem. He eventually died in Rome, but the church in Rome was not started by him.

The idea of papal succession is quite a leap from this verse, and it has significant historical issues with it as well, as I explain in the video linked below.

What are the “Keys of the Kingdom”?

Keys are something which open doors and close doors. Did Jesus give these keys specifically to Peter, or were they given to Christian leaders in general, or even to believers in general?

If they were given to Peter, it is worth noting that Peter is the one who opened the doors to salvation through Jesus first to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), then to the Samaritans (Acts 8), and then to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11).

It is certainly significant that the exact phrase that is used in Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 about the keys of the kingdom: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” is used again by Jesus only two chapters later in Matthew 18, when he is talking about how to deal with a fellow believer who has sinned against you.

There, after explaining the protocol for dealing with these situations, he says:

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Matthew 18:18-20

This is spoken to all of Jesus’ disciples, not just Peter, but the final statements seem to make it clear that this statement applies to all believers who gather in Jesus’ name.

Here’s the video in which we discuss this in a bit more detail, especially in regard to this historical development of interpretation within the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches:

They Sold Themselves Into Slavery

lamb-slainUnitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren) is the formal name of the group often referred to as the Moravian Brethren or Moravian Church. They were one of the very first Protestant groups in the world, originating from Jan Hus and the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century in what is now the Czech Republic.

Fleeing religious persecution, they fled to Saxony in 1722, and some of them were given permission to settle on the land of a nobleman named Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran Pietist who had a large estate outside of Berthelsdorf.

The Moravian Protestants who settled there, together with Zinzendorf, established a church and named their settlement Herrnhut (The Lord’s Watch). One characteristic of their new community was continuous prayer, done in shifts by different people. This continuous prayer at Herrnhut went on uninterrupted for 100 years.

What is particularly significant about the Moravian church at Herrnhut is that they were a missionary church. They were the first large-scale Protestant missionary group, and they were the pioneers of the modern missionary movement.

During the eighteenth century alone, the Moravians established mission outposts in the Virgin Islands (1732), Greenland (1733), North America (1734), Lapland and South America (1735), South Africa (1736), and Labrador (1771).

Their all-consuming purpose was to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, a passion that was evident in their proportion of missionaries to laypeople, by some estimates a ratio of 1:60.

Some of the very first Moravian missionaries went to the Caribbean island of St Thomas. They went there in order to minister to the slaves on the island, even selling themselves as slaves in order to get access.

The Moravians had learned that the secret of loving the souls of men was found in loving the Savior of men. On October 8, 1732, a Dutch ship left the Copenhagen harbor bound for the Danish West Indies. On board were the two first Moravian missionaries; John Leonard Dober, a potter, and David Nitschman, a carpenter. Both were skilled speakers and ready to sell themselves into slavery to reach the slaves of the West Indies. As the ship slipped away, they lifted up a cry that would one day become the rallying call for all Moravian missionaries, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.” The Moravian’s passion for souls was surpassed only by their passion for the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. (Source)

I don’t know about you, but it challenges me to see that these people were willing to sell themselves into slavery in order to minister to people they had never met before. That is radical love and radical self-sacrifice. It expresses true belief in the importance and urgency of people coming to know the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done.

This attitude is absolutely counter-cultural, not only in our day, with our extreme focus on self, but also in every generation, since humans are naturally inclined to self-centeredness. This radically different approach to life and others comes from having a Savior and a God who gave up everything to save enemies and rebels, out of love for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-8,10)

To read more about the Moravians and their hearts for prayer and missions, you can check out the entire article this excerpt comes from.

I also recommend this book for those interested in the history of Christian missions: From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions.

Luther’s Big Anniversary

This year marks 500 years since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther – a German monk and professor of theology – nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act is considered the official beginning of the Reformation.

To celebrate this anniversary some European countries have declared special events and programs. Ukraine, for example, has declared an official program called R500 that includes special teaching in public schools about the Reformation and Protestants. This is particularly interesting considering how Protestants in Eastern Ukraine have suffered persecution from separatist authorities.

In honor of this anniversary I’ll be posting some of my favorite quotes from Luther over the next few months. I grew up going to Lutheran school, so I have some familiarity with him and affinity for him.

Luther’s Large Catechism begins with some insight about the first commandment:

The First Commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me

That is: Thou shalt have and worship Me alone as thy God.

What is the force of this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God?

Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.

To read the continuation, click here.

Ukraine’s Religious War: Protestants in Donetsk

I appreciate the work of Vice News in reporting on the ground the conflict in Ukraine this past year.

Watch this video. What’s being done by the Russian-backed rebels in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic against non-Orthodox Christians is deplorable. The world needs to know. Pray for these Christians and for Ukraine.