On our recent trip to Oregon, we ended up working for two weeks at North Clackamas Christian School where our son and his wife teach and where our two youngest grandchildren attend. Their maintenance man, who was attending college and had just gotten married, had to quit and they needed someone to fill in until they found a replacement. Much of our work was cleaning up the grounds, raking, pruning, weeding, etc. and it was cold and windy and then cold and rainy, but we brave Montanans persevered! We really enjoyed the interaction we had with the students and staff as we worked.
We were issued three keys which would unlock anything on the campus, which is a secured, gated campus. It gave a feeling of “authority” to be able to unlock any door or gate on campus. We had access to anywhere we needed to go. But with the keys came responsibility as well—especially knowing that if we happened to lose them, they would have to re-key every lock at a cost of about $1500!! (So, we handled the keys with great care and respect!)
We have an account in the Bible where Jesus, after Peter’s confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” said to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16:16,19). Keys represent authority—authority to open or close. The “keys of the kingdom of heaven” probably refers to the authority Peter (and all who make the confession of faith that Peter did) had to introduce people to the kingdom of heaven by sharing with them the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s dying for their sin, His death, burial and resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-4).
In Scripture, keys often were used by the stewards who supervised one’s household to dispense provisions for those who needed them (cf Isa. 22:15,22). In Luke 11:52, we see where the “key of knowledge” related to entering the kingdom. The “keys” in Mt. 16:19 relate specifically to binding and loosing. As Peter and the Apostles preached in various places, they wielded the keys of the kingdom and Jesus built His church. People would be loosed from their sins (forgiven) as they responded positively to the gospel message or bound in their sins (remain unforgiven) if they did not.
Specifically, Peter had the authority to open the doors of Christendom:
1) First to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-42) when about 3,000 responded to Peter’s message.
2) Next to the Samaritans (Acts 8). Philip had gone there to preach but “when the apostles in
Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and
John, who came down and prayed with them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14,15).
3) Then to the Gentiles as God sent Peter to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).
The “keys” of Mt. 16:19 pictured the throwing open of the gates of a walled city to welcome people in. Peter played a role in the step-by-step opening of the doors of the kingdom of heaven—to the Jews, to the Samaritans (who were half Jew, half Gentile) and to the Gentiles. In each case, the converts were baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, the Church, probably evidenced by the speaking of tongues, so that when the Jewish Council met in Jerusalem to decide how Gentiles were saved (did they need to be circumcised?) Peter could bear witness to how the Samaritans and the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had at Pentecost. Tongues had been a sign to indicated the universality of the Gospel.
While Peter may have been used by God in a unique sense to introduce the different groups (Jew, Samaritan, Gentile) to the body of Christ, the Church, we too have been “given the keys” of authority to proclaim the Gospel to anyone and everyone today. Before Jesus left the earth to return to heaven, He gave both a command and a prophecy to the disciples who were with Him when He ascended. He said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses both in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). When we believe the message of the gospel and ask Christ to be our Savior, we are baptized (immersed) into the body of Christ, the Church, become “new creatures” in Christ (II Cor. 5:17) and are now “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20), representing Him wherever we go, having been “given the keys” of authority to share the truths of God’s Word, that “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Ro. 10:13).
It is a great privilege to be “given the keys,” but it is also a great and awesome responsibility—a responsibility to give out the gospel because it is the only thing that can open the gates of heaven. Do you know Christ as your Savior? Are you using the keys of authority given to you?