Authority Comes With A Set of Keys

Keys are pretty big deal. Do you remember when your mom or your dad first gave you your own house key, or the keys to the car? That was quite a moment wasn’t it?

If you think about it there’s a lot wrapped up in the idea of giving keys to something. There’s a responsibility that comes with a set of keys, because you are given them for a purpose right and you need to use them and look after them well. There’s also a sense of authority that goes along with a set of keys. I have the delegated authority to operate this car. I have been given the authority to open up the doors to this building so that people can come and go, and I have the authority to lock the door and say sorry you can’t come in. What’s more the giving of keys also carries with it a designation of honor. When somebody in a community has performed a special civic duty they might be awarded with the key to the city. But even with a set of keys to our house, when we give somebody one of those we’re saying, you belong with us, you can identify with us, what is ours is yours.

In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus gives a set of keys Peter, the keys of the Kingdom. Jesus has just made a statement about Peter being a rock and now he is given this special honor.  But this honor also in a sense goes to the rest of the apostles (Peter was the representative spokesperson for the group - see also Eph. 2:20) and ultimately this honor, this function, this authority still today belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ! We hold the keys to the Kingdom of God.

In many respects the picture of St. Peter at the Pearly gates letting people in or turning them away is a misunderstanding of this passage – but there are some things even within that kind of comical picture that are correct and Biblical. Peter isn’t spending all eternity at the gates of heaven. But during his life and that of the other apostles he did what the Church is now entrust with and that is that he exorcised the authority of binding and loosing kingdom things.

The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God over all things, it is in a sense the realm of His rule. The Church lives under the Kingdom rule of God but the Church is not itself the Kingdom. We look forward to the fullness of the Kingdom rule of God when Christ returns.

But this Kingdom authority that Jesus gives here to the Church to bind and to loose is the authority that comes to declare and confirm salvation through Jesus Christ.  The Church has been entrusted with the message of gospel. We declare it to a lost world and in declaring it we open up the doors of the Kingdom for all who would believe to receive salvation and come in. When we proclaim the gospel and it is rejected our preaching, our message is also the very thing that locks people out of the Kingdom.
When you or I proclaim the gospel we become the means through which people are invited to salvation. Even though we have been given the keys, we do not tell people who can come and who cannot, but we as the Church do, assuming that we are living and teaching in accordance with God’s revealed Word – we do confirm or deny Kingdom access by holding out the rule, the standard the plumb-line of salvation.

I have at different times had to have difficult conversations where I have had to tell people who reject Jesus point blank and yet say they know God – "you say you know God but you do not, you are not saved, you have no hope of eternity in heaven."  Some might ask – how can you say that to someone, what gives you the right, who gave you the authority to say something like that – the answer – Jesus! He has given the authority.

 The Church has the authority to say – if you reject the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead you cannot be saved. The Church has the authority to say, that if you do not trust in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection and that alone for the forgiveness of your sins you cannot be saved. The Church has the authority to announce that there is no other name, no other religion, no other philosophy, no other way but Jesus to be saved.

The Church does not determine who can be saved, but it does have the authority when rightly exercising the responsibility of using its keys to confirm and to deny, to loose and to bind.

We have honor, the authority, and the responsibility in Kingdom matters, and when we as the Church we exercise that honor and authority and responsibility the eternal purposes of heaven are accomplished and confirmed here on earth.

And if Jesus has given this honor, this authority, this responsibility then we have to use the keys.  We have to proclaim the gospel.  We have to do it clearly.  We have to make sure we are not going beyond Scripture, laying a burden on people that God never intended.  We have to do it compassionately, but we also have to do it uncompromisingly. Because the keys belong to the Church, there’s nobody else who will do this.  Jesus loves His Church and He has entrusted to it alone Kingdom authority!


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