Keys To The Kingdom, Matthew 16:18-19


And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades 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)

What does it mean that Peter was given the keys to the kingdom? Further, what authority is being given to Peter? There is a split among scholars and grammarians over how the last sentence of verse 19 ought to be translated. Some translations read, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (ESV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, NRSV, TNIV). Some translations read, “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been bound in heaven” (NASB, HCSB, NET). The problem is the rare Greek tense of these verbs. It is the future, periphrastic perfect tense. Without being scholars we can quickly see the problem. The future tense is of course a tense about something that has not happened yet, but will happen in the future. The perfect tense is an act that has been done in the past, but the results continue into the present. The continuing debate is which tense should carry the force of the sentence. The NASB, HCSB, and NET reflect the force of the perfect tense, while the other translations carry the force of the future tense. So, I say this just to make you aware of why your translation may be different from another trusted translation.

The focus of our lesson will be to consider the keys of the kingdom that were given to Peter. What does this mean and what is the effect of this action? In answering these questions I think we will deal with all the issues surrounding this text.

Examining Isaiah 22:15-25

Chapters 21-22 of Isaiah have cryptic headings as beginnings to these oracles. These chapters refer to the Assyrian invasion by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Chapter 21 describes the approaching doom as the threat of Assyria grows larger while Assyria conquers surrounding lands. In Isaiah 22:1-14 we see that Jerusalem is now threatened by Assyria’s invasion. Isaiah is focusing on the deportment and capture of the people in this chapter (22:1-3). But rather than trusting in God during this crisis, the people are trusting in themselves (22:11). Further, the people are feasting during this distress, rather than fasting to God for help (22:12-13).

The second half of chapter 22 is dedicated to an oracle against Shebna, who represent the problem with Israel. Shebna is “steward” who is charge of the royal household (“in charge of the palace,” HCSB, TNIV). The Hebrew word for “steward” is used in other Semitic languages to indicate that this is a very high official in the government, second only to the king (Oswalt, John N.; Isaiah 1-39: New International Commentary on the Old Testament). The phrase “in charge of the household” is used similarly of a high official, second only to the king. We see this in 2 Kings 15:5, “The LORD struck the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death. And he lived in a separate house, while Jotham the king’s son was over the household, judging the people of the land.”

The problem is that Shebna is more interested in death than life, seeing that he has a tomb prepared for himself due to the coming invasion of Assyria. Rather than think about his duty to the people of Israel as second in command to Hezekiah, Shebna is concerned only about himself. Therefore, Shebna is going to be removed from office and replaced by Eliakim (22:19-20). Being in this position of authority, Eliakim would have many things bestowed upon him: (1) clothed with Shebna’s robe, (2) Shebna’s sash tied around Eliakim, (3) Authority given to Eliakim, taken from Shebna, (4) father of the inhabitants, (5) key to the house of David so that what he opens will not shut and what he shuts will not open, (6) driven like a peg in the firm place, and (7) become the throne of glory to his father’s house. Now, many commentaries and scholars make the connection between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16:19. When we consider that this text concerning the Peter’s confession and the keys of the kingdom are only found in the Matthew account, which was written to Jews, then the connection to the Isaiah prophecy becomes even stronger. This is especially true when we recognize how rarely the figure of “keys” appears in the scriptures. But none of the commentators explain how these two passages connect.

Connections Between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16

1. Both are commissioning texts. These kinds of commissioning texts are also rare in the scriptures. In Isaiah we see that Eliakim is specifically named as the one to be “over the household,” meaning he is second only to the king. Eliakim is given keys, and these keys are to the Davidic kingdom. The meaning of the keys is that Eliakim has authority, such that “when he opens no one will shut” and “when he shuts no one will open.” Matthew 16 has very strong connections to this concept. Peter is specifically named and given keys. These keys are also to the Davidic kingdom (the kingdom of heaven). This authority means that whatever was bound on earth was also bound in heaven, and whatever was loosed on earth was also loosed in heaven.

2. Both involve a play on words with the individual’s name. Matthew 16 is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus makes a word play on someone’s name. Because this is a highly unusual event, we have to ask these questions: Why did Jesus do it here in Matthew 16? Why did Jesus do this now? We cannot pass this off as meaningless. Jesus has a reason for making this word play, especially when we recall who gave the name “rock” to Simon in the first place. Remember that Peter was not his given name, but Simon was his name. Jesus calls him Peter, “rock.” The connection leads us back to Isaiah 22. Eliakim’s name means “God will place” or “God will establish.” Notice how Isaiah’s prophecy is also a word play on Eliakim’s name. Isaiah 22:23 says, “I will drive him like a peg in a firm place.” Verse 25 says, “In that day the peg driven in a firm place will give way.” The emphasis on the name is put before us twice. But there are even more connections that these.

3. Both involve an individual serving as penultimate (not the ultimate) foundation of the kingdom. Eliakim was not the ultimate foundation, but Hezekiah was the king in the time frame when Isaiah prophesies. Peter was also not being spoken of as the ultimate foundation, because Christ is the ultimate foundation of the kingdom of God. But both Eliakim and Peter are being told that they will play important roles in the foundation of the kingdom. Eliakim will be like a peg driven into a firm place (immoveable, solid). Peter will be a rock (immoveable, solid) in the kingdom. The Old Testament shows us that there is a parallel between the peg, a foundation of a tent, and the rock, the foundation of a house. Zechariah 10:4 says, “From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler.” Both Eliakim and Peter are being called foundations, but not the ultimate foundation.

We need to realize that the New Testament repeatedly refers to Peter and the apostles as this foundation of the kingdom of God. Please refer to “Upon This Rock” lesson for proof of this point.

4.    Both involve a displacement of previous, faithless counterparts. This is another important point of comparison that helps us understand Jesus’ teaching to the apostles in Matthew 16. Eliakim was established because of the failure of Shebna. Therefore, Eliakim replaced Shebna as second over Hezekiah’s kingdom. In the same way, the apostles were established as a replacement for previous, faithless counterparts. Who were these counterparts? Look at Jesus’ words earlier: 52 “Woe to you experts in the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You didn’t go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.” 53 When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to oppose Him fiercely and to cross-examine Him about many things; 54 they were lying in wait for Him to trap Him in something He said” (Luke 11:52-54). Notice that the symbolism of “the key” appears in this text. The scribes and Pharisees had taken away the key of knowledge preventing people from entering God’s kingdom. The key was given to Peter and the apostles, a replacement of the scribes and Pharisees, as they would help people enter the kingdom of God. Jesus gives the apostles the key for they would be the ones after Christ’s death who would bring people into the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.


Let’s tie together these three lessons to hopefully present a clear understanding of Matthew 16:15-19.

1. We need not fear understanding Peter as the foundation for the kingdom of God. In fact, I think we are not correct if we teach that Peter’s confession is the rock upon which God’s kingdom would be established. I do not at all think that is what Jesus was referring to. Jesus gave Simon the name “rock” for a reason. Something was going to be built upon him to be given this name. But Jesus is speaking about Peter as a representative for all the apostles, as the scriptures repeatedly indicated Peter to represent. What is important to recognize is that Peter and the rest of the apostles were the rock foundation of the kingdom of God in the same way that Eliakim was the foundation of Hezekiah’s kingdom. Eliakim was still second to Hezekiah, and the apostles were still second to Jesus Christ.

2. Understanding Matthew 16 in the context of Isaiah 22 puts an end to the speculation about Peter being the pope and the line of succession. We must realize that the penultimate could not appoint his successor. Only the king himself could personally and directly appoint his penultimate. Only Hezekiah could personally and directly appoint Eliakim. Shebna could not appoint his successor. Jesus personally and directly appointed Peter and the apostles. The apostles had not power to appoint their successors. Only the king can do that. Jesus has not returned to personally and directly appoint his penultimate. The voting papers, the burning of the papers, and the colored smoke are all human invention.

3. The apostles, as the penultimate, carried great authority. Paul, in defending his apostleship to the Corinthians, said this to be the case: “For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame” (2 Corinthians 10:8). To follow Jesus is to not only obey the teachings of Jesus, but to also obey those who he left in charge, that is, the apostles. What they said carries just as much power and authority as if Jesus had said those words. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). The apostles said, “Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life” (1 Peter 3:21; GOD’S WORD). To suggest otherwise implies that only Jesus’ actual words while on the earth are of value and anything not in “red letters” in our New Testaments is not authoritative. Obey and be saved today.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary makes this point: “The periphrastic future perfects are then perfectly natural: Peter accomplishes this binding and loosing by proclaiming a gospel that has already been given and by making personal application on that basis (Simon Magus). Whatever he binds or looses will have been bound or loosed, so long as he adheres to that divinely disclosed gospel. He has no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has acted first (cf. Acts 18:9-10). Those he ushers in or excludes have already been bound or loosed by God according to the gospel already revealed and which Peter, by confessing Jesus as the Messiah) has most clearly grasped.”

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