What authority did Jesus Christ give to Peter and the New Testament Church of God?
The Bible uses a key as a symbol of authority. In Isaiah 22:22, we see Eliakim the priest receiving "the key of the house of David…on his shoulder." Revelation 3:7 uses similar symbolism. A trusted servant to the king wore the key to the king's house on a hook on his shoulder. Therefore, he had the authority to open or close the king's house.
Assuming Jesus was addressing Peter in Matthew 16:19, some interpret this to mean that Peter had the authority to allow or disallow access to the Kingdom of God. This explanation has two inherent errors. First, although Jesus said something specifically to Peter in verse 18, He included all the disciples in His comments in verse 19.
This is reflected in related verses where the Greek for the pronoun "you" is plural ("ye" in the King James Version). Matthew 18:18 says, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (emphasis added throughout). John 20:23 says: "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
The "rock" of Matthew 16:18 is Jesus, not Peter. Peter was a leading apostle of the early New Testament Church of God for many years, but not its chief cornerstone—that was and is Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20).
Second, it's erroneous to think any man could allow someone into the Kingdom of God whom God would not allow into it. Similarly, no man could disallow someone access to the Kingdom whom God would invite into it.
The Greek in Matthew 16:19 (as well as Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23) is not always clearly translated. These actions are called "future perfect passives" and can be rendered, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven" (New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition). God is not obligated to bind an ungodly decision. In other words, Christ would lead the Church leadership to decisions that He had already bound in heaven, not vice versa.
Anciently, when one came to seek the king's help or counsel, the servant's job was to open the door to the king's house and assist him in reaching the king. Christ's servants, the ministry, have a similar responsibility to assist those God is calling in coming to their King, Jesus Christ.
Christ showed that the religious teachers of His day, who had access to the knowledge of God's ways, had failed in this duty. "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered" (Luke 11:52). Occasionally, the ministry has the sad duty to inform some that because of their choices and actions, the doors to the kingdom are being closed to them unless they repent. See 1 Corinthians 5 or 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
Revelation 3:7 speaks plainly of Jesus having the key. In ancient Israel, the human king was in fact the steward of God, the true King of the land. Similarly, the divine Christ will be the steward of His Father's Kingdom. With that authority, Jesus could allow or disallow someone entrance into the Kingdom—but no man had or has that authority. Christ's statement in Matthew 16:19 meant that His apostles had authority to represent Him, to teach as He taught them and to be instruments in helping people live the way the Kingdom of God. Christ still lends His authority to His true ministers today to do the same work. Sadly, many falsely claim this authority and misuse it.
For more understanding, please read our booklet The Church Jesus Built .