What are the "keys of the kingdom" referred to in Matthew 16:19?

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What are the "keys of the kingdom" referred to in Matthew 16:19?

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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." 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.

Revelation 3:7 uses similar symbolism, speaking plainly of Jesus having the key of David. In ancient Israel, the human king was in fact the steward of God, the true King of the land. Similarly, the divine Christ is the steward of His Father’s Kingdom. With that authority, only Jesus can allow or disallow someone entrance into the Kingdom—but no man had or has that authority. 

Christ's statement in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 show that His apostles had authority to represent Him, to teach as He taught them and to be instruments in helping people live the way of the Kingdom of God.

It is important to realize that 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). Scripture calls Jesus “that Rock” in 1 Corinthians 10: 4. It is upon this rock—Jesus Christ—that our faith stands, Matthew 7:24-25.

With regard to Matthew 16:18, the words "thee" and "thou" in the King James Version are singular forms of the second person personal pronoun, "you." So, Jesus Christ was specifically referring to Peter in this passage. He was often the spokesman for the others and had a leading role in the early church. We must also note, however, that all the other disciples were in Jesus’ presence at that time (see verse 13).

In Matthew 18:18 the same command is given, but this time to all the apostles. Here, note that the second and third occurrences of the personal pronoun as shown in the King James Version is "ye" (the second person plural form of you), indicating that Christ is addressing more than one person—that is, all of His faithful apostles. So, not only was authority given to Peter (Matthew 16:19), great authority was indeed given to all these men. After they were converted they spread the true gospel to the entirety of the world. 

Of course, it is 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.

Furthermore, in John 20:23 we read: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (KJV). This does not mean that men have the power to forgive sins. Only God and His son Jesus Christ have this power (Mark 2:7, 10). However, this verse states that Christ has given to the apostles and to all His ministers the authority to tell people that their sins have been forgiven by God. Please note the pronoun "ye" in this verse, which indicates that Christ is speaking to all of the apostles. Today, when ministers baptize and lay hands on people (Acts 2:38 and Acts 8:17), they can tell the repentant sinner that through the power of God and Jesus Christ, their sins have been forgiven. Man cannot forgive sins, but God can.

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.

Therefore, Christ's statements in Matthew 16:19 as well as in Matthew 18:18 show that His apostles had authority to represent Him, to teach as He taught them and to be instruments in helping people live the way of 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.


  • Rachelrhilla

    I am speechless at the moment.

  • Rachelrhilla

    God gave Rachel, I jesus the keys.

  • LOGOS International

    Can we say that Lord Jesus gave these "keys" or authority to Peter, not to his person, but as a representative figure to the church, or the Christian community, in general?

  • gowravi

    My ideas about 'Keys of Kingdom of Heaven': Two keys refers to the bride and bridegroom. If they were bound on earth then they will also bind in heaven. If they were loosed on earth then they will also loose in heaven. The right pair of each key should be given only by God, we can understand this by Adam and Eve creation. And the bondage between bride and bridegroom is only THE GOD. Sathan or evil power always try to separate every pair of keys. So be careful. And our Aim should be to get the 'Kingdom of Heaven' by God. Always be a true Christian by believing and loving our God.

  • KARS

    Hi again (It's been 4 years since I seen this article, wow how times flys), here is a quote from above "Of course, it is 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" Absolutely right! Simon Magnus for one was a baptized member of the church and had not received the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit yet. The laying on of hands is part of the authority (keys of the kingdom given to the Apostles) that they had. One day there is Simon Magnus watching the apostle laying his hands on baptized members that had not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit. What does he do? Asked if he could buy it. At that point he was told "But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! "You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God." Acts 8:20-21; the historical account begins in verse 9-24. The Keys of the Kingdom has many functions and is only given to the true ministry of God.

  • garywestgerdes

    The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are Jesus suffering/death, burial and resurrection. This is what Jesus clearly shares in Matthew and what the Apostle Peter and Paul used to open heaven in their messages to the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts etc.). Upon hearing the message and responding by faith in Christ and His shed blood for our sin the door of heaven is opened for us. We enter heaven through faith in Christ and His victory over sin and death. The authority Peter has is that of telling people who have repented of their sin and trusted in Christ is that they have fulfilled God's commandment to believe in Jesus to the saving of their soul and are seated in the heavens with Christ.

  • Lena VanAusdle

    Hi Gary,
    There are a number of misconceptions that you mention. First, as the article states, "Therefore, Christ’s statements in Matthew 16:19 as well as in Matthew 18:18 show that His apostles had authority to represent Him, to teach as He taught them and to be instruments in helping people live the way of the Kingdom of God. Christ still lends His authority to His true ministers today to do the same work."
    Next, you mention that Peter is seated in the heavens with Christ, that is ignoring very clear statements that NO ONE has gone to heaven except the Son of God who came from heaven (John 3:13). Peter, along with all of God's righteous saints (and all people who have ever died), is in his grave awaiting the return of Jesus Christ and resurrection from death (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
    Finally, yes, we need faith in Jesus Christ and the blood He shed for our sins to be forgiven, but that doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to obey God (James 2:14-26); faith without works is dead. And works without faith are useless.

  • E2015
    So many answers. So many questions. Rayi23 I hear ya! June2014 – That rings true. But how do we know if it’s true or not. Here is a key :-) or a way to know. Matthew 7:7-11. 7 Ask and it shall be given you; seek , and ye shall find; knock , and it shall be opened unto you: 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone? 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Yes it’s that’s simple, by faith and wanting to know you knock. You pray and ask God what is true. He is the author of all righteousness after all. Is there any better source? How else did Peter know Christ was the son of God? It didn’t come from flesh and blood. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Then 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The rock is revelation, heavenly revelation from the Father. Hell can’t prevail against it.
  • Orphia1
    The keys to the kids nf don of God in our lives.. Are founded in Matt 5... To be meek is to let go and allow God to maneuver our lives... Jesus demonstrated the keys by telling Peter He has to go into Jerusalem and suffer (allow) many things of the scribes and elders... This is an example of the keys... Because since God is in control we must let go and allow life to happen... In weakness His strength is made perfect...but this worlds system is connected to flesh.. It teaches us how to literally not wait on God... In gallation Paul talks about the two covenants that exists on the earth... He calls it an allegory... One covenant is to wait on a promise from God.. This is the kingdom way... And the other is to do things in the flesh.. he uses Abraham as an example... His promises from God was to bear Isaac with Sarah... But Abraham decided to have a child with the maid servant... And that was considered to be in bondage... And that's what the worlds system is functioning on ... Flesh... All the creations however came through the prophets...all inventors are prophets because they all went through ridicule with their ideas... In Matt 5 it stated ...(so persecuted the prophets which were before you) every human on the earth from the beginning were men just like us... Prophet s walked with God... Prophets had to adhere to Matt 5.. Meek.. Poor in spirit.. Pure in heart ... Merciful ... Mourn...reviled ...because they're receiving knowledge from God to shine on the earth...
  • MasonTD
    The "Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" refer to authority to do God's will on earth. The ultimate authority is God's will. The authority given to Peter is to carry out that which was already bound or loosed in Heaven by the will of God.
  • PeterandtheKeys
    Ivan, The hierarchy of Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops, etc, doesn't have to be based on the New Testament model. From as early as 96AD, only about 60yrs after the death of Jesus, there is written record in The First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians of the Episcopacy. That alone is just written record of how old the three fold episcopacy is! As we know tradition is much older than the writing of the New Testament!
  • Ivan Veller
    Hi Rayi23, "as you suggest, the hierarchy of popes, cardinals, bishops, etc., is not based on the New Testament model. Christ emphasized responsible stewardship and loving service by church leaders (Matthew 20:25-28)—not the Roman authoritarian model. And we certainly agree that the simplicity of the gospel has often been lost in the shuffle of mainstream church politics and complex theologies. This was a problem even in the apostle Paul's day (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)": http://www.ucg.org/bible-faq/i-have-no-doubt-god-exists-and-man-called-jesus-nazareth-was-his-son-i-find-hardly-any-ref
  • Daryl
    Matthew 16:19 Peter was given the keys of the kingdom, not the key to the kingdom. Christ is the key to the Kingdom Follow Peter throughout the book of acts. Every where that Peter went the Holy Spirit was introduced to the world. Matthew 16:19B Jesus was telling the disciples what is bound on earth will be bound in Heaven.. What is loosed on earth will be loosed in Heaven. This particular passage is addressing FORGIVENESS. Here is the true meaning to this particular passage. If we sin one against another and don't have forgiveness that SIN is bound on earth and bound in Heaven. If we forgive one another's sin then loosed on earth and loosed in Heaven. Forgiven sin will not have to be dealt with in Heaven but unforgiven sin will have to be dealt with in Heaven. 1 Tim 5:24 Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Forgiveness is one of the KEYS of the Kingdom Daryl
  • rayi23
    The thing that gets me is that no one really knows what he meant. You could make up anything. That is the problem with the Bible and spoken words. I am not saying anything negative but only stating the obvious. That said, the thought that has always interested me is that there was a lineage of light passed from one savior to another throughout the Bible. From what we only know from this event when John the Baptist Baptized Jesus "The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God". Consequently, in the same manner, Jesus passed that same Spirit of God to Peter by giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, upon his passing, just like John the Baptist who would be behead. But it doesn't mean that Peter started the Pope lineage. There is way too much politics going on during that time. People will never understand the Bible if they don't open themselves up to the hidden meaning behind the stories in the Bible. Those stories are meant to guide us to a deeper understanding of spirituality, rather than creating Religions which is only political organization. You can't let people tell you what anything means. You listen, of course, but, in the end, it is you that must understand. Spoken words are only shadows of a real experience. If all you do is argue over the shadows, you will never understand what is the deeper meaning. You cannot allow yourselves to be boxed in by others opinions. In the end, it is you that will have to answer. It will not work if you say "but he said.......".
  • Saint Stephen
    Thanks Gerald for the reply. I'd like to give a more scriptural break down. There's only 1 way to understand God's doctrine and it is the Lord's doctrine. If you want to further pursue the Lord's doctrine. Here's how. Isaiah 28:9-13; explains we must follow precepts which means commands, line upon line meaning reading all God has for you, and here a little there a little. This is the spiritual finds of God. Gods word is a treasure and there's always more to be sought out. Matthew 16:19 states that Peter gave him keys to the kingdom. John 3:3-8 Jesus explains to Nicodemus how you're born into the kingdom. Which is through the (Water)Jesus name baptism and the (Spirit)filled with the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues. Acts 2:38 Peter who received the keys explains how they receive redemption by Repentance, (Water) Jesus name baptism and the (Spirit) the Holy Ghost. This verse shows spiritually here a little there a little is the KEYS to the kingdom
  • Jane2014
    When Jesus gives the "Keys of the Kingdom" in Matthew to Peter, He is giving Peter the authority to use God's power here on earth. This same authority has been seen in all the prophets in the Old and New testaments; like the power by which Moses changed the staff into a serpent, or when the apostles went forth doing miracles in God's name. And with this power, Christ gave Peter the ability to seal things, else why does it say specifically that things will be bound in heaven and earth? Jesus gave those keys to Peter because of his righteousness, and willingness to submit to the will of the Father, so that God could continue His work on earth and show His miracles without being there Himself.
  • The Commander
    Why Don't people believe you! Of coarse Peter was a small rock and JESUS IS THE ROCK! We can lead people to Christ and that's about it and that's His doings thru us anyway! Jesus was in Capernaum with Peter and the boys when he looked up at that 9000 foot mountain there and said Upon this Rock I shall build my Church! Then He looked down into the grottos below the Great 9000 ft rock and said and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! These were Jesus's prop if I may! The huge rock mountain and the caves below it! Thx you, In Him alone, The Commander
  • Ramiro Asturias Zamora
    In the reported dialogue between the Lord and Peter, the first one commends the second one, and then says, "upon this rock..." meaning "the rock of revelation" which must characterize His Church. Besides, Peter was not appointed to head the congregation in Rome. The Lord foresaw James "the Righteous one," who for some time had it made as a vicarious leader, with no major problems. There was an initian discussion, but Peter was no match before James, who just as the Lord himself, was a direct descendant of King David.
  • gerald1683
    stephen you're clearly right. the keys of the kingdom mentioned in matthew were not literal. it's all spiritual and those keys were preached by apostle peter in ACts 2:38. these are the original keys whereby a man can enter into the kingdom of god in heaven.. stephen thank you for sharing your thoughts in this forum.
  • abundantlife

    In order to better understand this verse you have to read all the verses in its entirety. Once a scripture is used out of context its void of power. Everything that takes place in the Bible happens for a reason, we serve a purposeful God.

    Remember that Jesus begun this statement by asking a question, "Who do you say I Am?". Once Simon supernaturally revealed who He was, Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter (Petros in Greek which is a huge PIECE of a rock). That piece of rock represents the foundation of the church which was the revelation of Jesus Christ being the Son of the living God. With that understanding we can better interpret verse 19 when Jesus said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven". The KEYS are JESUS because no one can go to the Father but through Him and He is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIGHT. Jesus is the only one that has access to the Father and to the Kingdom of heaven without Him/keys you can not have access to the things of God and His kingdom. Because Jesus is the keys we have the power to bind and loose and to trample over the works of the enemy. You may argue that keys are plural and Jesus is singular, but Jesus is all things. Not only is He the way, truth and the light he is a savior, healer, delivers, and so much more. For example if you are sick and need healing what do you need? JESUS right! That is why He said, whatever you ask for in my name it will be done. Jesus gives us access to those things that are in heaven through and by the power of His name. While baptism, communion, and the holy spirit are a very important part of our Christian faith none of these hold any substance without Christ. Jesus is the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is through our diligence to serve Him that we have the ability to manifest His great power on this earth. Because we are partakers with Christ we are called to be key bearer and lead those out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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