Learn about the Bible meaning of the "keys of the kingdom" through related Bible verses and analysis.
What are the Keys to the Kingdom?
The "keys of the kingdom," as found in Matthew 16:19, are a Christian concept of eternal church authority. Christians believe it was established in the 1st century AD, initially through the confession of faith by the Apostle Peter, then through the rest of the 12 Apostles. In Christian theology, "the keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sins." In the Bible, the term keys have been used as a symbol of teaching authority (Luke 11:52).
Keys of the Kingdom refers to a special authority that will be given to both Peter and the other apostles after the Resurrection (John 20:23). Peter was not a leader over the others, but among them. This truth was confirmed at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), where the apostles and presbyters met as equals, and Peter advised, but James presided. Claims in later centuries must not be confused with the New Testament witness regarding Peter, nor should the role of Peter be diminished in opposition to these claims.
Binding and loosing is a reference primarily to the authority "to absolve sins," but it also includes all the teaching, sacramental, and administrative authority of the apostles. This authority was, in turn, transmitted to the bishops of the Church and continues in effect to this day.
The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell 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." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
Authority Given to the Apostles
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:19-23)
Christ commissions the disciples to continue His mission on earth, granting them the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive the sins of others. Through this direct consecration and apostolic continuity, Christ's own Priesthood is communicated to the bishops and presbyters of the Church.
"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen" (Matthew 28:18-20)
Bible Verses about Church Elders
Acts 14:23 - And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 20:28 - Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
James 5:14 - Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Hebrews 13:17 - Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Timothy 5:17 - Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
1 Peter 5:1-5 - So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
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