Matthew 16:19. “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
It is partly from this verse that the idea has developed that it is Peter who stands guard at the gates to heaven, deciding who will enter and who will not. This idea makes for some interesting fiction, but it is most certainly not the true meaning of Jesus’ words.
I looked at this verse in several different sources, and most of them came to the same conclusion. It’s one that makes a great deal of sense to me.
My Dake’s Study Bible notes first that these keys were given not just to Peter, because the same power is promised to all believers (Matt. 17:20; 18:18; 21:22; Mark 9:23; 11:22-24; 16:15-20; Luke 10:19; John 14:12-15; 15:7, and many others).
Second, keys are a symbol of authority (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7). Here, they mean the authority and power to do the works of Christ (Matt. 18:18; 16:15-20; John 14:12-15).
Third, in no place in scripture does Jesus ever equate the kingdom of heaven with the church; therefore, He was not giving Peter authority over the church. He was giving Peter and all believers the authority to do His work.The kingdom of the heavens, in its present form, embraces the whole sphere of Christendom; that is, all who profess Christ. Remember that not everyone who names Christ is truly a follower of Christ. Not all who make up Christendom are true believers.
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus repeats His words, addressing not just Peter but all the disciples. Peter was not given special or sole authority over the church; nor was he the only one who went on to perform miracles after the Day of Pentecost.
Arno C. Gaebelein says that the keys are knowledge (preaching and teaching): and baptizing, citing Matthew 28:12. He doesn’t make clear how he considers baptizing to be a key to the kingdom of heaven; surely not in the sense of salvation, but rather in the sense of discipleship and obedience. I’m confident of this because his teaching on salvation is very clear, and baptism is not the vehicle of salvation.
The binding and loosing have nothing to do with salvation, either. It would most logically refer only to discipline on the earth. We will look more closely at these two words when we get to Matthew 18 and matters of discipline in the church.
Please understand that there is much, much more to be said about all this. It is a topic that can hardly be exhausted. These three verses, Matthew 16:16-18, have been preached upon for centuries, and I’m sure their true depths have never been plumbed. If you are looking for more, I urge you to study it out for yourself. There are excellent sources online, if you are discerning and willing to compare one writer to another and all of them to scripture.
The importance of these verses cannot be overstated. It is, after all, the church that Christ will take as His bride, the one He loves to the point of sacrificing His very life to save. Nothing is more important than that.