Who Has the “Keys” to “Bind and Loose” Today?
Question: Jesus said, “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” That sounds as though we have the authority not just to ask God for something in prayer, but to command Him. Why can’t we make this work today?
Response: You have mixed two Scriptures. The promise “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” (Matthew:16:19) was given to Peter individually, the singular “thee” and “thou” making that clear. Shortly thereafter, the same promise of binding authority (minus the statement about the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”) was repeated word for word to all of the disciples: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew:18:18). The plural, “Ye,” makes it clear that on this occasion the promise was given to all of the disciples.
How do we understand the “keys of the kingdom heaven” given to Peter individually? That Peter did not have a “key” or “keys” by which he alone could open the door into the kingdom for all who would enter is very clear. One enters the kingdom by believing the gospel and as a result being born again by the Holy Spirit (John:3:3-5). That gospel was preached by Christ (Luke:4:43), and He commissioned all of His disciples to preach it as well (Luke:9:2) long before the “keys” were given to Peter. Christ said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be in the kingdom (Luke:13:28), but they certainly were not given entrance by Peter, having entered it for centuries before he was born. Many entered the kingdom through the preaching of Philip (Acts:8:12) and Paul (Acts:14:22; 19:8; 20:25, 28:31) and, by implication, through the preaching of the other apostles when Peter was neither present nor referred to as holding any required “key.”
When the Keys Were Used
The only unique actions by Peter that could be associated with opening the kingdom to anyone were on the day of Pentecost and at the home of the Roman Centurion Cornelius. These were historic occasions on which Peter undoubtedly used the “keys of the kingdom”: one key to open the kingdom through the gospel to the Jews (Acts:2:14-41) and the other key to open the kingdom to the Gentiles (Acts:10:34-48). Although Paul was “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans:11:13), Peter was the first to preach the gospel and offer salvation to non-Jews. He reminded the church leaders of that fact when they gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the status of Gentiles:
Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles [the household of Cornelius] by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bore them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us, and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith (Acts:15:7-9).
Obviously these keys given to Peter by Christ, one for the Jews and the other for the Gentiles, needed to be used only once. The door of the kingdom having been opened to all mankind, the “keys” had served their purpose. The Roman Catholic Church, however, teaches that the “keys” bestowed a unique and lasting authority upon Peter, which then passed to his alleged successors, the popes. There is no support for this belief either in Scripture or in history. Peter never again used “key” in his lifetime. Obviously, having served their purpose, they were no longer needed. Nor is there a word about5 Peter’s alleged successors or subsequent use of the “keys.” That the popes were not by any stretch of the imagination successors to Peter is very clear from both the Bible and history, a fact that we document thoroughly in A Woman Rides the Beast.
Successors of the Apostles Today?
Furthermore, it is clear that all Christians are the “successors” to Peter and the other apostles. Jesus told His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel” (Mark:16:15). He commanded them to teach those who believed the gospel “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew:28:19-20). That would obviously include teaching all new disciples to preach the gospel and make disciples, who in turn would be likewise taught. Those of us who are believers today have heard the gospel from others, who in turn heard it from others, and so forth all the way back to the original disciples of Christ. Thus we (and all others who have believed the gospel from the day of Pentecost until now) are bound to obey everything that Christ commanded the original twelve disciples. That would include the command He gave His disciples regarding “binding and loosing” in His name and by His power. No exception is made for anything the apostles were commanded to do.
Roman Catholicism claims that the bishops are the successors of the apostles and therefore they alone can “bind and loose.” Similarly, some Charismatics try to make some special power out of “binding and loosing” available only for certain “prophets or those who have this special gift. Note, however, that the “binding and loosing” in Matthew:18:18 is linked with the promise “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew:18:20). That applies to all Christians, and so does every other promise and command given to the disciples.
As for “binding and loosing,” the context and the entire tenor of Scripture make it clear that Jesus was not handing His disciples some unique power that they could wield as they please. He was telling them that as His representatives they were to act in His name alone. This is not different from His promise that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John:16:23). Invoking God’s name in prayer is not a magic formula whereby we receive automatic answers to our requests. The same is true with “binding and loosing.” Whether binding demonic spirits in a certain situation or loosing someone from the power of sin in their lives, it must be in Christ’s name, as He would do it, to His glory, through His Word, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.