The Keys of The Kingdom

"I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shalt be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:19).

Strange words, seemingly giving to Peter greater power than has ever at any time been given to any other man! What was it that Jesus saw in this simple fisherman which led Him to repose such confidence in him? What was the nature of that commission whose terms extend beyond this earth and its span of time into the heavens and into eternity?

There is evidently some connection between these words and those given by the resurrected Jesus to John on the island of Patmos. "These things saith he that…hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;" (Rev.3:7). There is an air of finality about these words which marks them as having reference to some very decisive aspect of the Divine Plan, and that the kingly power of Jesus is involved is very evident. Fully to understand the allusion, however, it is necessary to go back to the Old Testament, and it is in the eloquent words of Isaiah that we find the source of this theme.

In Isaiah's twenty‑second chapter the prophet speaks of one Shebna, who is treasurer over the royal house and therefore responsible to the king for the welfare of the nation. He is an unfaithful steward, for he has sought his own advantage, and that of his personal friends, to the detriment of the people and the national welfare. On this account the prophet is commissioned to pronounce Divine judgement upon him. His office is to be taken away and given to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who will be a true father to Jerusalem and Judah, and discharge the duties of the office faithfully. On the shoulder of this man is to be laid the key of the house of David, so that he shall open, and none shut, and he shut, and none open. Here is the prophecy which gave inspiration for our Lord's word to Peter and those concerning himself.

Shebna and Eliakim are known only as Court officials in the time of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:18‑37). They were probably men of some note during Isaiah's life but their only place in Divine revelation was that of actors in a drama which was to be a fore‑view of a greater thing. One chapter in Isaiah's writings tells us all we need to know about them. Six verses of that chapter are sufficient for our immediate purpose "And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons. In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD hath spoken it." (Isa.22:20‑25).

The "key of the house of David" is obviously the Divine authority vested in the royal line of David. The Davidic dynasty was the only one recognised by God as enjoying the right to rule on the "throne of the Lord" in Jerusalem over Israel. David was promised that he would "never want a man to rule over Israel"; i.e., the Davidic line would never become extinct and God would never recognise a king of any other line. True to this, Jesus Christ, who is to be King of all the earth during the Millennial Age, was of the line of David. And Israel was the chosen people of God, made so they might be his missionaries to all nations when the time comes. Hence the man upon whose shoulders was placed the "key of David" occupied a most honourable and responsible position. He was in a very real sense the Executor of the Divine Plans, and in the days of natural Israel such a man, more than any other, could haste or hinder the accomplishment of God's purposes.

Shebna was an enemy of God, and God removed him. He was tossed "like a ball into a large country" (Isa.22:18), that is, he was stripped of all his glory and honour, his ill‑gotten gains and robes of office, and flung out into the wilderness to perish. He, previously to Eliakim, had held the key of David. He, previously to Eliakim, had been a "nail in a sure place" upon which everything in the house depended. But now the Divine decree had gone forth and that nail which had been fastened in a sure place had fallen, and the burden that had been upon it had been cut off, "for the LORD hath spoken it" (vs.25). The rule of Shebna had given place to the rule of Eliakim, and all the glory of the house of David was to find its focus and its centre in the person of this, the Lord's anointed.

There is only one time in history to which this language respecting the glory of the house of David can be applied in symbol, and that is at the setting up of Christ's Kingdom, when the Lord Jesus Christ, as the personal representative of the Father, will rule the world in justice and equity (Isa.11:4) and all things will depend upon him, things small and great, "vessels of cups…to…vessels of flagons" (Isa.22:24). Jesus himself knew that He was the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy and therefore He could say with truth that He had the key of David. Upon him is to depend all the offspring and issue (Isa.22:24) for all who enter into life during the Millennial Age will receive it from him. "He shall see his seed" (Isa.53:10). "I am come that they might have life" (John 10:10). "His name shall be called...the everlasting Father." (Isa.9:6). And that "glorious throne to his father's house" spoken of in Isaiah 22:23 finds its reality in the Great White Throne of the Millennial Age (Rev.20:11), before which all the nations of the world, dead and living, will be arrayed to receive judgment, and, if they will, blessing and everlasting life.

The robe and the girdle of vs.21 (Isa.22) are terms associated with the priesthood. There is more than a hint here that the One whom Eliakim prefigured is both a priest and a King, a priest upon his throne (Gen.14:18). The 11th chapter of Isaiah describes the kingly work of Christ during the Millennium. "Of the increase of his government...there shall be no end…and upon his kingdom" (Isa.9:7) and the noble words of Psa.110 come to mind, "The LORD said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool". The rule of Christ during that Age is one that will bring blessings of health and everlasting life to those who are truly converted to him, but at the same time will firmly repress evil and all attempts to commit evil. Hence it will be true that earth's new King will "open, and none shall shut" and "shut, and none shall open". Those who willingly come into harmony with the laws of the Kingdom will enter into life, and none will be able to take away from them that life; those who persist still in attempts to do evil, and will not come to him that they might have life (John 5:40) will eventually reap the inevitable result of wilful sin, and no one will be able to deliver them from that death.

Now these are the thoughts that Jesus must have had in mind when He spoke to Peter. Just as He himself had received the "key of David" and had thus become the representative of the Heavenly Father in the execution of his Plan; just as to him had been entrusted the oversight and control of all mankind and of all the earth for the purpose of bringing both them and it into full conformity with the Divine intentions, so Jesus was now appointing Peter as his representative to take the lead in initiating the work which was to commence at Pentecost and continue for two thousand years, until the Lord should come again. That the disciples understood it this way is shown by the fact that Peter remained the acknowledged head of the little band through all those early years when the Church was gaining its foothold in the earth. It was Peter who at Pentecost preached the first Gospel sermon. It was Peter who received the first Gentile convert—Cornelius—into the Church. It was Peter with whom Paul, the next great leader given to the Church, conferred preparatory to taking up his own place in the ministry. The whole of the work and fellowship of the Jewish Church of the generation that knew Jesus in the flesh bears the impress of Peter's mind, just as that of the Gentile Church of a little later is characterised by that of Paul. Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom, that Kingdom which his Master had preached, and Peter opened the door through which others, Paul included, were to follow when their time of service had come.

So we can picture this grand disciple laying down the standards of the Kingdom just at he had received them from his Master. His mind was clear now; there would be no further hesitation or denying. As the years went by he became more and more confident, so that he could say at last "we have not followed cunningly devised fables,...but were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). The truths that Peter taught were the truths of heaven; the things that he promised were things that must surely come to pass, and therefore it was that whatever he bound on earth was bound in heaven; whatever he loosed on earth was loosed in heaven, for no man could gainsay or set aside what he said or taught. Heaven's confirmation was upon his work, and in the power of that authority he was able to go forth and do mightily in the service of his Lord.

Paul was the theologian, but Peter was the man of faith. In the long run it is faith rather than theology that will gain us the Kingdom, and hence it is that Jesus' words are still true. The stirring exhortations to Christian living and steadfast faith which form so large a part of Peter's epistles still define the way by which we must walk to be overcomers. "By these," says Peter, "ye might be partakers of the divine nature…" (2 Pet.1:4)There is no other way; and what Peter has bound for us, and loosed for us, in the teachings he has bequeathed to us, are recorded as bound, and loosed, in the archives of Heaven, and stand for all time as the gate through which we may gain access to the Heavenly City.