What Matthew 16:19 Means (I give you the keys of heaven)

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19 

I remember hearing this verse read in church as a kid and having no idea what Jesus was talking about. And for many the meaning of Matthew 16:19 is missed. 

But this verse actually has some incredible truth for us today. And if you spend a few minutes looking at it with fresh eyes I think you will be encouraged in your faith. 

In order to better understand the Matthew 16:19 meaning we first need to look at the context in which these words were said. 

The Context Of The Matthew 16:19 Meaning

In Matthew 16 Jesus is talking about his kingdom and the power of faith. This is in sharp contrast to what the religious leaders who in Mathew 16:5-12 Jesus warns about and criticizes.

The disciples don’t escape criticism either for their lack of faith and understanding of what Jesus is talking about. They’ve been following Jesus for a while and are still struggling to understand. 

In Matthew 16:13-20 we see a conversation between Jesus and his disciples unfold. It starts when Jesus asks them who people say he is (Matthew 16:13). 

Eventually the question turns to the disciples and who they think Jesus is. It’s at this moment that Peter makes an incredible statement. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In response Jesus tells him that he will build his church on this rock. (Matthew 16:16-18)

It is from here that we get to Matthew 16:19. This verse is Jesus’ words spoken to Peter about the power of what God has in store for him. 

The Meaning Of Matthew 16:19

As we dive into the meaning of Matthew 16:19 it’s important to remember the context. These are words spoken by Jesus to Peter. These words are not spoken to you and me. That doesn’t mean they are FOR you, they are. But they aren’t written TO you. 

If we ignore the context of this verse we will miss the true meaning of it and run the risk of misapplying it to our lives. 

I Will Give You The Keys Of The Kingdom Of Heaven 

In essence Jesus is handing Peter the keys to the business. Only the most trusted employees get keys to the business and Peter has proved himself trustworthy. Not only does he have the keys, he has authority to carry the message. 

This isn’t the first time Jesus has given his authority to others. In Matthew 10:5-15 Jesus sends out the 12 disciples to do kingdom work. And after his resurrection he will give out authority to all the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). 

So, what do the keys of the kingdom of heaven do? 

Dr Tom Constable offers a good overview of Peter’s use of these keys, “The “keys” in view probably represent Peter’s authority to admit or refuse admission to the kingdom. They may also signify his authority to make appropriate provision for the household. In Acts we see him opening the door to the church for Jews (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8), and Gentiles (Acts 10). All who enter the church will eventually enter the messianic kingdom, so Peter began to exercise this authority when the church came into existence.”

Peter had the keys of the kingdom and continually opened doors for people to hear the Gospel message. The next part of this verse tells us more about what the keys of heaven do. 

Whatever You Bind On Earth Will Be Bound In Heaven 

The keys to the kingdom of heaven allow Peter to bind things on earth and then will be bound in heaven. But what does it mean to bind? 

In Jewish culture to “bind and loose” were legal terms that meant to declare something forbidden or allowed. This was to be the work of Peter and the other disciples. They were given the authority and were to fulfill God’s plan. 

Now, we should be careful to not exaggerate this authority. The apostle could not change God’s mind and make up rules that they saw fit. Rather when they bound something, forbid it, they were doing so out of God’s word. 

We know this from the grammatical structure of this verse. A more literal translation would be “whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven.” In other words it’s not that this authority allows something to change in heaven, but rather it’s about bringing what’s in heaven to earth. 

The Apostles words and actions were to reflect God’s will for his people. They were to bind, forbid, the things that kept people from God. 

Whatever You Loose On Earth Will Be Loosed In Heaven 

To loose on earth is a similar meaning as to bind. But rather than forbidding it’s allowing, or freeing. 

By preaching the Gospel those who respond will be loosed from their sin. They will find freedom from what once entangled them. 

What’s clear in this passages is that Jesus is sharing his authority so that more people can come to know God. And again, this is exactly what we see happening in the first few years of the early church. The Apostles used this authority to spread the Gospel. 

What Matthew 16:19 Means For Us Today 

So, how does the meaning of Matthew 16:19 apply to us today? 

This authority that’s talked about here isn’t unique to the disciples; all Christians have some level of authority in God’s kingdom. God has a meaningful story to tell in your life. He’s given you gifts, skills, and passions so that you can make an impact on the people around you. This verse is a challenge to step into this calling. 

You are charged with bringing heaven to earth. Telling, and showing, the people around you what God has done for them. Just as God used the disciples to make an impact in his kingdom he can use you too. 

You’ve been given the keys, so step into the purpose that God has for you. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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