Keys of the Kingdom

When he confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Peter is blessed by given the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:16, 19). What did Peter really receive? What do these keys not mean?

In a context where even John the Baptist wavered and others rejected Jesus as the Christ, the revelation that God the Father gave Peter about who Jesus really is, set the stage for Christ’s inevitable march to the cross (Matthew 11:2-6; 13:53b-58; 16:17-21). By this time in Matthew, ‘this generation’ in Israel had already rejected Jesus as the Son of David (12:23-32) and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom in terms of the Davidic Covenant had already been postponed. Once Peter confesses the true identity of Jesus, God’s kingdom program during the inter-advent is made more explicit, having previously been announced in the parables of Matthew 13 in a hidden way (cf. Scholtz 2015). Before the Day of the LORD starts, Christ will build his Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (16:18a).

Keys open and lock doors. Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven only to Peter (16:19). These keys confer the authority to open the spiritual door of the kingdom of heaven to Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles (Matthew 28:18b-20; cf. 10:5-7; Acts 1:8; Toussaint 1980:205). Fruchtenbaum and Gendron (1996:230) describe Peter’s role as follows: ‘Having the keys, already known from the Old Testament, carried two concepts: first, authority (Isa. 22:20-24) and, second, the right to unlock the door. Therefore, the basic point of Matthew 16:19 is that Jesus gives the authority to Peter to open the door of the church, or the body of Christ, to all three segments of humanity. Once he opens the door for a segment of humanity, it will remain open for them. This helps explain the sometime delay of the baptism of the Spirit to believers.’ In the Book of Acts, Peter opens the door of the kingdom of heaven to Jews (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8) and to Gentiles (Acts 10-11).

It is submitted that between the inter-advent period, more believers in Christ—more children of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 13:38) — are added with all other believers of all time who will enter the Messianic kingdom when it will be established in terms of the Davidic Covenant when Christ returns (cf. Scholtz 2015:1). Note that the Church is not the kingdom. Believers from Pentecost onwards, and who are baptised into Christ’s body, will enter the Messianic kingdom when it is established. But this still does not mean that the Church is the kingdom. During the time that Christ Jesus is in heaven, the kingdom of heaven may exist in the sense that some of the sons and daughters of the kingdom are present on earth (cf. Matthew 13:24, 38; Toussaint 1980:172).

The above must not be construed as agreement with the traditional Roman Catholic view that Peter was the first in a line of popes that exists to the present day, because this authority regarding the keys of the kingdom which Christ gave to Peter cannot and was not transferred to other people. Peter does not provide salvation to anyone for salvation is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Peter is not a high priest in any sense, because Jesus Christ is the only High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Peter was married (Matthew 8:14) and he made some sinful mistakes (Matthew 26:69-75; Galatians 2:11-14), but he repented and Jesus forgave him. Christ Jesus is still building his Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.



Fruchtenbaum, A.G. & Gendron, M.P., 1996, ‘Kingdom, keys of the’, in M. Couch (ed.), Dictionary of Premillennial theology, pp. 229-230, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids.

Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2005, ‘The confession of Peter’, Ariel Ministries, San Antonio. This article can be purchased.

Scholtz, J.J., 2015, ‘Reading Matthew 13 as a prophetic discourse: The four parables presented in public’, In die Skriflig 49(1), Art #1870, 7 pages.

Toussaint, S.D., 1980, Behold the King: A study of Matthew, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids.

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