Matthew 16:19-20 (NIV) “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.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
The single sentence in verse 19 has sparked a lot of controversy, all centered on what Jesus was actually promising His disciples, and how much authority He was conferring on them. The fact is, Jesus promises the kingdom to His disciples in many places – not just for them to live in, but for them to own (e.g., Matthew 5:3, 10; Luke 12:32, 22:29). But this conferring of the kingdom is only valid for those who meet the requirements: those who are poor in spirit, those who are persecuted for their faith, and those who are steadfast and faithful in following Jesus.
The disciples did, or soon would, meet those requirements, so the kingdom could safely be promised to them. Jesus, the initiator and ruler of the kingdom was going away soon. The disciples would be left behind in charge of the kingdom, not as rulers, but as stewards. They were going to be left with all of the power, authority, and spiritual riches of the kingdom, and would be expected to use them wisely and in accordance with Jesus’ commands, because there was going to be an accounting when He returns, along with appropriate rewards and penalties (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).
As the stewards of the kingdom, the disciples would be expected to stand in the place of Jesus and, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, teach the Church what is required of them, what is allowed, and what is forbidden (the meaning of “binding and loosing” in the days of Jesus). There is no hint here of determining who can and can’t be saved, or of granting or withholding forgiveness for sins. This is more a determining what is legitimately required of those who are part of the kingdom. You can actually see the Church leaders exercising this prerogative in Acts 15:19-21.
It is important to understand that the disciples of Jesus were never to exercise independent judgment on these issues. They were to lean on the Scriptures, on the clear teachings of Jesus, and on the guidance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 15:28 in the context of the whole discussion throughout most of Acts 15).
Even though the disciples had it right, Jesus really was the Messiah, He forbid them from spreading that information around. That was primarily because the word and concept of Messiah had become loaded down with political ramifications that God never intended the term to carry. Jesus did not want to fuel expectations that He, as Messiah, would foment a political coup against Herod, or against the Romans. He just needed to be the real Messiah, doing what God the Father intended. The correct expectations would follow afterwards.
Father, Jesus brought to us so much more than we realize. The vast majority of Christians have no idea of the inheritance that we have in You. You give us more than heaven some day; you give us life in Your kingdom as a here-and-now reality. Help us, Lord, to live as Your stewards, taking up all of the authority that You have delegated to us, along with all of the responsibility that that authority carries, ever mindful that we will be held accountable when You return for how we used that authority (or failed to use it!) to grow Your kingdom. Amen.