Matt 16:18,19 -- "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Some believe these verses signify the beginning of church authority. They believe it began here with Peter and has continued through the ages. By this belief, one person is in authority of the church’s decisions, scripture understanding, and enforcement of principles. The decisions made by this top authority are considered law and are passed down to individual leaders of their vast number of churches. However, it seems that anyone having this type of authority would be affected by stress, pressures, and scrutiny, causing them to make mistakes and misguide their followers. Also, their followers will become dependant on their leader instead of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the focus and exaltation seems to be on their head of the church instead of the true head, Jesus Christ.
To see how well this authority works, let us look at some times in Peter’s life after he became the ‘head of the church.’ We do not have to look far to see the first signs of weakness in this authority. In verses 22-23, we see that Satan was speaking through Peter to discourage Jesus from His service to God and man. Jesus knew this and spoke directly back to Satan. All this happened right after Jesus had put Peter ‘in charge’ of the church. It seems that all who were there, including Jesus and even the presence of God, should be very doubtful of Peter’s leadership. How could one let Satan control them so easily? Later, we find that Peter denies knowing Jesus. He was afraid for his own safety and denied any knowledge and connection to Jesus (Matt. 26:69-74). How strong and faithful could Peter’s authority be? In Galatians 2:11-12, we see that Peter acted cowardly and hypocritically. Before certain Jews, he would separate himself from the uncircumcised Gentiles, fearing to be seen eating with them. The apostle Paul corrected Peter face to face. How could Paul correct the ordained leader of the church? Ultimately, Peter does not solely make the decision himself concerning circumcision of the Gentiles. Other apostles were present for this discussion, including Paul and Barnabas, with the actual solution being made by the wisdom of the apostle James (Acts 15:13-21). It seems that God works through any of His servants. How can one believe that there should be only one main authority on the word of God?
As one can see, it is incredulous to believe in such an authority and probably sacrilegious toward God. Therefore, could this passage in Matthew mean something else? It does and is very easy to understand. We must read the prior verses to understand what is this ‘rock’ that is to build the church. In verses 16-17, we find that Peter identifies Jesus as ‘the son of the living God.’ Jesus replies that God, not flesh and blood, has revealed this to Peter. God through the Spirit gave knowledge and understanding to Peter. Then, Jesus also identifies Peter by his name. We know that Peter knows his own name, so what is Jesus really saying here? He is saying, ‘I know you Peter’. As much as Peter knew the heavenly Jesus, Jesus knew the internal Peter. We through the Spirit know God and God through Jesus knows us. It is this relationship with God and Jesus that is the rock. The rock here means the foundation or basis on which the church would be developed. The church would be built through us knowing God and the Son and they knowing us.
The keys to the kingdom of heaven can be understood through a little common sense. A key lets us get in or it keeps us out. We know that Peter does not have any authority to let someone in or out of heaven. That responsibility belongs to Jesus. Therefore, these keys have a different purpose concerning the kingdom of heaven. These keys are the keys to life. They are the ways that God wants us to live. They are also the things He wants us to give up so we can live a pure life before Him. These are the things that will be bound or loosed. The more accurate translation of verse 19 is in past tense. Whatever we bind or loose ‘has been bound or loosed in heaven.’ The keys to life are under the authority of God. He has already declared the righteous and the unrighteous ways of life from heaven. Whatever good we cling to, or whatever bad we give up, are under the will of God. We will know His will by our ‘rock,’ our relationship with Him while being in Jesus. Thereafter, we will bind the good things and throw away the bad things in our life.
Believing Peter to be designated as the first head of the church is an incorrect understanding of this passage. Jesus is the head of the church. It is His teachings and example of life by which we are instructed in righteousness. We all can have the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Our relationship with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the ‘rock’ or the foundation of growth. In this relationship we will be enlightened in the keys of life. From this knowledge we will do the good that is acceptable unto heaven and throw away the bad that is unacceptable. As a result, Hades will not be able to keep our soul in the day of judgment.