Written Word

The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven

What did Jesus mean when he gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom”?

The most prominent statue in our local church was that of Saint Peter. He was an austere figure seated upon a throne, with one hand raised toward heaven and the other holding two large keys. I seldom passed that statue without being reminded of Jesus’ words to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” How are we to understand these words? By putting a number of questions to the problem we are trying to solve, we can arrive at the correct answer.

First, what are keys used for? Keys are used to allow us access to places previously closed. When Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of God, he gave him the means of opening the way into the kingdom of heaven.

Second, how did Peter use these keys to allow us access into the kingdom of heaven? Peter was the first to preach the gospel to both the Jews and Gentiles. Those who believed in Jesus were baptised in his name and entered the kingdom of heaven. (Acts 2:38; 10:48) Of course, the other apostles were also engaged in this evangelistic work, but Peter did have a prominent role to play initially.

Keys were spoken about by Jesus on another occasion — the time he rebuked the religious leaders of his day for the way in which they abused the truth that God had revealed. The way they handled truth was a hindrance rather than a help to those who heard them. “Woe to you lawyers!” Jesus said. “For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52 NASB)

When Jesus spoke of the keys of the kingdom he symbolised the gospel, which opens the way back to the Father for all who will embrace its message.