The authority Christ delegated to His disciples to proclaim forgiveness and pronounce judgment.
Old Testament The holder of the keys had the power to admit or deny entrance to the house of God (1 Chronicles 9:22-27;
Isaiah 22:22). In late Judaism, this key imagery was extended to angelic beings and to God as keepers of the keys of heaven and hell.
New Testament In the New Testament, keys are used only figuratively as a symbol of authority, particularly the authority of Christ over the final destiny of persons. The risen Christ holds the key of David and controls access to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:7). By overcoming death, He has the keys to the world of the dead (Revelation 1:18).
Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus delegated the power of the keys to His disciples, combining the imagery of keys with that of binding and loosing. When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus proclaimed that the gates of death would have no power over His church. The gates would not be able to resist the keys he was giving to Peter as a representative of the church. [See also Disciple's Study Bible, note on
Matthew 16:18-19, pp. 1198-1199.]
With the other apostles, Peter also received the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19;
Matthew 18:18), a phrase used to describe the work of scribes who sought God's will through a study of Scripture and declared it through teaching and judging. The scribes could also exclude persons from the community (compare
Matthew 18:15-17), but Christ denounced them for misusing their key (Luke 11:52) and blocking the entrance to the kingdom (Matthew 23:13). In their place, through the gift of the Spirit, the disciples received the authority to proclaim forgiveness and judgment (John 20:23). See Keys of the Kingdom.
Barbara J. Bruce