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 (Manna 76: Commission)
The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
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KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada


When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Mt 16:13–16)

The Lord Jesus asked His disciples two thought-provoking questions when they came to the city of Caesarea Philippi: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” He did not ask out of curiosity, for He knew how people viewed Him, as well as the disciples’ knowledge of Him (Jn 2:24–25). Rather, He asked these questions for the disciples’ edification. What others said about Him did not matter. The Lord Jesus wanted the disciples to reflect upon how they viewed Him, and to subsequently fix their eyes upon Him so they could see who He really was. 

To the first question, they answered, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

At their first encounter with Jesus, Andrew and Nathanael had confessed that He was the Messiah (the Christ) and Son of God (Jn 1:41, 49). Later, the disciples witnessed Jesus walking on the waves of the sea, and declared, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14:33). Despite these experiences, they may still have had some doubts—the hearsay about Jesus could have confused their perception of Him. Hence, the Lord Jesus wanted them to ascertain once again: Truly, who is the Lord that you are following?

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 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.” (Mt 16:15–19)

Peter’s understanding of the Lord Jesus did not come from human teaching or his own wisdom—it was from the revelation of the heavenly Father. Where matters of God are concerned, if He does not reveal them to man through His Spirit, man will never be able to understand (1 Cor 2:10–13). Since the disciples had already recognized Jesus as the Son of God, Peter’s Spirit-inspired answer was likely to have represented what they all believed.


The Lord Jesus told Peter: “[Y]ou are Peter [petros, Greek: “a piece of rock”], and on this rock [petra, Greek: “a mass of rock”] I will build My church” (Mt 16:18a). As Jesus said in Matthew 16:17, Peter’s understanding of the Lord came from the revelation of God (the Holy Spirit)—who is the “mass of rock” to which verse 18 refers (Deut 32:4; 2 Sam 22:47; 1 Cor 10:4). The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to understand the revelation of God, so that they could build the church upon the correct understanding of the salvation truth. In fact, the church is the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). It is built on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (Eph 2:20), the source of all revelations and the only foundation of the church (1 Cor 3:11). 

Jesus also said that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it [the church]” (Mt 16:18). The “gates of Hades” refers to the power of death. Therefore, death shall not prevail against the church built by Jesus. Rather, the church shall prevail against the power of sin and death through the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:55–57).

The church is the body of Christ

When Jesus spoke of establishing the church, He called it “My church”; in other words, the true church belongs to Him as she is redeemed by His blood (Acts 20:28). He reveals the truth to the church through His Holy Spirit, so that the church becomes “His household” and the pillar of truth (1 Tim 3:15). One cannot separate the church from the Lord Jesus; the claim “I believe in Jesus but not the church, which is just an organization,” will not stand. In fact, the true church is the body of Jesus Christ (Eph 1:23; Col 1:24), with Jesus as her head (Eph 5:23). The head cannot be separated from the body.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

The body is made up of many members—other than referring to believers of one locality, this also refers to members of different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds (1 Cor 12:13–14). Paul referred to the church as “the churches of God” (1 Cor 11:16; 1 Thess 2:14; 2 Thess 1:4). This suggests that the church at that time consisted of many churches in different localities. Every local church was an integral part of the whole. No church could claim to be separate from other member churches, for together they were the churches of God. Likewise, the true church today comprises a vast number of local churches, consisting of believers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, in many countries across the world. A structured organization exists to allow the body of Christ to work together. General assemblies and coordination centers help to organize the work on a national level, while the International Assembly provides global coordination. In this way, the member churches can support one another, making the overall church the glorious body of the Lord Jesus. 

No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Cor 12:22–27)

During his missionary trips, Paul visited the local churches (Acts 15:36; 18:23; 20:1–2), and he realized that in some places, certain brethren had started to preach heresies (Gal 1:6–9; 2 Thess 2:1–2). Also, the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that in the latter times (referring to the latter days of the apostolic era, as well as the present last days), “some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). This prompted Paul to leave Titus in Crete and Timothy in Ephesus, instructing them to stop the mouths of those who spread false teachings (Tit 1:10–14; 1 Tim 1:3). Paul told Timothy: “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Tim 1:13–14). Paul emphasized the need to keep the unity of the faith among the churches of God, so that there would be no schism in the body of Christ.


A key is for the purpose of locking and unlocking (Rev 3:7). Therefore, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are to open and shut the doors of heaven. They represent the salvation truth that is essential for one’s entry into heaven.

There is only one way to heaven. When Jacob dreamed of a ladder leading to heaven, he knew that place was the gate of heaven and house of God (Gen 28:17). Later, Jesus revealed the significance of that ladder. He said: "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man"  (Jn 1:51). Jesus is the ladder to heaven. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6). Since the church is the body of Christ (Eph 1:23; Col 1:24), this means that she holds the salvation truth by which we can be saved—she holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

The Lord Jesus said that He would give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. But this does not mean that the keys were given to him alone; Peter represented the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph 2:19–20). Jude wrote that the faith, the salvation truth, was delivered to the saints—collectively—once for all (Jude 3). And the Holy Spirit would guide them in the exposition and strengthening of the content of the salvation truth, to establish the church as the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

Access into the kingdom of heaven requires a set of keys. Only when one has the complete set will one be able to enter through each gate (Rev 21:12–21); not a single key can be missing. This goes to show that the salvation truth handed to the true church is complete and unblemished. It is a set of keys given to open every door to the kingdom of heaven. The true church has the complete doctrines, which are biblically sound, since the Holy Spirit is able to guide her into all truth (Jn 16:13).

The common faith

While the basic beliefs of the true church are complete, each local church should agree on the same understanding of the doctrines (Gal 1:6–9). There cannot be different interpretations or stances among the member churches that contradict the church’s core beliefs. For example, if one local church believes that it is essential to observe the Sabbath, while another thinks otherwise, they have two different faiths. Or if one performs baptism in the name of Jesus Christ in living water, while another baptizes in an artificial pool in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, they have two different baptisms. Regardless of the number of member churches, the collective church has only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (Eph 4:4–6). And it is through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that this set of core beliefs is established. One faith of salvation is instituted by one Lord. Hence, there is one common faith (Tit 1:4), to serve the one true God (Deut 6:4; Mk 12:29; Jn 10:30; 17:3). 

Today, the true church has a truth-research mechanism where inconsistent understandings of the truth are clarified, just like the meeting of the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15. Participants of the truth-research meeting must submit to the Holy Spirit, willing to seek out the will of the Holy Spirit together in one accord, in order to expound and uphold the truth of the Bible (2 Tim 1:13–14). Most importantly, all local churches must become one in the truth, so that the entire church can attain the fullness of the stature of Christ (Eph 4:13).

He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”(Mt 13:11–13)

The Lord Jesus allowed only His disciples to understand the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom—this is what it means to receive the keys that unlock the gates of heaven. The disciples had forsaken everything and followed Him wholeheartedly; they were willing to listen to His teachings and abide by them. The Lord Jesus will not make the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven known to those who do not have the heart to follow Him, who only want to see miracles or follow the crowd. Because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Mt 13:13), they are just like those who have been locked out of the gates.


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" (Mt 16:19). Here, Jesus does not speak of binding or loosing men. Since this statement is about the keys of the kingdom of heaven, it must refer to practices pertaining to the locking and unlocking of the gates of the kingdom of heaven.

From the Acts of the Apostles, it can be clearly seen that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven were revealed to the apostles, through the work of the Holy Spirit. When the Lord bestowed the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the church, it was to hand over the authority of binding and loosing (which is, to release) to the church. She would be able to clearly discern between teachings which must be observed from ordinances that are irrelevant to salvation. What the church defines on earth, is exactly the will of heaven (of God). For example, the sins of man can only be washed away through water baptism conducted according to the Bible (Acts 22:16). This salvation truth is bound on earth and also in heaven—no one can have his sins removed from him unless he is baptized in the name of Jesus. It is one of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, circumcision, the laws pertaining to sacrifices, and the complex purification rites of Mosaic Law were loosed by the Holy Spirit through the apostles; those seeking salvation are not bound by these.

The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was the first gathering of the apostolic church to ascertain the truth. They discussed the issue of whether the Gentile believers needed to undergo circumcision and observe the Mosaic Law. After much debate, Peter, Barnabas and Paul each recounted their experiences of preaching to the Gentiles. They spoke of how the Gentiles believed and received the Holy Spirit, who purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:7–9). Finally, James drew a conclusion, to which the apostles and elders agreed (Acts 15:13–21). They decided to write to the local churches with the decree:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28–29)

While recollecting the work of the Holy Spirit, the apostles realized that Gentiles who believe in the Lord were not bound by circumcision; its observance was no longer binding, unlike the “necessary things” which all believers of the Lord must observe.


Though the participants of the Jerusalem Council debated with one another, they eventually submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This does not only refer to the decision-making process, but also to how they discerned the direction in which the Holy Spirit was leading them.

As the apostles recounted the works of the Spirit, they were able to identify His will. In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit instructed Peter, saying: “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). After this, the Holy Spirit sent Peter to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile. As Peter preached, the Holy Spirit fell on them. Seeing this as confirmation that the Gentiles were accepted by God, Peter boldly baptized these uncircumcised individuals. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Paul to Crete and Galatia. Initially they went to the Jewish synagogues to preach and debate. Though some Jews were willing to believe, Barnabas and Paul were frequently rejected and slandered. Hence, they turned to the Gentiles instead, who accepted the gospel, and were baptized into the Lord (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8).

The Holy Spirit led these early workers along a path which they had never set foot on, and they could not help but follow (cf. Josh 3:3–4). The Spirit, through Peter, Paul and Barnabas, laid the path of salvation for the uncircumcised, and walked before them all the way. Therefore, James was assured of the will of the Holy Spirit “to lay no greater burden” on the Gentile believers other than the abstinence from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. The apostles and elders loosed the yoke of the Law from the neck of the Gentile believers. At the same time, the believers were bound by the four restrictions. After the churches received this epistle, they “were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5)—the decision made by the apostles and elders was affirmed in heaven, i.e., what they bound on earth was bound in heaven and what they loosed on earth was also loosed in heaven.

Today, the true church of the last days also emphasizes and submits to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit led the growth of the church during the apostolic times, He continues to guide the church today, clarifying any uncertainties that may arise in the understanding of the salvation truth. The true church does not follow a leader, or venerate any individual because of his knowledge. Rather, the church explores the footsteps of the Holy Spirit and closely follows on to uphold the common faith, the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

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Author: KC Tsai