"Signs of the Kingdom: Jesus, Peter, and the Keys"
Notes compiled by Andrew Adamany
Catechism of the Catholic Church
552 “Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him…”
553 “Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.”
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–19)
How did the other Apostles recognize Peter to be the Chief Apostle through the Keys?
To understand the significance of Jesus giving the keys to Peter, it helps to recognize the significance of the keys to Jesus and his identity in the Kingdom: the King.
Part I- Jesus in the Kingdom
One major theme of Jesus' public ministry as told in the New Testament, is that the Promised Messiah would come as the New King David:
Jesus the New David
“And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” (1 Samuel 16:8)
“I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:22-23)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11)
The Anointed One, the Spirit, and the Voice of God
“And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Samuel 16:12-13)
“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately out of the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:16-17)
The Rod of Iron
"Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed…
I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron," (Psalm 2:1–2, 7-9)
"she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne," (Revelation 12:5)
With the New Davidic King would come the restoration of the everlasting Kingdom of David
"I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’" (2 Samuel 7:13-14,16)
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
The significance that Jesus is the New David restoring, even elevating, is highlighted in Matthew's Gospel, referring to Jesus as "Son of David," "King of the Jews," and preaching of the coming Kingdom of Heaven in his parables. From the first sentence:
"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:1–2)
"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”" (Matthew 4:17)
"At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” (Matthew 12:1–4)
Part II- The Keys of the Davidic King
Another sign of the old Davidic Kingdom that that appears in the New Testament and points to Jesus as the New Davidic King appears in the book of Revelation:
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)
Being the key of David, its ownership ultimately belongs to the king, himself. The key of David appears in the Old Testament as a sign of authority over the house of the King, entrusted to a steward of the king's house
“Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him:...
I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house." (Isaiah 22:15,19-23)
The key of the king carried the king’s authority to whomever it is given to, not just over his household, but over the kingdom (“The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of Judah.”) As Isaiah 22 shows, the key was given to the steward Shebna, and then passed to Eliakim. And with the key, this steward’s authority included the power to open what none shall shut, and shut what none shall open. This is the same authority Christ holds in Revelation 3:7, as the king that the key belongs to.
So when Jesus, to whom the key of David belongs to, says to Peter:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19)
Matthew is bearing witness that New David, the heavenly King of Kings, has set the king’s authority over the kingdom, on Peter with a stewardly office overseeing his house and kingdom, the Church (1 Tim 3:15), of which its inhabitants he will be a father to. And with this authority that Christ gave to the apostles collectively afteward (Matthew 18:15-18), Peter is first given unique authority himself to bind in heaven what he binds on earth and loose in heaven what he looses on earth, just as Eliakim, could open what none shall shut, and shut what none shall open. The source of Peter’s authority to do so with such authority is the wisdom and strength of Christ- God the Son- as explained by Job similarly:
“With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, none can rebuild;
if he shuts a man in, none can open.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.
With him are strength and wisdom” (Job 12:13–16)
If the Old Testament type had authority from an earthly king to shut what none can open in the earthly Davidic kingdom is tied to the authority described be God's in both Job 12:13-16 and Revelation 3:7, how much more so is the authority Peter is given by Christ, the king of heaven and earth, to bind and loose in heaven what is bound and loosed on earth in the heavenly kingdom- the church?
Part III- While the Shepherd King is Away
Just as David was a shepherd who became king, and gave his key, and his authority, to a steward, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and King of Kings, entrusted his keys to the kingdom, and his flock, uniquely to Peter:
“Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow me afterward.” (John 13:36)
“And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”” (John 21:15-17)
Because by Jesus’ example, to lead in the Church meant to be a servant, just as a shepherd serves his flock. When the apostles argued over who would be the greatest among them, he never did say there was no greatest among them. Jesus answered explained the greatest would one who “servant leadership.” Interestingly, without a break in the narrative, or any redirection by the author, Jesus immediately turns to Peter, singling him out as the one He is praying for, and encouraging to strengthen the others:
“A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.
But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.
“You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you*, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you** that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”" (Luke 22:24–32)
* “Satan demanded to have you” (greek “umas” - plural- all the apostles)
** “but I have prayed for you (greek “sou” - singular - Peter)
Part IV- The New Testament Authors Attest to Peter’s position
The way the authors of the books in the New Testament write their Gospels and Epistles, they presuppose to the reader that Peter was the prominent Apostle of the group:
Even after giving him the name “Peter,” Jesus continued to call him, “Simon,” thereafter. But the authors throughout the Gospels and Epistles, commonly referred to him in their narrative as “Simon Peter,” “Simon, who is called Peter,” “Peter” or the aramaic version of Peter- “Cephas” by Paul, despite writing in Greek.
In passages where the apostles are named, Peter is always named first:
“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first*, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Matthew 10:1–4)
*Original Greek in Matthew 10:2 for “first” - “pretos”- “first, chief, foremost (in time, place order of importance- notice Judas is always named last)
In passages referring to all the apostles, Peter is set apart while the rest are referred to as a group. No other apostle is named individually while referring to the rest collectively. Peter is also the one speaking on behalf of the group:
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them [the crowd]” (Acts 2:14)
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized…” (Acts 2:37-38)
"But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
“He said to them, “But who do you (greek plural) say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16)
“Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you (greek plural) also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68)
Peter is also seen leading the church to settle important matters:
"In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus…
For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
(Acts 1:15–16, 20-23)
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.
And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (Acts 15:5–12)
For More on the Priestly Significance of the Keys, watch this Lecture by Dr. Brant Pitre on the Jewish Roots of the Papacy
The Holy Bible (RSVCE)
“Upon This Rock” by Steve Ray- Watch his talk here
“Rome Sweet Home” by Dr. Scott Hahn
Video- “Peter, the Rock, the Keys, and the Chair”- Steve Ray
Video- “The Case FOR The Papacy w/ Joe Heschmeyer”