Meaning of Matthew 16:19: Why Did the Lord Jesus Give the Keys of the Heavenly Kingdom to Peter?
By Yang Qing
Editor’s Note: Among the 12 disciples, the Lord Jesus only gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This shows Peter’s faith was praised by God. So why did the Lord Jesus choose Peter? What was the Lord Jesus’ intention? You are welcome to join us on Messenger or WhatsApp, where we will explore these and any other questions you may have.
- Baffled From Reading the Bible
- Consulting a Colleague and Finding the Answer
- Peter Loves the Lord and Gains His Approval
- How Peter Sought to Know and Love the Lord
Baffled From Reading the Bible
When I got up early in the morning, I made a prayer, then opened up the Bible to Matthew 16:19, where the Lord Jesus says to Peter: “And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Reading this passage of scripture, I became confused, thinking: “Peter didn’t do any great work nor were the epistles he wrote very famous. On top of that, when the Lord Jesus was arrested and stood trial, Peter denied Him three times. Why didn’t the Lord give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to other disciples, but only to Peter?” I searched and searched through the Scriptures, but nothing resolved my confusion. I had no choice but to go off to work.
Consulting a Colleague and Finding the Answer
During my lunch break I was still mulling over my question from that morning: “God is righteous and certainly wouldn’t do anything in error, but why did the Lord Jesus give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter? What kind of mystery is within this?” I consulted with a colleague who had believed in the Lord for many years so that I could gain clarity on this.
My colleague smiled and said: “The Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter because the Lord chose him. So why was Peter favored by the Lord?” Seeing my bewildered look, he went on to ask: “Do you remember how Peter responded when the Lord Jesus asked the disciples who He was?”
I said, “And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
My colleague nodded his head and continued on: “That’s right. Out of the Lord Jesus’ twelve disciples, only Peter received the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and recognized that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied to come, that He was Christ. When the Lord Jesus said that He was the bread of life and that people need only eat His flesh and drink His blood to gain eternal life, quite a few people developed notions and gave up on following the Lord. Only Peter said: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God’ (John 6:68–69). From these two events we can see that Peter had a true understanding of the Lord Jesus from His work and words, that he was entirely certain that the Lord Jesus was Christ and the way to eternal life. So no matter how the Pharisees judged, condemned, and attacked the Lord Jesus, he never became confused, and whether or not others abandoned the Lord Jesus, he was never constrained and continued to maintain his devotion, following the Lord until the end. So Peter became the one whom the Lord Jesus favored.”
I nodded and said: “You’re right. Out of the twelve disciples only Peter recognized that the Lord Jesus was Christ. I can see that Peter had aspects that merited the Lord’s acceptance and approval.”
Peter Loves the Lord and Gains His Approval
My colleague went on to say: “The Lord Jesus told us: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment’ (Matthew 22:37–38). ‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our stayed with him. He that loves me not keeps not my sayings’ (John 14:23–24). ‘Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). It was clear from the Lord’s words that His hope is that we can all love Him with our entire heart and mind, practice according to His words, and uphold the Lord’s way. These are His requirements for us and they are the standard for gaining His praise and entering the kingdom of heaven. Peter’s pursuit was based on these words from the Lord; he set the goal of loving God and sought to become one who loves God. When the Lord Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter rushed forward to protect Him, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Although it was fairly rash of Peter to do that, it shows us that he came forward at a dangerous moment, showing that he truly loved the Lord in his heart and genuinely wanted to protect Him. Although Peter once denied the Lord three times, in addition to repenting and detesting himself, he also used that opportunity to reflect on the reason for his failure. He saw that although he had the desire to lay down his life for the Lord, he did not possess the reality of genuine love for Him or of laying down his life for Him. He was still subject to the constraints of death and did not dare to lay his life on the line. Thus, he established his goal for his future seeking, that for the rest of his life he would only seek to love and satisfy the Lord. Peter’s humanity and pursuit were praised by the Lord, so the Lord Jesus favored Peter and gave him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Peter remained faithful to the Lord’s commission for his entire life—after the Lord Jesus was resurrected and returned to heaven Peter went all over the place spreading the gospel and shepherding flocks. He bore witness to the Lord’s words and His will and taught people how to put the Lord’s words into practice. In his work, Peter supported brothers and sisters with the truths that he understood and his genuine understanding of God, exalting and bearing witness to God everywhere and bringing brothers and sisters before the Lord. And no matter how he was hunted by the leaders within the Jewish faith or persecuted by the Roman government, undergoing all suffering and difficulties, Peter was unwaveringly faithful to God’s commission and never forgot His directive. When the Roman tyrant Nero wanted to murder Christians, Peter escaped from the city of Rome with the help of others. The Lord Jesus appeared to Peter and said He would be crucified again for his sake. Once Peter understood the Lord’s will, he didn’t hesitate to turn back, giving up his life to be nailed to the cross upside down, achieving the testimony of obedience to the point of death and the ultimate love of God. If we want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we must learn from Peter’s example and be people who know and love the Lord, who do the will of the heavenly Father. This is the only way to gain what the Lord has promised.”
After hearing what my colleague had to say, I came to a sudden realization: “Wow, so Peter really was someone who loved and obeyed the Lord! No wonder the Lord Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Comparing myself to the experiences of Peter, in my faith and what I’ve expended for the Lord, I’ve just thought of how I can get into the kingdom of heaven and be rewarded. I have not thought of how to put the Lord’s words into practice or meet His requirements. In my work, I haven’t thought of how to communicate the Lord’s will with brothers and sisters, and in the course of preaching the gospel, when I encounter difficulties and haven’t been able to support my brothers and sisters, I become negative and weak, losing confidence in the Lord. Only now, comparing myself to Peter have I seen that I’m not actually someone who loves the Lord! Peter’s testimony truly is something we should imitate, so how did Peter generally seek to know and love the Lord?”
How Peter Sought to Know and Love the Lord
Hearing me say this, my colleague happily got out his tablet and said to me: “I read a couple of passages on a gospel website on how Peter sought to know and love the Lord. It’s explained quite clearly. Let’s read it together: ‘Peter followed Jesus for a number of years and saw much in Him that was not in other people. … In life, Peter measured himself by everything Jesus did. Most notably, the messages that Jesus preached were etched in his heart. He was utterly dedicated and loyal to Jesus, and he never spoke any grievances against Him. As a result, he became Jesus’ faithful companion everywhere He went. Peter observed Jesus’ teachings, His gentle words, what He took for His food, His clothing, His shelter, and how He traveled. He emulated Jesus in every regard. He was never self-righteous, but cast off all that was outdated, following Jesus’ example in both word and deed. It was then that Peter felt that the heavens and earth and all things were in the hands of the Almighty and that, for this reason, he was without personal choice. Peter also assimilated all that Jesus was and used it as an example’ (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Interpretations of the Mysteries of “God’s Words to the Entire Universe”, On the Life of Peter).
“After a period of experience, Peter saw in Jesus many of the deeds of God, he saw the loveliness of God, and he saw much of God’s being in Jesus. So too did he see that the words Jesus spoke could not have been spoken by man, and that the work Jesus did could not have been done by man. In Jesus’ words and actions, furthermore, Peter saw much of the wisdom of God, and much work of a divine nature. During his experiences, he did not merely come to know himself, but also paid close attention to Jesus’ every action, from which he discovered many new things, namely, that there were many expressions of the practical God in the work that God did through Jesus, and that Jesus differed from an ordinary man in the words He spoke and the actions He took, as well as the way in which He shepherded the churches and the work He carried out. So, Peter learned from Jesus many lessons that he was supposed to learn, and by the time Jesus was about to be nailed to the cross, he had gained a certain amount of knowledge of Jesus—knowledge that became the basis of his lifelong loyalty to Jesus and of his upside-down crucifixion which he suffered for the sake of the Lord” (The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Only Those Who Know God Can Bear Testimony to God).
Hearing this, I said to my colleague: “Ah, so in his course of following the Lord Jesus, Peter continued to observe the Lord’s deeds and behavior, and from His words and actions came to know Him.”
My colleague said: “That’s right. We can see from these two passages that Peter longed to know the Lord and when he was interacting with the Lord Jesus, he took in every little thing that Jesus said and did. In Him, Peter saw a great deal of divinity. For example, the words spoken by the Lord Jesus were the truth; they were full of might and authority and could provide sustenance for people’s spiritual needs. The miracles and extraordinary things that the Lord Jesus did revealed God’s authority and almightiness and were things that no human could do. The Lord Jesus mercifully saved sinners, pardoning all sins and bestowing rich blessings upon mankind—He was full of mercy and love for human beings. Peter also saw from the Lord Jesus rebuking and condemning the Pharisees with the seven woes that He was holy and righteous, and would not tolerate offense from man. While He was working, no matter how His flesh suffered or how arduous His work was, even if it meant sacrificing His own life, the Lord Jesus was determined to fully carry out God’s commission. Peter saw that Christ’s essence was obedience to the will of God the Father. Peter saw a great deal of divinity in Jesus and gained a genuine, practical understanding of God. In addition, Peter held the Lord Jesus’ words in his heart, frequently pondering them and seeking to understand the Lord’s will from them so that he could meet God’s requirements of mankind. Jesus once asked him three times: ‘Simon, son of Jonas, love you me?’ (John 21:16). Peter frequently contemplated this and through his reflections, understood that what he loved was just a vague God in heaven, but not the real Christ. He realized that was not truly loving God, and only loving Christ on the earth was genuinely loving God. From then on he would often pray and seek how to achieve love of the Lord. In the end he achieved the ultimate love of God and obedience to the point of death, becoming someone who truly loved God. Peter was also able to accept and obey criticism from the Lord Jesus, and seek the truth from it. When he learned that Jesus was going to be crucified and tried to block Him, saying it could not possibly be so, Jesus harshly rebuked him, saying: ‘Get you behind me, Satan’ (Matthew 16:23). Peter understood from Jesus’ strong rebuke that anything that hinders God’s will is a deed of Satan and condemned by God. We can see from this that it was important to Peter to understand the Lord from His work, actions, sermons, and rebukes, and this is why he had a true understanding of the Lord and developed a heart of genuine love for Him.”
I really felt a sense of clarity after hearing my colleague’s fellowship. I felt in my heart that God truly does inspect people’s hearts and minds. It was not for nothing that the Lord Jesus praised Peter and gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had an affinity for Peter’s humanity and caliber, and his heart of love for the truth and for the Lord. He knew that Peter was most worthy of His commission and His trust, which is why He entrusted him with the great responsibility of shepherding His flock. Thinking back on it, I failed to understand the Lord’s approval of Peter because of the three times that Peter denied Him, but now I understand that what the Lord looks at is a person’s essence. I, on the other hand, had just looked at one of Peter’s behaviors. What’s more, Peter had only been following the Lord for three years at that time so his faith was not yet that great. At a critical juncture between life and death, the weakness of the flesh is entirely to be expected. How could I seize upon others’ little faults? If it had been me, I’m afraid that I would have fled when Jesus was taken away, yet I still judged and delimited Peter. That was so arrogant, foolish, and ignorant of me! Through my colleague’s fellowship I came to understand that Peter brought God joy and we should follow his example. I wish that I may carry out the Lord’s words in my life, be devoted in my work and service to the Lord, and in all things seek to know and love the Lord, and to satisfy His will. It is only this way that I may gain God’s approval and have the chance to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
After understanding all of this I said to my colleague: “Thanks to the Lord’s guidance and our talk today, I now understand why the Lord Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter. There truly is a mystery within this! Now I know how to seek. I give thanks for the Lord’s guidance. Amen!”
He smiled and said, “Thanks to the Lord! Amen.”
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