Step 2: Jesus established the church on the foundation of the Apostles and their true confession and gave them the authority to pass judgment on who is and who is not in the kingdom.
In Matthew 16 Jesus gives the authority to say who is and is not in the kingdom to the Apostles. Jesus is with His disciples in Philippi and he asks them “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13).
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.” (16:14-16).
Peter’s response is not just true, it identifies him as member of the Kingdom of heaven. This is because Peter’s words are not empty. They are evidence of a life of submission to Christ’s authority. Notice Jesus response to that statement. Jesus does not say, “Great Peter, I’m glad somebody finally figured it out.” Nor does Jesus shut down the conversation and say, “I’m glad you have a personal relationship me now, let me lead you in the sinners prayer.” Jesus takes Peter’s Confession and ties it to something much greater and much larger that Jesus is about to do through Peter and through the Apostles, namely the establishment of the church.
And Jesus answered 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell 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 16:17-19)
Notice three things in this text. First, Peter’s Confession is of supernatural origin. This confession does not come about because one day Peter got his act together and started thinking rightly. Jesus says this confession comes not from flesh and blood but because the Father in Heaven is supernaturally revealing to Peter this truth. We see that the church is not something that the Apostles decided to make-up because it might be good for your spiritual health. This is something the Father Himself is doing through Christ, creating a kingdom on earth made of people who have been supernaturally brought to submit to the Lordship of Christ.
Second, Jesus promises to build His church on this “rock.” The rock is Peter and His Confession. Jesus is saying that He will build His church and He is going to do so on the Apostles as they accurately confess the identity of Jesus.
Third, Jesus is authenticating Peter’s Confession as from the Father. Jesus is acting as the border guard of the kingdom. Jesus is standing in judgment over Peter and saying, “Yes, Peter, that is right, you are in the kingdom. What you say comes from the kingdom of heaven.”
But notice Jesus does not stop there:
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 16:19)
Jesus hands to Peter, and the Apostles that he [Peter] is representing, the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and the authority “to bind and loose.” Now this statement can be confusing because we are unfamiliar with the Biblical background of words like “keys, binding, and loosing” or we are fearful of this text because of the ways it has been abused by Roman Catholics. When Jesus hands to the Apostles the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that is a symbol of having the authority of the kingdom. They stand as gatekeepers, with the authority to pronounce who is in and who is out of the kingdom based on their profession, just as Jesus has done with Peter. Jesus has created a connection between Heaven and Earth in the apostles as the foundation of the church. What they bind and loose, that is what they declare in and out of the kingdom, is what is going on in heaven.
Essentially the Apostles are given the authority to act as the press agents of heaven. Jesus does not give them authority to save people but to announce on behalf of Heaven who is saved. They can stand before the confessions of others and just like Jesus has done with Peter, say to them, “yes, that is of heaven, that has come from the Father,” Or “No, that is not from Heaven.” The Apostles have Heaven’s authority for declaring who on earth is a kingdom citizen and therefore represents the church. (See Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership). Jesus is here establishing the universal church on the apostles and giving the church authority to receive and dismiss members, to stand as judge over who is and who is not in the kingdom. The authority of the keys is the authority to assess a person’s gospel words and deeds and to render a judgment/verdict.