Day 23

You Have the Keys

Wisdom Psalm 14:2
New Testament Matthew 16:5-19
Old Testament Genesis 45:4-15


On 15 January 2009, US Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of geese. Both engines failed. The plane was flying over New York. Potential disaster loomed. Not only were the 155 occupants on board in danger, but thousands more could have been killed had the plane hit one of New York’s skyscrapers. Captain Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III guided the crippled US Airways plane with immense skill and courage. He performed a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River. Not a single passenger died, nor were there any serious injuries. The Mayor of New York City gave to the heroic pilot, who had saved them, the keys to the city.

To give someone the keys to a city is an immense privilege. They symbolise access and authority. Keys are usually given in recognition of some great service to the city. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus is the key holder. The risen Christ says, ‘I hold the keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:18). Jesus has brought about a far greater salvation than any other person could achieve. The authority he holds is also the greatest there could ever be – he holds the keys of life and death.

Amazingly, Jesus gives to Peter and the church (that is, to us) ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (Matthew 16:19). Many Christians feel powerless, lacking in any kind of spiritual authority. They do not seem to realise what Jesus has given to them. You are not powerless. You have the immense privilege of having been given ‘the keys of the kingdom’.


Psalm 14:2

2 The LORD looks down from heaven
   on all humankind
to see if there are any who understand,
   any who seek God.


Enjoy access to God

To be given ‘the keys of the kingdom’ (Matthew 16:19) means to be given access to God. This is what Jesus achieved for us. God has always looked for those ‘who seek’ him (Psalm 14:2). You can enjoy access to God.

But no one is righteous. The whole human race has sinned. Every single one of us has become corrupt (vv.1,3; quoted in Romans 3:9–12).

David describes this corruption in general terms (v.1b), but he also gives two specific examples:

  1. Denying the existence of God

    ‘Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God”’ (v.1).

  2. Failing to help the poor

    ‘You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor’ (v.6).

The kingdom of God involves seeking God and seeking justice for the poor, and that is exactly the note on which this psalm ends. David cries out to God, asking, ‘Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!’ (v.7a).

Thank God it did. Salvation for Israel came out of Zion in the person of Jesus. He lived, died and rose again to make it possible for you to be forgiven, made righteous by his blood, and given access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). Now Jesus gives you the keys to the kingdom of God.


Lord, thank you that you have give me a righteousness that is not my own. Thank you that you give me access to the Father. Lord, I seek you today.

New Testament

Matthew 16:5-19

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.

6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?

11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

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

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


Receive the keys by faith

The context of Jesus’ teaching about the keys of the kingdom is understanding and acknowledging who Jesus is. Just as we read in the psalm for today, God is looking for ‘any who understand’ (Psalm 14:2b), so Jesus is quite amazed at the lack of understanding of his disciples: ‘Do you still not understand?... How is it you don’t understand?’ (Matthew 16:9,11).

Then the penny drops for Peter that Jesus is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (v.16). It is within this context that Jesus gives Peter ‘the keys’ saying, ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (vv.18–19).

The words of Jesus are addressed to Peter. On the rock-like faith Peter has displayed, Jesus is going to build his church. Peter receives the keys of the kingdom. On the day of Pentecost, Peter opened the door for 3,000 people (Acts 2:41). He opened the door for the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, and thereby to the whole Gentile world (Acts 10).

But it is not only Peter who has the keys of the kingdom. Later on, Jesus gives the disciples a similar authority: ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18).

This is the extraordinary responsibility and privilege that Jesus gives to us, his church. He gives us the keys of the kingdom. ‘You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is a yes in heaven. A no on earth is a no in heaven’ (16:19, MSG).

Jesus says, in effect, that the powers of hell will ‘not overcome’ the person who has faith in him (v.18). Rather, the church, armed with the keys of the kingdom, can storm the gates of hell and set the prisoners free.

The ‘gates of Hades’ will not hold out against the church. Gates are defensive, not offensive, it is the church that is on the offensive and you can be assured of victory against the defences of the enemy.

You can have the amazing privilege of seeing people set free through the preaching of the good news of the kingdom. You can have the joy of seeing people set free from drug addiction, alcoholism, crime and every other bondage. You can approach challenges with confidence, fearing no evil, knowing that you share in a remarkable spiritual authority.


Lord, thank you for your promise that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Old Testament

Genesis 45:4-15

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘… I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honour accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly. ”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.


Unlock doors and see lives changed

‘He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness,’ wrote Alexandre Dumas. Jacob (Israel) and his family had been through deep grief. Now they experience supreme happiness.

Sometimes I try to hide my emotions. Yet Joseph was a man of intense emotion. When he identified himself to his brothers, ‘his sobbing was so violent that the Egyptians couldn’t help but hear him’ (45:2, MSG). He then ‘kissed all his brothers and wept over them’ (v.15, MSG). Emotions are as much a part of our ‘createdness’ as hands and lungs. Don’t fear showing your emotions. Jesus wept and showed compassion openly.

Joseph totally forgave his brothers (v.5). In his book Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall describes this as one of the hardest, yet greatest, things he had ever been asked to do: ‘An unexpected blessing emerged as I began to forgive: a peace came into my heart that I hadn’t felt for years.’

Joseph is able to see that despite all the hardships he has been through, he has been used by God to ‘save lives’ (v.5). Three times he says it was God who sent him (vv.5,7–8).

Joseph says, ‘Don’t blame yourself for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives’ (v.5, MSG).

As I look back on my life, I realise how many times I have worried unnecessarily. If only I had trusted God completely, I would have saved myself so much turmoil. Think of how much Jacob must have suffered over Joseph when, actually, God had it all totally under control.

Jesus said he came to fulfil the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17–20). The story of Joseph is a good example of this: Jesus fulfilled what was foreshadowed by Joseph. Joseph’s suffering was part of God’s plan to save his people. In saving his people, God made Joseph a lord and ruler over all Egypt (Genesis 45:8–9).

One of the keys of the kingdom is to understand that Jesus is the Saviour of the world – to see that behind the cross was the hand of God saving lives through the suffering of Jesus ‘by a great deliverance’ (v.7). Now God has made Jesus not just ‘lord of all Egypt’ but Lord of all creation.

The hero of flight 1549 saved the lives of 155 people and was given the keys of New York. Joseph saved the lives of the people of God and was made lord of all Egypt. Jesus saved the world and is given the keys of the kingdom, which he hands on to his church. What an amazing privilege you have.


Thank you, Lord, that through Jesus, I can receive total forgiveness. Help me to forgive others totally. Thank you that this is one of the keys of the kingdom. May we, the church, use those keys to unlock the gates of Hades and set people free.

Pippa adds

Looking at Genesis 45, it seems that reconciliation is only possible with lots of forgiveness all round. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is total – love covering over a multitude of sins. If I had been Jacob, I would have been furious with my sons for all the suffering they had put me through. But Jacob is too overjoyed that his precious son is alive. And they can only have been amazed by God’s extraordinary rescue plan.

Thought for the Day

As I look back on my life I realise how many times I have worried unnecessarily. If only I had trusted God completely, I would have saved myself so much turmoil.



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Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, (Wordsworth editions, 1997).

R.T. Kendall, Total Forgiveness, (Hodder & Stoughton, 2003)

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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