Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his Apostles. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  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 16:15-19)

There’s a lot packed into the words of Jesus above. For now, let’s focus on the “keys” that Jesus said he would give the Apostle Peter.  What is Jesus talking about here?  We all know the tradition that Peter is the gatekeeper of heaven and when we die we must get permission from him to enter into heaven through the Pearly Gates.  There’s been many a joke told with that as the premise.  Or, the Catholic Church has used this as a proof text to say Peter was the first Pope, and what the Pope says goes.

St Peter Pearly Gates

Let me offer an alternative view. I believe Jesus’ words provide a near-term but very far-reaching perspective on the keys he promised Peter.  Go with me to Acts 2.  It’s the day of Pentecost as the disciples wait, just as Jesus instructed, until he sends his Spirit.  The Spirit arrives like a rushing wind, and speaking in a tongue that all can understand on this festival day Peter preaches the first resurrection sermon.  When he is done telling them what has happened to Jesus, who Jesus really is, they cry out, “What must we do?”  And Peter provides the key, telling them “Repent and be baptized ever one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  He thus opened the door of salvation for all these Jews gathered at this Jewish festival.

Fast forward with me to Acts 10. Peter has been focused on his fellow Jews, most likely holding onto his prejudice against the Gentiles (non-Jews).  He is in Joppa (not by accident where Jonah fled his mission to the Gentiles) and in a vision comes to understand that God has made clean what was formally considered unclean.  Cornelius, a Gentile centurion (Roman soldier) lives in Caesarea and has a vision of his own. He’s told to send for Simon who is called Peter.  He does.  Peter goes and realizes that God has granted salvation by faith to the Gentiles, saying, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”  Peter preaches the gospel to those in Cornelius’ house and God’s Spirit impacts them as it did the disciples on Pentecost. Peter provides the key, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Baptism

The door of salvation is now open to all; both Jew and Gentile! Peter used the keys Jesus gave him, and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.  In other words, to be loosed from your sins, respond in faith, repentance, and baptism, becoming a disciple of Jesus!  For those who do, the door to God’s Kingdom swings open, as do the gates of heaven.                                                                  

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Is Baptism Necessary?

I wish this wasn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be for Bible believing people. But when it comes to baptism, the various stances of churches and teachers over the years has made it an issue. So, the question becomes: In the process of understanding who Jesus is, that he died for my sins, rose from the dead, and thus conquered death on my behalf; deciding I will become a disciple of Jesus, must I be baptized?

The best source for resolving that issue is the book of Acts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us of the life of Jesus, describe his death and resurrection. The letters written by the apostles or their apprentice instruct Christians, admonish, provide encouragement. Only the book of Acts truly focuses on people becoming Christian, then forming churches. What do we find there on baptism? Let’s look.Is Baptism Necessary Pic

Acts 2 – Peter preaches on Pentecost, telling the crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.”

Acts 8 – We are told the Samaritans believed and they were baptized; then we see that when the Ethiopian Eunuch was told of Jesus he said, “Here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?”

Acts 9 – Saul/Paul is converted, and we see he arose and was baptized. When he retells the story in Acts 22 we find Ananias telling him, “And now why do you delay, rise and be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Acts 10 – Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, Peter commands him to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Acts 16 – Lydia is converted, the Lord opened her heart to pay attention we’re told, then she was baptized. Same chapter we find the Jailer believes, and he was baptized. Acts 18 – Crispus, we are told, believed and was baptized.

Acts 19 – disciples of John the Baptist – knew of John’s baptism, but when the need based on the connection to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is explained, they are baptized in name of Jesus.

There are a couple of other accounts in Acts of people “believing” with no mention of baptism, but to the Jew of the 1st Century, believing without following through with the necessary action was nonsense. To truly believe, you followed through. We can easily assume they did so.

Join the above examples from Acts with the strait-forward instruction of Jesus and his apostles and it is pretty compelling. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). The Apostle Paul provides the explanation for what baptism accomplishes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3, 4) We also find that through baptism we are clothed with Christ, hiding our sins while allowing God to see us through the righteousness of Jesus (Galatians 3: 26, 27).

There’s nothing magical about being dunked in water in itself, but when predicated by genuine faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it is a step of that faith we must not neglect.

…having been buried with him (Jesus) in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11,12)