Matthew 16:13–19 (ESV) Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people 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-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.”
The rock on which Jesus will build His Church is the apostolic confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the same One who “will save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). The Father revealed that message to Peter, who served as a representative of all of Jesus’ apostles. Matthew 16:19 indicates that the apostles will receive the “Keys” on behalf of the Church, for they will be charged with binding and loosing sins, which locks or unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven to sinners. That promise is fulfilled on Easter in John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus give the apostles the Holy Spirit in order that they could forgive sins and withhold forgiveness in the Church, a task that continues in the Church today through the exercise of the Office of the Keys. The use of the Keys in the Church isn’t some “power grab” by which we enslave the consciences of believers, but it is Christ’s gift to the Church so that we can be confident that the forgiveness delivered through Word and Sacrament “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (Small Catechism).
Prayer: Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession that, dead to sin, we may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may be ever watchful and live true and godly lives in Your service; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.