Matthew 16:19 - The Keys To The Kingdom
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
There are eight references to the word "key" or "keys" in the scripture. Three of these refer to literal keys and the other five refer to power and authority. The keys that Jesus spoke of to Peter were those of authority. Very few doors had locks on them in bible times, so Jesus was not handing Peter a literal bunch of jangling keys. Jesus was giving Peter the authority to unlock the entrance of heaven.
The keys to the kingdom of heaven were granted to Peter because of his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. The Lord had asked his disciples who men thought he was and got a variety of answers, but none were right. So, Jesus then asked them who they thought he was. With no hesitation, Peter spoke up and declared the Jesus was the Christ. That he was the Messiah that they had all been waiting for.
Now, we all know that Peter had a number of interesting character quirks, but in his favor was a spiritual sensitivity and a willingness to act upon it. Jesus understood Peter's personality and knew that after he received the Holy Ghost he would be bold, wise and yet willing to be guided by the Spirit. And that has always been a powerful combination that the Lord is keen to use.
From this point on, it was settled that Peter would be the one to share the plan of salvation in the coming dispensation. The spiritual door that Peter would unlock would be the one that led to heaven. And on that day of Pentecost ten days after the ascension of Jesus, Peter revealed to us the details of the new Plan of Salvation. We know that Jesus gave Nicodemus the principles of that new plan during their nighttime conversation recorded in the third chapter of the gospel of John, but Peter was selected to reveal the details.
The Plan of Salvation that Peter delivered is found in Acts 2:38 and I discuss it in the chapter called The Plan Of Salvation. What is more interesting in the context of our current discussion is that Peter was required to wield that key three times in all.
Most people understand that there are two primary divisions of peoples in the scriptures: the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews are God's chosen people, the children of Israel. The gentiles are generally understood to be everyone else. There is less understanding that there is a third division. The Samaritans, who lived in Samaria, were half Jew and half gentile. Having any quantity of gentile in their heritage caused the Jews to avoid them and treat them as outcasts. Yet because of their Jewish heritage, the Lord wished to extend grace and the new Plan of Salvation towards them.
The recipients of Peter's initial sermon on the day of Pentecost were the Jews. They were in Jerusalem for the feast days and while many may have traveled from afar, they were all Jews. In this way, the Plan of Salvation was extended to the Lord's chosen people first.
The revival in Samaria, started by Philip, was with the Samaritans. Interestingly, while Philip had great success with his preaching and with miracles and healings and baptizing, not one person received the Holy Ghost. This was curious, especially with Philip's impeccable credentials and when hearing of the revival, Peter and John headed for Samaria. Upon arrival, they laid hands on the Samaritans and prayed for them and they received the Holy Ghost.
The final ethnic group to receive the Holy Ghost were the Gentiles. The household of Cornelius were chosen by the Lord to be the first. The Lord caused Peter to visit Cornelius and start witnessing to him of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Before Peter was able to finish his message, the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and all of his household. This surprised Peter and his traveling companions because they had not expected this. The Jewish mindset at that time was that there could be no fellowship between Jews and gentiles. They were religious adversaries. But the Lord was interested in extending the new Plan of Salvation to as many as he chose to call.
We see that there were three distinct ethnic groups in the biblical world-view: Jews, Samaritans and gentiles. The Lord wished to extend his grace and salvation to all of them and having given Peter the keys to the kingdom, he expected him to use them. (Now you know why the Lord gave him keys plural instead of key singular.) Peter was the common factor in each of these ethnic groups' introduction to salvation. Each group required Peter to be present so he could open that spiritual door for them.