Matthew 16:18-19 (ESV)
18 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. 19 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.
I maintain that Matthew 16 is different than Matthew 18 in their respective contexts. True, the wording is similar in Matthew 16:19 to that found in Matthew 18:18, but again, we must interpret each of these passages based on the context. Matthew 16 is about the church and what it does for the Kingdom of God on the whole. It is a description of the church’s general duty (stewardship of the Kingdom) within the world in this age. In comparison, Matthew 18 is about what is going on inside the church on a circumstantial basis–as applied to the method of resolving conflict/unrepentant sin in the church. That is a prescription of specific methods within the church, whereas the Matthew 16 passage is descriptive.
When one compares Matthew 16 to Matthew 18, we see the “general whole” moves to a “specific part of the whole,” but both have to do with the realm of a believer’s influence, namely loosing and binding through gospeling and prayer, …not binding & loosing spirits willy nilly or without recognizing rank & orders of spiritual beings (which goes against Jude 1:9).
It may be that God has allowed certain spirits to deceive, harm or resist based on ground given (2 Tim. 2:26; James 4:6; Matthew 18:34ff) or redemptive suffering (ex. Job). What is mentioned in Matthew 16 is the Broad Spectrum–descriptive. Matthew 18 is only one Narrowed Aspect of the Greater Picture–and it is prescriptive for specific circumstance yet in keeping with the descriptive broader spectrum.
About the Keys in Regards to the Stewardship of the Kingdom of God via Evangelizing & Loosing/Binding:
Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees because they had taken away the key of knowledge, refusing either to enter into the Kingdom of God themselves or to permit others to enter (Lk. 11:52). The same thought appears in the first Gospel. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Mt. 23:13). In biblical idiom, knowledge is more than intellectual perception. It is “a spiritual possession resting on revelation.”53 The authority entrusted to Peter is grounded upon revelation, that is, spiritual knowledge, which he shared with the twelve. The keys of the Kingdom are therefore “the spiritual insight which will enable Peter to lead others in through the door of revelation through which he has passed himself.”54 The authority to bind and loose involves the admission or exclusion of people from the realm of the Kingdom of God. Christ will build his ekklēsia upon Peter[‘s confession] …upon those who share the divine revelation of Jesus’ messiahship. To them also is committed by virtue of this same revelation the means of permitting people to enter the realm of the blessings of the Kingdom or of excluding them from such participation (cf. Acts 10)…..”
“This cannot be understood as the exercise of an arbitrary authority; it is the inevitable issue of witnessing to the Kingdom of God. It is furthermore an authority exercised not by Peter but by all the disciples—the church.”
“As a matter of fact, the disciples had already exercised this authority of binding and loosing when they visited the cities of Israel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Wherever they and their message were accepted, peace rested upon that house; but wherever they and their message were rejected, the judgment of God was sealed to that house (Mt. 10:14, 15). They were indeed instruments of the Kingdom in effecting the forgiveness of sins; and by virtue of that very fact, they were also custodians of the Kingdom. Their ministry had the actual result either of opening the door of the Kingdom to men and women or of shutting it….To receive them is to receive the Lord who sent them. While this is no official function, in a very real way the disciples of Jesus—his church—are custodians of the Kingdom. Through the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom in the world will be decided who will enter into the eschatological Kingdom and who will be excluded.59” (Ladd, The Church: The Custodian of The Kingdom)
Loosing and Binding in regards to Church Discipline:
Matthew 18:18-20 — Young’s Literal Translation handles the tense most clearly (though woodenly):
‘Verily I say to you, Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.
Again, notice above all that the context is restoration of offending/offended parties. By the time an individual has resisted the complaint of his brother, as well as the audience of 2-3 witnesses and the whole church, that one is VERY willful indeed. But, by the time the church has heard the matter, then it has become a matter which concerns the whole church. At that point and that point only, the church must make a decision (as the body of Christ) on how to treat this individual. Matthew 18:17 commands the individual should be treated as a heathen or publican [which, I add is one who needs a gospel witness (not a shunning) and must come to know he is not part of the church until he repents].
When a church puts someone “outside” their fellowship, that is loosing. Binding is when the body adds someone to their fellowship [whether a repentant ‘former brother’ (2 Cor. 2:7) or a repentant new believer]. Notice the “ye” is plural. Jesus is speaking to his disciples as a whole, regarding an action that should be done as a whole. In that light, the Lord Jesus moves into promising that whenever true unity in the body is exemplified (in announcing either the already-supplied forgiveness of God or the already-evidenced need for forgiveness), then it is a guarantee that the matter agreed upon is answered. This is what a pure (from unrepentant sin) and unified body should expect as the result of its corporate prayer times. After all, Jesus is in the midst of that kind of church.
BY the verbal constructs in verse 18, we can understand there is a good lot of inter-dimensional (timeless) stuff going on when a church binds/looses someone. “Shall be having been bound” makes almost no sense to English. We say, “shall have been.” That means the temporal realm always follows the spiritual, not vice-versa. If we bind or loose someone down here, it is (supposed to be) because our Father in Heaven has already been at work ‘up there.’ Just as Jesus did only the things He saw the Father doing, even so we should operate only at the Father’s Will, according to the leading of the Spirit and the written Word. The Law of Orders is: temporal realm always follows spiritual realm.
I will add this historical example about the church’s authority to loose and bind. I take it from history, and from a “church” that I believe was heretical in its outworking… but it serves the point. Geneva, Switzerland was the brain-child of John Calvin. It was to be the great Christian utopia—the protestant Rome. In the history of that endeavor, many people were labeled heathen, cast out of the “church”/city of Geneva and banished to Amsterdam, Holland. What do I gather from this? I think that whenever someone acting in the name of the church (biblical or not) looses an individual, there is great spiritual condemnation behind it, if for no other reason than the “perceived authority” that a ‘church’ may have in the individual’s eyes. The spiritual debauchery of Amsterdam is my proof. Amsterdam is the reason the church should not “shun” or label someone as hopelessly lost if they have been loosed from the church body. I believe whenever a legitimate church looses someone, then—yes—that person should know the whole church does not consider them part of the body. However, the loosed person also should know very quickly and clearly that their situation is not hopeless or beyond unification with the church. They should receive a lovingly gracious gospel witness that is clear about repentance. We do not want to be like the Pharisees who shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
In the context of Matthew 18 (resolving conflict/unrepentant sin), we must take loosing and binding as having to do with prayer. So, should we agree together that someone’s sins should be forgiven (cf. John 20:23), that the person should be loosed from the grip of his own sin and, as it were, the influence of evil? I think so. This is the work of an intercessor. The way Christ stated it is as much a warning as it is a promise. If we turn a calloused, hardened look toward someone who has been “disciplined” out of our fellowship, then we have missed the whole reason for discipline. We are to always be looking to restore such a one in meekness of spirit (Gal. 6:1; 2 Cor. 2:7). We are to be ready and waiting and willing to run to that person the moment they (like the prodigal son) come back down the road toward home. SO, I believe when Christ said to us, “Let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector,” he was saying, “Consider them as someone you should win to me with gracious witness and love and grace.” (Christ did this with Matthew the tax collector and with Zacheas). On the other hand, the warning comes as if to say, “if you don’t forgive or loose someone, then they will remain bound and unforgiven” (please refer to above Ladd quote for interpretation).
Casting out demons is a totally different subject than binding or loosing.
Christians do have the authority to cast out “earth level” unclean spirits, but we have no authority over spirits in the eternal realm. I find it wonderfully consistent that just as Christians are called to non-violence (aggressive attack) in the physical realm, even so we are not permitted aggressive attack of spirits in the eternal realm. We are created “a little lower” than they. The following describes our spiritual defense as Christians and the means or limits of our spiritual offense as Christians.
Means of Offense
- Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-23; John 12:31 — “Binding The Strong Man” – Please note that our Lord Jesus was defending the power by which he was casting out demons (earth-realm unclean spirits, not eternal-realm spirits).
- If one compares the Luke passage with the others, then he soon realizes Jesus Christ was saying that if he is able to plunder Beelzebub’s (a.k.a. the Philistine god Baal-Zebub) house, then he is stronger than Beelzebub. By being born into the world, by living, dying on the cross for sin, and by rising and ascending Christ did bind Satan, and the strong man, Beelzebub. Beelzebub is not the same as Satan, that Old Serpent, the Dragon. The impact of Christ’s statement is still the same, though. He is stronger than Baal-zebub, just as Jesus Christ is stronger than Satan, as much as infinite is stronger than finite. However, …
- Jesus only gave his disciples authority to cast out demons: our offense is based on Christ’s Cross work, which triumphed over the forces of evil but did not immediately depose their authoritative power. That will be done when Christ comes in glory to set up his 1000 kingdom. Until then, we must “play by the rules” of engagement, which is “engage earth-realm unclean spirits only.”
- Matthew 16:18-19 — When Christ said of the Church, “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” he was referring to Christians’ conquering the grave (the Gates of Hell) through the resurrection he will provide against the underworld, of which the water caves of Caesarea Philippi were symbolic.
- Romans 1:16 — “The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation” — the Christian’s main weapon (one of the keys of the kingdom) is the Gospel. The other key is prayer. (Matthew 18:19-20)
- Eph. 6:17b-19 – Sword of the Spirit = Word of God — the only weapon of offense [but also of defense] for the Christian is the Word of God. This is equivalent to the Gospel.
- 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 6:3 — Only when Christ returns to set up His kingdom will we ‘judge’ angels. This present time is about getting God’s will done while not bringing railing accusation against any eternal-realm spirit.
- 2 Cor. 10:4 — “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal (fleshly) but have divine power for destroying strongholds.” If the passage were to stop there, I would be tempted to say God wishes Christians to go on the offensive against the fortified domains of spiritual beings; however, the passage continues to define what the strongholds are: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ….” Therefore, the offensive weapon of a Christian is, once again, spiritual truth (a.k.a. The Word, The Bible, The Gospel) that dispels the lies of the enemy concerning God. These strongholds occur within the minds of both our selves and other people (2 Cor. 4:4).
Practice of Defense
Ephesians 6:1-17a is contextually defensive (besides 17b-19, see above)
- “can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (v. 11)
- “…may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then,…” (v. 13-14)
James 1 is contextually defensive
- “Submit yourself to God, resist the devil; and he will flee from you.” (James 1)
Notice there’s no going on offensive by Christians against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, or spiritual wickedness in high places mentioned in Ephesians or anywhere else in the NT. Eternal realm spirits may attack us, and when they do, we must put on the armor of God in order to withstand firmly. Their aim is to knock us off course and fellowship with God. But, we may not attack them. We must withstand (defend against) their unjust attacks. Moreover, our only mission is gospeling fellow humans and seeing that the gospel is empowered via prayer for boldness and ‘free course.’ Deliver from demons where necessary.
If a Christian maintains fellowship with the Lord (1 John 1), then the forces of the enemy have no “claim” to victimize that one. When one has ‘given ground,’ then a legal ‘claim’ may be levied against the Christian or may be deferred for accumulative consequence (like a police agent allowing a crook to build up his wrap sheet before getting busted on more severe consequences). However, humble repentance and denunciation clears all claims; and the individual (who may have been being demonized) can then successfully be freed by use of the restored authority of his own will (2 Tim. 2:26). The individual was taken captive (due to surrendered ground) by use of his own will in agreement with a satanic deception; he can be freed by use of his own will (only after repentance and denunciation of the deception). Spiritual insight and repentance are gifts from God (2 Tim. 2:25).
Likewise, when interceding, we may not pray against eternal-realm spirits. This is to go beyond our authority. We may only identify with those who have sinned, requesting that God would remember mercy and revealed promises in such cases, as if it were our own sin (ex. Moses to Israel, Job to friends, Jesus to ‘sifted’ Peter).
In the case of Daniel, he was waiting to receive revelation pertinent to his time in the dispensational scheme. But, note he never prayed against evil, eternal-realm spirits. He only fasted and prayed to God with much repentance regarding the sins of his people. We New Testament Christians cannot receive revelation, since the Bible canon is closed. However, we can receive answers to prayer which might seem delayed in our time frame (but not on God’s). In these cases of spiritual warfare that delay answers, it is wise to simply keep praying, keep asking and keep knocking; because the Lord will give you your biblically sound petition in His time (and despite spirit-realm battles) if we (maintaining fellowship with the Lord) pray and do not faint from it (Luke 18:1). Let the unseen battles to the unseen creatures.
War on the Saints by Evan Roberts and Jessie Penn-Lewis — unabridged, free online version