Does Peter Now Use the Keys of the Kingdom?
IT IS a common belief fostered by some of the religious systems of Christendom that Peter is the gatekeeper in heaven, and that one can be either admitted by Peter at the gate or rejected. It is true that Peter is now in heaven, for he was a faithful disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ and died a faithful death. He had to await in death in the grave, however, for many centuries until the second coming of Jesus Christ to God’s spiritual temple, just as did the faithful apostle Paul. (2 Tim. 4:8) In 1918 he was resurrected to the heavens along with the other faithful members of Christ’s congregation who had died prior to that time. But Peter is no gatekeeper. Those who are resurrected to the heavens with Christ are to reign as kings and priests with him during the thousand-year reign. Then Peter will sit on a heavenly throne as one of 144,000 associate kings, members of the body of Christ, who share with him in his kingly and priestly rule.—Rev. 14:1-3; 20:6; Luke 22:28-30.
The questions therefore arise, What does Jesus mean when he says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens”? (Matt. 16:19) What are the keys? How many are there? When were they used and for what? Who benefits from the use of the keys?
Jesus gave us a clue to what the keys open up when he said to the Jewish Pharisees: “Woe to you who are versed in the Law, because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” (Luke 11:52) The keys, then, would have something to do with unlocking knowledge. They would unlock something that had been previously locked up for centuries. They would have to do with the sacred secret of God, his administration of the universe by his heavenly kingdom. (Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26, 27) While faithful men of ancient times had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom, it was never understood by them that associated with him would be men taken from earth to heaven to be heavenly kings and priests. The apostle Paul explains the purpose of this sacred secret at Ephesians 1:9-12; 3:5, 6.
Since even the faithful prophets of old did not have this knowledge, when was it first opened up? When were the keys used and how many of them were there? In speaking of the sacred secret, notice that the apostle says that a feature of that secret was “that people of the nations should be joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers with us of the promise in union with Christ Jesus through the good news.” (Eph. 3:6) The “us” here would be Paul and his fellow Christian Jewish associates. He speaks here additionally of people of the nations as others to whom this knowledge would be opened. So there were two keys of the Kingdom, keys that unlocked knowledge. First, the Jews had the opportunity unlocked to them of entering into the heavenly kingdom and, second, the Gentiles were later invited to this great privilege.
FIRST KEY USED
The time for using the keys had to do with Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks of years.a The beginning of the seventieth week was to be marked by the coming of the Messiah and it was, as Jesus appeared exactly on time, in the fall of 29 C.E., to be baptized by John the Baptist, and he was anointed as Messiah the Leader. The Jews were favored by the Messiah’s presence and ministry for three and one-half years. Daniel’s prophecy also foretold that the middle of the seventieth week of years would mark the time for the Messiah to be cut off in death. This took place in the spring on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, in the year 33 C.E. There were yet three and one-half years to run in this “week” of special favor to the Jews.—Dan. 9:24-27.
Accordingly, the greatest favor ever offered them was that which God held out to them a short time after Jesus’ death, at Pentecost, 33 C.E., for at this time Peter stood up and used the first of the keys of the Kingdom. There was a miraculous outpouring of the holy spirit upon the 120 disciples in the upper room, which brought the attention of a great crowd of the Jews gathered at Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival. By holy spirit Peter explained to these Jews that this miraculous occurrence was in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 and explained that Jehovah had resurrected Jesus and had exalted him to his right hand, giving him the promised holy spirit, which he was now pouring out upon the 120 disciples. Peter then unlocked the door for these Jews by saying to them: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the free gift of the holy spirit.” (Acts 2:38) There were three thousand Jews that immediately grasped the opportunity for gaining the heavenly kingdom with the Messiah or Christ. Shortly after this the number grew to five thousand.—Acts 2:1-41; 4:1-4.
During the three and one-half years left of the seventieth week the Christian congregation continued to be made up exclusively of natural Israelites, Samaritans and circumcised Jewish proselytes. It was during this period of time that Saul of Tarsus, outstanding Jewish persecutor of Christians, was converted by the miraculous appearance of Christ himself to Saul. Jesus appointed Saul, who came to be called Paul, to the office of apostle. He came to be known as the apostle to the nations or as an apostle or teacher of nations, that is, of uncircumcised Gentiles. (Rom. 11:13; 1 Tim. 2:7) The key of knowledge and of opportunity for entering the Kingdom had been used on behalf of the Jews by Peter. Would Paul be the one to use the key to open similar opportunities to the Gentiles? No, Jesus had given this privilege also to Peter.
The seventieth week of special favor to the Jews continued on. It would end in 36 C.E., the seventh anniversary of the baptism of Jesus. Would the Jews grasp the opportunity of entering Kingdom privileges and membership and fill up the number that God had foreordained for this kingdom, namely, 144,000? The apostle Paul in a later writing explains what took place. He likened the congregation of Jewish candidates who were in line naturally for the heavenly kingdom to an olive tree that had a definite number of branches attached to the tree trunk, which pictures the Messiah. As he goes on to show, the Jews failed to take good advantage of this opportunity to make up the complete Kingdom body because of lack of faith in Jesus as Messiah. And so these Jewish branches were broken off. God’s purpose had to stand and therefore the vacant places had to be filled to make up the complete Kingdom membership. Paul explains: “A dulling of sensibilities has happened in part to Israel [only a remnant of Israel believed in the Messiah] until the full number of people of the nations [the Gentiles] has come in, and in this manner all Israel will be saved [the complete number of the 144,000 will be gathered out of the Gentile nations, filling up the places of the branches broken off]. Just as it is written [in Isaiah 59:20]: ‘The deliverer will come out of Zion [heavenly Zion] and turn away ungodly practices from Jacob.’”—Rom. 11:13-26; Rev. 7:4-8.
SECOND KEY USED
How did it come about that Peter used the second key? Just as in the first instance holy spirit directed him, so in the second instance it was not his own idea. He did not bind up the opportunity exclusively for the natural Israelites until the end of the seventieth week. He did not loose the Gentiles from their restrictions to enter into the race for the heavenly Kingdom. All this was arranged in heaven first by God, not by Peter on earth, as the account of the facts shows.
There was a Gentile man, a devout worshiper of God but not a Jewish proselyte, a centurion named Cornelius. Exactly at the time of the end of the seventieth week, God by a vision and by his spirit instructed Peter to accept Cornelius’ invitation to his home in Caesarea, after Peter had hesitated. When Peter arrived and saw the Gentile people gathered there to hear the Kingdom message, he said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial [now to the Jews], but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” Heaven thus directed Peter and he stood up and used the second key by preaching to those Gentiles about the Anointed One, Messiah the Leader, and how he died. He said: “God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God [Jehovah], to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead. Also, he [Jehovah God] ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness that this [Jesus] is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone [Gentile or Jew] putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The Gentiles listening accepted this Kingdom message with full faith, and Jehovah God himself showed his approval of Peter’s use of the second key by his acceptance of the Gentiles to be grafted in to fill the places the Jewish nation had vacated. (Rom. 11:17-19, 24) The account reads: “While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word. And the faithful ones that had come with Peter who were of those circumcised were amazed, because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also upon people of the nations. For they heard them speaking with tongues and glorifying God [like on the day of Pentecost].” Peter acted on this indication from God by informing these Gentiles what to do, saying: “Can anyone [Jewish] forbid water so that these might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we [natural Jews] have?” No circumcised Jew present forbidding, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”—Acts 10:1-48; 15:7-9.
NO MORE KEYS NEEDED
The question arises, Did Peter continue to carry these keys of the Kingdom around with him to open to those whom he would and to close to others the opportunities for entering the Kingdom? Are there more keys besides the two? The answers are shown in the following facts. Up to this time Jehovah had divided up mankind into just two classes: the Jews, whom he dealt with as his special people, and the people of the nations, the Gentiles. So only two keys were needed. Neither could Peter use the keys further, for the door was opened to both Jews and Gentiles now. In using the second key Peter did not shut the door to the Jews but merely opened up the opportunity to the Gentiles as well as Jews. From this time on, Jews and Gentiles were on the same basis as to opportunities of entering into Kingdom privileges. There was therefore no need for further keys and neither could Peter close or lock the door of opportunity thus opened, for the two keys were to unlock, not to lock up Kingdom opportunities.
The fact that Peter could not close the door of Kingdom opportunity by the use of either key, that, in fact, these keys once used were no longer needed, is strengthened by a circumstance that came about in the Antioch congregation. In Antioch of Syria first the disciples of Jesus were by divine providence called Christians. (Acts 11:20-26) Peter had learned from the circumstances surrounding his use of the second key that the Gentiles were accepted by God. When he afterward came to Antioch he at first went into the homes of Gentile converts and ate meals with them. Neither did he insist upon their being circumcised like Jews before he would eat with them. But certain Jewish Christians came down from Jerusalem and said that James, Jesus’ half brother, who was overseer of the congregation there, was of the opinion that Jewish believers could not associate with uncircumcised Gentile believers. This was certainly a question of faith and morals. In this instance did Peter act as the chief of the apostles or as the pope? We refer to the account:
“When Cephas [Aramaic for Peter] came to Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class. The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barnabas was led along with them in their pretense. But when I saw they were not walking straight according to the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: ‘If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do, and not as Jews do, how is it that you are compelling people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?’”—Gal. 2:11-14.
DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY REMAINS OPEN
Here the apostle Peter was publicly reproved, and rightly so, for Peter was not walking straight according to Christian faith and morals. Fear of men was again influencing Peter as it had done when he denied Jesus three times on the night of betrayal by Judas Iscariot. (Matt. 26:31-35, 69-75; Mark 14:27-31, 66-72; Prov. 29:25) It was as if Peter was trying to use the second of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to shut and relock the door in the faces of the uncircumcised Gentiles. But he did not have the power to do so, for the resurrected Jesus Christ said later on: “These are the things he says who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens so that no one will shut, and shuts so that no one opens, ‘I know your deeds—look! I have set before you an opened door, which no one can shut.’” (Rev. 3:7, 8) So heaven did not agree with the course Peter was taking at Antioch. He quickly corrected his course, no doubt, in line with the counsel of his fellow-apostle Paul. This was in agreement with what Peter said when he spoke during the debate over circumcision in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:6-11) And he admitted that Paul had spoken and written correctly when he wrote in his own second letter to Christian believers:
“Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul according to the wisdom given him also wrote you, speaking about these things as he does also in all his letters. In them, however, are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unsteady are twisting, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”—2 Pet. 3:15, 16.
Peter did not consider himself an infallible pope, nor did he think he was a gatekeeper to heaven. All this is in harmony with the rest of the Bible, which teaches that Jehovah God, not Peter, is the Great Judge of his people and he uses Christ Jesus as the associate Judge with him. Also, those who do enter into the kingdom of the heavens must grasp this opportunity while on earth and must live a life of integrity. If one enters into heaven, it is because he really has followed Jesus’ footsteps on earth. To Jehovah God goes all the credit for his undeserved kindness in opening the way to the kingdom of heaven and selecting those to be Kingdom heirs with Christ. Correspondingly, to Jehovah goes the credit for arranging for the Kingdom rule of the earth and establishing his kingdom in 1914 C.E., with full blessings to begin to be poured out on mankind during this generation by his undeserved kindness.
a See the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.