The Bible’s answer
“The keys of the Kingdom,” sometimes called “the keys to the kingdom,” represent the authority to open the way for people to “enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 16:19; The New American Bible; Acts 14:22)* Jesus gave Peter “the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens.” This means that Peter received the authority to unlock information about how faithful people, by receiving God’s holy spirit, could enjoy the privilege of entering the Kingdom in heaven.
For whom were the keys used?
Peter used authority from God to open the way for three groups to enter the Kingdom:
Jews and Jewish converts. Shortly after Jesus’ death, Peter encouraged a crowd of Jewish believers to accept Jesus as the one selected by God to rule in the Kingdom. Peter showed them what they must do to get saved. He thus opened the way for them to enter the Kingdom, and thousands “accepted his word.”—Acts 2:38-41.
Samaritans. Peter was later sent to the Samaritans.* He again used a key of the Kingdom when he, along with the apostle John, “prayed for them to get holy spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) This opened the way for the Samaritans to enter the Kingdom.
Gentiles. Three and a half years after Jesus’ death, God revealed to Peter that Gentiles (non-Jews) would also have the opportunity to enter the Kingdom. In response, Peter used one of the keys by preaching to Gentiles, thus opening the door for them to receive the holy spirit, become Christians, and be prospective members of the Kingdom.—Acts 10:30-35, 44, 45.
What does it mean to “enter into the Kingdom”?
Those who actually “enter into the Kingdom” become corulers with Jesus in heaven. The Bible foretold that they would “sit on thrones” and “rule as kings over the earth.”—Luke 22:29, 30; Revelation 5:9, 10.
Misconceptions about the keys of the Kingdom
Misconception: Heaven waited on Peter to decide when to use the keys of the Kingdom.
Fact: When Jesus spoke about the keys of the Kingdom, he told Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19, The New American Bible) Although some understand this statement to mean that Peter dictated decisions to heaven, the original Greek verbs show that Peter’s decisions would follow those made in heaven rather than precede them.*
The Bible elsewhere shows that Peter was subject to heaven when using the keys of the Kingdom. For example, he responded to instructions from God when using the third key.—Acts 10:19, 20.
The Samaritans belonged to a religion that was distinct from Judaism but that incorporated some teachings and practices from the Mosaic Law.
See the study note for Matthew 16:19 in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition).