The keys of the kingdom

Jacob’s son “Joseph was singled out by God from his conception. His very birth was an answer to the prayers of his mother Rachel (Gen 30:22-24)” (note on Genesis 37:1-11). Genesis 37:3-4 states, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” The animosity between Joseph and his brothers was compounded by his open devotion to God. It is clear from Joseph’s two prophetic dreams that he was destined to be God’s instrument of salvation to Jacob’s family. Genesis 37:5-8 states:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf. His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Joseph’s bold declaration that his brothers would one day bow down and pay homage to him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When Joseph came looking for his brothers in the fields of Dothan, “They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes that dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams'” (Genesis 37:18-20).

The plot to kill Joseph was more than just an expression of hostility toward Jacob’s favorite son, it was an attempt to prevent God’s prophetic word from coming to pass. When Jesus indicated that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man'” (Matthew 16:22-23). Jesus perceived in Peter’s words “a snare laid for Him by Satan” (G4625). Jesus rebuked Peter because he was not setting his mind on the things of God. What Jesus meant by that was that Peter was not thinking about the situation from God’s perspective. Jesus came into the world with a specific mission of dying for the sins of the world. When Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, Peter was acting like he knew better than Jesus did what his mission was all about.

Jesus was directly addressing his adversary the devil when he said, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). The Greek word that is translated hindrance, skandalon (skan’-dal-on) (“scandal”) is probably derived from the word kampto (kamp’-to) which means “to bend, bow, the knee (the knees) or one’s self and is used of worshippers who bend in honour of one in religious veneration” (G2578). This seems to suggest that Satan was trying to get Jesus to switch sides and be devoted to him instead of God. But it could be that Peter was the one that was under attack and that Satan was initially trying to get him to betray Jesus rather than Judas Iscariot. Jesus later told Peter that Satan had demanded to have him, that he might sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). The Greek word that is translated sift, siniazo (sin-ee-ad’-zo) when used figuratively means “by inward agitation to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow” (G4617).

The reason why Satan targeted Peter was because of the important role he was expected to play in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. After Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 16:17-20). Jesus indicated that the purpose of the keys of the kingdom of heaven was to bind and loose things on earth, but he didn’t tell Peter how to do that or specify which things should be bound and which should be loosed. The only clue we have of what Jesus was talking about is found in his instructions about a brother sinning against you. Jesus said:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20).

The central point of Jesus’ teaching about sins committed by believers was the need for unity within the church. In this context, it seems that the things that are bound and loosed are the relationships that unite the church as a single entity. The Apostle Paul talked about the unity of the Spirit and told the Ephesians, “I therefore a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

Before Jesus established his church, the entity that God worked in and through was the family of Jacob which became known as the twelve tribes of Israel. When Joseph was sold into slavery, there was break in the unity of Jacob’s family and a risk that his twelve sons’ descendants would not become the nation of Israel. Joseph’s dreams and his ability to interpret them, “were signs of God’s special blessings on Joseph, and they would be the means of his advancement in Egypt and the preservation of God’s people from the famine that would hit Canaan. Joseph’s personal faith and obedience never wavered” (note on Genesis 37:1-11) and he was able to restore unity in Jacob’s family (Genesis 45:4-5). In this instance, the keys of the kingdom of heaven may have been the dreams Joseph had that made him aware of the fact that his slavery in Egypt was a part of God’s plan to preserve the lives of Jacob’s family.

While he was in Egypt, one of the things that was obvious to everyone about Joseph was his devotion to God. A man named Potipher bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there and Genesis 39:5-6 tells us, “From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.” When Potipher’s wife invited Joseph to have sex with her, he refused and told her he intended to be loyal to his master. Joseph said, “‘He is not greater in the house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:9-10).

Joseph’s refusal to have sex with his master’s wife led to him being put in prison where he was again given a position of unusual responsibility. Genesis 39:23 states, “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” Two of Pharaoh’s officers were put in custody in the prison where Joseph was confined and “the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them” (Genesis 40:4). The Hebrew word that is translated appointed, paqad (paw-kad’) suggests that the two officers were placed in the prison under Joseph’s charge to fulfill a divine purpose (H6485). Paqad’s usage in Exodus 3:16 refers to “God’s intervention in His saving the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt,” suggesting that the two officers were God’s instrument to get Joseph out of prison. Genesis 40:5-8 states:

And one night they both dreamed the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison — each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

Joseph’s concern for the well-being of Pharaoh’s officers showed that he was focusing on their spiritual needs as well as their physical ones. The Hebrew word that is translated downcast, ra’ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). Joseph’s question, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) brought the focus of these two men’s attention squarely on God and his ability to open up the spiritual realm to anyone he wants to communicate with.

Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ was “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). What Jesus meant by that was that the time Peter spent interacting with Jesus during his ministry on earth was not what led him to the conclusion that he was the Christ. It was a supernatural revelation from God that made Peter aware of the fact that he was in the presence of “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It was this same supernatural type of disclosure that Jesus indicated his church would be built on “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In other words, the unsaved condition of the human mind cannot block out the truth of God’s word. Supernatural revelation unlocks the mind and gives it the ability to comprehend what God is saying to us.

One of the most difficult things for Jesus’ disciples to comprehend was that he was going to be killed “and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). After he was crucified, no one expected Jesus to come back to life. Matthew 16:24-27 states, “Then Jesus told his disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul. Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” To deny oneself means to disregard one’s own interests (G720) and most likely signified the use of one’s power or influence to obtain a preferred outcome. Jesus indicated that our attempts to save ourselves are useless because salvation is a free gift from God, but in order to fully benefit from being saved we must follow the example that Jesus gave us of selfless abandon to doing the will of God.

Jesus’ promise to repay each person according to what he has done when he comes with his angels in the glory of his Father is a reference to the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). At the judgement seat of Christ, every believer will have to give an account of what he or she did with the life, gifts and calling that God gave to them (Harvest.org, The Judgment Seat of Christ). I believe this judgment will include both Old and New Testament saints. Joseph’s witness to the two officers of Pharaoh that were entrusted to his care while he was in prison will likely be credited to him as something that resulted in God’s will being carried out. Even so, Joseph’s faithfulness in giving God the credit for interpreting the two men’s dreams (Genesis 40:8) didn’t result in his immediate release from prison.

After Joseph interpreted the chief cupbearer’s dream and told him he would be restored to his position in the king’s palace (Genesis 40:13), Joseph requested the cupbearer’s help. He said, “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me in this pit” (Genesis 40:14-15). The pit that Joseph was imprisoned in was a large hole in the ground that was likely used to capture rain (H953) and therefore, had little light or fresh air coming into it. The pit could be symbolic of the confines of hades or what we think of today as the pit of hell. Joseph’s life may have seemed to be ebbing away as he passed each day not knowing when or if he would be released from Pharaoh’s prison. We are told in Genesis 40:23 that after the cupbearer’s dream came true, “Yet the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”

One of the reasons Jesus needed to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven may have been because the human mind is governed by our sin nature. As much as we would like to think that God’s interests and the interests of others are foremost in our thoughts, the Apostle Paul made it clear that until we all reach maturity and the fullness of Christ is manifested in his church, we will continue to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). It wasn’t long after Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) that Satan influenced him to rebuke the Lord and Jesus had to stop Peter from being a hindrance to his mission (Matthew 16:22-23). The only way we are able to open the door of faith is by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation (John 10:9).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

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