"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:19
What is meant by this passage? Have you ever read it and remained baffled, asking yourself what these keys are and what is meant by the binding and loosing? Are they physical keys? Does it have to do with the binding and loosing of persons and demons? In order to bring a little more clarity to what is meant by this passage, we need to be good students of the Word and compare Scripture with Scripture. We find the second part of Matthew 16:19 repeated in Matthew 18:18. The context here should shed some light on precisely what was meant by these allegorical keys that were given to Peter.
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that 'By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.' 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 have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Matthew 18:15-20
Does that help you? Have some things been clarified for you? If you still have not understood what Jesus is saying, then perhaps it is time we looked at a clearer passage that leaves no doubt as to what is meant.
"...[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'" John 20:22-23
These keys are not literal, physical keys. They are symbolic. The binding and loosing has nothing to do with persons or demons, contrary to some of the many false teachings that come from the Charismatic movement. John Cotton put it this way: "Whatsoever you bind on earth, is as much as whose sins soever you retain on earth; and whatsoever you loose on earth, is as much as whose sins soever you loose on earth." He went on to say this:
"Now this binding and loosing of whatsoever sins, in whosoever commit them, is partly in the conscience of the sinner, and partly in his outward estate in the Church, which is wont to be expressed in other terms, either in foro interiori, or in foro exteriori. As when in the dispensation of the Ordinances of God, a sinner is convinced to lie under the guilt of sin, then his sin is retained, his conscience is bound under the guilt of it, and himself bound under some Church-censure, according to the quality and desert of his offense; and if his sin be the more heinous, himself is shut out from the communion of the Church: But when a sinner repents of his sin, and confesses it before the Lord, and (if it be known) before his people also, and then in the ministry of the Doctrine and Disciple of the Gospel, his sin is remitted, and his conscience loosed from the guilt of it, and himself hath open and free entrance, both unto the promise of the Gospel, and into the gates of the holy communion of the Church."
As Matthew Henry notes:
"He doth not say, "I have given them," or "I do not;" but "I will do it," meaning after his resurrection; when he ascended on high, he gave those gifts, Ephes. 4:8; then this power was actually given, not to Peter only, but to all the rest, ch. 28:19, 20; John 20:21. He doth not say, The keys shall be given, but, I will give them; for ministers derive their authority from Christ, and all their power is to be used in his name, 1 Cor. 5:4."What are these keys? John Cotton believes them to be "the Ordinances which Christ has instituted, to be administered in his Church; as the preaching of the Word, (which is the opening and applying of it)." Matthew Henry believes them to be the "key of doctrine" and the "key of discipline." Matthew Poole refers to "the key of knowledge and doctrine" used by the apostle's preaching to open the kingdom of heaven to men, and "the key of discipline." Whatever is exactly included by these keys, we can be sure of the fact that this passage is expounded more clearly by John 20:22-23.