The promise made by God to Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, was that through Abraham and his family, God would bless the whole creation that had been brought under a curse through human rebellion. The time of the arrival of the Kingdom of God would be the time when this promise was realized, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9. Matthew clearly presents us with his gospel as the time when God is bringing those promises into fruition, particularly in the person of one man, Jesus, who is carrying the weight of the entire nation on his shoulders. That is why Matthew recognizes Jesus as “Messiah” because he believes that Jesus carries the nation on His shoulders to the place that they could not get to by themselves. But the goal here is not “going to heaven” as most westerners imagine. The goal is the renewal of all creation, by the establishment of God’s rule and reign on earth as it is in heaven and the renewal of the human vocation to govern the world wisely for God’s glory. Thus, when Jesus is establishing God’s kingdom of earth as it is in heaven, it was never His intention to finish the job and then disappear into heaven to wait for our arrival. It was always God’s intention to renew his image bearers, the human race, so that they could fulfill their intended purpose of ruling over God’s good creation with wisdom and fresh, enhancing creativity. A central part of Jesus’ kingdom agenda was to renew His people and restore them to their vocation. When it comes to Jesus’ seemingly awkward and cryptic statement about binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, I believe that we need to have this particular goal in mind. Matthew quotes Jesus making this statement twice and I believe that if we look at the material roughly in between these two sayings, it is meant to clue us into Jesus’ meaning. “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 and 18:18. I think that the central thing that Jesus is addressing here is our authority and responsibility in the arena of words, particularly forgiveness and holding our brothers and sisters accountable. This is a two edged sword that demands wisdom. We must be completely ready to forgive on the one hand, but equally careful not to allow injustice to proceed unchecked. Between the bookend statements, there is much to be studied and meditated on concerning that nature of humility, power, and authority and their proper use. But I think the main point for our purposes today is that we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to be the renewed people of God in whom the vocation to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and God’s vice-regents in the earth has been renewed. This is, in fact, what it means to be Israel, Abraham’s family. As Jesus told Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), the government of this newly established kingdom of God is being shared with the renewed people of God. When God wants to change something in the world, He doesn’t usually send a lightning bolt and a storm. He usually sends one of his humble servants, like Peter, including all the weakness still inhabiting such human vessels. This is a great responsibility but it is one that calls us to “grow up” into what God has created us to be. A mind is not renewed by simply obeying commands. A mind is renewed by believing the truth and taking on new responsibilities as a result (i.e. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom”). Maybe this is what Paul meant when He said that we “will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head.” Ephesians 4:14-15. John, in his gospel, wants to communicate the same message when he quotes Jesus as saying, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” John 20:23. This is a sobering and awesome responsibility, but I believe it is at the very heart of what it means to be Jesus followers and the renewed people of God. As John’s Jesus also says at the end of his gospel: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22. In this, I believe that Matthew and John are in absolute agreement. We are commissioned with Jesus’ authority to forgive and restore. We use this authority when we speak the words of the truth and of the Kingdom. In this way, we can hold people accountable to the truth (binding) and we can set people free through the truth (loosing). Praise the Lord!