Bible Study Ministry Theology

Binding and Loosing (Matthew 16:15-19)

“Satan, we bind you in the name of Jesus!”

What should we think of this prayer?  Does God teach us in his Word to “bind Satan”?  That is the question I want to take up in this post, based primarily on Matthew 16:19.

“Binding satan” has become a very common practice in certain circles of the evangelical church.  Some Christian leaders are presenting this as the fundamental need in evangelizing the remaining unreached peoples of the world.  Satan and his demons must be “bound,” they say, through prayer, so that people can be “loosed” from their captivity and come to Christ.

One thing is certain, more dependance upon God expressed in prayer is a very good thing, and I am convinced that without prayer my own work among an unreached people is going nowhere.  But just as with anything else in our Christian faith, our prayer practices need to be grounded in what God himself has taught us about prayer.

I cannot say everything in this post that needs to be said about spiritual warfare nor treat all of the Bible passages relevant to this particular practice, but I want to show that Matthew 16:19  does not support the practice of “binding Satan.”  To the contrary, I think that this brief study will show that such praying distracts us from what we should be doing, which is to declare the gospel, calling people to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ in faith, all the time clinging to God in prayer and asking him to do what only he can do, which is change sinners into saints.

Here are the verses I want to study…

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 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. 19 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.”

In order to understand v. 19, which is our goal, we first have to wrestle with the following question:

What is the “rock” that Jesus says he will build his church on?

Several different answers have been offered, but the most obvious reading of the text is that the rock is Peter.  D.A. Carson says, “…if it were not for Protestant reactions against extremes of Roman Catholic interpretation, it is doubtful whether many would have taken “rock” to be anything or anyone other than Peter.” This doesn’t mean, however, that Peter was the first pope.  Carson goes on to say, “The text says nothing about Peter’s successors, infallibility, or exclusive authority. These late interpretations entail insuperable exegetical and historical problems.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gospel of Matthew).

All Jesus is saying is that Peter especially, but the other apostles as well, are those upon and through whom he is going to begin building his spiritual temple.  Compare with Ephesians 2:19-20 where Christ’s church is called, “…the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Yes, Jesus is the rock, the cornerstone, the foundation, but it is also true to Scripture to say that the apostles are the foundation upon which the church is built.

What, you might say, does this have to do with the question of binding Satan?  Hang with me, and I think you’ll begin to see how this whole passage hangs together (like that neat pun?).  The next important question is…

What is meant by, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?

Those in the “binding Satan” camp interpret this phrase to mean that Satan is on the defensive.  “After all,” they say, “gates are for the purpose of defending a city.”  They understand Jesus to be saying that Satan will not be able to resist the attacks that the church brings as it “storms hell’s gates” and plunders Satan’s kingdom.

But the phrase, “gates of hell” is used several times in the Old Testament, and it always refers to death (see Job 17:16; 38:17; Psalm 9:13; 107:18; Isaiah 38:10).  This is probably why the RSV translates the phrase, “The powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

So what Jesus appears to be saying is that the Church he is building, starting with Peter and the other apostles, is indestructible.  Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the one building this spiritual temple, and nothing, not even death, can destroy it, because this spiritual house is built of living stones (1 Peter 2:5).

Another argument against reading spiritual warfare into this phrase is that no matter what the understanding of “gates” should be, the verb “prevail” or “overcome” is not a defensive word, but an offensive word.  Jesus is saying that his church will not be defeated.  He is not saying anything about whom the church will defeat.

What are “the keys of the kingdom”?

First of all, this phrase is another reason why it makes sense to understand that Jesus was referring to Peter himself when he said, “on this rock I will build my church”. Peter is the rock, so Peter is the one who gets the keys.  But what are the keys?  Two important things can be said to answer that.

1. First, the keys speak of entrance into the kingdom.  The only other places that Jesus mentioned keys are Luke 11:52 and Revelation 1:18.

In Luke 11:52, he says, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” In the context, the lawyers, who should have been the ones to show that the Old Testament prophets testified to Christ, were too busy loading God’s people with heavy legalistic burdens (v. 46).  As a result they cheated the people of the “knowledge” of what the prophets said about Christ, with which they could have entered the kingdom.

Also in Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Apart from what Jesus did on the cross, we are condemned to eternal death, but he has the keys of death, and he can deliver us from that destination and bring us into eternal life.

Second, the keys and the binding and loosing phrase explain each other.

Think about what binding and loosing have in common with keys.  A key either unlocks a door, so that one can enter, or it locks a door, making it impossible to enter.  In the same way, binding keeps someone from doing something while loosing frees them to do something.  If you tie someone up, or take away a key, they are helpless.  But if you loose them, or give them a key, they can go do something.  In this context, people are either being enabled to enter the Kingdom, or prevented from entering the kingdom.  But by what?

Here is where the whole passage starts to hang together and all the parts illuminate the whole.  When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus told him that he confessed this because the Father had revealed it to him.  Jesus then said that Peter was the rock upon which the Church would be built, and that he, Jesus, will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  In other words, the proclamation of the truth about Jesus is the key to heaven. As Peter proclaims the truth about Jesus, which the Father has revealed to him (and will continue to reveal as Peter grows in his understanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do), he is opening the door for many to enter the kingdom.

We see Peter using these keys in the first half of the book of Acts as he preaches and thousands come to faith in Christ.

And that same proclamation that opens the door to some, closes it to others. For the thousands that believed in Acts, there were others who were hardened.  I personally have experienced this with many people with whom I have shared the gospel.  It is a scary thing to see someone say no to Jesus and to know that it was because of my sharing the gospel with them that they came to that point of rejection.  Peter is not “binding” in the sense of keeping people from responding to Christ, but when he proclaims the gospel in Acts, he is the agent through whom people are brought to a point of decision and either bound or loosed.

When we are sharing Christ with someone and they say, “but I think I will find my way to God by some other way than Christ.  I’ll follow my own prophet,” it is our duty to say, “no, you cannot go by any other way, there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” We must bind them and deny them entrance by any other way except by the one who said, “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through me.” When we declare to those unwilling to follow Christ that salvation is only through him, we are binding.  “No, you cannot enter… not on those terms.”

One more observation, there is no reason to understand Matthew 16:19-20 as applying only to Peter and not to us.  In the same way that the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 was given to us through Jesus’ words to the apostles, so this commission to bind and to loose as well is given to us through Jesus’ words to Peter.


Back to our starting point.  What about “binding Satan” in prayer?  It is true that every human being who does not belong to Christ is a captive of Satan, but the biblical teaching is that freedom and salvation do not come from binding Satan, but from declaring the gospel message, calling sinners to repent and turn to Christ.  This is what  we need to be doing.  And all the while, we should be talking to God about those people, not to Satan.

Bible Study

More about the house on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27)

One reader posted a comment to my last post and rather than answer him in the comments section, I thought I would make a new post to handle his question:

Here was John’s concern…

I’m going to be the little trouble maker here.   I’m just thinking and would like your thoughts.  I’ve think you’ve made an interesting point and upon reading this, this is the only time i’ve heard rain, floods and winds referred to as final judgment.  My question would be “are those whose house is built on the rock going to go through the final judgment?  Was not the rain, floods and winds poured out on Christ?  Are believers going to be judged in the same manner as unbelievers?  If this passage is referring to “final judgement”, it appears that it is the same exact judgment on both believers and unbelievers….although the results of the judgement are remarkably different.

John, you brought up an important point concerning what God’s judgment is, so I am happy for the opportunity to clarify.  On the one hand, you are right in that believers will not be “judged” at the final judgment because our sins were judged in Christ.  God’s wrath was poured out on Christ, so that those who are united to him by faith will not face it.  But I think you were taking my point too far when you interpreted me to mean that “the rain, floods and wind” in this passage represent the wrath of God.  In that sense, yes, you are right, we will not be judged.

But the word “judgment” is used in two ways in the New Testament.  On the one hand, it is used in the sense of “condemnation” or a negative judgement.  In this sense, to “judge” someone is to pronounce them guilty.

But judgment is also used in a neutral sense.  This is the sense of separating or distinguishing or discriminating between two things.

You can see these two meanings in two apparently conflicting statements of Jesus.

First, in John 3:17 Jesus says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (NASB). Here John is saying that the reason Jesus was sent into the world was not to bring condemnation, but to provide a way to be saved from condemnation.  That is why the English Standard Version uses the word, “condemn” instead of “judge.”  (“…did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…”)

On the other hand, in John 9:39 Jesus says,  “For judgement I came into this world…” and in John 5:27 he says that the Father, “has given him authority to execute judgment”.  These verses do not contradict John 3:17 because they are referring to the fact that Jesus came to “distinguish” or “separate” those who are his from those who are not.

It is this distinguishing type of judgment that is happening in the house on the rock passage.  The storm does not represent the negative penalty of condemnation, but rather the discriminating act of judgment at the final judgment that will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  Actually, the Matthew 25 connection with the house on the rock is strong, because in both contexts there is a distinction being made between those who only call Jesus, “Lord, Lord” and those who are actually his people (compare Matthew 7:22 with Matthew 25:44)

Let me conclude with a quote from James Montgomery Boice:

Building on Christ’s words will also save you in death, for that is what escaping the storm’s destruction actually refers to. This is not merely a matter of finding something that will get you through life, fit to stand against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as it were. It is a matter of standing upright at the final judgment and not being carried off to hell by God’s verdict and command. (page 117 The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, Baker Books, 2001)

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life

How to Build Your House on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27)

Perhaps, like me, as a child you often sang the cute little song based on Matthew 7:24-27

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

The wise man built his house upon the rock

And the rains came a tumblin’ down…

But when Jesus tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to “build our house on the rock,” what is he referring to?  How do we actually do this?

Here is the whole passage…

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

I’m not sure where my early understanding came from, but for a long time, I thought that the rain and the floods and the wind that beat on the house were the storms of life–the trials  and struggles that all of us go through.  But if you look closely at the context here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about the final judgment.  The beating storm that the house must endure is nothing less than the judgment that Christ himself will render when he evaluates our lives on judgment day.  The question at hand, then, is whether or not we will “enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21), or hear the awful words, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (v. 23).

In order to enter the eternal kingdom and live forever with Jesus, we must be like the man who built his house on the rock.  And Jesus states very, very clearly what that means in verse 24.  “Everyone then who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Although it is very true that we must obey everything that Jesus says, when he speaks of “these words” he is referring to what he has just taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  And it is not enough just to hear those words and appreciate them.  We must do them (remember James 1:22-25 and the man who looks at his face in the mirror).

So what does “doing” the things that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount entail?  Well, to be honest, it entails a lot more than you and I are capable of.  What makes Matthew 5-7 so stunning (in the sense of feeling numb like you’ve been hit on the head with a crowbar) is that Jesus doesn’t only endorse what God had already revealed in the Old Testament, he deepens it and makes it a matter of the heart.  So it isn’t enough to just “not murder”, we must also make sure our hearts aren’t harboring bitter and angry thoughts.  It isn’t enough to just “not commit adultery,” our thoughts have to be pure.  We can’t just “claim our rights,” but we must be willing to suffer injustice at the hands of others.  Religious duties like fasting, prayer and giving must be done with a right heart… This is only a partial list of some of the words that we have just heard from Jesus in the sermon on the mount.  Jesus has shown us that a true keeping of the law is so much deeper than just external behavior, it is the description of a life that springs from a pure heart.

Now, depending at what stage you are at in life, you will probably respond to this in one of two ways.  1)  “Well, I guess I better buckle down and get started.  Let’s see, what part of the sermon on the mount will I work on today?”  or 2) “Can I just go back to bed?”

You see, when Jesus says that the one who builds his house on the rock, “hears my words and does them,” it is like being told that you need to build the Biltmore House (click if you’ve never seen the Biltmore House) on your $20,000 a year salary in order to get into heaven.  There’s no way you can do it!

The problem is that the gospel of Matthew is filled with such passages.  Matthew presents the “gospel of the kingdom” that Jesus came preaching: a description of what life under King Jesus is like.  And as glorious as that picture is, and as much as we would like to live it, it can seem unattainable when we look only at this Biltmore House of a life that Jesus talks about and realize that we can’t begin to measure up.

But the gospel of Matthew doesn’t consist only of the “gospel of the Kingdom,” it ends with the King himself dying on a cross and then rising from the dead.  So what is the connection between the message of the King about the life that he wants us to live, and the death and resurrection of the King?

Although there are some clues scattered throughout Matthew, it isn’t until after Jesus ascends to heaven and the apostles, through the Holy Spirit, explain to us in their writings the significance of Jesus’ death that we begin to see how Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to build our house on the rock.

The only way possible for us to “hear Jesus’ words and do them” is to be united with Jesus in his death and resurrection.  His death becomes our death, and his life becomes our life, and the house on the rock that stands against the storm of God’s judgment is nothing less than the exquisite mansion of Christ’s own life that he builds for us through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

So, summarizing, how do you build your house on the Rock?

Admit to Jesus your helplessness to build anything that stands a chance of surviving his end-time judgment.  Every day look to his death on the cross, and see there the death of all your attempts to make yourself acceptable to God.  See at the cross as well the forgiveness for all your failed attempts to do what Jesus says.  Receive by faith the resurrected Jesus into your life and ask him to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  And then go out and in the power of his indwelling Spirit, listen to his words and do what he says.