Bible Study Theology

Luke 24:30-45 “…their eyes were opened”

I’ve shared the gospel enough times with people who had no interest in it to need some sort of encouragement not to give up. Perhaps you can identify with that. I found some of that encouragement this morning in Luke 24 in the story of Jesus talking with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus.

Cleopas and his friend are walking to the village of Emmaus when they are unexpectedly joined by a stranger who begins to interpret to them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (the Messiah).” (v. 27) It’s amazing to me that as the stranger reveals to these two such deep spiritual truths, they still don’t realize who he is!

But after arriving at Emmaus and sitting down to dinner together, Jesus takes bread and breaks it and gives it to them, and in that moment, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” This is what I long to see in the lives of people with whom I share the good news of all that the Scriptures reveal about Jesus the Messiah. I long to see their eyes opened so that they recognize Jesus for who he is. This is what I ask those of you who pray for our ministry to ask the Lord for. Pray that God would grant spiritual sight to those who are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting that the revelation of Jesus to these two occurs in the breaking of the bread. This is most likely a reference to the Lord’s Supper, which is itself a revelation of the sacrifice for sins that Jesus made when he offered his body and his blood on the cross. It is in the declaration of that event, the Calvary event, that blinded eyes are opened.

That is not to say that everyone who hears the news of Jesus’ death and resurrection will be able to see with spiritual sight the glory of Christ. But when God in his grace opens blinded eyes and brings people to faith, he does it through the proclamation of the gospel. It’s difficult to proclaim the gospel to spiritually blind people who may not care two cents about what you are saying, but how necessary it is to be willing to open our mouths and to share the message without which no one can be saved (Acts 4:12), and trust that God will use it to save those lost sheep he has committed himself to finding (John 10:16).

This also shows us how we can pray for unbelievers: “Lord, open their eyes to see the glory of Christ the way you opened the eyes of those two in Emmaus.” Notice also that after Cleopas and his friend go to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about what happened, Jesus appears again to them all. And verse 45 says, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

“Lord Jesus, as we are faithful to declare the gospel message to those around us, please open their minds to understand the Scriptures. Give spiritual sight that blinded sinners may see the glory of Christ.”

In verse 47, Jesus says that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Commit yourself anew to proclaiming the good news of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Commit yourself anew to pray for those who are hearing that message. Pray that God would open their eyes and their minds to understand the Scriptures and to see the glories of Jesus, our wonderful Savior. Be encouraged as you speak to and pray for the hardest of hearts. God is able to open closed minds and eyes.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Ministry Theology

Binding and Loosing, Part 2 (Matthew 16:15-19)

In my previous post, I sketched out an interpretation of Matthew 16:15-19 that hopefully helps to show that “binding and loosing” is not referring to “warfare prayer.”  According to some, Matthew 16:19 allows us to personally “bind” Satan and his demons in specific situations and places.

I argued that “binding and loosing” refers to God’s people declaring with authority the truth about Jesus. Here in verse 16, Peter is the first to make this proclamation when he enthusiastically responds to the Lord’s question with the glorious words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When the truth about Jesus (the gospel message) is declared by God’s people, this proclamation frees some–“looses” them–to enter into eternal life.  It is the key to the kingdom.  For others, that same proclamation “binds” them, shutting them out of the kingdom as they choose to reject the truth.

Now that I have offered this as an interpretation, here is more detail why I think this is the correct way to understand binding and loosing.  I also want to include in this post some thoughts on the implications of this interpretation for our efforts to complete the Great Commission and see Christ’s church advance to the ends of the earth.

“shall be bound” or “shall have been bound”

First, we have to consider the meaning of the words, “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed.”  Even if you are not a greek scholar (the original language of the New Testament), if you are an English speaker, you have a tremendous Bible study tool available to you in the various English translations.  Usually when there is a question of the correct way to interpret the original text, it will come up through a comparison of some of the major translations (you can do this using E-sword (which is free), or Logos, which I use–not free).  In this case, we discover that the ESV, which I usually use here on the blog, and the NASB have translated this phrase differently.  Here is the comparison:

ESV:  …whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

NASB:  …whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

There is a long-standing debate among biblical scholars over which of these is the better translation and I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the NASB translation fits very naturally with what we have seen so far in the rest of the passage.  Let me explain how.

When we proclaim the gospel message, we are directly impacting people’s lives in that when they receive the message, they are loosed and brought into the kingdom.  When they reject the message (and only God knows when that final rejection occurs) they are bound over to eternal punishment.

But even though, as proclaimers of the truth, we are the agents through which this occurs, it is not as though we are the ones deciding peoples’ eternal destinies.  As the NASB translation makes clear, what we bind or loose on earth, God has already bound or loosed in heaven.  D.A. Carson (to whom I am greatly indebted for everything I am presenting in this post), put it this way in his commentary on Matthew:  “He (Peter) has no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has acted first.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew)

When we boldly and authoritatively declare the truth that it is only through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that man can be reconciled with his Creator, God’s eternal purposes are fulfilled.  His authority to save sinners is manifested in our authoritative proclamation of the means by which he saves sinners.  We are, in the language of Matthew 16:19, “binding and loosing.”

Binding and loosing put into practice…

The significance then of Jesus’ words here is immense.  God’s eternal purpose to call out for himself a people who will be saved by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ is placed into our hands!  Consider the implications for our efforts to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  I believe Jesus’ words should embolden us to preach the gospel with courage and authority.  Isn’t this exactly what we see Peter doing in Acts, and then all the other apostles as well, who were then followed by their Timothys and Tituses?

Jesus has given us authority to preach the gospel!  And in our increasingly pluralistic and relativistic world, we need strong assurances of that authority in order to continue to be faithful to our calling as witnesses (Acts 1:8).  This verse was given to us not to emboldent us to speak to Satan, but to embolden us to speak to sinners.

I get worked up by this because I believe that many in the “bind Satan” camp, while they are well-meaning, are forgetting that the commission we received from Jesus’ lips was to “make disciples” and not to “bind Satan”.  And one of the very passages that provides us with the authority we need to make those disciples has been misconstrued and used to distract us from that original commission.  Yes, we must pray!  Absolutely we must pray, but let me be so bold as to say that when we say, “Satan, I bind you in the name of Jesus” we are not praying.  That is not prayer.  Prayer is talking to God, not talking to Satan, (note:  I am not saying that we are never to address demons directly, there is biblical precedent for a verbal rebuke of demons.  I am only saying that there is no biblical precedent for “binding Satan”.)

Another reason why applying these verses correctly is so important is that the very thing that Satan fears more than anything else is the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the blood of Christ that will wrench his captives away from him.  If we really want to wage spiritual warfare, let us do it with the most powerful weapon we have which is the gospel.  It is the gospel that declares that Satan was defeated at the cross.

What does it matter if we have courage to address Satan in prayer, but don’t have courage to address his subjects with the gospel.   Let me say it yet again, it is not for us to bind Satan.  At the appropriate time, he will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3), and according to Scripture it will not be we who do it.

Still not convinced?  A final argument

Binding and loosing in Matthew 18:18

If what I and commentators like D.A. Carson and Craig Blomberg (New American Commentary: Matthew) are saying is correct, then a good way to test this interpretation is to see if it fits with Matthew 18:18, which is almost identical to Matthew 16:19, but in a very different context.

“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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mattthew 18:15-20)

In neither Matthew 18 nor 16 is there any mention at all of Satan and his demons.  To read them into the binding and loosing verses totally ignores the context of the passage.

Here, the context is one of church discipline.  Notice that in verse 17, the brother who has been confronted with his sin “refuses to listen even to the church”.  He is therefore an example of one who is “bound on earth” in the sense that the church says to this brother, “if you are unwilling to live by the truth of the gospel that we as Christ’s body confess, then you are no longer a part of that body.”  It is not the church that is excommunicating the individual, but God, acting through the church as his agent on earth (NASB, here also:  shall have been bound). And just as in Matthew 16, the church does this through a proclamation of the truth, never acting arbitrarily outside of that truth but only serving as the agent by which God exercises his authority.

Here again, there is a tremendous application to our obedience to Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to all creation.  The growth of the kingdom of God is not accomplished simply by filling our churches with large numbers of people, doing everything in our power to keep people happy and not rock the boat.  We must exercise the authority that God has given us to hold people to the high standard of a life, “worthy of the calling that we have received” (Eph. 4:1).  When we fail to discipline believers who are not living that worthy life, then we are failing to “bind and loose” as Jesus gave us the authority to do.

If you’ve made it this far into a long post (I have trouble writing short ones), let me conclude by saying that I would love to hear your comments on this.  I have just put a new comment subscription plug-in on the blog.  If you care to leave a comment, you can also subscribe to the comments on that post by email and get an email whenever anyone else adds a comment.  Just look for the e-mail sign up at the bottom of the comments section.

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.