What does it mean to “bind” or to “loose?”
Twice in Matthew’s gospel we read of Jesus granting His disciples authority to “bind” or to “loose.” What does this mean?
Understandings vary regarding this, but here are my thoughts…
In Matthew 16:13-20 the context is Jesus’ words following Peter’s great insight and profession that Christ indeed was God incarnate: “You are the Christ [the Messiah, the Anointed One], the Son of the Living God.” (v. 16). Jesus responds explaining this understanding came by revelation of God and that upon this Rock, [professed faith in Christ], He would build His Church (v.18). “I will build my church,” He says, “and the gates of Hades [Hell, the abode of the dead] will not overcome it.” – i.e. Nothing will be able to prevent its onward march, and no defence of the devil will protect him from his ultimate doom!
Then, speaking to all of His disciples, Jesus says, “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.” (Matt. 16:19).
It is important to understand how the terms “binding” and “loosing” were commonly used by the rabbis in Jesus’ day. It meant to exclude or include, to forbid or permit. Jesus calls this “the keys of the kingdom,” i.e. one’s faith in or denial of Christ as Saviour and Lord – the Gospel – will “bind” or “loose” (forbid or permit) one’s entry into His Church and Kingdom.
In Matthew 18:16-20 the context is dealing with sin in the Church:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (v. 15-17).
Then Jesus reiterates, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (v. 18). I see here a connection with Jesus’ words back in Matthew 6:15 “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” God in Eternity and we here in time are vitally connected through the Person of Christ. Thus, Christ emphasizes, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (v. 19-20).
It is also interesting to note that in both Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 the word rendered “be” can, in the Greek, also carry the meaning “will already have been.” What is “past” and what is “future” is relevant only to creatures like us who inhabit time. Our God is Eternal. He made time (Gen. 1:5). What “shall be” and what “will already have been” are one and the same to Him.
How urgent it is that while we have time we bring the gospel message to all that we can. It alone can bring forgiveness of sin and grant entry into the Eternal Kingdom of God!
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