Peter the Guy with the Keys
The question is put forth: What's the deal with the keys that Christ gave to Peter? Why was he given them, and what are they for? Did he use them, and when, and what was the result? Of course, this is one of the passages most used by the Roman Catholic Church to "prove" Peter was the first "Pope," giving him (and arguably his successors) the highest authority in the church. But let us ask ourselves what are keys for? Are they a symbol of authority? In the Bible, a "rod" or "scepter" is the symbol of authority in relation to God's will for His children. Instead, what are keys used for? Keys are for locking and unlocking things. It's interesting to note that this passage is only found in Matthew's gospel. Each of the gospel authors tells the story of Christ's earthly ministry a little differently because they are looking at it from different perspectives. John particularly tells the story of Jesus as God. Luke tells the story of Jesus as man. Mark tells the story of Jesus as the suffering servant. Matthew tells the story of the prophesied King of Israel. As a tax collector, he was very concerned with matters of law. For this reason, the gospel of Matthew is, more than any other, distinctly Jewish and is very concerned with Jewish law and custom, Jewish prophecy and Jewish lineage to the throne. As this passage is found only in Matthew's gospel, could there be some relevance to such selectivity? Could this passage relate to some kind of matter concerning the Law? Let's look at the passage in question:
Mat 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
First, it is worth noting a common misconception. Jesus is not saying here that Peter is the rock on which He will build His church. The Greek word translated here as "Peter" is simply "petros," a word for a piece of rock or a simple stone. However, the Greek word translated here as "rock" is "petra," a bedrock, a more substantial rock such as might be used to build a foundation with. A different word. Who is the cornerstone? Christ is the cornerstone, is He not? Here, Jesus was stating that the church would be built on Him, or at least on faith in Him and recognition of Him as the messiah, the Christ, the Cornerstone. Peter (Simon) was called "petros" because he was a "little Christ," one piece of rock that attested to the truth of the Christ, the Cornerstone. Additionally, contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, Peter did not become head of the church. As we see in Acts, James was the head of the Church, though Peter and John did hold authority as well. These keys do hold some kind of authority, obviously, but it is an authority for a particular task. Not ruling authority as one would have with a rod or scepter. So, if we know what this passage does not mean, then we can begin to examine what it does mean. What will need to be locked or unlocked? Why does someone need to be tasked with the authority to do this? For the answer (surely a doctrinal issue), we can look at the doctrinal epistles of the apostles particularly Peter, James, John and Paul. But to understand the context of those teachings, we must look ahead to the history of the early church, as set down in Luke's historical work, The Acts of the Apostles. First, however, let's look at a prologue to those events, just prior to the Crucifixion, namely a parable of a fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.
Luk 13:6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.  Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?  And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
This parable is given soon after the above story, which is included (in shorter form) in Luke 9, right before the Transfiguration. So, Jesus has just recently given the "keys" to Peter, has shown the Transfiguration to Peter, James and John, has already prophesied His own impending crucifixion and resurrection (warning them to tell no one about it), and now tells this parable of the fig tree. Who is the man who has been coming to his vineyard for three years? In the Old Testament, God refers to Israel as both His vineyard and as a fig tree many times. Christ at this point had been coming to Israel for three years, preaching repentance. And while some individuals had repented, the corporate body of Israel as a nation had not. But does God cut Israel off at this point? Certainly not. The parable gives the tree one more year to bear fruit. If the "tree" still fails after one more year, it will be cut down. There are numerous references throughout the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke in which Jesus talks about one fig tree or another, and how it must bear good fruit, or it will be cut down. Indeed, in one example (Matthew 21), He withers a fig tree that bears no fruit, saying it will not bear fruit "ever again." This is a little inaccurate, however, as the Greek used here really only says "eis ho aion," which means "for an age," or for a very long time. (Though there is technically no literal word for "eternity" in biblical Greek, there are references that indicate eternity in the New Testament, with the idiom "unto the ages of ages." But in this passage in question, it is simply for an age. This will be relevant later.) This passage does show Christ giving an example of what will happen to the fig tree that bears no fruit. And several times elsewhere, He teaches that a tree that bears no fruit shall be cut down. So, having given Peter the keys, shown them the Transfiguration, prophesied His impending death and resurrection, Christ now also gives this parable. Because it is referencing real events (His ministry to Israel) and also talks about an additional year to come, this is not only a parable but also a prophecy! We have an "if" condition set forth, and the consequences of not meeting that condition. Where can we look to see this prophecy acted out? We find it in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's history of the early church following the Resurrection. Beginning at the Pentacost (Acts 2, prophesied in the Feast of Weeks in the Torah, taking place 50 days after the Passover), the church under the leadership of the Twelve exploded in growth. Thousands were saved at a time. Having been given the Great Commission from their Teacher, the Twelve preached what they had been commanded "Repent and be baptized unto the remission of your sins." In Acts 2 and 3, we see this played out, as the gospel is preached to the Jews.
Act 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.  Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Peter preaches the crucifixion as a condemnation of Israel, and offers this gospel repent and be baptized for the remission of sins as the solution, just as Christ had instructed them in the so-called "Great Commission." In this passage, those "who are afar off" are those of the Diaspora, or scattering of the tribes of Israel to outlying Gentile nations, as Peter refers to in 1 Peter 1:1 and James in the first verse of his epistle. The Twelve were ministering to the Jews, to Israel specifically, based in Jerusalem. In reaction, in Acts 3 and 4, we see the leaders of Israel rejecting Christ. Though the Twelve continued to preach and gain converts, we see in these two chapters that every aspect of the nation's leadership joined the official rejection of Christ, from the king, to the high priest, to the council, to the captain of the Temple, to the chief priests, to the elders and the scribes, to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Acts 4:15-18
 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,  Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.  But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.  And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
And in Acts 5:21-25
Act 5:21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.  But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,  Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.  Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.  Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
At the same time, the church had begun to falter internally, with some corrupt mismanagement and leadership. All of this lead led up to Israel's leaders plotting actual persecution of the new church in Acts 6. They started arresting Christians, and one such "criminal" accused of blasphemy was Stephen, an effective leader in the Jerusalem church. Keep in mind, this is all happening in the year following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Israel's "one more year" from the parable/prophecy. During his trial, Stephen gives his incredible soliloquy, in which he tells the history of Israel, starting with the covenant of circumcision between Abraham and God (which was prior to Israel). He tells of how Jerusalem rejected her prophets. And then Stephen levies two accusations against the council and High Priest. First, they killed Christ, just as their predecessors killed the prophets. Second and perhaps even worse in their minds, they did not keep the Law. Acts 7:51-53.
 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:  Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
This is what really enraged them. What happened next had massive consequences for Israel as a nation. Acts 7:54, 57-58.
Act 7:54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,  And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
Saul, as is later revealed (including by Paul/Saul himself) was the foremost persecutor of the Jerusalem church. He admits that he "ruined" the church. How so? At the death of the very first martyr of the church, we see an amazing event almost unparalleled in scripture. Acts 7:54-56.
 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.  But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,  And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Nowhere else in scripture is Jesus described as "standing" at the right hand of God. He is always described as "sitting." However, there are a number of references in scripture to God "standing." In every instance, God is standing in judgment. The parable/prophecy has been fulfilled. Israel had one more year. She must bear fruit in that following year or be cut down "for an age," though not forever. Initially, the church had grown by leaps and bounds. But because of Saul and men like him, Israel as a nation rejected her prophesied Messiah. Though there were individual conversions, God's holy and chosen nation as a whole had failed her elected purpose. Israel was supposed to come to repentance, and then through her, the nations of the world. Now, this would not come to pass. The appearance of Christ in this passage is tremendous. Stephen's death was the straw that broke the camel's back. At this terrible act, Christ appeared in the heavens and stood in judgment, not seated but standing at the right hand of God the Father. The significance of this cannot be overestimated. Christ had set one more year, and now after all these months, the fruit of Israel was the rejection of Christ and the sanction of death for church leaders. This was her fruit. In Acts 8, we see persecution increase drastically. Saul "made havoc of the church," and all were scattered "except the apostles." Paul later said that he was responsible for destroying or "ruining" the church. He, more than any other, had been responsible for making the church a failure in gaining Israel's repentance. What was God's response? We see a sudden shift in the story in the following passages. Seemingly out of the blue, Christ meets Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul meets his Messiah, is confronted with his sin, and immediately repents. (The Bible relates that even the terrible persecution of the earliest believers abated as soon as Saul repented.) Saul becomes Paul and is called by God to become the Apostle to the Gentiles. Why? Didn't God have Twelve apostles for that purpose? Just as the twelve patriarchs, the twelve tribes? Why would God need Paul, this one man, and why now? If the Great Commission continues until today, didn't the Twelve execute it? At the same time or immediately following this, God tells the Twelve (in Acts 10 and 11) that He is now going to go to the Gentiles. He sends a vision of unclean foods to Peter, declaring that they will now be considered clean. And yet, Peter recognizes that according to God's Law, one must never consume such unclean foods. (Keep in mind, Peter is the one with the keys.)
Act 10:10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,  And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:  Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.  And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.  But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
God cautions Peter in the following verse.
 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.  This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Peter was not to call unclean what God would declare clean. Even still, notice that Peter did not eat of these. But did this vision mean the believers of the Jerusalem church would no longer be bound to the kosher food laws of the Law of Moses? We shall see. But God had now given Peter a clear message what had been unclean, now God would declare clean. Meanwhile, as Peter pondered this vision, men from Cornelius came, and the Holy Spirit directed Peter to go with them, "doubting nothing, for I have sent them." Peter was commanded to go to a Gentile and preach the gospel to him. Peter objected, remembering that the Law forbade him from entering the home of a Gentile, for they are unclean. Peter was not being foolish. He was instructed in the law, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, had studied under Jesus for over three years, had been given the Great Commission, had been instructed by Christ to teach the Law to others and follow the Law, such as in Matthew 5:19.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Just as was taught in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 18, for example), Christ had preached the Law as an integral part of God's covenant relationship with His holy nation, his chosen people, His bride. For example, in Matthew 19:16-19.
 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.  He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,  Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
And in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20.
 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
So Peter's reaction to this instruction makes sense. Christ had taught not only faith but the necessity of the Law as well, in His earthly ministry to Israel. And now, God was telling Peter to do something unlawful, just as with the sheet of unclean animals. Peter was told to do it "without doubting," so he went and met with Cornelius, telling him "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." While there, he preached not only to Cornelius but also to a whole crowd of Gentiles, the members of Cornelius' household. Once again, something surprising happened. Something that hadn't happened before. Remember, in Acts 2 and thereafter, the gospel was, "repent and be baptized unto the remission of your sins." And those who repented and were baptized in water then received the Holy Spirit. But now Israel as a nation had rejected her Messiah and ruined the church, Jesus had stood in judgment of Israel and suddenly called in a new and lone Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul), and now was giving signs to Peter about how things were going to change. Sure enough, this scene of preaching and repentance in Acts 10 was going to be a change, too.
34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35But in every nation, whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
Note, Peter is still preaching what Christ had taught him whoever had faith and who works in righteousness is accepted. The same gospel message of salvation preached in the four gospels and in Acts up to this point. But Peter is in for a surprise.
Act 10:36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)  That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;  How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.  And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:  Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;  Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.  To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.  While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.  And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God...
Why were "those of the circumcision who believed" (the Jewish believers) astonished? Because water baptism had not been preached, no one had yet been baptized, and yet the holy Spirit fell on these believers by faith only before Peter was even done speaking! For these early Jewish believers of the Messiah, this was a departure from what had been preached up to this point, hence their astonishment! Indeed, Peter was about to speak of water baptism, but the holy Spirit interrupted him before he could finish! When this happened, surprising everyone, Peter quickly encouraged everyone to be water baptized. God had granted His Spirit to these unclean Gentiles without them being proselytes, without them being circumcised. And the proof of it and this new direction being taken by God was that these new Gentile believers were speaking in tongues. A sign of a change, a sign that Israel had been judged. Even Peter had been taken off guard. These events were all new to him, signifying a change.
Remember, James was the head of the Jerusalem church. But these events were happening to Peter, the guy with the keys. So, now Peter had to account to the leaders of the Jerusalem church for what happened! We see that happen in Acts 11.
Act 11:1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.  And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,  Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
Just like Peter, they understood that this didn't jibe with what they had been taught up to this point. This was not what had been preached to Israel from Christ. Remember, these are not evil men but believers under James. Peter was one of this group, which is why he'd been taken off guard, himself. The worst that you could say of them was that they were confused about what was happening, and understandably. So, "Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning." If anyone but Peter had tried to pass this story off to them, he surely would have been laughed out of the room at best, and sternly admonished or punished at worst. But this was Peter! One of the three greatest of the Twelve apostles of Christ! They recognized that he certainly did have authority within the church. They knew he was speaking the truth. Their response?
Act 11:18 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
You might think that the result of this was the Jerusalem church would then start making broad evangelical outreaches to the Gentiles. But to the contrary, other than Peter evangelizing, there is no record or mention of the Twelve's early Jewish converts going to the Gentiles. Indeed, the very next thing we read is Acts 11:19:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
God is sending a message to Israel. A message that has to do with what Paul teaches in Romans 11, although that passage is written to the Gentile Christians about Israel. But we will see that a little later. Indeed, Paul will be busy with his ministry. But, what is God continuing to do in relation to Israel? He has appeared in the heavens at Stephen's stoning. He appeared to Saul, who He called to be Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He sent Peter the vision stating that the unclean would become clean. He sent Peter to preach once to the Gentiles (Cornelius' household), and while there, Peter tried to preach the Israel-specific gospel of faith-plus-works, only to find the Gentiles were saved and indwelled by the Spirit without circumcision, without works, without water baptism. Now Peter has reported this to the Jerusalem church, so the Twelve now knew of these unusual events. It was time for God to tell Israel directly the bad news Israel has been broken off from the Vine (as a corporate body, as a nation), has been set aside for now, blinded for a time. In Acts 12, we see King Herod lashing out at the Jewish believers, killing some and arresting Peter. Herod's subjects praise him, shouting that he is a god! What ungodly behavior from the unbelieving Hebrew people! What are the consequences? Acts 12:23:
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
It isn't every day that God strikes the king of Israel dead! Herod's divine execution is another judgement against Israel. God was doing very uncommon things to get His message across to His chosen people. Next, God would tell Israel that He has gone to the Gentiles, in Acts 13 and 14. It was time to bring Paul into the spotlight, and shake people up some more! He started by separating Paul and his assistant Barnabas to go to the Gentiles, in a public forum in Antioch, as it says in Acts 13:2-3.
 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Paul wasted no time going to the Gentiles, the calling for which he had been set apart specifically! No longer was the great Commission the plan; now instead of Twelve apostles planning to someday go to the nations, this one apostle was doing it here and now, without them! He went to the island of Cyprus, preached to the proconsul there who was immediately saved by faith alone. However, Paul being a Jew, he loved his fellow children of Jacob, and he never failed to minister them during his missions. Note, however, the difference in his message in Acts 13:14-16, 23, 26.
 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.  And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.  Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.  Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:  Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.
And now the surprise
 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
This salvation message cannot be found in the books of Moses, the Old Testament prophets, not in the gospel accounts, not even in the book of Acts up to this point. Christians today easily declare this as the gospel of our salvation, but when this happened, this was a radical message. The response?
 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.  And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.  But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
So Paul fires back
 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Paul did go on in Acts 14 to successfully gain converts, and "a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed." These things made it clear that "they had been commended to the grace of God." Consequently, in Acts 14:27
And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
So, remember, Peter is the one with the keys and he's been given all those signs about the changes but it's Paul who will now carry a gospel message of salvation by faith alone to the Gentiles. But Paul is preaching a different message from the Twelve and the Jerusalem church? Can this be? Weren't they all working the same mission? You would think that if they really were preaching different messages, they might perhaps end up in conflict at some point over this very issue. Were they all on the same mission? Not according to Paul, as he makes clear in Galatians in the midst of warning his church about listening to "another gospel." Galatians 1:6-9.
 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
It is so important that Paul repeats himself, and even includes himself or an angel in the warning. Even if Paul or an angel comes the next day preaching a different gospel than what he had given them, he or that angel should be anathema rejected, turned away, spurned. What was this "different gospel" which was of a different order? We'll soon see that Paul makes it apparent. After giving this warning, he quickly reestablishes his authority as the one who declares what the gospel to them is.
 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
And then Paul mentions Peter! Paul starts talking about what happens in Acts 15, when he himself met with the leaders of the Twelve, the leaders of the Jerusalem church Peter, James and John. We'll go to Acts 15 in a few moments, but let's see what Paul has to say about this event first, since he was the one who called the meeting, to begin with.
Gal 1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.  But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.  Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;  And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:  But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
Paul continues in Galatians 2:
 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.  And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:  To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
So here are the men preaching the "different gospel," causing the problem. Where are they from? Were these "Judaizers" simply Jews who did not believe in Christ, who wanted to preach non-Christian Judaism to these Gentiles? Paul reveals their true identity soon, in Galatians 2:12. Here, Paul actually says something quite surprising. At this meeting, this "Jerusalem Council" with Peter and James and John, Paul rebuked Peter to his face! Why?
 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.  For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.  And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.  But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
These interlopers at Galatia were believers from the Jerusalem church, who were "false" in that they were preaching the message of the Twelve the message preached by Jesus to Israel, of faith-plus-the-commandments to have eternal life to these Gentiles in Galatia! They were believers under James and Peter who were preaching the necessity of circumcision and the law. Remember, Peter (the guy with the keys) had done as God had instructed, had gone and eaten with Gentiles and preached to Cornelius' household at that time. But some members of the Jerusalem church had later become angry about this, and Peter known for his occasional lapses of judgement allowed himself to be influenced by them. The problem was not that Peter was "acting like a Gentile." He did what God instructed him to do. The problem was that after receiving those signs, Peter lapsed back into the practices of the Jerusalem Church. This wasn't wrong in and of itself, but the problem was, he was trying to put their different gospel onto Gentiles! For that, Peter was wrong. Not wrong for preaching those things to the Jewish believers in the Jerusalem church, but wrong for preaching it to the Gentiles. Only Pauls gospel was for the Gentiles. Paul solidifies this in Galatians 2:7-9, telling the result of the Jerusalem Council (which is in Acts 15, which well get to, shortly)!
Gal 2:7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
Gal 2:8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)
Gal 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
Not the same mission, not the same gospel, not the same salvation message. The question was asked Why Paul? Here is the answer. When God set aside Israel after judging her for rejecting her Messiah in the one more year of the parable/prophecy, God went to the Gentiles apart from Israels covenant with God. Apart from the necessity of commandments. Indeed, though Paul did water baptize a few early in his ministry, after further revelation from the Holy Spirit he declares that I did not come to baptize, and said he was glad he did not baptize many of his followers. Does that sound like the gospel preached in Acts 2:38?
So, what of Acts 15, the historical account of the Jerusalem Council? As stated earlier, if Paul was preaching a different and new gospel other than what the Jerusalem church was preaching, there would likely be a conflict at some point. This is that point. Sure enough, it confirms what Paul said in his account.
Act 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Act 15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
So in Acts 15, Paul was upset because these men from the Jerusalem church had come into his territory and preached a different gospel. So, he went to the authorities over those certain men the Twelve. And Luke here confirms once again these men were not unbelievers, but rather faithful Jews who followed Christ. (Indeed, the last thing unregenerate Jews would want is to convince these Gentile dogs, who were already advocates of Jesus as Messiah, to become circumcised!)
Act 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
So they believed in Christ, but they also believed that following Gods commandments and statutes was a part of attaining eternal life, just as Jesus had outlined in his earthly ministry to Israel a number of times, notably in Matthew 19. So, here we see Paul meet with Peter, James and John, and they argue over this issue. There was no small dissension and dispute with them! But then, not James (the head of the church) but Peter stands up and speaks
Act 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Act 15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
Act 15:8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
Act 15:9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Act 15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Act 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
That same manner was the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ. All believers since Creation are saved by Christs death and resurrection, and by His faith. But here, it almost sounds as if Peter is saying there is only one gospel, and that the Gentiles are saved exactly as the believing Jews of the Jerusalem church.
But be careful. For one thing, all are indeed saved by Christs death and resurrection. But note that Peter does not say they should stop preaching the Law to the Jewish believers of the Jerusalem church. He only says they should stop preaching the Law to the Gentiles. And whereas before Paul, there had been a clear distinction between Israel and the pagan Gentiles now with Paul and the Body of Christ, there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentiles among the followers of Paul. Additionally, note that Paul is the only author in the entire Bible to refer to the Body of Christ. He even states in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 that he was the first sinner saved into the Body of Christ!
1Ti 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
1Ti 1:16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
Those who had been saved prior to the cutting-off of Israel were still saved under that covenant Israel had with God. But those Jews who were still unbelievers at that time lost the ability to access God through Israels covenant. In Gods eyes, they became no different from a lowly Gentile. They lost any chance of special status as Gods chosen people. They as a people had been broken off and the Gentiles grafted in, in their place.
If it isnt clear that the Jerusalem church would continue to live under the Law, just look ahead to Acts 21, where we see that the followers of the Twelve are zealous for the Law! This new gospel of salvation by faith alone, apart from the Law, was only regarding the Gentiles, not the believing Jews.
But what about those keys?
Take a moment and imagine, if you will, that Saddam Hussein suddenly started preaching the glories and benefits of American capitalism and the democratic republic form of government. Though he might gain converts in the short term, the world leaders would not accept him. He is established as a dictator, a war criminal, a murderer! And so was Paul known as a murderer and destroyer of the church. Who was he, this upstart, to come along and start preaching?
When Christ gave that parable/prophecy about the fig tree and about Israel potentially being cut off if she did not produce works (accept her Messiah) in the one more year, He knew already that He would then go in this new direction. He knew that someone other than the Twelve would lead the evangelizing of a new faith-only gospel to the Gentiles.
And he knew that someone with already-established authority would have to be there to acknowledge that new apostles calling. To unlock it and to lock the mission of the Twelve, to say that Paul should go to the Gentiles, and they, the Twelve, only to the circumcised believers.
Peter was the voice breaking through the din of arguments at the Jerusalem council, the sudden voice of reason that recognized Paul was right to rebuke him. That he had been wrong, along with the Jerusalem church! That Pauls mission was valid, his gospel was different and meant for the Gentiles, that the Twelves gospel was not for the Gentiles, and that they must no longer put a yoke on the neck of the disciples of Paul. That yoke was fine for their own disciples, but not for the disciples of Paul.
To confirm this difference even further, James acquiesces but concludes the council with a demand of Paul.
Act 15:24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
Act 15:25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Act 15:26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Act 15:27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
Act 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
Act 15:29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
With this letter from James, the Twelve officially sanctioned Pauls mission and gospel of grace to the Gentiles. But, when Pauls followers would be around the followers of Peter and James and John, they should observe kosher law! Why? So as to not be a stumbling block to these other believers faith. Paul reiterates this in his own letters to his followers, in Romans 14 where he charges them to not judge others on issues of abstaining from certain foods and observing certain days. Even in Acts 21, this is mentioned when Paul again returns to Jerusalem and runs into James once more.
Act 21:17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
Act 21:18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
Act 21:19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
Act 21:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
Act 21:21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
So, Pauls message and followers were something of a stumbling block to James followers, the members of the Jerusalem church. These believing Jews were seeing Paul preaching to unbelieving Jews to abandon the Law and be saved as Gentiles, just as God had called him to preach. So, the leaders with James asked Paul to make a show for their followers so as to give them peace on the matter.
Act 21:22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
Act 21:23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
Act 21:24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
Act 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
Once again, James recognizes Pauls office and mission and different gospel, asking only that Pauls followers not be a stumbling block to his (James) followers. Pauls mission and gospel were established in the eyes of Israel, what he called the Mystery of the Gospel of Grace, something which Paul says had never before been revealed in ages past. Whereas the Twelve apostles were for the 12 tribes, this one apostle to the Gentiles was called to minister a gospel of salvation to the Gentile world (which after Israel was cut off included all unbelieving Jews from that day on).
Paul refers to the setting aside of Israel in Romans 11, in which he is speaking to his Gentile followers, talking about Israel being broken off from the Branch (Christ), set aside for a time and blinded for a time.
Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Rom 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
Rom 11:14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
Rom 11:15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
Rom 11:16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Rom 11:17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
Rom 11:18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
Rom 11:19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
But, has God cast His people away forever? Certainly not; He is not done with Israel.
Rom 11:19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
Rom 11:20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
Rom 11:21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
Rom 11:23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
Rom 11:24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
Paul speaks here to the Gentiles as a whole; he is not saying individual believers will be cut off. The subject of this passage is about Israel being broken off, the Gentiles grafted in, in her place but also he refers to the fact that someday, in the fullness of the Gentiles (as he describes it elsewhere), the Gentiles will once again be broken off and Israel grafted back in as the natural branch, when God someday again returns to working with Israel as He has promised. He still has promises of a kingdom for Israel, and once he someday bends her back to His will through Tribulation, she will once again be righteous and holy, and ready to accept His promised blessings, including an earthly kingdom ruled by Christ Himself.
But in the midst of all this chaos in the cutting off of Israel, someone had to be tasked with the authority to declare officially that this change had taken place, declare that Paul (the murderer and oppressor of the early church) was now indeed a man of God, called by Him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Not the Twelve, but Paul.
Someone had to unlock that door, and lock up the Great Commission which the Twelve had been tasked with. Someone with keys from the One who was really in charge, Jesus Christ, Himself. Peter was given those keys, and when the time came at the Jerusalem Council, he made the truth known. Paul had not hesitated to rebuke Peter, but in this matter, it had to be a member of the Twelve who would have the authority to declare this. The man given all the signs by God of the changes taking place. The man called by God to preach just once to only a few Gentiles in a way that had results surprising even to him! What Peter bound was truly bound, and what Peter loosed was truly loosed by Heavens will.
Gal 2:7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
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