Spiritual Leaders of the Early Church

Today, there are many individuals within the congregations of the elect who either want a leadership position or are already in a leadership position, but seriously underestimate the enormity of the responsibility of leading the Father's elect in their pursuit of immortal life.

Although every man called to the eldership in the early church was called to serve the Father's elect, not all had the same authority, function, responsibility, or gift of the spirit. Moreover, not all were called to serve as spiritual leaders within congregations.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus and listed the various functions, responsibilities, and gifts of the spirit, he defined the functions and responsibilities of those charged to minister within the congregations on a daily basis:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of languages. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with languages? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I to you a more excellent way" (1.Cor.12:27-31 KJV Para.).

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love" (Eph.4;11-16 KJV).

A Serious Responsibility

Those who were called to be spiritual leaders within the congregations of the early church had a uniquely different responsibility from others within the eldership. Not all men are suited for this type of work, because it takes a person of exceptional patience, gentleness, kindness, self-sacrifice, wisdom, spiritual understanding, and dedication to serve the people of God in this capacity.

Paul cautions those who had been given the responsibility of a congregational elder to be very careful about how they fulfilled their responsibility to serve the Father's children:

“Take heed, therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the holy spirit has made you overseers ['superintendent' or 'official in charge'], to feed the church of God, which he [Jesus] has purchased with his blood. For I know that after I leave, grievous wolves [evil people] will come among you, that will not spare the flock. Also among you shall men arise, speaking perverse things, in order to draw away disciples after themselves. . .I have shown you all things, and that you ought to work to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, when he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:28-30, 35 Para.)”.

The following is a list of the subjects pertaining to the spiritual leadership and organizational structure of the church that will be reviewed in this chapter in order to gain insight into the attitudes and responsibilities that each of the elect should have during this age of the church:

    • Qualifications of an elder
    • Attitude toward service
    • Elder's right to govern the elect
    • Stewards of God's mysteries
    • Elder's accountability
    • Peter and the keys of heaven


All men who were called to the eldership of the early church had to meet high personal and spiritual standards in order to qualify for this office of service. And they all were called to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ in some capacity. However, those who were called to be congregational elders and those who taught spiritual truths were held to the highest standard of accountability. Consequently, they received the greater condemnation and judgement for failure to properly execute their responsibilities. See Jms.3:1; Heb.13:7.

"If a man desires the office of a bishop [pastor], he desires a good work. For a bishop must be blameless [have unimpeachable virtue], the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedily looking for monetary gain; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that rules his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (If he cannot rule his own house, how can he rule the church of God?). . . not a novice. . . moreover, he must have a good report of those outside of the church" (1.Tim.3: 1-7 KJV Para.).

"The servant [an elder] of the Lord must not strive; but must be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, and in meekness instructs those that oppose themselves; as if God will give them repentance to acknowledge the truth" (2.Tim.2:24-25 Para.).

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1.Cor.4:1-2 KJV).

"For a bishop [a pastor] must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate" (Titus 1:7 KJV).

These are just a few of the qualifications a man must have before he can be ordained as the spiritual leader of a congregation. These qualifying attitudes and behaviors also must be maintained during his pastoral function. The responsibility for maintaining the congregational elder's integrity was not only his but also the congregations, because within the body of Christ everyone must work together for the common good.


Although everyone who is called of the Father to become a firstborn son of his new creation is expected to serve their brothers and sisters in the faith, those called to be spiritual leaders must be devoted to serving their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Without question, the responsibility of the congregational elder within the early church was one of the most demanding, time consuming, and stressful functions within the eldership. Moreover, because of the opportunity of service and personal accomplishment, spiritual leadership had the potential to be an exceptionally gratifying and joyful experience.

Christ's Example of Service

"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he that is a hired hand, and not the shepherd, who doesn't own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters them. The hired hand flees, because he is a hired hand, and doesn't care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and am known by my sheep. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn.10:11-15 Para.).

Jesus set the example for spiritual leaders to follow as they serve the Father's elect children. Jesus' dedication to the salvation of humanity was total; he held nothing back. He even set aside his immortality as the Creator God to become a human being and allowed himself to be unjustly put to death in order to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.

In verses 11-15 of John, chapter 10, Jesus speaks of himself as a good shepherd, not one who is just hired to do a job. This is an important point, because Jesus reveals that those who serve the Father's elect have a vested interest in the people they serve. In reality, all of the elect are part of the Father's family; therefore, any person placed in a position of a guardian or a teacher of their brothers and sisters in the faith must be more responsible for their charge than a hired servant whose interest is only temporary.

"But Jesus called the twelve disciples to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt.20:25-28 Para.).

"Don't be called masters: for one is your Master—that is Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matt.23:10-12 Para.).

The spiritual leaders of the elect were not to be dictatorial and overbearing as they governed and served the church; they were to be individuals who led by example as they assisted and guided those in their care toward spiritual perfection.

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder [co-elder], and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not because you are forced to, but willingly; and not for the sake of money, but because you have a willingness to serve" (1.Pet.5:1-2 Para.).

At the time Peter wrote this, there were attitudinal problems developing among some of the elders who regarded the eldership as a burden or just a regular job, rather than an opportunity to serve their fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. However, Peter reminds the congregational elder of the reason that they were called to serve the elect as spiritual leaders. He also reminds them to respect the opinions and suggestions of those who have served for a long time and to serve with humility, because they will receive their reward for service at the proper time:

Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away. Likewise, you younger [younger spiritually], submit yourselves to the elder. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (1.Pet.5:3-6 KJV).


The New Testament shows that the spiritual leaders of the early church had broad discretionary authority and power with which to govern, guide, and serve those under their care and protection. Some today feel that a spiritual leader is only to serve as a teacher, preacher, or in some physical capacity without the power or authority to enforce or take any corrective action upon those who are disobedient to the faith. Others feel that Jesus Christ authorized spiritual leaders to have absolute power and authority over the elect in every aspect of their lives.

Neither of these two extreme views of authority and power are correct. However, elders of the early church did have the authority to protect and reprimand the elect when it was necessary (See Acts 5:1-10; 1.Cor.5:1-5). Today, it is the responsibility of all the elect to protect and defend the faith and the faithful, because the church is one body. All the elect have a responsibility to work to benefit the spiritual body as a whole (See 1.Cor.12:1-31; 2.Cor.2:3-10). Nevertheless, no one can work out another person's salvation (Phil.2:12) or force another person into the Kingdom of God. Therefore, those whom Jesus selected as spiritual leaders were not given the authority to control every aspect of the lives of those under their care.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul fulfills his responsibility as a spiritual leader when he passed judgment and sentence upon an offending brother in Christ:

"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For truly I am absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [by his authorization], when you are gathered together, I am with you in my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1.Cor.5:1-5 Para.).

The expression "in the name of our Lord Jesus" is used to show that Paul had the authority from Jesus Christ to pass judgement regarding this matter. This plainly shows that Paul had the authority to make a binding decision regarding spiritual issues and that this authority and responsibility was not just meant for Peter as some believe.

"This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on you, that you by them might war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1.Tim.1:18-20 Para).

Here, Paul used his authority as an apostle and elder to instruct and inform Timothy and the church of his decision concerning two men who had violated their sacred calling. Paul had the authority and power to remove these men from the congregation and give them over to Satan for punishment. This action against Hymenaeus and Alexander shows that the elders of the early church had the authority and power to remove individuals from the congregations when it was necessary.

From the following scriptures, it is evident that the elders of the early church had the authority and power to govern the church and remove and punish those who were unruly or causing trouble within the congregations:

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; . . . For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But you, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (2.Thes.3:6-14 KJV).

"These things speak, and encourage, and censure with all authority. . ." (Titus 2:15 Para.).

"Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power [authority] which the Lord has given me to edification, and not to destruction" (2.Cor. 13:10 KJV).

"But now I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within? But them that are without God judge. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1.Cor.5:11-13 KJV).

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them" (Rom.16:17 KJV).

Authority and power are not given to those who serve the elect as spiritual leaders so that they can be glorified in the eyes of the elect and be served by them instead of being their servants. This authority is given so that the spiritual leadership is able to serve the elect more efficiently and effectively.


"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1.Cor.4:1-2 KJV).

The elders of the early church understood that they were Christ's servants and stewards of God's sacred truth who were charged with the responsibility of teaching and preserving the pure Word of God. The same condition should exist today among all of the elect of God, especially among any who claim to be spiritual leaders of God's people.

Teach Sound Doctrine

"I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick [those who are alive] and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables" (2.Tim.4:1-4).

Some people can only endure in the way of truth for a short time before they begin to give in to their own lustful ways which are the opposite of God's ways. In order to placate their consciences, some individuals search out those who will tell them what they want to hear instead of reprimanding them for the error of their ways. It is sad, but many whom the Father calls to salvation walk this path to eternal destruction in the Lake of Fire. See 1.Tim.1:18-20.

"But speak you the things which become sound doctrine; That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded (KJV). In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us" (NIV) (Tit.2:1-8 KJV/NIV).

Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus about teaching sound doctrine and his warning about elders who go astray and those who are false ministers is very important today. Today, there are many who claim to teach the Father's truth to his elect, but they actually teach false doctrine and lead people astray. There are also many who teach for financial gain instead of teaching the things that will reprimand and correct the sinner.

In order for a person to know if the spiritual leader who is serving them is teaching truth, a person must carefully study what is being taught. The warnings to six of the prophetic churches in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation are examples of spiritual leaders and the people they lead not fulfilling their responsibilities pertaining to biblical truth.

Doctrine and the Elect of God

God the Father and Jesus Christ reveal truth to all of the elect who strive to grow in spiritual truth, knowledge, and understanding. However, what is a person's responsibility concerning new truth? Does one have the right to decide what is and is not truth? Yes! Each person has the right to determine what they believe is truth. However, just because a person decides something is truth, does not make it so.

Did the elders or non-elders of the early church have any authorization from God to establish doctrine on their own, or was it their duty to be in subjection to the decisions of the authorities who are charged with such matters? Acts, chapter 15 reveals that all must be subject to constituted spiritual authority and to one another in matters concerning doctrine.

Although it is true that the eldership of the early church had the authority, responsibility, and accountability to decide doctrinal matters (1.Cor. 4:1). It is also true that, through his holy spirit, the Father reveals his truth to all his children who truly seek his will in their lives.

During the existence of the early church, those who thought they had new understanding concerning God's word or a question regarding the validity of a doctrine had the responsibility to submit this new understanding or doctrinal question to those in leadership positions for their review. When the eldership rendered a decision on the issue, it was the responsibility of the individual(s) who submitted the issue for consideration to abide by the collective decision of the elders:

"Obey them [the elders] that have the rule [authority] over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls [your spiritual life], as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb.13:17 KJV).

The elders of the early church had the authorization and accountability to protect the salvation of the elect. Keep in mind that these elders were responsible and accountable to the Father and Jesus Christ to carefully protect the elect's eternal salvation as much as they could. Therefore, one of the major concerns of any spiritual leader should be the maintaining of doctrinal integrity and making sure that heresies do not creep into the body of Christ.


Among the many problems Paul reprimand the Corinthians about was a sectarian attitude some had toward the ministry. Paul reprimanded them for focusing on the different personalities within the ministry instead of focusing on God the Father and Jesus Christ and other important spiritual issues. Within this reprimand is a serious warning for spiritual leaders to perform their responsibility correctly, as well as a serious warning to the elect to avoid sectarianism because of the disastrous impact it can have on everyone in the Body of Christ:

"For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men? For one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1.Cor.3:3-6 KJV).

Here, Paul addresses the core issue which was causing strife and division among them and he shows where their primary focus should have been directed.

"For we are all laborers together with God: you are God's husbandry, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. . . Now if any man [an elder] build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble. Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1.Cor.3:9-10, 12-13 KJV).

Elders should be extremely careful how they perform the work they are called to do within congregations of the elect, because how they conduct their ministry affects those under their care, as well as their reward at Christ's return.

"If any man's [elder's] work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's [elder's] work shall be burned [doesn't stand up through trials], he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire [trial]" (1.Cor.3:14-15KJV).

There are rewards for being a good steward of God's word and for being a good shepherd to God's people; however, there is an enormous amount of accountability for how one performs their responsibilities as a spiritual leader of the Father's elect, because their salvation is at stake. Paul says that, if a man makes an irreversible mistake in shepherding the elect, he will suffer some loss of reward in the Kingdom, but he will still obtain salvation if he remains faithful to his calling.

Paul and the writer to the Hebrews wrote the following about the tremendous accountability of spiritual leaders within the Father's earthly family:

"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jms.3:1 KJV).

"Obey them [the elders] that have the rule [authority] over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls [your spiritual life], as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb.13:17 KJV).

Everyone who is called to salvation during the gospel age will stand before Jesus Christ to give account for themselves; however, those who are called to serve congregations will also be held accountable for how they discharge their responsibility toward those they were called to serve. This is a very heavy responsibility that is given to those who serve the congregations and it should not be lightly dismissed by those who serve and those who are served, because everyone is held accountable.


The Catholic Church, other quasi-Christian religions, and some true Christians cite Matthew 16:18-19 as their authority to rule the people of God and determine doctrine. A misunderstanding of the intent and purpose of what Jesus actually said to Peter concerning the keys of heaven has led to the false assumption that Peter was the chief apostle and that men are given discretionary power to change and manipulate the laws of God as they desire.

The misunderstanding about what the keys were to which Jesus referred has resulted is many troubling and burdensome decrees being issued by various spiritual leaders of the elect. These decrees have caused some of the elect to suffer much injustice at the hands of well-meaning, but misguided elders.

What are the keys to the kingdom of heaven to which Jesus referred and were these keys given to Peter only or to all of the apostles and all elders throughout the ages?

In order to understand Jesus' statement about the keys, the context in which this statement was made, and the identifying of those to whom it was made must be understood:

"And coming to Caesarea of Philippi, Jesus questioned his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I am, the son of man? And they said, Some say that you are John the Baptist; and others say that you are Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And he said to them, But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt.16:13-16 Para.).

In response to Peter's correct answer, Jesus said:

"You are blessed Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven revealed it to you" (Matt.16:17 Para.).

This is where most people go astray in seeking to understand to whom Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Just because Jesus directs his next statement to Peter, it does not necessarily mean that what he says later is also directed only to him.

"And I say to you, That you are Peter [a pebble], and upon this rock [a large craggy outcropping of rock] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt.16:18 Para.).

It is a mistake to believe that Jesus was going to build his church on Peter. The language shows that the foundation upon which Jesus would build his church was the truth concerning who he was, why he came to earth, and what he taught.

"And I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to you: and whatever you will bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in heaven: and whatever you may loose on earth shall be loosed, having been already loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:19 Para.).

There is absolutely nothing in the language structure of verse 19 to show that Jesus only directed this statement to Peter. Jesus' very next statement seems to show that he addressed all of the disciples:

"Then he warned his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was the Christ" (Matt.16:20 Para.).

In context, Jesus' reference to the keys of the kingdom of heaven is addressed to all of the disciples, not to Peter only:

Acts, chapter 15 shows that James, not Peter, was the one who presided over the council of elders in Jerusalem and that all the elders were involved in the decision making process when establishing doctrine. Acts 15 also shows that it was James, not Peter, who had the authority to make the final decision concerning matters set before the council of elders in Jerusalem. Moreover, both secular history and the Bible show that Peter did not occupy a position as the overseer of the church, and the Bible shows that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ.

The Keys

Some people believe that the keys of Matthew 16:19 are symbolic of a badge of power or authority, and that the individual or the group that possess these keys is authorized to lock and unlock, bind and loose things; therefore, it is important to understand exactly what these keys symbolize.

It is clear that Jesus Christ is the keeper of the keys pertaining to the House of David (Isa.22:22; Rev.3:7) and the keys that control the abode of the dead and death itself (Rev.1:18). Moreover, he is the one who sends forth the angel with a key to open the abyss in order to punish humanity just before he comes to conquer the earth (Rev.9:1; 20:1). These facts make it clear that other things Jesus says about keys should be considered important to the understanding of what unlocks the kingdom of heaven to humanity.

In a conversation with the teachers of Jewish traditions and God's law, Jesus explains what the keys are that unlock the way into the kingdom of heaven:

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you burden men with burdens that are hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (Lk.11:46 Para.).

The burdens that the lawyers placed upon the Jews were the Jewish traditions and erroneous interpretations of God's law. These false teachings that were enforced upon the Jews not only made their physical life difficult but also made the worship of God a burden rather than the joyous experience that obedience to God was intended to be. Because of their arrogance and self-importance, they did nothing to lighten this heavy burden that they and their fathers before them had placed upon the people.

Woe to you! Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So you bear witness and consent to the works of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs" (Lk.11:47-48 Para.).

The prophets were sent by the Creator God with two primary messages: The first was a call to repentance and a return to the true teachings of God, and the second message was prophetic for future generations. Some of these prophets were killed by the chosen people, because the people were unwilling to obey God:

"And because of this, the wisdom of God said, I will send prophets and apostles to them, and they will kill and drive out some of them, that the blood of all the prophets poured out from the foundation of the world may be required from this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the House. Yes, I say to you, it will be required from this generation" (Lk.11:49-51 Para.).

Although his chosen people continued to rebel against him, God continued to send messengers to call his people to repent and return to him and his ways. However, the people and their spiritual leaders continued to reject God's messengers and their message. This is why the people and their spiritual leaders did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and why they did not understand the message he brought from his Father. Moreover, because they rejected and murdered God's messengers, that generation will be held accountable for the death of these righteous men.

The Key of Knowledge

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you kept out others from entering" (Lk.11:52 Para.).

Verse 52 reveals that certain knowledge allows a person to have access to the pathway leading to the kingdom of heaven. These spiritual leaders had hidden the key of knowledge. They were afraid of God's truth, so they suppressed it. They did not use this knowledge to enter into the good graces of God and kept others from the only truth that would have set them free from their bondage to sin. See Hos.4:6.

Jesus gave his disciples the keys to unlock the way to the kingdom of heaven. These keys are the things which comprise the body of knowledge about Jesus Christ and the message he brought from his Father which shows the way to obtain eternal life.

How did Peter know Jesus was the Messiah? And how does anyone the Father calls to salvation know who his Son truly is? Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, because the Father revealed this knowledge to him. Likewise, those called to salvation today know Christ, because the Father reveals him to them (Jn.6:44, 65).

It is impossible to know what comprises the keys to the kingdom of heaven without understanding that, when Jesus referred to these keys, he was referring to a prophecy recorded by Isaiah about a change in who would be authorized to teach the mysteries of God.

The Prophetic Keys

The beginning of Isaiah, chapter 22 refers to the time before Christ returns when God's wrath will be poured out on Jerusalem. But beginning in verse 15, Isaiah records a different prophecy that has to do with a change in who is authorized to teach the mysteries of God:

"This says the Lord God of hosts, Go, you get to this treasurer, even to Shebna, which is over the house, and say, What have you here? and whom have you here, that you have cut you out a sepulcher here, as he that cuts him out a sepulcher on high, and that cut a habitation for himself in a rock?" (Isa.22:15-16 KJV Para.).

After the Creator gave his reprimand to Shebna for thinking more highly of himself than he ought, the Creator informs him that he is going to be removed from this high position of authority over his master's house:

"Behold, the Lord will carry you away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover you. He will surely violently turn and toss you like a ball around the earth: there shall you die, and there the chariots of your glory shall be the shame of your lord's house. And I will drive you from your station, and from your state shall he pull you down" (Isa.22:17-19 KJV Para.).

Some believe that this Shebna is the scribe mentioned in the second Book of Kings. However, this is not so, because this Shebna is over his master's possessions, whereas the scribe Shebna was not. This Shebna symbolically represents the Levitical priesthood whose sacred trust was to preserve and teach God's laws and truth correctly, but who would in time fail in this responsibility.

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah" (Isa.22:20 KJV Para.).

The name Eliakim means God of raising and the name Hilkiah means portion of Jah (i.e., God). The rest of this prophecy reveals Eliakim as being symbolic of Christ who is God the Father's firstborn son and the custodian of the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

"And I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle, and I will commit your government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah" (Isa.22:21 KJV Para.).

Verse 21 foretells a transfer of authority from one to another—the Levitical priesthood would have their authority to preserve and teach God's truth taken from them and given to Christ, and Christ will be like a father to Jerusalem and Judah.

"And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isa.22:22 KJV Para.). See also Rev.3:7.

Christ, a descendant of David, is given the keys to open access to the kingdom of heaven––what he opens, no one can shut, and what he shuts, no one can open. These are the same keys Jesus promised to give his disciples:

"And I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to you: and whatever you will bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in heaven: and whatever you may loose on earth shall be loosed, having been already loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:19 Para.).

Jesus had the authority to give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to his disciples because he was the prophetic Eliakim who would be given authority over his heavenly Father's earthly children.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus commissioned the remaining eleven disciples to proclaim God the Father's good news message which reveals the way to enter the kingdom of heaven. See Matt.28:16-20; Mk.16:15-19.

Continuing in Isaiah 22:23:

"And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons" (Isa.22:23-24 KJV Para.)

Christ is firmly established over his heavenly Father's household and for all time is the custodian of the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Verse 25 seems to refer to Christ's sacrifice through which the penalty (i.e., the burden) for the violation of God's law can be removed.

"In that day, says the Lord of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the Lord has spoken it" (Isa.22:25 KJV Para.).

From what is recorded by the prophet Isaiah and what Jesus said to his disciples, as well as what is recorded in the Book of Revelation about the keys in his possession, it is clear that Christ gives the apostles and all subsequent elders the authority to open the door to the kingdom of heaven through proclaiming his Father's good news message.

The keys that open the way to the kingdom of heaven are the knowledge and understanding of what is written in the biblical record about God the Father's plan for humanity's salvation through Christ's sacrifice. This is the knowledge and understanding Peter revealed to a great number of people on the festival of Pentecost and to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his close friends and relatives. And this is the knowledge Philip revealed to the Ethiopian eunuch, and it has been proclaimed through the centuries by the Father's elect.

All true elders and members in the Father's earthly family have the keys to heaven by virtue of their being members of the Father's earthly family of king-priests and they are authorized to use these keys to fulfill their particular function and responsibility as one of the Father's elect. Additionally, elders have the authority to issue decrees, punishments, and ordinances if these are in agreement with what is already established in heaven.

The apostle Paul gave the following primary reasons for the establishment of the spiritual leadership of the early church:

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-16 KJV).

Additionally, the leadership within the church must always protect the elect from threats to their salvation from internal and external sources.

The need for a dedicated, righteous leadership was necessary during the early church and is just as necessary today in order for the church as a collective body to fulfill many reasons for its establishment.

By B. L. Cocherell b8w6