Where Are The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Christ teaching

We read in Matthew 16:1 how the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Christ asking him for a sign from heaven. Even though they were bitter religious enemies with each other, they united to fight Jesus and His doctrines. Their question was designed to cast doubt on the Saviour’s divinity and His divine mission.

Shortly afterwards, the Saviour asked his disciples: “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” (Matthew 16:13-17).

The Saviour declared that he would build his Church upon this rock—revelation. Then he proceeded to announce that he would bestow upon the apostles priesthood keys, saying: “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” (Matthew 16:19).

Christ’s Priesthood Keys Bestow Authority and Power

There has been much written over the centuries of these “keys of the kingdom.” What are these keys? Elder Gary E. Stevenson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, tells a story that happened to him and his family that casts light on the concept of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Elder Gary Stevenson

He describes how he and his family had spent a wonderful day skiing in the mountains. He relates: “As the winter afternoon sun slid behind the expansive snow-covered ski hill, the freezing mountain air sharply bit our cheeks and noses, acting almost like a stern usher instructing us to find our cars and trucks in the ski resort parking lot. There in our comfortable cars, heaters would soon warm cold fingers and toes. The sound of the frozen snow crunching with each step we took confirmed that this was extreme cold.


“Our family had enjoyed a fun-filled day on the ski slopes, which was now coming to a frosty close. Arriving at the car, I reached in my coat pocket for the keys and then another pocket and another. ‘Where are the keys?’ Everyone was anxiously waiting on the keys! The car battery was charged, and all the systems—including the heater—were ready to go, but without the keys, locked doors would deny entrance; without the keys, the engine would not provide power to the vehicle.”

“At the time, our primary focus was on how we were going to get into the car and get warm, but I couldn’t help but think—even then—there just might be a lesson here. Without keys, this wonderful miracle of engineering was little more than plastic and metal. Even though the car had great potential, without keys, it could not perform its intended function.”

“The more I reflect on this experience, the more profound this analogy has become to me. I marvel at Heavenly Father’s love for His children. I stand in wonder at the heavenly visitation and the grand visions of eternity God bestowed upon Joseph Smith. And in particular, my heart is filled with overwhelming gratitude for the restoration of priesthood authority and priesthood keys. Without this restoration, we would be locked out from the vehicle necessary to transport us on our journey home to loving heavenly parents. The performance of every ordinance of salvation comprising our covenant pathway back to the presence of our Father in Heaven requires appropriate governance through priesthood keys” (“Where Are the Keys and Authority of the Priesthood?Ensign, May 2016).

curve sign

During a general conference address, President Boyd K. Packer stated, “Priesthood is the authority and the power which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him.” This is like the power present in Elder Stevenson’s car, just waiting for someone to use it. President Packer went on to explain: “The keys of the priesthood are the right to preside and direct the affairs of the Church within a jurisdiction” (“What Every Elder Should Know—and Every Sister as Well: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government,” Ensign, Feb. 1993). Just as Elder Stevenson’s car keys unlock the power present in his vehicle, the keys of the priesthood unlock the power that God has bestowed.

Priesthood Keys Can Bless Everyone

It is important to realize that priesthood power and priesthood keys are for the benefit of all of God’s children. President Dallin H. Oaks said: “Priesthood power blesses all of us. Priesthood keys direct women as well as men, and priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men” (“The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2014).

President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given them authority. …A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord” (“Relief Society—An Aid to the Priesthood,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959).

Calgary Alberta Temple

Elder M. Russell Ballard said: “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power” (“Men and Women in the Work of the Lord,” New Era, Apr. 2014).

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we need to seek revelation from our Father in Heaven just as Peter did. We also need to follow the counsel of those who have had priesthood keys bestowed upon them to guide us toward saving ordinances. When we do so, we unlock the power of Jesus Christ to guide us in our personal lives.