Pope Pius XI thought that the best way to protect Christian culture was to promote the Kingship of Christ. With that in mind, he promulgated the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 so that Christ would be venerated as King over all mankind. Certainly the Holy Father was attempting to stem the rising tide of secularism. But he also had great concerns that many would lose sight of His Kingdom in our midst. One cannot honor the King while at the same time ignoring His Kingdom. But what exactly does this Kingdom look like?
Sacred Scripture acts as recorded history of God’s progressive revelation of His Kingdom. Therefore we should expect an internal coherence that makes it unlike any other book. This means is that the Old Testament should not be isolated or seen as somehow opposed to the New Testament. It is the same God, progressively revealing Himself to mankind within a given historical context, until in the “fullness of time” He takes on flesh to fully reveal Himself. The reverse is also true—no interpretation of the New Testament should be made without reference to the Old Testament. The Catechism lists this principle, which it calls being “attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture,” first among “three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it” (CCC 111-112). It is this same principle that Luther had in mind when, in his commentary on the Psalms, he said “the Bible is its own interpreter.
If, when we encounter difficult passages, we allow Scripture to interpret itself by examining it for parallels, then we will find the passage interpreting itself. In this regard, Matthew 16 is a great Kingdom text. The passage commends to the astute reader two very important Old Testament texts. Unless we are aware of them, we are likely to miss what Jesus was actually doing when He declared Peter to be the Rock upon which He would build His Church.
First, it must be admitted that Jesus intended to form a kingdom. St. Gabriel announces Him to Mary as a king, “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). Likewise, it is the accusation of kingship that is leveled against Jesus and against which He defends Himself against Pilate saying although He is a King, His Kingdom “did not belong to this world” (John 18:36).
Even though it did not belong to this world, anyone who reads the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13 knows that knows that we should expect to find the Kingdom of Heaven present in this world. St. Gabriel gives us the interpretive key to recognizing the Kingdom in the world when he tells us that He will inherit the throne of David. In other words, the Kingdom of God is prefigured by the kingdom of David. The Davidic monarch was “the Lord’s anointed” (the literal meaning of the word Christ) who is the adopted son of God (Ps 2:7) and is the only human kingdom to enjoy the privilege of being founded upon a covenant (2 Sam 7:8-16); all of which point to Jesus. But the Davidic Kingdom also has roles of administration in it for both the Queen Mother (1 Kings 2:19-20) and the Royal Steward (1 Kgs 4:6). If Jesus really is the King, sitting on the throne of David, then we should expect those administrative roles to be filled.
How would one recognize the royal steward or “over the household” in the Davidic Kingdom? He would be the one on whom the king had bestowed his keys. In Isaiah 22:15-22, we find an example of this:
Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: What have you to do here and whom have you here that you have hewn here a tomb for yourself, you who hew a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock? Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master’s house. I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eli’akim the son of Hilki’ah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
The royal steward, Shebna, is being thrust from his office and is being replaced by Eliakim. Eliakim will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah and will be given the key to the house of David as a sign of his authority.
One cannot help but see the parallels between this passage and Matthew 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” As the rightful heir to the Davidic Kingdom, Jesus is appointing His royal steward by bestowing upon him as a sign of investiture the keys to the Kingdom. These keys are no mere symbol but carry with them an authority (binding and loosing are legal terms) to act on behalf of the King.
What were the limits to the authority of the royal steward? Turning to the second important text, Genesis 41:40, we can see that Joseph, Pharaoh’s royal steward, is given absolute power with only the limitation of the throne itself. He was not the King and all his authority came from the King, but still his authority was absolute. Christ the King likewise gave Peter such authority when He said whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The difference of course is that in the case of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus offers divine protection to Peter against making any errors which is why we say that Peter was infallible in his office as royal steward or “father to the inhabitants” of the Kingdom of Heaven (the title Pope or Papa is just Italian for father).
Although this seems obvious from what has been said so far, it bears mention that the power rested not with the person holding the office of steward, but with the office itself. This means that there was succession in the office. Recall that Shebna is being replaced in his office by Eliakim and the keys that symbolized the office were passed along as well.
In short, it is the Church that is the Kingdom of God in our midst. The Second Vatican Council calls the Church “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery” and “strains toward the completed kingdom” (LG 15). It is Christ who rules from His Eucharistic throne and the successor of Peter, the Pope that acts as His royal steward. You cannot have the King while simultaneously rejecting His kingdom.