“... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven ...” (Matthew 18:18)

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18))

What does Jesus mean by 'bind'?

This statement by Jesus follows his previous statement regarding seeking mediation regarding a dispute with another: "If your brother sins against you...."

The word "bind" is translated from the Greek word δέω (deō) - which means in this context, "to bind, put under obligation, of the law, duty etc." Thus we can know that Jesus is referring to "binding" as a promise, or agreement made with "one of your brothers."

This refers to the relationships existing between Jesus' disciples and students.

How will it be 'bound in heaven'?

Jesus is clearly stating that the promises and relationships that bind people together will continue on a spiritual level. Why is this?

While things that take place within the physical world occur amongst the forms and names of this temporary dimension, within these physical bodies we are each a spiritual living being. Each of us is spiritual in essence. We are not these physical bodies.

Thus while the things we do within the physical world may affect others' physical bodies, the relationships we have with others have a spiritual context as well - because we are each spiritual beings.

The degree in which there is a spiritual context relates to whether that relationship with another person involves our spiritual lives or not. A relationship that is purely physical - say each person seeks a physical self-centered result - then that relationship may not have a spiritual context. But it will still affect the spiritual life of each person in the relationship in some way. If the relationship has only a physical aspect, then it will result in each party in that relationship becoming further entrapped within the physical realm - maintaining our ignorance of our spiritual identities.

But in the case of Jesus' students and disciples, these relationships had spiritual context because their common denominator was their teacher, Jesus - who is God's representative. And their spiritual lives were specifically being impacted by following Jesus' teachings - and they needed to cooperate together in order to assist Jesus in his service to the Supreme being. Therefore, their relationships were specifically related to their spiritual lives - and how they treated each other would reflect upon their spiritual lives.

What does 'loosed' mean?

The word "loose" is translated from the Greek word λύω (lyō) which means "to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened," and "to loose one bound, i.e. to unbind, release from bonds, set free."

Thus we see that Jesus is also metaphorically relating to the topic as well as practically. The binding nature of an agreement made through mediation or otherwise creates a bind or obligation between two or more people. Honoring those obligations has practical and even spiritual implications for Jesus' students - who need to cooperate with each other in order to serve Jesus - who was serving the Supreme Being.

Thus Jesus is requesting not only that his students cooperate with each other: But that they treat each other fairly. To free someone from an obligation is sometimes an act of mercy or forgiveness. Say a person crashes into our car they should be obligated to fix the dents. But if the owner of the car were to forgive the person and dismiss the obligation say because the person could nor afford it - "loosen" - then that person would be showing compassion and forgiveness. This will also affect one on a spiritual level - because compassion and forgiveness are spiritual traits.

Is there a broader meaning?

Remember that the initial question they asked, was:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1)
This is a coded question that indicated Jesus' disciples were thinking about who would become the spiritual leader after Jesus left this world.

Jesus did not want his disciples involved in a power struggle after he was gone - especially over who is the real successor. This is, in fact, what so many sectarian organizations have done around their teachers for thousands of years. Self-promoting students will think they received some sort of special benediction from the teacher who has now left them.

They believe they have been appointed as the successor of the teacher - and will proceed to create a hierarchy within the group or organization.

In the case of some, such as Paul - who was not a disciple of Jesus - who formed an institution that did precisely that - created electorate bodies - councils of elders and so on. This structure eventually led to electing bishops and popes among the Roman Catholic Church.

By doing this, they abandoned the precepts Jesus taught and showed by example, that God chooses His representative. God's representative is not elected by a political assembly - a group or council made up of people. This was the very structure that Jesus argued against among the temple institution - where the high priest Caiaphus was appointed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus.

Jesus argued strongly against this politically-driven system. This was a central reason for Jesus' subsequent arrest and persecution.

Who chooses God's representative?

This was illustrated by John the Baptist, who sent his disciples to ask Jesus something:
“John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ” (Luke 7:20)
This illustrates that John the Baptist - who baptized Jesus - did not select or appoint God's representative.

In fact, it is God who empowers His representative to teach on His behalf. While the teacher must first become a student of an empowered teacher (also illustrated by Jesus as he took baptism by John) and must apply those teachings, should he or she apply those teachings, the Supreme Being may empower them to teach in one respect or another.

Just as Jesus taught personally to students to have them carry on God's message, and just as John the Baptist taught personally to students like Jesus and others to have them carry on God's message, Jesus wanted his disciples to go out and teach to others individually. He was opposed to the ceremonial (and empty) pomp and circumstance of the institutional temples of those days. That is why Jesus always criticized them, and overturned the tables of those selling on the temple grounds.

So do we think that Jesus would have wanted what exists today in the form of splintered sectarian institutions who elect their teachers by voting and pay them salaries to teach?

No. Jesus wanted his disciples to go out and teach his message freely and individually. Not professionally.

The Supreme Being is a ‘relationship Person’. He is not so concerned about our individual merits or accomplishments. He only cares about how we treat others, and whether we want a relationship with Him. These are within our range of choice. Because love requires freedom, the Supreme Being created us with the freedom to love Him and love others, or simply love ourselves (greed).

Therefore, we are always being presented with a choice to look out for ourselves or look out for others. We are always being given the choice to devote ourselves to the Supreme Being or devote ourselves to ourselves. Ultimately, these are the choices that determine the future of our spiritual lives. Should we choose to devote ourselves to the Supreme Being, the Supreme Being will show us His representative and guide us back to Him.

Jesus spoke of this clearly:
"Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:17)