“... 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 about 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."

Jesus is thus referring to the relationships that existed among Jesus' disciples and followers. Jesus wants them to get along and work together for the common purpose of growing spiritually.

How will it be 'bound in heaven'?

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

Events that take place within the physical world occur amongst the forms and names of this temporary dimension. But 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.

We could compare this to what occurs when we are driving. If a person is driving down the road and honking at people, or driving too close in the rear (tailgating), that would upset other drivers. When those drivers arrive home and get out of their cars they still might be upset by what happened during their drive.

In the same way, even though we are temporarily 'driving' this human body, the events that take place during our human lifetimes can also affect our spiritual lives.

In our situation, we have each taken on a physical body as a vehicle to help us learn. In the physical world, we can exercise our desires, but this world is also set up to train us. This training takes place primarily in the form of consequences.

Whatever we do has consequences. These consequences serve to train us and urge us to become better spiritually.

This is how what binds us here can bind us in heaven. Our spiritual growth is directly connected to how we manage our lives within the physical world. This is especially true in how we treat others.

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' followers - who were needing to cooperate with each other in order to serve Jesus on a practical level.

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.

For example, if a car driver crashes into our car they should be obligated to fix the dents. But if we were to forgive the car driver and dismiss the obligation say because the person could not afford it, we would be "loosening" the obligation. That would be an act of compassion and forgiveness. 

Such an act of mercy will affect the car driver significantly, but also on a spiritual level. Because compassion and forgiveness are spiritual traits, actions that yield these will affect both parties (the merciful and the forgiven) spiritually.

How did this affect Jesus' followers?

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. (Unfortunately, this did happen over the centuries). 

Jesus knew that some followers could use their relationship with Jesus to promote themselves and gain authority over others. This was certainly what Jesus saw among the high priests and other temple officials such as the Pharisees.

Jesus wanted to try to prevent this among his followers. Still, we find that some did.

This happened in the case of Paul, who was not a disciple of Jesus. Paul claimed that he had a vision of Jesus. Shortly after having the "vision" Paul began preaching a doctrine that claimed to represent Jesus' teachings but actually departed from Jesus' teachings substantially.

Paul immediately formed an institution that provided a seat of power for Paul. This institution laid the groundwork for the Roman Catholic Church that followed.

This essentially abandoned the precepts Jesus taught and showed by example. The institution became a seat of power that was used by those who wanted to gain authority over others. Just as the high priests and the Pharisees did during Jesus' time, the Roman Catholic institution enforced their authority over others and removed love of God from the equation.

Just as the high priests and the Pharisees had removed love of God from the teachings of Moses, sectarian institutions claiming to follow Jesus have removed love of God from following Jesus. 

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

Jesus was persecuted because he resisted the institutionalization of the teachings of the Prophets. How offensive to Jesus is it that the institutions claiming to follow him have utilized many of the same practices?

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.

John's question indicates that it is God who empowers His representative to teach on His behalf. The teacher must first become a student of an empowered teacher under this system. This was also illustrated by Jesus as he took baptism by John. Once the student applies those teachings, the Supreme Being may empower them to teach in one respect or another.

Just as John the Baptist taught his students including Jesus; and just as Jesus taught his students and asked them to teach to others; the process of spiritual instruction is employed personally. It is not an institutionalization.

Jesus was opposed to the ceremonial (and empty) pomp and circumstance of the institutional temples of his times. That is why Jesus criticized them.

So do we think that Jesus would have wanted what exists today among sectarian institutions who elect their teachers and pay them salaries to teach?

Jesus wanted his disciples to go out and teach his message freely and individually. He didn't want them to create an institution like the one that he had been criticizing.

God is not an institution. The Supreme Being is about personal relationships. God wants our love. He is not so concerned about our positions or accomplishments. He only cares about how we treat others, and whether we want a relationship with Him. 

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 choices. We can look out for ourselves or look out for others. We can devote ourselves to ourselves or to God.

Ultimately, these choices determine the future of our spiritual lives. Should we choose to devote ourselves to God, He will 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)