Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 11:2)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In these studies on the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we have been exploring the place of this Kingdom-theme within the Synoptic Tradition. In particular, our recent studies (during Holy Week) examined this theme in light of the Triumphal Entry scene (Mark 11:1-10 par)—which marks the beginning of the Jerusalem period of Jesus’ ministry, in the Synoptic narrative—and the identification of Jesus as the Davidic/royal Messiah. In these chapters (Mk 11-13 par) covering the Jerusalem period, culminating with the Passion narrative (chaps. 14-15 par), the Kingdom-theme is developed in a number of important ways, as we saw. The results of that analysis will be utilized in the studies that follow, helping to guide and inform our approach, and to aid the resultant exegesis.

Now, however, we will be taking a new course, as we examine the Kingdom-petition in the context of each Gospel’s version of the Lord’s Prayer—both the Matthean (6:9-13) and the Lukan (11:2-4). In each Gospel, the Prayer occurs at a different location and context within narrative. Some traditional-conservative commentators might be inclined to take the view that Jesus gave roughly the same Prayer (and prayer-instruction) on different occasions; however, most commentators would hold that the two versions of the Prayer represent alternate versions of the same tradition. This means, certainly, the same historical tradition; yet, it can also indicate the same literary source—that is, the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke, and which is customarily thought of as comprising a single written document.

Whatever its source, the Lukan version of Prayer, being noticeably simpler and shorter, is often regarded as being closer to the original—that is, both the original “Q” tradition, and to the Prayer as it was originally spoken and taught (presumably in Aramaic) by Jesus himself. For this reason, among others, we begin with the Lukan version of the Prayer, and its Kingdom-petition (11:2).

Before looking at the immediate context of the Prayer, it is worth considering the structure and scope of the Lukan narrative, in relation to the core Synoptic narrative, and how this affects Luke’s treatment of the Kingdom-theme.

As I have discussed, the Synoptic narrative is rather clearly divided into two parts: (1) the period of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and (2) his time in Jerusalem. In Mark, this two-part division is reflected in the Gospel’s basic structure: (1) the Galilean period (chapters 1-9), and (2) the Jerusalem period (chapters 10-16). Peter’s confession (of Jesus as the Messiah, 8:29-30) and the Transfiguration scene (9:2-8) mark the climax of the Galilean period. In this first period, Jesus is presented primarily as a Messianic Prophet, according to the pattern of Elijah and Moses (cf. the Transfiguration scene), and also the Isaian herald (of 42:1ff and 61:1ff, etc). By contrast, in the second part of the Gospel (the Jerusalem period), the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic King (from the line of David). This is introduced at 10:47-48, upon Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem, and then comes fully into view with the Triumphal Entry scene, after which it dominates the remainder of the narrative.

The Gospel of Luke follows this Synoptic/Markan framework; however, the Lukan narrative has greatly altered its structure. In Mark, the period from the Transfiguration to the Triumphal Entry, covers less than two chapters (9:9-10:52), with the journey to Jerusalem itself essentially comprising chapter 10. This narrative is framed and governed by the three Passion-predictions of Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), which rather evenly divide the material.

In Luke, by contrast, the journey to Jerusalem covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), being expanded by the inclusion of a considerable amount of material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus. Some of this material is unique to Luke’s Gospel, while other portions derive from the Synoptic/Markan tradition or from the “Q” material shared with Matthew. A number of traditions occur at earlier points in the narrative (i.e., set in the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. The Lukan author has set all of this material during Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—thus portraying the journey as time of intensive teaching, when Jesus gave instruction and training to his followers.

The Lord’s Prayer, in chapter 11, occurs at a relatively early point in the Journey narrative, apparently not long after the journey to Jerusalem commenced (9:51ff). There are several important Kingdom-references in this material, prior to the Prayer petition in 11:2. It will be worth examining these briefly.

Luke 9:27

To begin with, the Galilean period concludes with a key Kingdom-declaration, in 9:27, as Jesus tells his disciples:

“there are some of you, standing at this very (place), who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God!”

In this, Luke is following the Synoptic/Markan tradition (Mk 9:1; par Matt 16:28), though the author seems to be downplaying the eschatological aspect of the tradition in his version of the saying; compare the Markan version:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (9:1)

Matthew’s version makes the reference more clearly refer to the resurrection (and/or future return) of Jesus:

“there are some of th(ose) standing here, who will not taste death until they should see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom!” (16:28)

The Lukan version, in context, seems to relate this promise of seeing the kingdom of God (on this idiom, cp. John 3:3), with the disciples who witness the Transfiguration scene (which immediately follows in the narrative, vv. 28-36). The parallel with the wording in v. 32 is particularly telling:

    • “…until they should see the kingdom of God” (v. 27)
    • “…and they saw his glory” (v. 32)

The appearance of the kingdom of God is thus implicitly connected with the appearance of Jesus in his Messianic glory. As noted above, in the Galilean period of the narrative (which climaxes with the Transfiguration) the focus is on Jesus as the Messianic Prophet (cf. verse 35, and the figures of Moses/Elijah). Jesus’ role as Prophet is essentially fulfilled with this scene and the attendant glory that is revealed about him. As for Jesus’ role as Messianic King, his glory will not be revealed until after his death and resurrection.

This point is instructive for what I regard as the dual-nature of the Kingdom in the Lukan Gospel (incl. the book of Acts). On the one hand, the Kingdom is manifested in the person of Jesus, during the time of his ministry on earth; yet, on the other hand, the Kingdom is to be realized fully only after the resurrection—and when the exalted Christ returns to earth at the time of the Judgment. This will be discussed further as we proceed in our study.

As we turn to the Journey period in the Lukan narrative (beginning at 9:51ff), there are several episodes, or blocks of material, which introduce (again) and develop the Kingdom-theme.

Luke 9:60, 62

Following the initial episode (9:52-56) of the Journey narrative, the Gospel writer includes a cluster of three sayings by Jesus, all dealing with the theme of discipleship, and of the costs involved with following Jesus. The first two sayings (vv. 57-60) are part of the “Q” tradition, being found also in Matthew (8:19-22), but at a very different (earlier) point in the narrative. The third saying (vv. 61-62) occurs only in Luke. In each instance, the saying by Jesus comes in response to a would-be disciple; the person’s interest in following Jesus is tested by the idea of the hardship and sacrifice that discipleship requires.

The prospective disciple in the second saying requests that, before following Jesus, he first be allowed to bury his deceased father (v. 59). Jesus’ response to him is famous for its apparent harshness:

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead! But you, going forth, must give throughout the message (of) the kingdom of God.” (v. 60)

Similarly, the would-be disciple in the third saying wishes first to bid farewell to his home and family, before leaving to follow Jesus (v. 61). This seemingly reasonable request also meets with a sharp response from Jesus:

“No one casting (his) hand upon the plough, and (still) looking to the (thing)s behind, is (very) well-set for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

The point in both sayings is that social and family obligations must take second place to the priority of following Jesus. In the first of these two sayings, following Jesus involves proclaiming the Kingdom; in the second, it implies belonging to the Kingdom. The two ideas are certainly related, in the sense that being “well-suited” for the Kingdom (so as to belong to it) means one is also equipped to serve the Kingdom—viz., by proclaiming its coming to people everywhere.

Luke 10:9-11

This theme is developed in the next episode of the Journey narrative (10:1-12ff)—the Mission of the seventy(-two) disciples. This episode, which occurs only in Luke, is similar to the Synoptic tradition in Mark 6:7-13 par, which is part of the Galilean Period narrative, and so occurs, toward the end of that narrative, in Luke’s Gospel (9:1-6). In that earlier episode, it is the Twelve—Jesus’ inner circle of close disciples—who are sent out, as an extension of his own mission (Mark 3:13ff par). And, indeed, like Jesus himself, the missionary disciples are instructed to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, both through their preaching and through the performance of healing/exorcism miracles (Mk 3:14b, 15). On the performance of such miracles as a sign that the Kingdom has come, see the recent study on Lk 11:20 par.

The Lukan version of the Mission episode emphasizes the proclamation of the Kingdom (9:1), corresponding to Jesus’ own proclamation (4:43; 8:1). The inclusion of the second Mission episode, involving a larger group of disciples, is important to the Lukan narrative for a number of reasons. First, it further establishes and develops the Kingdom-theme in the Journey narrative; second, it emphasizes Jesus’ activity in teaching his disciples; third, it draws greater attention to the idea of the disciples’ mission as an extension (and continuation) of Jesus’ own; and, finally, it foreshadows the role of the early believers in the book of Acts, in their activity of proclaiming the Gospel and performing (healing) miracles.

As to the third point, the wording in 10:9 and 11 is significant. In verse 9, Jesus instructs the disciples that, as they perform healing miracles, they should announce that “the kingdom of God has come near [h&ggiken] upon you”. This use of the verb e)ggi/zw matches that of the declaration by Jesus at the beginning of his mission, according to the Synoptic tradition (cf. the earlier note on Mark 1:15). Luke only alludes, indirectly, to that tradition (in 4:43 and 8:1), without using the verb e)ggi/zw, which he introduces here. As the declaration characterizes Jesus’ own mission, so it also does for the disciples’ apostolic mission—as indicated by the repetition in verse 11: “…know that the kingdom of God has come near!”

The Lukan narrative increasingly understands the coming of the Kingdom of God in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel. This becomes a dominant theme in the book of Acts, but it begins to take shape already here, with the two Mission episodes, at the end of the Galilean period and the beginning of the Journey period. In Jesus’ own ministry, the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”) is used to characterize his announcement of the coming of God’s Kingdom (Mk 1:15 par); however, increasingly for early Christians, the word (and the related verb eu)aggeli/zw) referred to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ—viz., the message of who he was and what he did (and what God did through him). Note how Luke frames the first Mission episode, bringing out this interpretive emphasis:

    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim [vb khru/ssw] the kingdom of God” (9:2)
    • the disciples are sent to “proclaim the good message [vb eu)aggeli/zw]” (v. 6)

There is thus a clear parallel between the Kingdom of God and the Gospel, even though Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zw rather than khru/ssw + eu)agge/lion. For some reason, not yet completely explained, the Lukan author seems to avoid the noun eu)agge/lion, preferring instead the verb eu)aggeli/zw.

With this background in view, we shall turn next week to the Lukan Lord’s Prayer itself, examining the context of the Prayer, and the place of the Kingdom-petition within it.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 14:25; 15:2)

We have seen how the king/kingdom theme in the Synoptic narrative (Mark 11-13 par), following the Triumphal Entry scene, was developed in a number of important ways. A conflict paradigm provides the narrative means by which an understanding of the kingship (and Messianic identity) of Jesus shifts: from the Davidic/royal Messiah to God’s own Divine/Heavenly Messenger—the Son of Man (from Daniel 7:13f) and the very Son of God. Instead of fulfilling the nationalistic expectations of the crowds for their Messiah, by fighting and subduing the nations (as in Psalm 118), Jesus finds himself in an internal conflict—as the king (Jesus) faces hostility and rebellious opposition from his own people.

In the Passion narrative that follows (Mark 14-15 par), the contrastive juxtaposition, of two different understandings of Jesus’ kingship, becomes even more pronounced. Two contrasting themes become prominent in the narrative:

    • The heavenly kingdom that Jesus will inherit (as king), following his death, and (by contrast):
    • The earthly kingdom, with its nationalistic political implications, connected with the title “king of the Jews”

These themes are expressed at two key points in the narrative, represented (in Mark) by 14:25 and 15:2ff.

Mark 14:25 par

In the Last Supper (Passover) scene, 14:12-25, the episode closes with the following statement by Jesus:

“Amen, I relate to you that I shall not again drink of the produce of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (v. 25)

The implication is that Jesus will not drink again with his disciples until after his death and resurrection. In spite of the concrete imagery of drinking (wine), there is every reason to think that the reference here is to a heavenly setting. The Matthean version (26:27) brings out this aspect a bit more clearly:

“…until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.”

The kingdom which Jesus receives, as the Messiah, is in heaven, with God the Father. The Lukan Gospel presents this sense of the kingdom—and of the kingship of Jesus—even more prominently. This begins even prior to the Passion narrative, with the saying in 17:20-21 and the notice at the beginning of the parables of the Minas (19:11). The Lukan version of the Triumphal Entry scene has to be understood in the context of these references. The kingdom which Jesus will rule (as Messiah) will not be established on earth in a socio-political (and nationalist) manner, contrary to the expectation of the crowds who acclaimed Jesus (as king) upon his entry into the city.

In Luke’s Gospel, the coming of the kingdom of God is ultimately an eschatological event (21:31)—the kingdom will be established only after Jesus has been raised from the death and exalted (to God’s right hand) in heaven. This reflects the core Christology of the early believers, and it is expressed most precisely in Luke-Acts. The idea of Jesus departing to receive his kingdom/kingship is expressed in the parable of the Minas (19:12), just prior to the Triumphal Entry scene. It then defines Jesus’ kingship throughout the remainder of the narrative.

Let us first note the Lukan handling of the tradition in Mark 14:25 par (see above). To begin with, the basic idea expressed in the Synoptic saying (Lk 22:18) is included as well at the beginning of the Last Supper (Passover) episode (v. 15-16)—thus framing the entire episode under the same interpretive motif. Consider how this is formulated:

    • “For I relate to you, that I shall not eat it [i.e. the Passover] (again) until (the time) when it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (v. 16)
    • “For I relate to you, that, from now (on), I shall not drink from the produce of the vine, until (the time) when the kingdom of God should come.” (v. 18)

The Passover ritual finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of God. Jesus will feast again with his disciples only when the Kingdom comes. This reflects a traditional eschatological theme of the heavenly banquet which the righteous will attend, as an eternal reward—dining (in a figurative sense) with God in His Kingdom, at the King’s table. This motif was introduced earlier in the Gospel (cf. 13:29; 14:15). On its background in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4; Pirqe Aboth 3:20; it is also utilized in the book of Revelation (3:20; 19:19). Cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1026.

The kingdom-banquet theme is further developed within the Last Supper scene, by the Lukan inclusion of the material in vv. 24-30 (cp. Mk 10:42-45 par; Matt 19:28). In verses 28-30, Jesus promises to his disciples—those who remain faithful to him through the time of distress—that they will receive a kingship of their own, ruling alongside Jesus himself, under his royal authority:

“I will set through to you, just as my Father set through to me, a kingdom, (so) that you might eat and drink upon my table, in my kingdom, and you will sit upon thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.” (vv. 29-30)

Jesus will receive a kingdom from God the Father, ruling as King alongside God Himself; similarly, Jesus will establish for his close disciples (the Twelve) ruling seats within his kingdom. Again, the Lukan narrative emphasizes that Jesus will receive this eternal/heavenly kingdom only after his death; this point is made at a climactic moment in the Passion narrative (23:42; on the textual issue in this verse, see my earlier discussion), and is reiterated toward the close of the Gospel, in the Resurrection narrative (24:26). This last reference shows clearly how the Gospel writer understood the true nature of Jesus’ Messianic kingship:

“Was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer these (thing)s, and (then) to come into his honor/splendor [do/ca]?”

Jesus receives his kingship, and his kingdom is established, only after his death and resurrection.

Mark 15:2ff

If the tradition in Mark 14:25 par represents one side of the kingdom theme in the Passion narrative, the other is represented by the Roman interrogation of Jesus in 15:2 par:

“And Pilatus inquired of him, ‘Are you the king of the Yehudeans?'”

The only response Jesus gives to this direct question is “You say (so) [su\ le/gei$]”. The Synoptic tradition is unified at this point, and there is essentially no difference in the parallel versions (Matt 27:11; Lk 23:3). Jesus gives no further answer to Pilate, contrary to the presentation in the Gospel of John (18:33-19:11). However, the Johannine version of this scene shares with the Synoptic the important thematic contrast, between an earthly (national/political) kingdom and the heavenly Kingdom of God. Jesus’ kingdom is heavenly, and thus, for this reason, he refuses to admit to being “king of the Jews” in the nationalistic sense that Pilate understood the title.

This contrast is developed as the narrative proceeds. We may point out the following details, which are generally common to the Gospel Tradition, and which show, most discordantly, how the earthly and heavenly models for kingship are incompatible:

    • The crowds reject Jesus as their king, and call for his death as ‘king of the Jews’ (vv. 8-15); this, of course, represents a reversal of the popular reaction in the Triumphal Entry scene.
    • The mocking treatment of Jesus by the soldiers (vv. 16-19), in which they dress him up and taunt him as ‘king of the Jews’.
    • The inscription placed above Jesus’ head (on the cross), effectively giving the charge for which he was being crucified—viz., that he was, or claimed to be, “king of the Jews”, a political rival to Roman authority (v. 26).
    • Jesus is further taunted by the religious leaders, while he is on the cross, as ‘king of the Jews’ (v. 32).

The conflict theme, developed throughout chapters 11-14, between the people and their king (Jesus), comes to a climax in the interrogation and crucifixion scenes (of chap. 15). The people, for the most part, were unable to understand and accept Jesus in the true sense of his kingship, but could only see him as king in an earthly (nationalistic-political) sense. Their understanding of his Messianic identity was thus quite limited and distorted; the same may be said for how they understood the nature of the Kingdom of God, and what they thought its coming entailed. Even after the resurrection, Jesus’ own disciples still held an imperfect (and limited) conception of the Kingdom, as their question in Acts 1:6 clearly indicates.

In upcoming studies within this series, we will explore further the Kingdom-theme within Luke-Acts, as we consider the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Lukan Gospel (and the book of Acts) as a whole. The same will be done for the petition in the context of the Matthean Gospel.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).


Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 12:13-44)

In the previous note, we examined how the king/kingdom theme from the Triumphal Entry scene is developed within the Synoptic narrative (using Mark 11-12f) as the primary point of reference. The entire sense of Jesus’ Messianic identity, as expressed by the crowds quotation of Psalm 118:26a, is reinterpreted, in a number of subtle but quite dramatic ways. We saw this development at work in the episodes of 11:11-12:12; now we will turn our attention to the next block of material, 12:13-44.

This portion of the Synoptic (Markan) narrative is comprised of four principal episodes, each of which involves a discussion between Jesus and some of the religious leaders (and experts on the Scriptures)—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes—who were present in Jerusalem. In each instance, at issue is a question of interpretation. The narrative block concludes with a further episode that illustrates the essential conflict between Jesus (as God’s Messenger) and the religious leaders. We may outline this block as follows:

    • Question regarding paying the census-tax [kh=nso$] to Rome—12:13-17
    • Question regarding the resurrection [rel. to a point of Scriptural interpretation, Deut 25:5]—12:18-27
    • Question regarding which commandment (in the Torah/Scripture) is greatest—12:28-34
    • Question regarding Psalm 110:1 and the “Son of David” —12:35-37 (see below)
    • Warning against oppression by the religious leaders (with an illustrative example of its effects)—12:38-44

While all of these episodes develop the theme, established in 11:11-12:13, of the internal conflict between the king (Jesus) and his people, it is the first and last (fourth) which relate most directly to the idea of Jesus’ kingship. Kingship is, of course, implicit in the question regarding whether it is proper for Israelites/Jews to pay the poll-tax (kh=nso$) to their Roman overlords (v. 14). This question touches upon the very sort of nationalism expressed by the crowds in the Triumphal Entry scene.

The Gospel Tradition records that the question was intended as a trap for Jesus (v. 13). Does Jesus accept giving allegiance (through the tax payment) to the Roman king (i.e., the emperor, Caesar), or does he advocate a revolutionary refusal to pay the tax, with its implications of Israelite/Jewish independence and self-rule (involving their own king)? Without committing to one ‘side’ or the other, Jesus effectively redirects their question. Caesar may rule kingdoms on earth, but ultimately God is the Great King; and, while it may be important (and/or necessary) to give to Caesar what ‘belongs’ to him, it is far more important (and necessary) to give to God (as King) all that belongs to Him (v. 17). Jesus’ answer to his opponents actually serves as an implicit message regarding the Kingdom of God.

Mark 12:35-37  (par Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44)

The final question/answer episode of this section also relates to Jesus’ identity as the Messianic King, by focusing on the nature of the Davidic Messiah (“Son of David”), by way of an interpretation of a particular Scripture passage.  Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1.

The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark (12:35-37) and Luke (20:41-44), this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (v. 35)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (v. 37)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. Parts 6, 7 and 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Mk 12:36 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus (see the supplemental note in the aforementioned series).

It is significant that, even though the crowds who acclaimed him at his entry into Jerusalem may have considered him to be a Messianic king in the nationalistic political sense, what Jesus actually does, when he arrives in Jerusalem, is to teach—including providing an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The authority of the Scriptures (here, the Psalms) is realized for believers, in the teaching of Jesus, through his interpretation. The meaning of the text itself can be debated (which is the very point of the scholarly discussion in this episode), and so an authoritative interpretation is required.

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the Israelite king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship. I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret. Apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus.

In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc).

As we shall see, the kingship theme does, indeed, split apart as the Synoptic Tradition continues through the Passion narrative. Jesus is put to death on political grounds, as though he claimed to be the very sort of revolutionary “king of the Jews” the crowds had acclaimed. Yet, in the process of the narrative, Jesus makes no claims of being such a royal figure; instead, at the climactic moment (14:62), he identifies himself with the exalted/heavenly “Son of Man” figure from Daniel 7:13-14.

The Matthean Version

Matthew (chaps. 22-23), again, generally follows the Markan narrative, but expands it with two major additions, each of which enhances both the emphasis on Jesus’ kingship and the sense of conflict between the king and his people:

    • The Kingdom-parable in 22:1-11, following upon the Vineyard parable of 21:33-44; again, God is the great Lord/King, and Jesus the King’s son (and heir)
    • The Woes against the religious leaders, in 23:1-36, which expands upon the Synoptic/Markan conclusion (12:38-44; par Lk 20:45-21:4)

The Matthean narrative further concludes with Jesus’ lament for the coming fate of Jerusalem (vv. 37-39), punctuated by a quotation (of his own) from Psalm 118:26. This corresponds to Luke 19:41-44, immediately following the Triumphal Entry, and also, more closely, 13:34-35 (from an earlier point in the narrative). Matthew’s placement of the lament both emphasizes the use of Psalm 118:26, and also provides a more vivid and dramatic transition to the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f).

As for the Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), it develops further the conflict and judgment themes from chapters 11-12 par, beginning with Jesus’ prophecy regarding the Temple’s destruction (vv. 1-2). It also furthers the shift, from Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, to that of the heavenly Son of Man (v. 26f, from Dan 7:13-14, cf. the discussion above). Matthew’s version of the Discourse, however, keeps Jesus’ identity as this Son of Man rooted in a Kingship-framework, through the additional parables in chapter 25:

    • Vv. 1-13—The parable of the Virgins waiting for the Bridegroom, presented as a Kingdom-parable (v. 1)
    • Vv. 14-30—The parable of the Talents; cp. the Lukan parable of the Minas (19:11-27) with its strong Kingdom-emphasis
    • Vv. 31-46—The parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which actually features the exalted/heavenly Son of Man sitting on his throne (as king, v. 31); the end-time Judgment is clearly being illustrated.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 11:11-12:13)

This note is supplemental to the recent discussion on the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene in the Gospels, as it explores how the Synoptic narrative (and the underlying Gospel Tradition) develops the king/kingdom theme that is introduced with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. As I have previously discussed, in the first half of the Synoptic narrative (Jesus’ ministry in Galilee), he is portrayed as fulfilling the role of Messianic Prophet—whether the type patterned after Moses, Elijah, or the anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff. However, in the second half of the narrative (the period in Jerusalem), the focus shifts to his identity as the Messianic King (from the line of David). This shift is presaged by the reference in Mk 10:47-48 par to Jesus as the “Son of David”, and then comes to the fore in the Triumphal Entry scene (as discussed in the prior two-part note [1, 2]).

The crowd who came out to acclaim Jesus seems to have been fired by nationalistic Messianic expectations, which inform their use of Psalm 118:26a and the w(sanna/ (Aramaic hôša±-n¹°) exclamation [v. 25], and also their use of the branches (esp. the use of palm-branches in the Johannine version [12:13]). According to the background of Psalm 118, the “one coming in the name of YHWH” was the king, returning to Jerusalem following victory in battle. Even though the Psalm (and esp. verse 26) came to be applied to the ordinary devout Israelite or Jew, coming to Jerusalem for the great pilgrimage festivals, the royal background was certainly not lost on those using it to greet Jesus as king.

The narrative episodes that follow—in Mark 11-12f, using the Markan Gospel as a guide to the Synoptic narrative—represent an implicit response by Jesus to this popular understanding of his Messianic identity. The response begins, it would seem, with the Temple episode that immediately follows Jesus’ entry. The framework of the overall Gospel narrative (informed as it is by the underlying Tradition), suggests that Jesus’ appearance in the Temple represents the climactic moment, fulfilling the promise of Jesus as the “one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$, cf. the parallels to Mark 1:7f). A strong argument is made for interpreting this expression, in context, as containing an allusion to Malachi 3:1ff—and, thus, to Jesus as the Messenger of YHWH. For more on this point, see my earlier note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Through His Divine representative, God Himself will appear, bringing the (end-time) Judgment upon humankind. There are certain indications that, in early Christian belief, and within the developed Gospel tradition, Jesus’ identification as “the one coming in the name of the Lord” means more than that of the traditional Anointed King or Prophet. This is perhaps best seen by comparing Luke 13:34-35 (citing Psalm 118:26) with Luke 19:41-44 (a similar lament for Jerusalem, following his entry into the city, vv. 36-40). Here the appearance of God Himself to His people is identified as taking place in the person of Jesus (v. 44).

The Temple-action by Jesus has been explained as a “cleansing” of the Temple, and this is accurate enough, to a point. Certainly, the idea of purification is present in the Malachi 3:1ff oracle (vv. 2-4), and so it would be fitting that the one “coming in the name of YHWH” would purify the Temple. But Jesus also, by his action, indicates that he is establishing a new role and orientation for the Temple—as a place for prayer (Mark 11:17 par), rather than sacrificial offerings. Another nuance of meaning, particularly with regard to the violence of Jesus’ action, is that it foreshadows the Temple’s destruction, as part of the end-time period of distress that attends the coming Judgment (Mark 13:1-2ff par).

All three of these aspects are significant for the Synoptic narrative in Mark 11-12 par, for they demonstrate a very different sense of Jesus’ Messiahship than would have been expected by the people who greeted him upon his entry to the city. Let us outline these three aspects, to see how they relate to the narrative:

    • Reinterpretation of “the one coming in the name of the Lord” in reference to Mal 3:1ff, and Jesus’ identity as the Divine Messenger who represents YHWH, and whose appearance ushers in the Judgment.
    • The Temple, transformed by Jesus’ presence, now becomes a place devoted primarily to prayer—and, by extension, preaching and teaching—rather than cultic ritual and sacrifice.
    • The foreshadowing of the Temple’s destruction, as part of the coming Judgment, is connected with the people’s opposition to Jesus. This sense of internal conflict underlies the entire Jerusalem-division of the narrative. The crowd that initially praised him (as king) eventually would shout for his death.

While these three thematic emphases are woven throughout the narrative, it is also possible to align them with three different sections of material:

    1. The Temple action and the sense of conflict that came about in its aftermath—Mark 11:11-12:12 par
    2. Jesus’ teaching (in the Temple precincts)—Mark 12:13-44 par
    3. The prophecy of the Temple’s destruction, which frames the Eschatological Discourse—Mark 13 par

The first section may be further divided as follows:

    • Introduction: Jesus’ arrival at the Temple (11:11)
    • The cursing of the Fig-tree (11:12-14)
    • The ‘cleansing’ of the Temple (11:15-19)
    • The lesson of the Fig-tree (11:20-25)
    • Question regarding Jesus’ authority (11:27-33)
    • The Vineyard-parable—conflict between the master and tenant-workers (12:1-11)
    • Conclusion (12:12)

Matthew (21:12-46) largely follows the Markan narrative, though an additional vineyard-parable is included (vv. 28-32), and there are also several details which serve to keep more clearly in view Jesus’ identity as Messianic king—vv. 15-16 (“Son of David”), and references to the “kingdom of God” (vv. 31, 43), which includes a heightening of the narrative framework for the Vineyard-tenants parable (vv. 32, 43). Luke’s version (19:45-20:18) of this Synoptic material is simpler and shorter, omitting the entire fig-tree episode, and with a much abbreviated Temple-cleansing scene, and a shorter Vineyard-tenants parable as well. The most notable addition is the expansion (19:47-48) of the summary notice in Mk 11:18, which emphasizes Jesus’ activity of teaching in the Temple precincts.

The Fig-tree episode, in the Markan narrative, frames the Temple-cleansing scene. In this regard, it captures two of the key themes outlined above: (1) the Temple-action as symbolic of the coming Judgment (i.e., the cursing/withering of the tree), and (2) the new role of the Temple as a place for prayer (i.e., the teaching on prayer in 11:24-25). The question of Jesus’ authority to perform such actions then comes to the fore, in vv. 27-33, with the implicit message that his authority comes from God in heaven.

If the motif of authority (e)cousi/a) relates to Jesus’ identity as king, then it is just as much present, however implicitly, in the Vineyard-parable that follows (12:1-11). This parable climaxes with a quotation from the same Psalm (118) which the crowd cited at his entry into the city. The master/owner of the vineyard is symbolic, in the parable, of God as Sovereign. The servants whom he sends to the tenants can be said to symbolize the different prophets whom God has sent to the people. The son is sent as a similar messenger, but as one who, as the owner’s son, is a more direct and close representative of the owner himself. The son, of course, symbolizes Jesus, as God’s last (and greatest) Messenger (see the discussion on Mal 3:1ff, above), a Divine representative of God Himself, who also happens to be God’s own Son.

Both the Matthean and Lukan versions of this parable suggest, somewhat more clearly than the Markan, an illustration of Jesus’ kingship. Matthew brings this out by the way the parable is framed (21:32, 43), including a specific reference to the “kingdom of God”. In the case of the Lukan narrative, the parable reinforces the earlier the parable of the Minas (19:11-27), which immediately precedes the Triumphal Entry scene, and which has (in its Lukan form) a strong kingdom-emphasis. Both of these parables indicate opposition and hostility by the people toward their king (Jesus).

As noted above, the context of Psalm 118 originally involved the return of the king to Jerusalem, following victory in battle over his (and Israel’s) enemies. These enemies, however, belonged to the surrounding nations (vv. 10ff), and the ‘cornerstone’ illustration of verse 22f must be understood in this context. Israel (and its king) was rejected by the rulers of the surrounding nations, and yet, through YHWH’s strength and protection, the kingdom was exalted and brought to a position of power and dominance (over the nations). Whether this thematic emphasis reflects an actual historical event, or an idealized situation, it does not change the theological outlook of the Psalmist.

The Gospel context for the application of this verse is quite different. The king (Jesus) does not combat the nations, even though this would have represented the sort of nationalistic Messianic expectation which many the crowd (shouting verse 26a) were doubtless hoping to see fulfilled. Instead, the opposition to the king comes from his own people. It is his own people who reject him, refusing to recognize him as their king. This, obviously, is a key theme that is developed throughout the remainder of the Gospel narrative.

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou


Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mk 11:9-10, cont.)

This note continues the previous discussion on the ‘Triumphal Entry’ scene in the Gospels. We saw how the Tradition here has certain fixed elements, around which the Gospel writers enhanced the material, bringing out certain distinctive features or points of emphasis. The quotation from Psalm 118:26 (first line), in the crowd’s acclamation at Jesus’ entry, is a fixed tradition, found in all four Gospels. The w(sanna/ exclamation (Aram. an` uv^oh [hôša±-n¹°], Heb. an` hu*yv!oh), stemming from v. 25 of the same Psalm, is another relatively fixed element.

Psalm 118 was part of the Hallel collection (113-118) of hymns which were sung on the occasion of the great pilgrimage Festivals (such as Passover and Sukkot). In particular, verse 26, with its festal setting (cf. the procession indicated in vv. 19-23ff, and the celebratory ornamentation in v. 27), was used as a greeting for pilgrims arriving for the festival. However, the Psalm itself evinces a strong royal background and setting, involving the arrival of the king to the city, returning, it would seem, from battle (in which he was victorious)—as indicated by the context of vv. 14-21; cf. also the militaristic language and imagery in vv. 6-13. See my earlier article on verse 26 (in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”).

It may well be that this royal background, with its nationalistic implications (i.e., the Israelite/Judean kingdom’s victory over its enemies, and the surrounding nations [vv. 10-11]), was not at all lost on the crowd who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically. Indeed, there are other historical details within this tradition which suggest a highly-charged political atmosphere. The branches (stoiba/$ plur. [kla/doi in Matt 21:8], brought by the people, are evocative of the festival of Sukkot, as well as a natural echo of Ps 118:27. However, they also suggest the nationalistic fervor of the crowds, fueled, it would seem, by the thought that their Messianic expectations might be on the verge of being fulfilled.

Particularly in the Johannine version, where the crowd actively goes out to meet Jesus (12:13), carrying/waving palm branches (bai+/a, from the foi=nic [palm] tree), this aspect of the scene is almost certainly being emphasized. As Brown (p. 461) notes, this use of palm-fronds is reminiscent of symbolic gestures associated with the Maccabean revolt (cf. 1 Macc 13:51; 2 Macc 10:7). The palm tree (and branches) also appear on coins from the Bar-Kochba revolt (132-135 A.D.), and palm-fronds are mentioned as a symbol of (royal) power over the (unified) nation of Israel in Testament of Naphtali 5:4. Brown also mentions the political implications of the specific use of the expression ei)$ u(pa/nthsin, in the context of the “joyful reception of Hellenistic sovereigns into a city” (p. 462, citing an example from Josephus War 7.100). With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Luke omitted any mention of the branches, in accordance with his apparent tendency to downplay the political implications of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah; cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1243ff on this point. This Lukan understanding of the coming of the Kingdom (as expressed in 17:20-21; 19:11ff, etc) will be discussed as we proceed further in our study.

How did Jesus himself, at the historical level of the scene, regard his Messianic identity, particularly in relation to the popular expectation (of the crowds)? If we take the preparatory episode (in the Synoptic account, Mark 11:1-6 par) at face value, then Jesus may have purposefully sought to draw attention to the prophecy in Zech 9:9ff. While only verse 9 of this prophecy is cited (in Matthew [21:4-5] and John [12:15]), the entire section of the poem (9:9-13), taken as a whole (and particularly in the full context of chapters 9-14), has a strong national-political—and militaristic—emphasis.

The Johannine treatment of this part of the Gospel tradition is distinctive. In John’s account, Jesus apparently obtains the donkey in response to the nationalistically-charged crowd’s approach. While this could be seen as an affirmation, by Jesus, of their Messianic expectations, the Gospel writer’s handling of the Scripture prophecy seems to redirect the interpretation. The first line of the quotation apparently blends together Zech 9:9 with Zeph 3:14/16; in so doing, the prophecy counterbalances the nationalistic emphasis of Zech 9:9-13 with the more universal outlook of Zeph 3:14-20—emphasizing the end-time restoration of Israel, the gathering in of all God’s people (especially the weak and outcast). Cf. the discussion by Brown, p. 462f; he notes how this orientation of Jesus’ Kingship aligns with the Johannine theology, as expressed, for example, in 11:52.

The comment of the Pharisees on the scene, in 12:19 (“See, the [whole] world goes forth after him!”), carries a theological irony similar to that of Caiaphas’ prophecy, echoing the Johannine language of, e.g., 12:32— “…I will draw all (people) toward me”. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, any thought of Jesus’ Kingship is subordinated to his mission, which he, as the Son sent to earth by the Father, is obligated to complete. The completion of this mission occurs with the death (19:30), and the ‘lifting up’, of Jesus; his exaltation (as King) begins with his death.

All of the Gospel writers, in shaping their narratives, engaged in some measure of re-interpretation of Messianic expectations, as applied to the person of Jesus, and as fulfilled by him. Some of this interpretation is intrinsic to the historical tradition itself—see, for example, how Jesus deals with certain Messianic expectations, in relation to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., the Messiah as the “son of David”), in Mark 12:35-37 par. This is just one of several passages, in the Jerusalem Period section of the Synoptic narrative, dealing with the theme of kingship, the kingdom of God, and of Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah. In commemoration of Holy Week, I will be examining these passages, as a way of supplementing our study on the coming of the Kingdom of God—viz., the petition from the Lord’s Prayer that is the focus of this series:

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 28A (1985).
Those marked “Brown” are to Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (I-XII), Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 29 (1966).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 11:9-10)

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In considering this petition from the Lord’s Prayer, and the idea of the coming of God’s Kingdom, an important piece of the Gospel Tradition is the episode of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. This narrative episode has been preserved in at least two main lines of tradition—the Synoptic (Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40) and the Johannine (12:12-19). In this regard, the episode has the distinction of being one of the very few that is found in all four of the New Testament Gospels. The main outline of the episode is relatively fixed and consistent; even so, there are many differences and variations in detail, even between the three Synoptic accounts.

We see this perhaps most clearly in the crowd’s acclamation at Jesus’ entry (in)to the city. In all four versions (Mk 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13), the crowd quotes the first line of Psalm 118:26, which reads, in the Hebrew and Greek (LXX), respectively:

hwhy <v@B= aB*h^ EWrB*
“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”
eu)loghme/no$ o( e)rxo/meno$ e)n o)no/mati kuri/ou

The Gospel Tradition follows the wording of the LXX. Also in common, between the Synoptic (Mark-Matthew) and Johannine tradition, is a transliteration of the Aramaic acclamation an` uv^oh (hôša±-n¹°, in Greek, w(sanna/); only Luke omits this word. The Aramaic, corresponding to the Hebrew an` hu*yv!oh, which occurs in verse 25 of the Psalm, means something like “save (us), please!”. The imperative hu*yv!oh itself occurs, notably, in 2 Samuel 14:4, as an address to the king, and, similarly, in Psalm 20:10, to YHWH as the King. Though it originally would have functioned as a prayer (or an entreaty) to God (or to the human king), it seems that an` hu*yv!oh eventually came to serve equally as an exclamation of praise. A modern parallel, in the British exclamation “God save the king/queen!”, has been noted (Fitzmyer, p. 1251).

In the Synoptic version, the w(sanna/ is repeated after the quotation from Psalm 118:26, in a more dramatic and intensive form: w(sanna\ e)n toi=$ u(yi/stoi$ (“Hôša±-n¹° in the highest [place]s!”). This amplification indicates that the term hôša±-n¹° was, in fact, intended here primarily as an expression of praise. Luke’s version has adapted this phrase, in a way that likely is meant as an intentional parallel to the Angelic announcement in the earlier Infancy narrative (2:14):

“In heaven peace, and honor in (the) highest (place)s!”
“Honor in (the) highest (place)s to God, and on earth peace…!”

The expression e)n [toi=$] u(yi/stoi$ (“in the highest [place]s”) makes clear that Luke is dependent upon the Synoptic tradition, even though he (again) omits the w(sanna/.

Even more interesting than this relatively fixed tradition, is the way that the different versions all variously add details which specifically identify Jesus’ arrival with that of a king or a kingdom. The details differ, but the underlying idea is the same: Jesus is the Messianic King, coming to the holy city, with the implication that he will be ushering in the end-time Kingdom for Israel. The Gospel writers, in this regard, may simply be using creative license to make explicit what was implicit in the crowd’s acclamation.

The variation between the Gospels suggests that there was no fixed or firm tradition on this point. The writers filled the gap in various ways.

Luke (19:38), for example, simply expands the quotation from Psalm 118:26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming, the king [o( basileu/$], in (the) name of (the) Lord!”

The Johannine Gospel (12:13), independently, does much the same thing:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord, [even] the king of Israel!”

The idea that Jesus was to be identified as a king, coming to Jerusalem at the end time, is preserved in the Tradition in another way: through the specific allusion to Zechariah 9:9ffan association which the Matthean and Johannine narratives, (again) independently, make explicit through a Scripture citation (Matt 21:4-5; Jn 12:15). How this prophetic connection is to be interpreted, among the Gospels is most intriguing, as is the question of what Jesus himself intended (at the historical level). This will be discussed in a follow-up note.

John and Luke each, in different ways, tend to downplay the Messianic implications of the episode—that is, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah. The Johannine narrative, at this point, makes little mention of this aspect of Jesus’ Messianic identity. In the Lukan account, the identification is present only implicitly, through the aforementioned connection with the Infancy narrative (2:14), which contains numerous references and allusions to Jesus as the Davidic Messiah (1:32-33, 43, 69; 2:1ff, 4, 8ff, 11ff).

Mark and Matthew, by contrast, make the Davidic association quite explicit. The Matthean version (21:9) does this simply by expanding the initial w(sanna/ exclamation:

Hôša±-n¹° to the son of David!”

This formulation provides further evidence that Hôša±-n¹° here functions principally as an exclamation of praise: i.e., “Praise (be) to the son of David!” or, perhaps, drawing again upon on the modern British parallel (see above), “(God) save [i.e. bless] the son of David!”. The fullest expression of Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, however, comes in the Markan version (11:9-10), where the quotation from Psalm 118:26 is expounded (or glossed) with a parallel line:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord!
Blessed (be) the coming kingdom of our father David!”

Only in Mark’s version is there a clear expression of the expectation that, with the coming of Jesus (as King) to Jerusalem, the Messianic Kingdom will be established.

This Gospel Tradition, for all its familiarity, is rife with historical and literary-interpretive questions.  A central issue involves the two very different (and distinct) Messianic types that Jesus was seen as fulfilling. In the previous note (on Luke 11:20 par), we saw how it was in Jesus’ activity as a Messianic prophet—with his teaching/preaching and healing miracles—that the Kingdom of God was being established on earth. Actually, the Synoptic narrative rather clearly is divided into two halves, each of which corresponds to a different understanding of Jesus’ Messianic identity:

    • First Half—Period of Ministry in Galilee:
      Jesus is portrayed and recognized as a Messianic Prophet, according to the figure-types of Moses and Elijah (as well the anointed Herald of Isaiah 61:1ff, cf. also 42:1ff). This is vividly depicted in the climactic Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:2-8 par), which thus also informs Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (8:29 par).
    • Second Half—In Jerusalem
      Here, Jesus’ identity as the Davidic/Royal Messiah comes to the fore, supplanting his role as Messianic Prophet. It is introduced in Mk 10:47-48 par, on the approach to Jerusalem, through the use of the title “Son of David”, and then is presented, more dramatically, in the Triumphal Entry scene. Once established, it dominates the remainder of the Synoptic narrative, concluding with Jesus’ execution as “King of the Jews”.

The miracles performed by Jesus seem more suited to the figure of a Messianic Prophet, and yet, there is some indication that they may have led certain people to regard him as the Davidic Messiah. The notice at the end of the Johannine account of the miraculous Feeding episode (6:1-15) indicates how popular fervor, in the wake of Jesus’ miracles, could have led some to go beyond seeing him as a prophet (v. 14) to, instead, as a potential king (v. 15).

Even in Mark 10:47-48, where the title “Son of David”, implying Jesus’ identity as the Davidic Messiah, is introduced, it is in the context of a healing miracle. Matthew’s Gospel utilizes this title more extensively, applying it to Jesus throughout the narrative, even during the Galilean ministry period (e.g., 9:27; 12:23; 15:22). Particularly in 12:23, which is part of the same Beelzebul episode discussed in the previous note (v. 28 being parallel to Lk 11:20), Jesus’ miracles, which are a sign that the Kingdom of God has come, lead some people to wonder whether he might be the Davidic Messiah (“Son of David”).

Jesus’ own apparent ambivalence toward identifying himself as the Davidic Messiah adds a further complexity to the Gospel Tradition. It also is most relevant for an understanding of how he saw the Kingdom of God coming. Was it in accordance with popular expectations, or in opposition to them? This will be discussed, in connection with the Triumphal Entry scene, in a follow-up note.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 11:20)

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

An important passage for understanding this petition—and the idea of the coming of God’s Kingdom within the Gospel Tradition—is Luke 11:14-23, along with its parallel in Matthew 12:22-30. This passage is part of the so-called “Q” (Quelle, or “Source”) material—shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not present in Mark. It may be labeled broadly as the “Beelzebul episode”, and there is a corresponding episode in the Gospel of Mark (3:22-27).

According to many commentators, the “Q” and Markan versions of this episode represent variant versions of a single historical tradition. This explanation is probably correct. There is evidence that the Matthean Gospel writer has incorporated both lines of tradition in the narrative; note, for example, the way that the saying regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit” is made to follow this passage (12:31-32), even as it does in Mark (3:28-29). The same Gospel writer also appears to have combined Markan and “Q” versions of this saying (cp. Luke 12:10).

The Markan version of the “Beelzebul episode” makes no mention of the Kingdom of God; however, the Kingdom-theme is present, and functions as a more important component of the “Q” version. Let us use the Lukan form (11:14-23) as the basis for our study.

The way that the various traditions have been combined, compared with the shorter Markan version of the episode, enhances the sense of the conflict built into the original historical tradition. The accusation, that Jesus performs healing (and exorcism) miracles through the power of Beelzebul, now becomes part of a larger contrast between two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of ‘Beelzebul’. As one who represents the kingdom of God, Jesus is exercising authority over the daimon-spirits who serve the kingdom of ‘Beelzebul’.

The Kingdom-theme is established by the saying in 11:17-18 (par Matt 12:25-26), a form of which is also present in the Markan/Synoptic version (Mk 3:24-26). The point of the proverbial saying (v. 17), as it is applied to Jesus’ situation (v. 18), is that it makes no sense for a person working for Beelzebul and the demons to cast out demons; it would be like a kingdom that was divided against itself. The implication is that Jesus represents a different kingdom—namely, the kingdom of God.

This line of argument is developed in vv. 18b-19 (par Matt 12:27), and, again, by the illustration in vv. 21-22 (par Matt 12:29, and cf. Mk 3:27). First, Jesus points out that there are other people who perform similar miracles (or are thought to). In addressing the people in the crowd who bring the accusations against him, Jesus refers to “your sons” —that is, others among them, of whom (it may be inferred) similar accusations are not made regarding the miracles they perform. How are such people able to cast out daimons, if they are not, like they say now of Jesus, working through the power of Beelzebul?

Indeed, such miracles would typically be attributed to God. It may be the particular success and prominence of Jesus in performing these healing miracles which led to certain people claiming that he must, somehow, be working in league with the demons themselves. The implication is that there was a distinctiveness in the way Jesus was able to cast out the daimon-spirits, a distinctiveness which reflected a special kind of authority over the spirit-world. This exercise of authority was part of what led to the initial popularity of Jesus (note the tradition in Mark 1:27-28 par, and the following summary in vv. 32ff), and, with it, certain jealousy and resentment among other Jewish leaders.

The rhetorical argument (and question) in vv. 18b-19 leads to the dramatic declaration by Jesus in verse 20 (par Matt 12:28):

“But, if (it is) by (the) finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then (know that) the kingdom of God has come (now) upon you!”

Jesus claims, unequivocally, that he casts out daimons by the power (lit. “finger”) of God. The expression “finger of God” probably alludes to the Exodus narrative, regarding the plagues on Egypt, which were performed by God through Moses (and Aaron) as intermediary (Exod 8:19 [Heb 15]); for other occurrences of the idiom, see Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10 (cf. also Psalm 8:4). Like Moses, Jesus functions as God’s specially appointed (and anointed) representative, and here makes such a claim for himself—a claim which would not have been lost on many of his hearers. If the specific pronoun e)gw/ (“I”) is to be included (as original), then almost certainly it is emphatic; I have indicated this in the translation above: “but if I…”.

The force of Jesus’ claim is explained by the Matthean version of this saying, but also by the historical context of the Beelzebul episode. Instead of “finger [da/ktulo$] of God”, Matthew (12:28) reads “Spirit [pneu=ma] of God”. Almost certainly, the Lukan version more accurately represents the original saying; the Matthean variant is best understood as an explanatory gloss—viz., to explain that “finger of God” means the Spirit of God, working through Jesus.

This explanation, indeed, properly reflects the context of the episode, which the Markan narrative brings out most clearly. People were claiming that Jesus was performing his healing miracles through demonic power, rather than by the power (i.e., Spirit) of God. This helps us to understand the saying regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit”, Mk 3:28-29, which Matthew records here in the same location (12:31-32). It is one thing to insult the human being (“son of man”) who performs the miracle, but quite another to blaspheme the Spirit of God that works through the person. Mark clearly states that this was the point of Jesus’ saying (3:30).

That Jesus performs his miracles, in a very special way (like Moses), through the Spirit (or “finger”) of God, is also indicated by the illustration in vv. 21-22 par. Subduing “the strong (one)” (i.e., Beelzebul) requires someone even stronger—that is, God Himself, or Jesus as His representative, acting in and by His Spirit.

The wording of the statement in verse 20 is relevant to the key declaration made by Jesus, at the start of his ministry, according to the Synoptic narrative (Mark 1:15 par, discussed in the previous study). In that initial statement, Jesus declared that:

“…the kingdom of God has come near [h&ggiken]”

This indicates that God’s kingdom would soon appear; on the eschatological significance of the adverb e)ggu/$ (“close, near”) and verb e)ggi/zw (“come/bring near”), see the previous study, and my earlier article on the imminent eschatology of early Christians. By contrast, here in Lk 11:20 par, Jesus uses the verb fqa/nw:

“…the kingdom of God has (now) come [e&fqasen]”

The verb fqa/nw can be a bit difficult to translate. It denotes coming (or doing something) first, before (or ahead of) others. It can specifically indicate the aspect of arriving first, and then, more generally, the idea of “arriving” or reaching a particular point. Taken in the more fundamental sense, the statement here would mean, “the kingdom has first come (now)”; alternately, it could mean, “the kingdom of God has reached you”, or, more generally, “the kingdom of God has now arrived”. In any case, it certainly indicates a step beyond the statement in Mark 1:15 par: the kingdom of God is not just near to coming, it has now arrived. The verb fqa/nw is used in the aorist tense, but this would seem to differ little from the use of the perfect tense (for e)ggi/zw in Mark 1:15); practically speaking, it needs to be translated like a perfect in English (i.e., “has come”).

The point of the saying, then, is that the Kingdom of God has now arrived, with the ministry of Jesus. In particular, God is exercising His authority over the demon-powers. These spirits, responsible for disease, and other forms of evil and wickedness, have held a certain dominion over the world (and especially over humankind) during the current Age, a power and influence which has only been increasing as the end of the Age draws closer. But now God, through his anointed representative, Jesus, is beginning to subdue the spirits, and to defeat the kingdom of the evil powers (led by ‘Beelzebul’). In this conflict between the two kingdoms, the kingdom of God is sure to be victorious, and, indeed, is even now beginning to establish itself on earth.

This idea of Jesus as God’s anointed representative (i.e., Messiah) brings to mind a second, but related, aspect of the Kingdom-concept—that of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom, under the leadership of a new Ruler from the line of David. This represents a different Messianic figure-type, which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The miracles which formed the basis for the Beelzebul episode attest to Jesus’ identity as a Messianic prophet—along the lines of Moses and Elijah, each of whom were miracle-workers, through whom the power of God was specially manifest.

In the Synoptic narrative, Jesus’ identity as a Messianic prophet dominates the first half—the period of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. In the second half of the narrative (the period in Jerusalem), it is the Davidic/royal Messiah that is primarily in view. For next week’s study, in commemoration of Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, we will examine this particular aspect of the Kingdom-theme, as it is expressed in the Triumphal Entry scene.

The name Beelzebul (Grk Beelzebou/l) is a transliteration of a Semitic title, which was applied to the Canaanite deity Haddu (called Ba±al, Heb lu^B^, “Lord, Master”). The designation zbl (Heb lb%z+ z§»¥l) is an honorific title meaning something like “exalted” or “(most) high”. Thus, the Canaanite title b±l zbl means “Exalted Lord”. For Israelites and Jews, Baal Haddu was the most famous pagan deity from the ancient Near East, largely due to the fierce polemic references to him in the Old Testament (as a rival to El-YHWH). It was thus natural that this ‘exalted’ Baal would serve as a representation for the leader of all foreign/wicked deities (called daimons, or “demons”). Elsewhere in Jewish tradition and in the New Testament, this role is given to the Satan/Devil, or to the same essential figure called by different names.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Mark 1:15)

“May your Kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

In considering this petition from the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10a / Lk 11:2b, see the previous study), regarding the coming of God’s kingdom (basilei/a), it is natural to begin with the Synoptic tradition in Mark 1:15 par. The narrative summary in Mk 1:14-15, introducing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, would seem to preserve authentic historical tradition, and reflects some of the earliest Gospel tradition:

“…Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming the good message of God and saying that ‘The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Change your mind(set) and trust in the good message!'”

The Matthean parallel (4:17) is shorter and stated more simply:

“…Yeshua began to proclaim and to say: ‘Change your mind(set)! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!'”

The use of the expression “kingdom of the heavens”, in place of “kingdom of God”, is typical of the Matthean Gospel. Luke does not include this Synoptic tradition at the corresponding point in the narrative (cf. 4:14ff), but has it embedded in Jesus’ words at a slightly later point (4:43): “…it is necessary for me to proclaim the good message [vb eu)aggeli/zw] (of) the kingdom of God” (cp. Mark 1:38 par). In Matthew’s narrative, Jesus’ declaration regarding the Kingdom repeats the message of John the Baptist (3:2). The Matthean Gospel writer may have intentionally framed the two statements so that they are identical; however, it is likely that something along the lines of this Kingdom-message was, in fact, part of the Baptist’s preaching (see below).

In the Markan presentation, Jesus’ declaration is comprised of two parallel statements, each with a simple two-component syntax (subject and verbal predicate, with the verb in first position):

    • “has been fulfilled | the time”
      peplh/rwtai | o( kairo/$
    • “has come near | the kingdom of God”
      h&ggiken | h( basilei/a tou= qeou=

Both verbs are in the perfect tense, which usually indicates a past action (or condition), the force/effect of which continues into the present. However, here a sense of imminence seems to be intended, referring to something which just now has occurred. A period of time (kairo/$) has been completed, and, with it, the kingdom of God has “come near”.

The verb e)ggi/zw is derived from the adverb e)ggu/$ (“near, close”), and can be used either in a transitive (“bring near”) or intransitive (“come near”) sense. The verb occurs 42 times in the New Testament, mainly in the (Synoptic) Gospels and Acts. It is often used in the ordinary, concrete sense of a person (or persons) approaching (cf. Mk 11:1; 14:42). It can be used more figuratively, as, for example, in speaking of a certain time approaching (e.g., Acts 7:17)—that is, the time when a certain event will occur.

It is significant that both the adverb e)ggu/$ and verb e)ggi/zw are sometimes used specifically in an eschatological context. In these instances, the usage reflects an imminent eschatology held by early Christians (and contemporary Jews) in the first-century. In other words, the expectation was that the end of the current Age (and events marking it) was very near, and would soon occur. Cf. Mark 13:28-29 par [Matt 24:32-33; Lk 21:30]; Luke 21:8, 20, 28, 31; Rom 13:12; Phil 4:5; Heb 10:25, 37; James 5:8; 1 Pet 4:7; Rev 1:3; 22:10; note also the likely allusions in Matt 21:34; 26:45. This usage by early Christians may have been influenced by Scriptural (Prophetic) tradition, where the terminology refers to the (imminent) coming of the “Day of YHWH” (e.g., LXX Joel 1:15; 2:1; Ezek 30:3).

Such evidence strongly suggests that there is a similar eschatological orientation to Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom has “come near”. This aspect of the Baptist’s preaching (Mk 1:2f, 7-8 pars; Matt 3:7-10, 12 par) adds further support to the premise, and to the possibility that Jesus’ message is, to some extent, a continuation of John’s own (Matt 3:2, see above).

As to the basic idea of the “Kingdom of God”, there are a number of different strands, nearly all of which are firmly rooted in Old Testament and Jewish tradition. The fundamental concept is the domain and rule of God (as King). The kingship of YHWH is a prominent theme that runs through much of the Old Testament, though actual references to His “kingdom” (Heb. tWkl=m^) are relatively uncommon (see Psalm 45:6; 103:19; 145:11-13). The eschatological aspect of the concept is particularly prominent in the book of Daniel, both explicitly (e.g., 4:3, 17, 25) and in the implicit contrast between the rule of God and that of the wicked kingdoms on earth (see, in particular, throughout chapters 2, 4, 7, and 11-12). The current line of earthly kingdoms is about to come to an end, and the rule of God (and His people) established.

In this regard, the eschatology of Daniel is reflective of Prophetic traditions found in a number of exilic (and post-exilic) texts. The older Prophetic concept of the “day of YHWH”, as a time when YHWH brings judgment upon a particular people, was expanded to embrace two fundamental themes: (1) God’s judgment of all the nations, and (2) the restoration of Israel. At the end of the current Age, all of the nations will be judged (and punished), while the kingdom of God’s people (Israel) will be restored (and brought to even greater glory). The kingdom established in the New Age, centered at Jerusalem, will belong to God (Obadiah 21, etc); thus, the restored kingdom of Israel/Judah will ultimately be a manifestation of the kingdom of God.

We find evidence of this sort of eschatological expectation at various points in the Gospels; see, for example, the notice in Mark 15:32, or the question posed by Jesus’ disciples in Acts 1:6. The ‘triumpal entry’ scene illustrates the common expectation for a restored kingdom which will be ushered in (and led) by a royal Messiah from the line of David (Mark 11:10 par). A number of other references can be noted—e.g., Luke 1:33; 17:20; 19:11. For more on the background for such Messianic expectation, see the various articles in my series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Parts 68 on the Davidic/royal figure-type).

These are some of the principal factors which inform Jesus’ proclamation. He is announcing that God’s kingdom, long expected, has now “come near”. It is a message which he repeated, and which he instructed his disciples to continue proclaiming when he sent them to minister throughout Galilee (as his representatives). Cf. Matt 4:23; 9:35; 10:7; 12:25; Luke 8:1; 9:2, 11, 60; 10:9; 11:20; 16:16. References to the Kingdom, and sayings/teaching by Jesus about the Kingdom, are most extensive in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In next week’s study, we will begin surveying a number of Gospel passages which give us some idea of what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the Kingdom of God “coming (near)”.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Introduction)

Thy Kingdom Come

For this Spring, during the months of March and April (and into May), I will be running a series within the Monday Notes on Prayer feature dealing specifically with the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

“May your kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

This petition has been prayed, as part of the Lord’s Prayer, by many millions of Christians over the centuries. Yet how many really understand what it is that they are praying for? What does it mean to ask for God’s kingdom (basilei/a) to “come”? There surely are, and have been, a considerable number of believers who understand this petition—if they give thought to it at all—in ways that are quite foreign to both the original teaching of Jesus and to the New Testament conception of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, there is perhaps no component of the Lord’s Prayer that is so prone to misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

Because the petition itself is so simple—comprised essentially of just two words—the interpretation of it hinges on a proper understanding of the two terms: the noun basilei/a (“kingdom”) and the verbal imperative e)lqe/tw (“may it come!”, or “let it come!”). In the case of the former, since it is modified by the genitive pronoun sou (“of you, your”), referring to God (“Our Father”), it is clear that it is the kingdom of God that is in view. This means that the noun is related to an expression—h( basilei/a tou= qeou= (“the kingdom of God”)—which occurs a number of times in the New Testament, and which is itself derived from Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

Much of this study will therefore involve a study of “the kingdom of God” —both the expression and the concept—as it came to be understood and employed by early Christians. The scope of this study will extend from the earliest strands of Gospel tradition to the developed theology of Christians at the end of the first century. In addition, consideration will be given to different ways that believers today might understand and apply the petition regarding the Kingdom, in light of the entire witness of Scripture and early Christian theology.

Each study in this series will focus on a particular Scripture reference or passage, dealing with this Kingdom theme. An attempt will be made to focus upon the two components of the Lord’s Prayer petition, and the two interpretive questions that they entail:

    1. What does it mean to speak of the “Kingdom of God”? and
    2. What does it mean for God’s Kingdom to “come”?

In dealing with the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer, there are two basic ways that one may approach the matter, particularly with regard to examining the concept of the kingdom of God. One may focus upon the literary context of the petition, as it occurs in both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. In each Gospel, the petition is part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The Matthean and Lukan versions of this Prayer differ somewhat, but they clearly derive from the same historical tradition—an authentic tradition, which even many critical commentators, on objective grounds, regard as coming from Jesus himself. More significant is the fact that, in each Gospel, the Prayer occurs in a very different setting. In Matthew, it is part of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5-7), included in a set of teaching by Jesus regarding the proper religious conduct for his disciples (6:1-18, see the introductory admonition in verse 1). The issue of prayer is treated in verses 5-15, with the Lord’s Prayer at the heart (vv. 9-13) of Jesus’ instruction. In Luke, the Lord’s Prayer is also part of a group of teachings on prayer (11:1-13), but in a location quite separate from the “Sermon on the Plain” (6:20-49, the Lukan equivalent of the “Sermon on the Mount”).

Another approach would be to consider how the concept of the Kingdom, and the use of this terminology, would have been understood by Jesus’ contemporaries, and within the earliest Gospel traditions. It is this approach that I will be adopting here. The Kingdom-references which most likely belong to the earliest strands of the Gospel Tradition will be examined first, along with consideration of their background in Old Testament and Jewish thought.

Before proceeding, let us deal with a few preliminary items regarding the Kingdom-petition in the Lord’s Prayer. First, the Greek text of the petition is identical in both the Matthean and Lukan versions: e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou. The same is true of the version found in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache), an early Christian manual of instruction, from the early-mid second century, but which may preserve traditional material from the (late) first century. The Lord’s Prayer, which occurs in Didache 8:2, closely resembles the Matthean version.

The text of the petition is thus quite well established, though there is a minor (but important) variant in the Lukan version (11:2), which will be discussed as part of this series.

On the theory that the Lord’s Prayer was originally spoken by Jesus, and initially transmitted, in Aramaic, the petition might be reconstructed as follows (in transliteration, Fitzmyer, p. 901):

t¢°têh malkût¹k
(rhythmically parallel to the first petition,
yitqaddaš š§m¹k)

If we consider the structure of the Prayer, in the Matthean/Didache version, there are two sets of three petitions. In the first set (6:9c-10), following the introduction (9a) and invocation to God the Father (9b), the person praying calls on God to act on His own behalf—(i) that His name would be honored (9c), (ii) that His kingdom would come (10a), and (iii) that His will would come to be done on earth (10bc). In the second set of petitions (vv. 11-13), God is called to act on behalf of humankind (i.e., His people). The Kingdom-petition is the second (10a) of the first three petitions.

The Lukan version of the Prayer is shorter. For the first group of petitions (11:2b), there are only two petitions, the Kingdom-petition being the second. In light of this, one could conceivably explain the third Matthean petition as an expository addition expounding the second (Kingdom) petition—that is, God’s Kingdom comes when His will is fully realized (and performed by human beings) on earth. The relation of these two petitions will be discussed in an upcoming note.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Our study begins (next week) with an examination of the early Gospel tradition in Mark 1:15 par. As this verse, with its parallels, is examined, we will also begin exploring the Old Testament and Jewish background of the Kingdom theme that Jesus employs.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple (cont.)

In this conclusion to our series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, we are examining the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH. Last week, the theme of centralization of worship was discussed; today, we will be looking at the second theme.

The name of YHWH

Throughout the Prayer, there is a strong emphasis on the Temple as the place where God’s name resides—vv. 16-20, 33, 35, 42-44, 48. In this regard, 1 Kings 8 is simply continuing an important theme and motif of the Deuteronomic history. Beginning with the book of Deuteronomy, the idea of a place for God’s name is used to designate the city of Jerusalem (and the specific site of the Temple), and, by extension, the territory/kingdom of Judah as a whole. The presence of His name indicates that YHWH has chosen Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place among His people. For the key references, see Deut 12:11, 21; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2; 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 9:3, 7; 11:36; 14:21; 2 Kings 21:4, 7; 23:27.

There are three principal aspects to this emphasis on YHWH’s name that need to be noted:

    1. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name stands for the person, representing and embodying his/her essential nature and character. I have discussed this in the earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. There was thus a quasi-magical quality to a person’s name; in dealing with a person’s name, one could effect or relate to the actual person. This was especially true in a religious context, when dealing with the name of God.
    2. Along these same lines, the name represents the presence of the person, even when he/she cannot actually be present physically. This is equally true in the case of God. As the Prayer points out repeatedly, though YHWH actually resides in heaven (vv. 27, 30, 32, 34-36, 39, 43, 45, 49), His name resides in the Temple sanctuary.
    3. The presence of a person’s name also serves as a mark of possession or ownership. So the symbolic presence of YHWH’s name is a mark that the Temple belongs to Him; and, not only the Temple, but the sign of possession radiates outward to include the entire city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and indeed the whole Kingdom of Israel. This aspect of the Temple is a sign that the people of Israel belong to YHWH, as His people. And, when the people pray in the direction of the Temple, where His name resides, they are essentially recognizing and acknowledging this fact.

When we turn to the New Testament, and the beliefs and practices of early Christians, we can see that this emphasis on the name of God has been developed and adapted in a number of interesting ways. I would point out three, in particular, that I wish to discuss briefly:

    1. Jesus as God’s chosen representative, who comes and acts “in His name”
    2. The Johannine theme that Jesus, as the Son of God, makes God the Father known to believers in the world—this can specifically be understood in terms of making known the Father’s name.
    3. The importance of the Jesus’ name—specifically for prayer, but also for other aspects of the religious life and experience of believers.

1. The principal Gospel passage(s) that expresses the idea of Jesus as a Divine representative who comes “in YHWH’s name”, involves the tradition of his entry into Jerusalem. This episode occurs in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:1-10; Matt 21:1-9; Lk 19:29-38) and the Gospel of John (12:12-15)—and essentially marks the beginning of Jesus’ Passion. In the overall Synoptic narrative, the ‘triumphal entry’ stands at the beginning of a period of teaching and ministry in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37 par) that precedes the Passion narrative.

In all four accounts of the Entry, the crowd that receives Jesus is recorded as quoting Psalm 118:26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”

Though there are slight variations in how this declaration is presented in each account (Mk 11:9; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13), it is clearly part of the underlying historical tradition.

I have discussed this tradition in earlier notes and articles, and will be doing so again in Part 3 of my study on the Sukkot festival. What is most significant is how the quotation of Psalm 118:26 relates to the Messianic identity of Jesus. There were a number of Messianic figure-types current in Jewish thought and expectation, and early Christians ultimately identified Jesus with all of them. I discuss this subject at length, including treatments of the different figure-types, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Regardless of which Messianic figure-type Jesus was seen as fulfilling, the principal idea is that he was God’s chosen (“anointed”) representative, whose presence and activity on earth marked the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New Age for God’s people.

In the Entry episode, it is clearly the royal/Davidic Messiah that is in view (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In this respect, the use of Psalm 118 is especially appropriate. Even though this Psalm, as one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), came to be associated with great pilgrimage festivals (esp. Passover and Sukkot), and were sung on those occasions, it is probable that the original context of the Psalm involved the victorious return of the Israelite/Judean king to Jerusalem (after battle). For more on this, cf. my article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. Psalm 118:26 is also cited by Jesus himself, in relation to his Messianic identity, in Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35 (“Q” tradition).

2. The Gospel of John develops the Messianic significance of coming/acting in God’s name in a distinctive way, informed by the Johannine theology (and theological idiom). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is also the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God. He was sent to earth from heaven by God the Father, being given a mission from the Father to complete. This mission included speaking and acting in the Father’s name—speaking the Father’s words and doing His works (such as working healing miracles and raising the dead). Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example, doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying. Thus Jesus (the Son) truly represents the Father, manifesting His presence and power to people on earth.

Two specific statements by Jesus may be pointed out:

“I have come in the name of my Father…” (5:43)
“the works that I do in my Father’s name, they give witness about me” (10:25)

The Son’s mission and work on earth culminates in his sacrificial death (19:30); all of this is done in the Father’s name, and the death and resurrection (i.e., the exaltation) of the Son serves to give honor/glory to the Father (12:28, note the context of v. 13). This theme finds its fullest development in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where Jesus specifically refers to his work in manifesting the Father’s name to believers (vv. 6, 26; cf. also 11-12):

“I made your name shine forth to the (one)s whom you gave to me out of the world” (v. 6)
“and I made known to them your name…” (v. 26)

3. Finally, it is important to consider how, for Christians, the Son’s name came to replace the Father’s name. This is particularly notable in relation to the tradition of prayer by early Christians. Even though believers were still directed to pray so as to give honor to the Father’s name (Matt 6:9 par), at an early point there came to be a strong tradition of praying (to the Father) in Jesus’ name. There is surprisingly little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself; we see it most clearly in the Gospel of John (in the Last Discourse, 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), where the tradition is rooted in the Johannine theology and Christology (i.e., the Son’s abiding relationship to the Father). Of particular importance is the idea that the Father will send the Spirit to the disciples/believers in Jesus’ name (14:26); on the sending of the Spirit as the goal (and result) of prayer, cp. the context of Luke 11:13.

Another Johannine theme which is more firmly rooted in the wider Gospel tradition is the idea of the disciples (believers) continuing the (Messianic) mission of Jesus on earth. This goes back to the early tradition of the choosing of the Twelve and their initial mission (Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13 pars). The disciples were specifically chosen by Jesus, and were allowed to share the same authority (and ‘anointing’) that he possessed, so that they would proclaim the good news (Gospel) and perform healing miracles, etc., in his name. The particular association with Jesus’ name is seen more clearly in the Gospel of Luke (10:17; 24:47; cp. 9:49; 21:9 pars), after which it occurs frequently throughout the book of Acts (3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 17-18, 30; 5:28, 40-41, etc).

Part of this ministry involved the baptizing of new believers, as a ritual symbol of their belonging to Jesus, and of their participating in the life-giving power of his death and resurrection. One trusts in Jesus’ name (i.e., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God; cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18), and so is baptized in that name (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16, etc). Everywhere that believers work or gather together, they are representatives of Jesus, and so act in his name (Matt 18:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 5:4; Col 3:17, etc). The identity of belonging to Christ, conferred and realized through the baptism ritual, governs and informs all aspects of our life as believers.