Prophecy & Eschatology in the New Testament: Sayings of Jesus (Pt 4)

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 4)

    1. Eschatological Expectation related to John the Baptist
    2. References to the coming of the Kingdom, with a clear eschatological emphasis
    3. References to the coming Day of Judgment
    4. Specific references to the coming of the “Son of Man” (Judgment context)
    5. References indicating a(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers
    6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

The first four areas of study were addressed in the previous articles (Parts 2, 3); here we will be examining the final two areas (#5-6, in italics above).

5. A(n earthly?) Kingdom ruled by Jesus and his followers

One of the most controversial aspects of Jesus’ eschatology is whether, or to what extent, he affirms the traditional idea of the restored Israelite kingdom, which is central to much Jewish eschatological thought, from the (later) Prophets, down to Jesus’ own time. Not surprisingly, this idea gradually disappeared from early Christian writings, as the Church took on a more universal, non-Jewish (Gentile) coloring. Even where the idea of a concrete “Millennial Kingdom” was preserved, it typically was detached from its nationalistic roots. Only relatively recently has the distinctly Israelite/Jewish background of early Christian eschatology been re-affirmed, largely through two quite different avenues: (1) Dispensationalist interpretation of Bible prophecy, and (2) Critical scholarship which, in the past 50+ years especially, has emphasized both the Jewish background of the New Testament and the Jewishness of the historical Jesus. Greater awareness in Western society of Jewish customs and traditions in general, including from the time of Jesus (through the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc) has also contributed in this regard.

There can be little doubt of the nationalistic, ethno-religious dimension to Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought. According to at least one major line of tradition (centered primarily on the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic Ruler), the end-time deliverance of God’s people, connected with the great Judgment, will involve (and/or be preceded by) the defeat of the nations and the re-establishment of the Israelite Kingdom. This eschatological scenario brings together a number of separate, but related traditions:

    • The return of Israelites from being dispersed among the nations
    • The re-establishment of Jerusalem as the religious center, with a renewed (and/or new) Temple
    • The inclusion of Gentiles, who will come to Jerusalem (and the Temple) to worship the one true God and pay homage to Israel
    • In more elaborate, developed versions, a period of this Kingdom rule (on earth) precedes the final Resurrection and Judgment in Heaven. At any rate, these represent two distinct eschatological ideals (restored Kingdom on earth, rule in Heaven) which were combined various ways by both Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D.

It is not necessary to document here all of the relevant passages which reflect this basic expectation (of a restored Kingdom). An essential formulation is found in Micah 4:1-4 (note the overall context of chaps. 4-5), par. Isa 2:2-4; it was an important theme in (Deutero-)Isaiah, including key passages such as 49:5-6ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-16ff; and 66:18-24. Among the many passages in the later Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D., I might point out Tobit 13:11-17; 14:4-7; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Jubilees 1:15-18; Testament of Benjamin 9:2ff. Especially noteworthy is the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (mid-1st century B.C.), which provides the classic portrait of the militant Davidic Ruler who will subdue the nations, deliver God’s people, and rule over the kingdom (of God) on earth. The Messianic expectation of many Jews at the time of Jesus would certainly have included the basic idea that the kingdom of Israel would be restored and God’s people delivered from the wicked (nations), and should be recognized in such statements as Mark 15:43 par; Luke 1:32-33; 2:25b, 38. Indeed, it is stated precisely in Acts 1:6, indicating that Jesus’ disciples expected that he would fulfill this traditional role as the Anointed One (Davidic Ruler). A number of other references in the Gospel Tradition suggest a similar expectation—Mark 11:9-10 par; Luke 19:11; John 6:15. The circumstances of Jesus’ death, as recorded in the Gospels, make no sense unless the Roman authorities were concerned about the possibility that he might be identified as a Messianic figure (“King of the Jews”) who would attempt to liberate Judea from Roman rule.

The question remains: to what extent did Jesus confirm this particular view of the Kingdom as a restoration of the Israelite kingdom, or as a concrete kingdom/government established on earth? Many who heard the proclamation that “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mk 1:15 par), echoed variously throughout Jesus’ ministry (cf. Part 1), doubtless would have understood it in such a light. Even Jesus’ disciples appear to have had it in mind (Acts 1:6, to be discussed). A number of critical scholars accept the proposition that Jesus expected to inaugurate a Messianic kingdom on earth. For traditional-conservative readers and commentators, especially those who follow a Dispensationalist mode of interpretation, such a kingdom, it is believed, will still be established at some point in the future. It must be said, however, that there is little clear evidence in the sayings of Jesus which supports the idea of a Kingdom to be established on earth. Most of the Kingdom-sayings and teachings are ambiguous in this regard. As far as I am able to determine, the emphasis appears to be twofold: (1) the coming Judgment, and (2) heavenly/eternal reward for the righteous (believers/followers of Jesus). The scene of this Judgment, which, in its most ancient context, would have referred simply to the afterlife, appears to be in the Heavenly court (cf. the sayings surveyed in Parts 2 and 3).

There are several sayings which do allow for the possibility of an earthly, Messianic kingdom, ruled by Jesus and his disciples, but even these are not entirely clear.

Mark 10:35-40ff par.

In this tradition, two of Jesus’ disciples (the brothers Jacob [James] and John) make the following request:

“Give to us that, one out of your giving [i.e. right] (hand), and one out of (your) left (hand), we might sit (with you) in your splendor” (v. 37)

At the historical level, it is most unlikely that Jesus’ disciples would have had any real understanding of his impending resurrection and exaltation to heaven; rather, they were presumably referring to the idea of a kingdom on earth which would be ruled by Jesus (as Messiah). This is perhaps confirmed by the Matthean parallel (20:21), which reads “in your kingdom” instead of “in your splendor”. His response is significant in the way that he directs them away from the motif of Messianic splendor, and toward the idea of his suffering and death—something which would not have been expected in regard to the Messiah at his coming (vv. 38-39). It is clearly expressed that the disciples, like Peter in the Transfiguration scene (9:6 par, cf. also 8:32-33), did not understand the implications of what they were saying. The following section (vv. 41-45) draws out this contrast even further—one should not be seeking for honor and rule, but to give sacrificial service to others, following Jesus’ own example. At the same time, Jesus does not deny the essential thought underlying their request—to sit alongside of him in the glory of his rule—but he has redefined it in terms of reward for faithful discipleship. It is interesting to compare the similar way Jesus responds to the disciples in Acts 1:6ff.

Matthew 19:28 / Luke 22:28-30

In close proximity to Matthew’s version of the above traditions (20:20-28), is another saying related to the ruling position of Jesus and his disciples. It is possible, in the Matthean narrative at least, that the request in v. 21 is in response to the earlier declaration by Jesus in 19:28:

“Amen, I relate to you, that you, the (one)s following me, in the (time of) coming to be again [i.e. rebirth/resurrection], when the Son of Man sits upon the ruling-seat of his splendor, you also will sit (as one)s upon twelve ruling-seats, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

The basic idea suggests a concrete kingdom, such as the traditional restored/Messianic kingdom on earth. However, the context of the saying clearly sets it in the time of paliggenesi/a (“coming to be again”). This word came to be used as a technical term (in Greek philosophy, etc) for the rebirth of the world at the end of the current Age, or, in particular, the rebirth of souls in the future Age. The latter would have been understood in terms of resurrection for Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D., with the end of the current Age being associated specifically with God’s coming Judgment. The word paliggenesi/a thus is eschatological, related to the end-time Judgment and the resurrection. Interestingly, Josephus does use the word in a figurative sense to convey the idea of the restoration (from exile) of Israel as a people (Antiquities 11.66). The only other occurrence in the New Testament (Titus 3:5) is also figurative, symbolic of the believer’s spiritual “rebirth” in Christ, where the setting is the Baptism ritual. It is, however, likely that the Baptismal use of the term draws upon the earlier cosmic sense of the world’s rebirth, such as took place after the great Flood (which prefigures the end-time Judgment)—cf. Philo Life of Moses II.65; 1 Clement 9:4; and note the association between baptism and the flood in 1 Pet 3:20-21.

The context of the Synoptic saying in vv. 29-30, as formulated in Matthew’s version, emphasizes heavenly/divine (eternal) Life in the Age to Come (cp. Mk 10:30; Lk 18:30). If the request in 20:21 is in response to this statement, then the disciples (or their mother, in Matthew’s version) may well have misunderstood the thrust of the saying. Certainly the focus, as in 20:22ff, is on true discipleship—following Jesus to the end, regardless of the cost.

Luke records a similar saying, though in a very different context, as part of the Last Supper scene (Lk 22:28-30). The overall narrative in 22:24-30 seems to draw upon both traditions cited above (Matt 19:28 [Q?] and the Synoptic Mk 10:35-45 par). Whatever the original historical setting, the inclusion of these sayings by Jesus in the context of the Last Supper—his impending death and the betrayal by Judas—results in a most powerful association, contrasting false discipleship (Judas and the dispute in v. 24) with the true. The disciples who remain (after Judas’ departure, cp. John 13:27-31a) are regarded as Jesus’ true followers; the words which follow in vv. 28-30 must be understood in this light (the italicized portions parallel Matt 19:28, above):

“But you are the (one)s having remained through(out) with me in my testing; and I will set through for you, even as my Father set through for me, a kingdom, (so) that you may eat and drink upon my table in my kingdom, and you will sit upon ruling-seats judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

This indicates a promise of fellowship (eating and drinking), similar to that of the Passover meal of the Last Supper, but also reflects the formal relation of vassalage—the faithful vassal is allowed to eat at the suzerain’s own table, and is given a subordinate kingdom, ruling under the authority of the suzerain. The disciples receive this ruling authority from Jesus, just as Jesus received it from God the Father. The image of eating and drinking in the Kingdom draws upon the tradition of the Eschatological/Messianic meal or banquet, indicated already in Old Testament passages such as Isa 25:6-8; 55:1-2; 65:13-14 (cf. also 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:4; 3 Enoch 48:10; Sayings of the Fathers [Pirqe ‘Abot] 3:20, etc; Fitzmyer, p. 1026). Jesus uses this tradition a number of times in his parables (to be discussed in the next study).

How should we understand this declaration that Jesus’ faithful disciples will judge the twelve tribes of Israel? We must consider both the scenario which is being depicted, as well as the relationship between the disciples and the (twelve) tribes of Israel. There are several possibilities:

    • It is the scene of the Judgment (of all nations/peoples), and the disciples have the privilege of sitting as judges over the people of Israel. We find the idea of believers participating in the Judgment several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 2:26-27; 20:4), but nowhere else in the Gospel does Jesus mention his disciples serving in this role.
    • The (twelve) disciples have a special place of honor and rule in heaven. Here the meaning of kri/nw is broader than a judicial role, extending to other aspects of ruling power and authority. In the book of Revelation it is extended still further, being granted not only to the apostles, but to other/all faithful believers (2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4 [?]). The limitation to the “tribes of Israel” may simply reflect the scope of Jesus’ own ministry; eventually, the image would become universal, with believers coming from all the nations.
    • The reference is to a Messianic kingdom on earth. The nations will have been defeated and made to submit to the authority of God’s Anointed One, but will still exist on earth similar to the way they do now (or in Jesus’ time). As such, an earthly kingdom over many different groups of people would require a governing structure. The (twelve) disciples govern (kri/nw again meaning “rule” as much as “judge”) Israel. Many commentators feel that this indeed is what (the historical) Jesus had in mind. The problem is, it is extremely difficult to find any other clear examples which refer to an earthly (Messianic) kingdom governed by disciples/believers, either in the Gospels or in the remainder of the New Testament (Rev 20:4-6 being a possible exception, cf. also 5:10).
    • It is largely symbolic, with the twelve disciples representing the twelve tribes, particularly in the sense of a restored/reconstituted Israel—the people of God who accept Jesus as God’s Anointed One. In my view this is perhaps the best explanation, as it would seem to confirm the obvious association between the Twelve and Israel (almost certainly intended by Jesus in the selection of the Twelve). The symbolism is unmistakable in the book of Acts (1:6 through chapter 2, and further), though it must be admitted that the theme of the “restoration of Israel” is not as explicit in Jesus’ sayings and parables.
    • It is symbolic of eternal/heavenly reward, the emphasis being not so much on the function of judging/ruling the twelve tribes, but on their sharing the honor and power which belongs to the exalted Jesus. This would seem to be the main point in several of the parallel references in the book of Revelation (esp. 2:26-28; 3:21).

With regard to the last interpretation, a special point of interest—occurring in both the Lukan version of the saying (22:28-30) and the verses in the book of Revelation cited above—is the chain of relation, which is both hierarchical and reciprocal:

God the Father
|
Jesus (the Son)
|
Disciples/Believers

Jesus receives a kingdom from the Father, and, in turn, gives a kingdom to his faithful followers. As noted above, this reflects the ancient and traditional concept of vassalage, whereby there is a distinctive socio-relational component (dynamics of friendship and loyalty) to governmental structures. The same structure occurs frequently throughout the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, where the reciprocal aspect comes more clearly into view: (1) the Disciples give honor and power back to Jesus, i.e. recognizing his kingly rule, and (2) Jesus gives the kingdom/kingship back to the Father (on this point, see esp. 1 Cor 15:24). From the standpoint of early Christology, it is after his death and resurrection that Jesus receives his Kingdom from the Father, expressed especially through the idea of Jesus being at the “right hand” of the Father in heaven (but cf. also the beginning of the parable in Lk 19:12, to be discussed).

If the image of eating and drinking in the Kingdom were to be taken literally, in a concrete sense (i.e. ordinary physical food and drink), then it would confirm the idea of an earthly kingdom. While this generally conforms to certain strands of Old Testament tradition (i.e. the coming Age as a time of peace/prosperity on earth), and may well reflect popular expectation (Lk 14:15), it is rather difficult to sustain when one considers the sayings and parables of Jesus carefully. The illustration in Matt 8:11-12 appears to be proverbial, but otherwise reflects the setting of the Judgment (brought out more clearly in the Lukan parallel, 13:28-29); cf. also Matt 22:2ff. Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper (Mk 14:25 par) is somewhat ambiguous, though the narrative context assumes his impending death and resurrection. The Matthean version emphasizes a meal that is to be shared with his disciples, indicating a heavenly setting (“…when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom”). Luke records two such parallel statements, in addition to the reference in v. 30:

“I should (certainly) not eat it [i.e. the Passover meal] (again) until (the time in) which it should be fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (v. 16)
“I should (certainly) not drink from the produce of the vine from now on, until (the time at) which the kingdom of God should come” (v. 18)

I take the first reference to mean that the Passover meal will be fulfilled in the Kingdom—almost certainly in the sense of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but with a possible allusion to the idea of the eschatological/Messianic banquet (cf. above). The expression “…when the kingdom of God should come” is best understood in relation to the coming Judgment, and the heavenly/eternal reward which follows; however, the wording does at least leave open the possibility of referring to a Messianic kingdom on earth.

6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

There are relatively few other sayings which reflect an eschatological meaning or understanding. The parables will be examined in the next study.

Mark 10:29-30 par.

There are several interesting variations in this Synoptic tradition, located at the conclusion of the episode with the “Rich Young Ruler” (10:17-22ff par). The saying clearly refers to reward for those who have followed Jesus faithfully, in an eschatological context (“the coming Age”); but there is some confusion as to the exact nature of the reward, and the extent to which it is earthly, heavenly or ‘spiritual’:

“…there is no one wh(o has) left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or offspring or fields for my sake, and for the sake of the good message, (that,) if (so,) he should not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and offspring and land—with pers(ecution)s, and in the coming Age, (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

Mark’s version emphasizes the suffering of the disciple in the present age (“…with persecutions”). Luke’s version (18:29-30), on the other hand, seems to give a more positive balance of heavenly/eternal and earthly reward:

“…there is no one wh(o has) left house {etc….} for the sake of the kingdom of God, who should not (indeed) receive many (more) in this time, and, in the coming Age, (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

It is by no means clear what disciples will receive (from God, some MSS use the verb a)polamba/nw, “receive from“) in the present time. Perhaps it refers to special blessing which attends their fellowship with Jesus, along the lines of Lk 10:23-24 par; Mk 4:11 par, etc. In either case, the reward in “this time” (the present) is clearly distinguished from the eternal reward in “the coming Age”.

Matthew’s version (19:29) removes the specific mention of reward in the present time:

“And every one wh(o has) left houses {etc….} for the sake of my name, will receive a hundredfold and will receive the lot of [i.e. inherit] (the) Life of the Age [i.e. eternal life].”

However, this has been prefaced by the saying indicating a specific reward for the twelve disciples/apostles (v. 28, discussed above). The emphasis on “eternal life” in v. 29 increases the likelihood that the reward in v. 28 is also heavenly/eternal (and not related to a Messianic kingdom on earth).

Mark 12:18-27 par

This Synoptic tradition records a discussion between Jesus and certain Sadducees on a point related to the resurrection, meant to test him (v. 18). Jesus dismisses the elaborate scenario they set forth (vv. 19-23), making the important point (v. 25) that, upon the resurrection, the righteous will live/exist like the heavenly beings (Messengers/’Angels’). They will not marry, nor, one may assume, be engaged in other sorts of physical pursuits as would take place during their life on earth. According to traditional (Jewish) eschatology, the resurrection would occur at the end-time, prior to (or after) the Judgment. Originally, resurrection was thought to be limited to the righteous, but, eventually, the idea developed that all human beings—righteous and wicked both—would be raised and enter into the Judgment. This idea is expressed by Jesus elsewhere, in John 5:21-29.

Matthew 9:37-38 / Luke 10:2

Here the saying more properly relates to the actual ministry of Jesus and his disciples—preaching the good news, etc. However, the thrust of this preaching had to do with the coming of the Kingdom, and there is almost certainly an eschatological allusion implicit in the harvest imagery used here. This is traditional, going back to the Old Testament Prophets (e.g. Joel 3:1-13; Isa 27:11-12). It was used as a clear eschatological image by John the Baptist (Matt 3:12 par), and also by Jesus in his parables (Mk 4:29; Matt 13:30, 39).

Matthew 11:12 / Luke 16:16

In this saying, which is formulated quite differently in Matthew and Luke, one detects something of a distinctive eschatological orientation. Luke has it in a detached context; it reads:

“The Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] (were) until Yohanan; from then (on) the kingdom of God is (announc)ed as good news, and every (one) forces (his way) into it.” (16:16)

In Matthew, the sense is quite different, the eschatological context—the proclamation of the impending coming of the kingdom of God, following John the Baptist’s ministry—is coupled with the motif of suffering and persecution, as in the Synoptic Mk 9:11-13 par. Note the Matthean formulation:

“And from the days of Yohanan the Dunker until now, the kingdom of the Heavens is treated with force, and forceful [i.e. violent] (person)s grab (hold of) it.” (11:12)

Luke 12:49-51ff par

These sayings on discipleship (cp. Matt 10:34-37) also have an eschatological tone. This can be seen by the parallels with John the Baptist’s declaration (Luke 3:16-17 par), as well as the themes of persecution and social division in other teaching by Jesus in an eschatological context (Mk 13:9-13 par; Matt 10:16-23; Lk 12:4-12). The verses which follow (vv. 54-56 par) also serve as a kind of eschatological warning.

Matthew 23:37-39 / Luke 13:34-35

Matthew’s version of this foreboding declaration comes at the climax of the great Woes-section in chap. 23, especially vv. 29-36 which prophesy the coming judgment upon Jerusalem. In the Eschatological Discourse (to be discussed), the fate of Jerusalem is tied closely to the coming Judgment and end of the current Age.

Luke 19:41-44; 23:28-31

These sayings follow the same theme as 13:34-35; they will be discussed in more detail in the study of Luke’s version of the “Eschatological Discourse”.

Several other sayings should be mentioned:

    • Luke 10:18—The declaration “I observed the Satan falling as a (lighting) flash out of heaven” remains somewhat mysterious. It may well have eschatological significance—i.e., Satan’s control over the earth in the current Age has come to an end.
    • Luke 12:2-3—There would seem to be an eschatological aspect to the warning in this saying; compare the different emphasis (and wording) in the Matthean parallel, 10:26-27.
    • Matthew 28:20—In the closing words of the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples “I am with you all the days, until the completion (all) together of the Age”, i.e. the end of the current Age. The reference to the disciples’ mission into “all the nations” (v. 19), along with the expression “all the days”, seems to modify the sense of imminence which pervades much of the eschatology in the Gospels. This will be discussed in a separate article.

Finally, though it does not actually count as a saying of Jesus, we should note the request by the “good thief” on the cross in Luke’s version of the Passion narrative (Luke 23:42). It involves a significant textual variant:

“Remember me, when you should come into [ei)$] your kingdom.”
This is the reading of Ë75 B L al
“Remember me, when you should come in [e)n] your kingdom.”
The reading of a A C2 R W Y 0124 0135 f1,13, etc

The first follows the basic early Christian proclamation that Jesus received his kingdom/kingship from God after his death and resurrection (exaltation to the “right hand” of the Father). The second reading could be understood in the sense of Jesus’ return at the end-time Judgment—coming in/with the Kingdom. The reading of Codex Bezae (D) would seem to confirm this meaning: “…in the day of your coming”. The first reading (of Ë75, B, etc) better reflects Jesus’ response, promising that the “good thief” will be with him in heaven (Paradise, i.e. the ‘garden of God’).

“…the things about the Kingdom of God”

“…through forty days being seen by them and speaking of the things about the Kingdom of God.”
(Acts 1:3)

Many of the notes and articles on the New Testament posted here reference the Kingdom of God—especially as the expression occurs in the sayings, parables, and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. I thought it worth devoting a separate article to look at this idea of the Kingdom of God (h( basileia/ tou= qeou=). The subject is so vast, however, that even this can only serve as an introductory study. It will be structured as follows:

    1. A survey of New Testament references, particularly the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.
    2. A brief examination of eschatological aspects of the concept, especially related to the “restoration of Israel” (Acts 1:6)
    3. A glance at the unique tension which appears to exist between present and future aspects of the Kingdom concept in the New Testament

1. A Survey of New Testament References

The list which follows here is more or less exhaustive, though one could no doubt find additional passages which use other relevant royal language or imagery, or where the Kingdom may be implied. Also, I have made no attempt to address any significant textual variants or text-critical issues in these passages.

References in the Synoptic Gospels:

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Gospel of John:

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Book of Acts:

  • Specific references to the Kingdom (of God):
    • Acts 1:3 – Reference to Jesus speaking about the Kingdom of God following his resurrection
    • Acts 8:12 – Reference to preaching the “good news about the Kingdom of God” (see above)
    • Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31 —References to Paul proclaiming, testifying ,etc. to the Kingdom (of God)
    • Acts 14:22—”enter the Kingdom of God” (in description of Paul speaking to disciples in Antioch)
  • “Lord, in this time will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
  • Acts 17:7: reference to Jesus as “another king” besides Caesar
  • References to Christ (or the Son of Man) at the right hand of God (see also above): Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the Pauline Epistles (both undisputed and disputed):

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the remaining Epistles (Hebrews–Jude):

References to the Kingdom (Christ as King, etc.) in the book of Revelation:

Even a brief examination of the passages referenced above indicate that the Kingdom (of God) is a relatively wide-ranging concept. I would isolate four basic senses of the term in the New Testament:

  1. The eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
  2. An eschatological Kingdom (on earth), which can be understood in two different aspects:
    a. An absolute sense: New heavens and new earth (preceded by judgment on the World)
    b. A contingent sense: Messianic kingdom (preceded by judgment of the Nations)
  3. The presence of Christ—His life, work and teaching, death and resurrection
  4. The presence of God/Christ (through the Spirit) in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers

The fundamental idea informing the phrase “Kingdom of God” is that of the rule of God—that is, His governing power and authority—coming to be present, or made manifest, on earth, in a manner beyond what one sees in the natural order of things.

If one examines the references from the New Testament Epistles (see above), senses #1 and 4 appear to dominate, with the following points of emphasis:

    • The Kingdom is of God and of Christ—He rules in Heaven at the right hand of God (from whence he will come to judge the world)
    • The theme of believers inheriting/entering the Kingdom, also found in Jesus’ teachings (see above), is related to life in Christ through the prevailing power of the Spirit and the promise of salvation from the Judgment to come

References in Acts generally follow those in the Synoptic Gospels (especially in Luke), so it is necessary to examine these—the vast majority of which are found in recorded sayings and parables of Jesus. With regard to these sayings and parables, an introductory notice is required:

Traditional-conservative commentators generally regard the sayings/parables as accurately reflecting Jesus’ words (translated into Greek and with minimal modification). Critical scholars, on the other hand, tend to view the matter differently: many of the sayings, to greater or lesser extent, are effectively products of the early church, and to judge them several key “criteria of authenticity” have been developed. I neither reject nor disregard these critical analyses; however, for the purposes of this study, I assume that the sayings in the Synoptic Gospels are authentic in substance—if not always the ipsissima verba, then at least the ipsissima vox.

One can examine all of sayings and parables, according to the detailed list above. In addition, I will here group them into several categories:

  • Sayings where the subject refers to those who hear Jesus’ words—particularly the disciples (lit. “learners”) and others who would follow him.
  • Sayings where the subject primarily (or effectively) refers to God’s action (or Christ as God’s representative)
  • Sayings which reflect the mysterious nature or “secret” of the Kingdom
a. Sayings centered on the disciples, etc.—in relation to the Kingdom

This comprises the bulk of references, including those which speak of seeking, receiving, inheriting or entering the Kingdom, as well as passages related to the status of those in the Kingdom, those who act/suffer for the sake of the Kingdom, and so forth. In particular, one should note the number of sayings centered on:

  • Entering the Kingdom:
    Matt. 5:20 – justice/righteousness must surpass that of scribes/Pharisees
    Matt. 7:21 – only those who do the will of the Father in Heaven
    Matt. 8:11 – Gentiles who trust (in Christ, implied), cf. par. Luke 13:28-29
    Matt. 18:3 – one must come to be as children (cf. Mark 10:15)
    Mark 9:47 par. – avoid/eliminate sin (cut off the offending eye, etc.)
    Mark 10:23-25 par. – difficulty of entering (especially for those with earthly wealth/riches)
    Matt. 21:31 – ‘sinners’ will enter ahead of key religious leaders (chief priest and elders, in context)
  • Receiving the Kingdom:
    Mark 4:11 par. – disciples have been given (de/dotai perfect passive) the secret of the Kingdom
    Mark 10:15 par. – must receive/accept the Kingdom as a little child (or will not enter)
    Matt. 21:43 – Kingdom will be taken away from rebellious/violent (parable of the Tenants) and given to a(nother) people
    Also:
    Matt. 16:19 – “keys of the Kingdom (of Heaven)” given (“I will give”) to the disciples (Peter, following his confession of belief)
    Luke 12:32 – God as subject to give the Kingdom to disciples (context of seeking the Kingdom, v. 31); cf. also Luke 22:29-30
  • Inheriting the Kingdom:
    Matt. 25:34 – those who act with love and mercy to the hungry, sick, stranger, etc.
    Matt. 5:3, 10 – the ‘poor in spirit’ and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (inheritance implied: “theirs is the Kingdom…”); these two verses encompass all the Beatitudes
    Matt. 13:38ff – inheritance implied (“children of the Kingdom”), righteousness indicated (v. 43); cf. also Matt. 8:11-12
    See also Mark 10:14 par. – disciples must be as little children: “for the Kingdom of God is of such [as this]

Note the strong ethical dimension (righteousness/justice) to many of these passages; but also an emphasis on trust (“faith”) in Christ [implied], along with humility, mercy, etc. These very themes, along with the language of entering/inheriting the Kingdom would become an important part of early Christian parenesis and ethical instruction.

b. Sayings centered principally on God’s action, in relation to the Kingdom

Here I would include most of the general references to Jesus and the disciples preaching/proclaiming the Kingdom, as related to the basic message that the Kingdom is coming or has “come near”.

  • The Kingdom “has come near”: Mark 1:15 par.; Luke 10:9, 11 par.; Luke 21:31; cf. also Mark 3:2.
    In all of these passages the Kingdom is the subject, and the verb h&ggiken (perfect active of e)ggi/zw “come near, approach”), except for Luke 21:31 which uses the related adverb e)ggu/$ (“near”). Other passages imply an imminent coming of the Kingdom—e.g., Mark 9:1 par. (perfect participle of e)rxomai); Luke 19:11.
  • The Kingdom coming:
    • Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2 – Lord’s Prayer: “let your Kingdom come (e)lqe/to, aorist imperative)”
    • Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20 – Jesus’ miracles: “if in/by the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then (truly) the Kingdom of God has come suddenly upon you”. The verb translated “has come” is e&fqasen (aorist). Luke reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
    • Luke 17:20-21 – Pharisees’ question “when comes (e&rxetai) the Kingdom of God?” with Jesus’ reply: “the Kingdom of God comes not with parath/rhsi$ [lit. ‘watching alongside’, i.e. careful/attentive watching]”
    • Luke 22:18 – Last Supper: “now I will not drink from th(at which) comes-to-be [i.e. fruit] from the vine until the (time in) which the Kingdom of God should come (e&lqh, aorist subjunctive)”
    • For other Gospel references related to a coming/expected Kingdom, see Mark 11:10 par.; 15:43 par.; Luke 2:25, 38, as well as Jesus’ eschatological sayings and parables.
  • God giving the Kingdom (to believers/disciples):
    • Mark 4:11 par. – ” to you has been given (de/dotai, perfect passive) the secret of the Kingdom of God”
    • Luke 12:32 – “your Father thought it good to give (dou=nai, aorist infinitive) you the Kingdom”
    • Matt. 21:43 – “the Kingdom of God shall be carried (away) from you [the ‘wicked tenants’] and shall be given (doqh/setai, future passive) to a nation producing its fruits”
    • Luke 22:29f – “and I assign [lit. set through; present middle] to you, even as my Father has assigned [aorist middle] to me, a Kingdom…”
    • See also Luke 19:12, 15; Matt. 16:19; and Mark 10:15 par.

The range of meanings here in these passages is complex and fascinating, as are the tenses of the verbs involved:

    1. References to the Kingdom “coming near” typically use the same perfect form: h&ggiken (“has come near”)
    2. Other references to the Kingdom “coming” (e)rxomai, but also other verbs) tend to be in the aorist.
    3. References to God “giving” the Kingdom cover past (perfect/aorist), present and future.
c. Sayings centered on the (mysterious) nature of the Kingdom

These include many (or most) of the Parables: especially the Markan (4:26-32 & par.) and first Matthean (13:24-52, one par. in Luke) groups, as well as the triple-attested parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9, 14-20 & par.). Here images from daily life are used to represent and symbolize the mysterious and ineffable working of the power and presence of God (i.e. the Kingdom). Embedded in many of these one also finds the image of people searching or working in response to the Kingdom’s presence (symbolized by seed, pearl, hidden treasure, etc); one also finds at times an eschatological reference (cf. the parable of the Net, Matt. 13:47-50, etc.). The later Matthean parables (18:23-25; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; 25:1-30) are longer narratives, depicting the actions of disciples (or would-be disciples) in relation to the (coming) Kingdom in greater detail. The parables of the Talents/Minas (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27), and the parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12 par.) all have a clear eschatological context.

A number of sayings also touch on the mysterious nature of the Kingdom, which may also be reflected in the idea of it’s coming suddenly or unexpectedly (cf. Matt. 12:28 par.). As indicated above, Jesus also refers at least once to the “secret[s] of the Kingdom of God” which have been given to believers (Mark 4:11; Matt. 13:11; Luke 8:10).

Perhaps most difficult of all is Luke 17:20-21, which may well combine two originally separate sayings:

20 And being inquired upon by the Pharisees (as to) ‘when comes the Kingdom of God?’ he answered them and said: “The Kingdom of God comes not with close watching, 21 nor shall they utter ‘See here! or (see) there!’ For see—the Kingdom of God is in(side) of you (pl.).”

Pages could be—and have been—written on these verses; as I have discussed them in some detail elsewhere, for the moment I won’t deal with them further here.

Perhaps the thorniest critical question related to the sayings of Jesus is the extent to which he speaks of an eschatological (earthly) Kingdom of God—that is, of a restored Davidic (Messianic) kingdom, along the lines of that hoped for by many of his contemporaries. It is to the eschatological aspect (or aspects) of the Kingdom I will turn next.