Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:13)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the early Christian and Gospel Tradition, the theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God is fundamentally eschatological in orientation. This has already been examined in a number of the prior studies. However, the eschatological aspect of the theme is particularly prominent in the Gospel of Matthew. This applies, in some degree, to the Kingdom-references in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. the earlier study), beginning with the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). In this regard, there is a significant eschatological thrust to the Lord’s Prayer (and the Kingdom-petition) that is often overlooked by modern readers and students. We have already explored the Kingdom-petition in last week’s study (and that of the prior week); but the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, particularly in the Matthean version, is perhaps best illustrated by an examination of the final petition(s) in verse 13. In preparation for our study of the remaining Kingdom-references in Matthew, I think it will be worth a brief analysis of the eschatological worldview expressed here in verse 13.

Matthew 6:13a

In the final petition(s) of the Lord’s Prayer (v. 13), the focus shifts from sin and evil at the social (and religious) level (v. 12), to encompass a wider, cosmic dimension. The petition found in all three versions of the Prayer, and which occurs in the same Greek form in each, is:

kai\ mh\ ei)sene/gkh|$ h(ma=$ ei)$ peirasmo/n
kai m¢ eisenengk¢s h¢mas eis peirasmon
“and (we ask that) you should not bring us into testing”

The verb used is ei)sfe/rw (or, more properly, ei)sene/gkw as an irregular verb form), meaning “carry into, bring into”. It is relatively rare in the New Testament (just 7 other occurrences), sometimes being used in the sense of bringing someone forcefully into a room, or into custody, etc (Lk 5:18-19; 12:11). The noun peirasmo/$, often translated “temptation”, properly means “test(ing)” (cf. the related verb peira/zw). The idea of believers being “tested” sometimes has the positive connotation of coming through the test as a proof of their character, their faith and trust, etc (James 1:12; 1 Pet 4:12-13; Rev 2:10); however, more commonly, the negative sense of temptation to sin and the danger of falling away from the faith is in view. Almost certainly, the latter aspect is intended primarily here in the Prayer. And, if the negative sense is intended, then it raises the problematic theological question of how (or why) God would bring someone into “temptation”. I have discussed the matter briefly in an earlier note on the Prayer.

One should keep in mind the conjunction kai/ which begins this petition, connecting it with the two prior. The Lukan sequence of three petitions (instead of the Matthean four) gives us a more concise set, which relate to different aspects of the life and existence of human beings (believers, in particular):

    • “may you give to us our bread…”
    • “may you release for us our sins…”
    • “may you not bring us into testing”

I would suggest that, in the Prayer itself, the word peirasmo/$ refers, not so much to temptation (to sin), as it does to suffering and distress. Consider the following thematic outline of the petitions in this regard:

    • Daily Life—Our daily needs for physical life and health, etc
    • Religion—Our moral and religious obligations, emphasizing the forgiveness of sin and guilt we hold before God
    • Suffering—The physical and spiritual distress we experience as disciples of Jesus (believers) in the world

This emphasis on peirasmo/$ as suffering and distress helps to explain, I think, the similarity between this petition in the Prayer, and the words of Jesus in the garden at the time of his Passion. Two traditions, in particular, should be noted:

    • First, the prayer Jesus makes to the Father:
      “Father…may you carry along [pare/negke] this drinking-cup from me…” (Mk 14:36 par, cf. verses 33-35 for an expression of his distress)

The verb parafe/rw (“carry along”) has a similar sense as ei)sfe/rw (“carry/bring into”), expressing the same idea of suffering, from two perspectives: (i) a time of suffering coming to Jesus (or the disciple), and (ii) the disciple coming into a time of suffering; in both instances God is the one who brings this about. And, just as Jesus prays that this time of suffering might not come to him (however necessary it might be), so it is right and proper that his disciples (believers) follow his example and pray that they might not come into the time of suffering.

    • Second, the instruction Jesus gives to his disciples:
      “You must keep awake and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], (so) that you might not come into testing” (Mk 14:38 par, cf. verses 34, 37)

The phrase “…might not come into testing” (mh\ e&lqete ei)$ peirasmo/n) is very close in form to that in the Prayer. The context suggests that peirasmo/$ here refers not to the temptation to sin per se, but, rather, that the disciples might find protection from the time of darkness and distress coming upon the world (v. 41; Lk 22:53). There is a strong eschatological aspect to this idea (cf. Mark 13:4-23 par) which is often lost for Christians reading the Gospels today. The (end-time) distress which is about to come upon Jesus’ followers includes the very real danger that people will be deceived and led astray, abandoning their faith as suffering and persecution intensifies (cp. Jesus’ prediction in Mk 14:27 par with 13:9-13, 22 par). Only the disciple who endures and remains true to the end will be saved (v. 13 par).

The line of interpretation given above more or less avoids the problematic notion, often discussed, that God might bring believers into temptation (i.e. to sin), quite contrary to other teaching we find in the New Testament (see the famous statement in James 1:13-14ff). However, if one decides that the petition does, in fact, refer to temptation (to sin) in the customary sense, it remains necessary to explain what this might mean in the context of the Prayer.
Temptation involves a legitimate testing by God of His people (for the Old Testament background of this, cf. Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8; Judg 2:22, etc); as a result, some will fail and fall away, but the true disciples, the faithful remnant, will pass the test. This petition, like others in the Prayer, refers not so much to the temptation of the individual believer as it does to the Community as a whole. There is a natural wish that the Community not have to experience the reality of temptation and sin with the effects it has on the communal identity of Christians. In other words, even if an individual is not immediately affected, sin brings suffering and distress to the Community.

For other possible ways of addressing the question, see my extended discussion (in an earlier, expanded version of this note).  

Matthew 6:13b

The final petition in the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (followed by the Didache) reads:

a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou/
alla rhusai h¢mas apo tou pon¢rou
“but may you rescue us from the evil”

This line is absent from the Lukan version of the Prayer, according to a diverse range of witness, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 a*2 B L f1 700 pc vg, and segments of the Syriac and Coptic tradition). As with the other parts of the Prayer where a shorter Lukan version is attested, the longer form is almost certainly secondary, representing a scribal harmonization (to Matthew), of the sort we see frequently in the manuscript tradition. Here the text-critical axiom lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferable”) holds good.

From the standpoint of the Matthean structure of the Prayer, it is better to consider this line as part of the previous petition (see above). This is indicated by the contrastive/adversative particle a)lla/ (“but, rather”), establishing a contrast with the previous request, which had been negative (i.e., what God should not do); here is the corresponding positive request:

    • “May you not bring us into testing
      • but (rather) may you (instead) rescue us from the evil”

The main interpretive difficulty involves the precise meaning of the word ponhro/$ (“evil”). There are three questions which must be addressed:

    1. Whether the article here is masculine or neuter
    2. The force of the definite article, and
    3. The nature of the “evil” referred to in the context of the Prayer

First, it is worth noting that the adjective ponhro/$ is much more frequent in Matthew than in the other Gospels. Mark has it (twice) in just one tradition (7:22-23), while it occurs just three times in John (3:19; 7:7; 17:5). It is a bit more common in Luke (12 times), with another 8 occurrences in Acts. By comparison it appears 25 times in Matthew, including 8 in the Sermon on the Mount; 5 of the 12 Lukan occurrences are in the parallel “Sermon on the Plain”. Overall, the adjective appears to be distinctive of the sayings of Jesus in the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

1. The word with definite article is a substantive adjective (i.e. functioning as a noun), but the particular genitive form tou= ponhrou= is ambiguous in terms of gender: it can either be masculine or neuter. It is helpful to consider first the other 7 occurrences of the adjective in the Sermon on the Mount. It modifies masculine nouns in 5:45; 6:23; 7:11, 17-18— “man” (a&nqrwpo$ [implied]), “eye” (o)fqalmo/$), and “fruit” (karpo/$). In all these instances the adjective is used to describe the character of human beings, their attitude and actions. The same is probably the case in 5:39, where the substantive use (with the definite article) most likely refers to the person doing evil, rather than the evil itself. In 5:37 the substantive genitive tou= ponhrou= has the same ambiguity we see in here in the Prayer. The only certain occurrence of the neuter is in 5:11, where it refers to evil that is spoken against Jesus’ disciples. This neuter usage is similar to the plural substantive in Mark 7:23 (“these evil [thing]s”). Thus, it would appear that it is more common in the Sermon to use the adjective as characteristic of a person, rather than a reference to evil itself.

2. An interesting question is whether the definite article simply reflects a substantive use of the adjective (as a noun) generally, or whether it refers to evil in a specific sense. This us discussed further under point #3 below. However, it is worth keeping in mind the parallel with the noun peirasmo/$ (“testing”); the rhythm and structure of the petition is aided by the inclusion of the definite article—peirasmo/$ / o( ponhro/$—creating two nouns at the center of the contrast: “into testing” vs. “(away) from the evil”. But perhaps true definiteness is intended here as well, and meant to be emphasized, i.e. “the evil”. If so, then there are several possible meanings:

    • The evil which we experience or which comes upon us, specifically as sin, in the course of our life on earth
    • The (power of) evil which dominates the current Age, or, in an eschatological sense, is coming upon the world
    • The Evil One—the personification of evil, or the person most characterized by evil and responsible for it, i.e. the figure known as the Satan (/f*c*[h^]), dia/bolo$ (‘Devil’), or Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:15 and the Qumran texts).

If we look at other occurrences in Matthew where the adjective is used with a definite article, we see that it is used two ways: (1) for specific person(s) who are evil, and (2) for the specific evil things a person says and does. There are actually two sections where these references occur: the teaching in 12:33-37 (cp. 7:15-20 and Mk 7:21-23), and the Kingdom parables in chapter 13. An examination of these is instructive.

    • Matt 12:35 presents a contrast between the person who is good and the one who is evil:
      “The good man casts out good (thing)s out of the good treasure (of his heart), and the evil man [o( ponhro/$ a&nqrwpo$] casts out evil (thing)s [ponhra/] out of the evil treasure [e)k tou= ponhrou= qhsaurou=] (of his heart).”

This wording echoes that of 5:37 in the Sermon and may provide the context for the more ambiguous expression there:

“And (so) your account must be ‘Yes, yes’ (and) ‘no, no’, and the thing over (beyond) these (words) is [i.e. comes] out of the evil [e)k tou= ponhrou=].”

It is often assumed that “the evil” that brings about the oath here is “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Devil; however, the parallel in 12:35 suggests that it may actually refer to the evil (treasure) that is in a person’s heart.

    • By contrast, twice in chapter 13, in Jesus’ explanation of both the parable of the Sower and of the Weeds (vv. 19, 38), the expression o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) almost certainly does refer to “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan. The evil human beings (“the evil [one]s”) who are separated from the good at the Last Judgment (v. 49) reflect the character of the Evil One himself, even as Jesus’ faithful disciples reflect the character of God Himself (cf. 5:48, etc).

3. Now let us consider further the use of o( ponhro/$ (or to\ ponhro/n) in the context of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. As documented above, the adjective serves the dualistic contrast present in Jesus’ teaching—that is, as a way of characterizing persons who do not follow his teaching, and who act and think in a way that does not reflect God the Father in Heaven. This continues the dualism we noted in the opening petitions which emphasize God the Father as the One in the heavens. Jesus’ true disciples are those who, by following his teaching and example, actually do the will of God here on earth, even as it is done in heaven.

The opposite of God’s will on earth is the presence and manifestation of wickedness and evil, which characterizes much (if not the majority) of humankind (cf. 7:11). Most people act and think in an earthly manner, seeking after earthly (and not heavenly) things. This is a fundamental principle that runs through the Sermon and establishes the contrast for how Jesus disciples are supposed to conduct themselves in their daily life (on earth). At the same time, there is an eschatological dimension, to both the Sermon and the Prayer, which emphasizes the coming Judgment and also the suffering and persecution Jesus’ followers will face on earth from the wicked and the forces of evil.

The lines of interpretation for v. 13 encompass three basic semantic domains for the word ponhro/$ in the context of the Prayer (and the Sermon):

    • The evil we (i.e. Jesus’ disciples) experience generally, in various ways, during our daily life; this includes sin, misfortune, mistreatment, and persecution (on account of our faith).
    • Specifically the sin and wickedness to which we are tempted by “the Evil One”.
    • The evil which dominates the current Age, manifest especially in the coming suffering and distress (for Jesus’ disciples) at the end-time.

Arguments can be made for all three spheres of meaning:

    • The use of ponhro/$ in the Sermon favors the first option, as it tends to characterize the evil of humankind generally, and the wicked/evil things they do.
    • The common sense of peirasmo/$ as “temptation” (i.e. to sin) would favor the second option, along with the translation of o( ponhro/$ here as “the Evil (One)”, supported by 13:19, 38, and (possibly) 5:37 in the Sermon.
    • As noted above, I would argue that peirasmo/$ here is best understood in terms of the (eschatological) suffering and distress which Jesus’ disciples will (or may) have to endure. The Synoptic parallels with Jesus’ words in the garden during his Passion strongly point in this direction, as do the other eschatological aspects of the Prayer (discussed previously).

Indeed, the eschatological aspect makes better sense of the idea of God bringing believers “into testing”, especially in light of the parallels with Jesus’ words in Mk 14:36, 38 par (see above). It also provides a better context for the idea of God rescuing believers and very much corresponds with the New Testament (esp. Pauline) use of the verb r(u/omai (cf. below). Its climactic position in the Prayer requires something which matches the Kingdom of God the Father, etc, in the opening petitions.

This line of interpretation is, I believe, clinched by an examination of the verb r(u/omai used in the phrase. While often translated “deliver”, it more properly means “protect”, sometimes in the more active (and dramatic) sense of rescuing one from harm or danger. Unfortunately, it hardly occurs at all in the Gospels; indeed, it is only found here in the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The only other Gospel occurrences are in Luke 1:74 (the Hymn of Zechariah) and in Matthew 27:43. That latter reference, being from the Gospel of Matthew (and the only other occurrence in Matthew), is significant and must be given serious consideration. It is part of the taunts directed at Jesus (by the priests and elders, etc) while he is on the cross:

“He trusted upon God, (so) let Him rescue [r(usa/sqw] him now if He wishes—for he said that ‘I am (the) Son of God’!”

The context clearly is the same as that of Jesus’ Passion prayer in the garden (Mk 14:36ff par, see above), and the idea is that God might rescue Jesus from his moment of suffering (and death). The reference in Luke 1:74 touches upon the more concrete idea of being rescued from the control of one’s enemies. While this differs from the immediate situation in Matthew, it fits the language and imagery used by Paul in his letters, where the majority of occurrences of the verb are to be found—12 instances, including several in letters sometimes considered pseudonymous by critical commentators (Colossians, 2 Timothy). The verb is used two primary ways in the Pauline letters:

    1. References to Paul (and his fellow missionaries) being rescued (by God) from his enemies and opponents, persecution, dangers and perils on the way, etc—Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10 [3 times]; 2 Thess 3:2; also 2 Tim 3:11; 4:17f.
    2. In a soteriological sense—i.e. of God rescuing believers from the power of evil that is at work in the world; this is expressed several ways, with different points of emphasis:
      (a) Rom 7:24: From the power of sin that currently dominates humankind, residing in the flesh—”who will rescue [r(u/setai] me out of this body of death?”
      (b) Rom 11:26: From the wickedness and ungodliness in the world, which currently envelops Israelites along with the rest of humanity (citation of Isa 59:20f): “the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] will arrive out of Zion…”
      (c) 1 Thess 1:10: From the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon the world (in its wickedness): “…Yeshua, the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] us out of [i.e. from] the coming anger (of God)”.

The last two references have a strong eschatological and Messianic emphasis, shared by both early Christians and many Jews of the period: that the Anointed One (Messiah, according to several figure-types) will appear at the time of Judgment to rescue the faithful of God’s people from both the wickedness in the world and God’s Judgment upon it (see also 2 Pet 2:7, 9). Paul had a very unique way of expressing this idea, which he develops in Galatians and (more fully) in Romans (cf. especially chapters 5-8). Through the person and work of Jesus, God has rescued humankind (believers) from the power of sin (and evil) which currently dominates the world. Two additional passages, reflecting this outlook, are especially relevant to the wording in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. In Col 1:13, Paul refers to God the Father as the One

“who rescued [e)rru/sato] us out of the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness and set us over into the Kingdom of his (be)loved Son”

The identification of evil with “darkness”, as a kind of kingdom in opposition to the Kingdom of God, matches the language and thought of both the Lord’s Prayer and the garden scene of Jesus’ Passion (see above). In the Lukan parallel of the garden scene, Jesus’ declares the situation surrounding his Passion (and impending death) in exactly these terms: “…this is your hour and the authority of darkness” (Lk 22:53). According to the earliest Christian thought, the death and ultimate departure of Jesus ushers in an (eschatological) period of suffering and distress, which precedes the coming Judgment. It will be a time of significant suffering and persecution for Jesus’ followers (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

2. In 2 Tim 4:17-18, the idea of Paul (and other missionaries) being rescued from wicked people and opponents (v. 17, and cf. above) is broadened to include the end-time deliverance in general, expressed in v. 18 as follows:

“The Lord will rescue [r(u/setai] me from every evil work and will save [i.e. preserve] me into His Kingdom upon [i.e. above] (the) heaven(s).”

The italicized words are very close to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer:

    • “(may you) rescue us from the evil [a)po\ tou= ponhrou=]”
    • “(he will) rescue me from every evil work [a)po\ panto\$ e&rgou ponhrou=]”

There is one other passage in the New Testament which may shed some light on Matt 6:13—namely, John 17:15, where we find another prayer by Jesus to God the Father. This time it is a petition to the Father on behalf of Jesus’ disciples; it is also set prior to Jesus’ Passion (on this context, see above). He prays for his disciples as follows:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you should guard them out of [i.e. from] the evil [tou= ponhrou=].”

The genitive substantive (tou= ponhrou=) is the same as we have in the Lord’s Prayer; here, too, it is often translated “the Evil (One)”, but this may be debated. More appropriate in context would be “the evil (that is in the world)”, since the contrast is with “the world” or “world-order” (ko/smo$). Believers are not to be taken out of the world itself, but protected from the evil that is in it. On the parallel in 1 Jn 5:18-19, see my recent notes on the passage.

Similarly, “the evil” emphasized in the final petition of the Prayer refers primarily to the evil that dominates the current Age, the experience of which is to intensify as the end-time Judgment comes near. This idea of evil certainly includes the figure of the Satan/Devil/Belial (i.e., “the Evil one”), as the world-ruler who exercises dominion over the current wicked Age. This worldview, and its eschatological/Messianic dimension, is expressed in dozens of texts from Qumran (where the Prince/Spirit of Darkness is called “Belial”), and was more or less shared by Christians in the first century A.D. The prayer for protection/rescue from the power of evil in the world unquestionably means protection from the Evil One who is the effective world-ruler of the current Age of darkness. Much of this worldview, admittedly, is lost for Christians today; this does not change the fact that it governed much Jewish and early Christian thought at the time, and needs to be recognized in any serious study of the New Testament today. How it relates to current/modern views of eschatology is a separate issue, but one which also is vital as a point of discussion. I have examined the entire subject in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10b)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we examined the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13), in comparison with the Lukan. In particular, along with the first two petitions of the prayer (vv. 9b-10a), Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will come to be [done]”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will come to be”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

The first petition (v. 9b) was examined in the previous study. Here, we must consider the third petition (v. 10b):

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

In the previous study, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)— “May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass (“comes to be”) on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father. Cf. further on 7:21, discussed below.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon. God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., His word or instruction (Torah) which reveals His intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with His own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. Particularly, it expounds the meaning of the Kingdom-petition in v. 10a. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom of God is specifically associated with the “rightness” (or righteousness), dikaiosu/nh, of God. As previously discussed, a reference to the Kingdom of God frames the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). The one who belongs to the Kingdom, and who is able to enter (and inherit) the Kingdom, will be “poor” in their own spirit, devoting themselves, not to self-centered or worldly aims and desires, but to the will of God. For this same reason, those who are part of God’s Kingdom will often be persecuted (lit. pursued, with hostile intent) “on account of what is right” (e%neken dikaiosu/nh$)—that is, because of their desire for God’s righteousness.

At the beginning of the Sermon proper (5:17-20), Jesus associates “what is right” (right[eous]ness, dikaiosu/nh) with the precepts and regulations, etc, of the Torah. The followers of Jesus must exhibit a religious and ethical-moral “rightness” (upright character and conduct) which at least equals that of others who are devoted (religiously) to observing the Torah (vv. 19-20). The Pharisees and “writers” (i.e., scribes, literate persons with [expert] knowledge of the Scriptures) are specifically singled out as examples; even such people, who are not Jesus’ followers, will often exhibit strong religious devotion and upright moral conduct.

Jesus’ followers, however, are called to a right(eous)ness that surpasses the Pharisees’ fidelity to religious and ethical “rightness”. The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon expresses this. For example, in the Antitheses (5:21-48), six areas are addressed relating to the conventional righteousness established from the Torah and religious tradition. In each instance, Jesus requires of his followers that they go a step further. For a discussion on what this entails, see my earlier study on the Antitheses in the series “Jesus and the Law”. Similarly, in 6:1-18, Jesus focuses on three areas of customary religious behavior—acts of mercy (alms), prayer, and fasting—instructing his disciples that their conduct in such matters must focus on the heavenly (viz., the righteousness and will of God in heaven), rather than the earthly (i.e., how things are viewed by other people on earth). This same principle underlies the remainder of the practical instruction in chapter 6, culminating with the command in verse 33:

“You must first seek the kingdom [of God] and its right(eous)ness, and all these (other thing)s will be set toward you (as well).”

Finally, toward the close of the Sermon, Jesus effectively summarizes the teaching regarding the Kingdom, in 7:21 (cf. above):

“Not every(one) saying ‘Lord, Lord’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father th(at is) in the heavens.”

The Kingdom of God is here virtually identified with the will of God, and this confirms the similar close connection between the two in the Lord’s Prayer. The will of God is expressed in the Torah precepts, etc, but also (and more completely) in the teaching of Jesus—such as that preserved in the Sermon. The faithful follower of Jesus fulfills the will of God, and thus demonstrates that he/she belongs to the Kingdom.

This means that there is a strong evangelistic emphasis to the petitions in vv. 9-10. The Kingdom “comes” and God’s will “comes to be” when people throughout the world are following Jesus and his teachings. At the same time, in this regard, there is a vital eschatological component (noted above) that is often overlooked by Christians and students of the Gospels today. The coming of the Kingdom is fundamentally an eschatological event, as is clear from the very beginning of the theme in Matthew (and the Synoptic Tradition). The Kingdom-references in the Sermon, and continuing throughout the Gospel, develop the earlier references in 3:2 and 4:17, 23 par (see the discussion on these).

In the next study, we shall focus on this eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-theme in Matthew. We will start with the Lord’s Prayer (esp. its closing petition[s], v. 13), proceeding then to examine a number of the teachings and references in the following divisions of the Gospel.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matt 6:10, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we explored the literary context of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13, with its Kingdom-petition [v. 10a])—and, specifically, its position within the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7). In particular, the earlier Kingdom-references (including those in the Sermon) were examined. Now we turn to the Lord’s Prayer itself, considering the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Prayer (as it occurs in the Sermon), and how it relates to the Kingdom-theme.

Even the casual student of the New Testament will likely be aware of the differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Prayer—with Luke containing a significantly shorter version. Later copyists tended to harmonize the two versions, reducing (or eliminating) the apparent differences; however, virtually all critical commentators recognize the originality of the shorter version for Luke. Whether the Lukan Prayer more accurately represents an original “Q” version is more difficult to determine. Even if it does reflect the original “Q” material, the Matthean ‘additions’ are best explained as being representative of the version of the Prayer familiar to the Gospel writer’s Community. Doubtless, even in the first century, the Prayer circulated widely, perhaps in several different iterations. The familiar lines “for thine is the kingdom and the power…”, etc, offers evidence (from the early centuries) for a continuing adaptation (and expansion) of the Prayer, for liturgical use.

The only ‘addition’ that is likely to come directly from the hand of the Matthean author is the qualifying phrase “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$) in the initial invocation to God: “Our Father, the (One) in the heavens” (Pa/ter h(mw=n o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). This wording is utterly distinctive of the Matthean Gospel, making it quite likely that it is an adaptation (expanding the simple Pa/ter h(mw=n, cp. Lk 11:2) by the Gospel writer. The possibility must also be considered that the wording could reflect usage by the author’s Community, rather than an independent modification by the author.

The distinctiveness of the expression (as a qualifying phrase for God the Father) was discussed in the previous study. The specific expression “my/your Father the (One) in the heavens” occurs six times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), along with another 7 times in the Gospel (10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10, 14, 19)—13 total (cf. also 23:9). By comparison, it occurs just once in all the other Gospel combined (Mk 11:25). Similarly, the parallel expression “(my/your) heavenly Father” occurs six times in Matthew, including 4 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32; 15:13; 18:35), and nowhere else in the Gospels (but cf. Lk 11:13) or the rest of the New Testament. We must consider also the fact that use of the plural “heavens” (ou)ranoi/) and the expression “in the heavens” (e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$) itself is especially prevalent in the Gospel of Matthew:

    • e)n [toi=$] ou)ranoi=$ occurs 15 times in Matthew, including 7 times in the Sermon on the Mount (5:12, 16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21), but only 6 in the other Gospels (Mk 11:25; 12:25; 13:25; Lk 10:20; 12:33; 18:22).
    • Matthew has “kingdom of the heavens” (basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n) instead of “kingdom of God” (basilei/a tou= qeou=) for a number of Synoptic (and “Q”) sayings of Jesus. The former expression is only found in Matthew (32 times), nowhere else in the New Testament (see also the discussion in the previous study); by contrast, “kingdom of God” is used only 5 times in Matthew, compared with 14 in Mark, 32 in Luke, and 16 times in John and the rest of the New Testament.

It is possible that Matthew preserves a Semitic mode of expression which may have been altered or omitted when presenting Jesus’ sayings in Greek (to a Greek audience), which could explain why it disappeared from the Synoptic tradition as a whole. The Synoptic saying in Mark 11:25 might be seen as confirming this (note the similar in content and style with the instruction by Jesus on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount and the “Q” material):

“And when you stand speaking out toward (God) [i.e. praying], you must release [i.e. forgive] (it) if you hold any(thing) against any(one), (so) that your Father the (One who is) in the heavens [o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$] might also release [i.e. forgive] for you your (moment)s of falling alongside [i.e. sins/trespasses]”

At the very least, this demonstrates that the expression on the lips of Jesus was not the invention of the Gospel writer. In a similar way, direct evidence for the use of the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°) by Jesus has disappeared from the Gospel tradition, except for one place in Mark (14:36) where it happens to be preserved.

The extensive use of the plural (ou)ranoi/) in Matthew may also reflect the corresponding word in Hebrew and Aramaic, which is always in the plural—<y]m^v* š¹mayim; Aram. /y]m^v= (always emphatic aY`m^v= š§mayy¹°, “the heavens”). A reconstruction of the Matthean phrase in Aramaic might be: aY`m^v=B! yD! an`Wba& (°A_»ûn¹° dî bišmayy¹°); cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901. Aramaic aY`m^v= has essentially the same range of meaning as oi( ou)ranoi/ in Greek. For Aramaic references in the Old Testament, where it refers to the abode of God, cf. Dan 2:18-19, 28, 37, 44; 4:31, 34; Ezra 5:11-12; 6:9-10, etc. The close association of God with “heaven” is indicated by the fixed (emphatic) expression “the God of Heaven” (aY`m^v= Hl*a$). It is possible that “…Father the (One) in the heavens” in Matthew reflects such a traditional expression in Aramaic.

Whether one attributes the phrase “our Father the (One) in the heavens” primarily to the Gospel writer or to Jesus himself (in Aramaic), there can be no doubt of the importance it has to the Sermon on the Mount, where it occurs six times (5:16, 45; 6:1, 9; 7:11, 21); the expression “in the heavens” itself occurs again in 5:12, and “the kingdom of the heavens” (par. to “kingdom of God”) also six times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 7:21). In addition, we find the parallel expression “(your) heavenly Father” (o( path\r [u(mw=n] o( ou)ra/nio$) four times in the Sermon (5:48; 6:14, 26, 32), as noted above. Thus there is a definite (and concentrated) emphasis on associating God the Father with “the heavens” in the Matthean Sermon on the Mount, beyond anything we find elsewhere in the Gospel tradition. How is this to be understood?

The main point of emphasis appears to be the idea that the behavior of Jesus’ disciples on earth should follow the example of God the Father in heaven. This is clearly expressed in 5:16 and 45, and the principle is summarized powerfully in the declaration of verse 48, whereby, if Jesus’ teaching is followed:

“You shall then be complete, (even) as your heavenly Father is complete.”

When we turn to the instruction in 6:1-18 (of which the Lord’s Prayer is a part), we find a slightly different emphasis: that of a dualistic contrast between common religious behavior by people (on earth) and the behavior of Jesus followers (focused on God in heaven). The principle is well expressed in the opening verse: “you must not do (things) in front of men to be seen by them, otherwise you hold no wage [i.e. reward] from your Father the (One) in the heavens”. The earthly desire and inclination of human beings is to demonstrate one’s religious devotion publicly, and to receive recognition for it from other people. Such recognition, Jesus says, is the only reward such people will receive—i.e. earthly, not heavenly (vv. 2b, 5b, 16b). Jesus’ followers are instructed to behave in just the opposite way—to act privately (“in the hidden [place]”), being concerned only about being seen by God (who is in heaven), vv 3-4, 6, 17-18

In all of this there is an implicit spiritual dimension at work, even though the Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not specifically mentioned, neither in the Lord’s Prayer (the variant reading in Lk 11:2b has already been discussed), nor in the Sermon on the Mount as a whole. This is in contrast to the Lukan context of the Prayer, where the Spirit it is of the utmost importance (cf. the earlier study). I would, however, maintain that for the Matthean form of the Prayer, in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the idea of the Spirit is embedded in the expression “in the heavens” —i.e. the heavenly dimension defined by God’s own Power and Presence. This will be discussed further.

In the first portion of the Prayer, in the Lukan version (11:2), there are two paired petitions: “May your name be made holy / May your Kingdom come”. These are also present in Matthew’s version (v. 9b-10a), with identical wording (a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou: e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou). However, Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will be done”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will be done”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

Let us consider briefly the first petition. The verb used is a(gia/zw (“make pure/holy”). It can be used specifically in a ritual/ceremonial context, but also in a broader ethical-religious (or spiritual) sense, as with the adjective a(gno/$ (“pure, holy”, cp. a%gio$), from which the verb is derived. It is extremely rare in the Synoptic Gospels, occurring just once (Matt 23:17, 19) outside of the Lord’s Prayer. It is somewhat more common in the Gospel of John; cf. my recent note on 1 John 3:3.

When it comes to the specific idea of holiness, there are two aspects which should be delineated: (1) purity, and (2) setting something apart for special (religious) use. The Greek a%gio-/a(gno– word group emphasizes the former, while Hebrew/Aramaic vdq (qdš) the latter. Moreover, a fundamental religious principle is that: what we treat as holy in terms of religious behavior ultimately is an expression of how we view the nature and character of God. For Israel as the chosen people of God (YHWH), this is defined by the formula in Leviticus 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God, am Holy”

Jesus effectively restates this for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount—if they follow his teaching, then:

“…you shall be complete, as your Father the (One) in the heavens is complete” (Matt 5:48)

Thus, true religion requires that people act and think in a way that honors God and reflects His own Person and Character, including all the things He has done on behalf of humankind and His people (as Creator, Life-giver, Savior/Protector, Judge, etc).

According to the ancient religious mind-set, shared by Jews and Christians in the first century A.D., the “name” of God represented the Person and Nature of God manifest to human beings on earth. For more on this concept of names and naming, cf. the Christmas season series “And you shall call His Name…” The “name” of God the Father is more than simply the name expressed by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh)—it reflects the very Person of God Himself as He relates to His People. And, it is God’s “name” that is to be honored and treated as holy by His People—cf. Exod 20:7, etc. By the time of the Prophets, the emphasis had shifted away from a ritual honoring of God’s name, toward honoring it in terms of one’s overall behavior and conduct (see esp. Isa 29:23). Jesus, in his teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount), moves even further in this direction, and this is certainly intended in the Lord’s Prayer. But why/how is it that we pray to God for this, when it is our (i.e. human beings’) responsibility to treat His Name as holy? The key to this lies in the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, which will be discussed as part of the next study.

For examples in Jewish tradition of invocations or petitions similar to those in the (Matthean) Lord’s Prayer, I point out several here:

    • “…their Father in heaven, the Holy One” (Mekilta on Exod 20:25; Fitzmyer, p. 900)
    • “Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy ones praise Thee every day. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the holy God.” (Shemoneh Esreh [3rd benediction])
    • “Let his great name be magnified and hallowed in the world which he has created according to his will” (The Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer; Betz, p. 390)

In the next study, we will look at the second of the two flanking petitions—the third petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer. By examining both of these petitions, we will gain a better idea of what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker in the Matthean Gospel) understood with regard to the Kingdom-petition and the coming of God’s Kingdom (“May your Kingdom come”).

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

 

 

 

 

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

Having explored the Kingdom-theme in the Gospel of Luke, including the specific idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God, we now turn to the Gospel of Matthew. Both Gospels contain the Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition), but their positioning of the Prayer, and the overall literary and thematic context that surrounds it, differs notably. Moreover, the entire treatment and development of the Kingdom-theme is distinctive within each Gospel. While the Lukan and Matthean authors held many concepts and traditions in common, they each brought out specific aspects and points of emphasis that are unique or distinctive. In other words, the Matthean understanding of the Kingdom is not identical to the Lukan.

To begin with, in terms of the handling of the Kingdom-theme, the first distinctly Matthean feature is the regular use of the expression “the kingdom of the heavens” (h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n), rather than “the kingdom of God” (h( basilei/a tou= qeou=). The expression “the kingdom of the heavens” is exclusive to the Gospel of Matthew, occurring nowhere else in the New Testament. For some reason that has yet to be entirely explained, the Matthean author substituted the expression “kingdom of the heavens” for “kingdom of God” throughout. In only five instances (6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43), does the author retain the expression “kingdom of God”; the other 32 instances use “kingdom of the heavens”.

The locative or qualitative aspect of “the heavens” (i.e., heavenly) seems particularly important to the Gospel writer, since he also frequently uses the qualifying expression “the (One) in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$) in reference to God (the Father). The Matthean author uses this circumlocution some fourteen times, compared with just once in the other Synoptics (Mark 11:25). Similarly, the expression “the heavenly Father” (o( path\r o( ou)ra/nio$) occurs six times in Matthew, and nowhere else in the New Testament (but cp. Luke 11:13). Thus there is a certain emphasis on the heavenly aspect of God and His Kingdom in Matthew that is not present in the other Gospels.

Also interesting is that Matthew is unique in attributing the Kingdom-theme to the preaching of John the Baptist, in a way that precisely anticipates the proclamation by Jesus (Mk 1:15 par) at the beginning of his ministry. Indeed, John’s words in 3:2 are identical to Jesus’ in 4:17:

“Change your mind! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!”
metanoei=te h&ggiken ga\r h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n

These are the only references to the Kingdom prior to the Sermon on the Mount, with the exception of the summary notice in 4:23 describing the initial ministry activity of Jesus (vv. 23-25). In this, the author is very much following the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 1:32-34; Lk 4:40-41ff), by pairing Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom’s coming with the healing miracles he performed. In the Matthean narrative, this summary immediately precedes the Sermon on the Mount.

The Kingdom-Petition (Matthew 6:10) in its Literary Context

The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer is set within the collection of teaching known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chapters 5-7). The arrangement of this material is primarily literary rather than historical-chronological. This can be seen by the fact that certain sayings/teaching that also occur in the Gospel of Luke (i.e., the so-called “Q” material) are set in a very different location within the Lukan narrative. In point of fact, the Matthean author has assembled much of Jesus’ teaching into a number of large sections or ‘Discourses’. These groupings are, for the most part, expansions of earlier traditional collections, such as (for example) the collection of parables in Mark 4 or the ‘Eschatological Discourse’ (Mark 13).

The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is by far the largest and most prominent of the Matthean Discourses, covering three full chapters. In this ‘Sermon’, Jesus lays out essential instruction for anyone who would wish to be his disciple. He presents a range of ethical and religious teaching that may be outlined as follows:

    • Introduction/Exordium (5:1-16)
      • The Beatitudes, outlining the ideals of discipleship, with promise of eschatological reward (vv. 1-12)
      • Two illustrations regarding discipleship (vv. 13-16)
    • Interpretation of the Torah and Religious Tradition, with practical application for Jesus’ Disciples (5:17-48)
      • Teaching regarding the Torah (vv. 17-20)
      • Exposition: The Antitheses (vv. 21-48)
    • Instruction regarding Religious Practice (6:1-18), with three examples:
      • Charitable Giving—Alms, Deeds of Mercy (vv. 1-4)
      • Prayer (vv. 5-15), with the Lord’s Prayer in vv. 9-13
      • Fasting (vv. 14-18)
    • Instruction relating to matters of Daily Life and Social interaction (6:19-7:12)
    • Final Exhortation and Warnings (7:13-27), with a concluding Parable (vv. 24-27)

The main body of the Sermon is comprised of the three divisions of practical instruction (5:17-48; 6:1-18; 6:19-7:12). The Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition) occurs in the central division, in the section dealing with prayer (6:5-13, vv. 9-13).

There are eight specific references to the Kingdom (basilei/a) in the Sermon, beginning with the Beatitudes. Indeed, the Kingdom features prominently, as the eschatological goal/reward of the disciple, in the first and eighth Beatitude (vv. 3, 10), suggesting that it is a theme that guides and governs the entire section. That is to say, the ultimate blessing (and reward) for the faithful disciple is to enter (and to inherit) the Kingdom. The precise wording is “theirs is the kingdom of the heavens” (au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n)—that is, the Kingdom belongs to them (and they to it). The characteristic that enables the disciple to inherit/enter the Kingdom is two-fold: “poor in the spirit” (v. 3) and “having been pursued [i.e. persecuted] on account of righteousness” (v. 10). The faithful disciple will be humble and lowly in spirit, and, at the same time, will likely endure hostility and persecution because of their commitment to what is right. This “right-ness” (or righteousness, dikaiosu/nh) is embodied in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon. Faithfulness to his teaching will allow the disciple to inherit the Kingdom of the Heavens. This is precisely the point made by Jesus in vv. 19-20 (with three Kingdom-references, for emphasis).

Two further references, in later portions of the Sermon, only reinforce the basic premise—viz., that a commitment to righteousness, by faithfully following the teaching/instruction of Jesus in the Sermon, means that the disciple belongs to the Kingdom, and will enter/inherit it in the end. The climactic declaration in 6:33 (for the teaching in vv. 25-33) virtually identifies what is right (righteousness, as expounded by Jesus) with the Kingdom. The person who gives priority to this righteousness in his/her daily life, will find happiness and blessing (cf. the Beatitudes), both in this life, and in the life to come. The warning in 7:21ff recognizes that there will be some who claim (or pretend) to be Jesus’ true disciples, but who are not committed to what is right. It is only the person who regularly does what is right—defined as “doing the will of my Father (who is) in the heavens” —who will enter the Kingdom of the heavens.

In our next study, we will look closely at the Kingdom-petition (6:10) in the immediate context of the Matthean Lord’s Prayer.

 

June 10: John 3:3-8

John 3:3-8

In the Johannine writings, the theme of believers as the sons/children of God is especially prominent, and is expressed primarily in two ways: (1) through the use of the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring”; and (2) by the verb genna/w + the preposition e)k. The statement in 1:12b-13, discussed in the previous note, uses both of these elements.

The principal passage in the Gospel for this theme is the first section (vv. 3-8) of the Nicodemus Discourse in chapter 3. In these verses, the verb genna/w occurs eight times, four of which also use the preposition e)k (“out of”).

The verb genna/w is a verb of becoming, related to the more common gi/nomai, and with a comparable meaning. Both verbs can be used in the context of birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, this aspect of meaning is more regularly expressed by genna/w. The verb is relatively rare in the Synoptic Gospels, outside of the Matthean genealogy (1:1-16, where it occurs 40 times). It occurs primarily in the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives, in reference to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:20; 2:1, 4; Luke 1:35), but also to the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13, 57). Otherwise, it is used only rarely, in the context of an ordinary human birth (Mark 14:21; Matt 19:12; 26:24; Lk 23:29). The idiom of genna/w + e)k (i.e., “come to be born out of”) occurs only in Matt 1:20, in reference to the conception/birth of Jesus from the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in the New Testament, outside of the Johannine writings, genna/w + e)k occurs only in Galatians 4:23 (cf. the earlier note on Gal 4:21-31).

As mentioned above, the verb genna/w occurs eight times in 3:3-8, the first section of the Nicodemus Discourse, in which the theme of birth is emphasized. Following the narrative introduction (vv. 1-2), the central statement by Jesus in verse 3 begins the Discourse:

“If one does not come to be (born) [e)ggenhqh=|] from above, he is not able to see the kingdom of God.”

The Johannine Discourses of Jesus follow a basic pattern, which is outlined below (applied to the chap. 3 Discourse):

    • Statement by Jesus (v. 3)
    • Response by his hearer(s), reflecting a lack of understanding (v. 4)
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true meaning of his words (vv. 5-8)
    • A second response by his hearer(s), again demonstrating a lack of understanding (v. 9)
    • Further exposition by Jesus (here, in two parts: vv. 10-15, 16-21)

In the initial exposition (vv. 5-8), Jesus explains the meaning of his statement in v. 3. Nicodemus, in his initial response (v. 4), has difficulty understanding Jesus’ use of the expression “come to be (born) from above [a&nwqen]”. He understands the adverb a&nwqen in the figurative/temporal sense of “again”, specifically in the context of a person coming to be born “a second time”, repeating his/her physical birth (from the mother’s womb). Jesus, however, explains that the ‘birth’ of which he speaks is a Divine birth, coming from God (“from above”). Since God Himself is Spirit (a point to be made in 4:24), a birth from God must be a spiritual, not a physical, birth. Jesus rephrases his initial statement in verse 5:

“If one does not come to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God.”

Being born “from above” is explained as being born “out of [e)k] water and (the) Spirit”, while “seeing” the Kingdom of God is explained in terms of “entering” (“coming into”) the Kingdom. In verses 6-8, the explanation of “from above” (a&nwqen) is further narrowed to “out of the Spirit”, without any mention of water. This has led commentators to debate the significance of “out of water” (e)c u%dato$) in verse 5. There are three lines of interpretation:

    • “water” and “Spirit” are essentially synonymous, perhaps in anticipation of the water-motif in the chapter 4 Discourse (vv. 10, 13-14; cf. vv. 23-24; 7:37-39)
    • “water” and “Spirit” are supplemental, referring (most likely) to the baptism ritual and its symbolism; “Spirit” is primary (vv. 6, 8), but “water” (i.e., baptism) is still essential for the believer (in order to “enter” the Kingdom)
    • the conjunction kai/ (“and”) signifies that in addition to being born out of water (i.e., one’s physical/biological), it is necessary specifically to be born “of the Spirit”.

I am very much inclined toward the third approach, which seems to be more in keeping with the context of vv. 3-4, and the exposition by Jesus in verses 6ff. There is a clear contrast between an ordinary human birth (from the mother’s womb), and a Divine/heavenly birth from the Spirit of God. In this regard, “out of (the) flesh” (v. 6) seems to be parallel with “out of water” in v. 5. Moreover, I would maintain that this line of interpretation is in accord with the Jesus-John contrast that runs through chapters 1-3; in particular, John’s baptism with water is contrasted with Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit (1:26, 31, 33; cf. 3:22-23ff). This thematic contrast is undercut if the wording in verse 5 refers to the (physical) water of the baptism ritual.

The irony is that Nicodemus was not entirely incorrect in his understanding of a&nwqen as connoting “again, a second time”, because a second birth is indeed required.

In his initial exposition, Jesus does not explain how it is that one comes to be born “from above”, that is, “from the Spirit”. This is only expounded subsequently, in vv. 10-21. The final portion (vv. 16-21), in particular, implicitly declares that this spiritual birth takes place only when a person trusts in Jesus as the Son sent to earth by God the Father. The theological (and Christological) basis for this is established in the prior section (vv. 10-15), by way of the Johannine descent-ascent schema. The Son has descended (lit. “stepped down”) to earth from heaven (v. 13), and, when his mission on earth is completed (culminating with his death), he will ascend (“step up”) back to heaven (vv. 13a, 14). Both aspects (descent and ascent of the Son) are necessary for one’s trust in Jesus to be genuine (and full), enabling that person to both see and enter the Kingdom of God.

In comparison with his teaching in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus says very little about the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of John. In fact, there are only two passages where the Kingdom-theme is dealt with to any extent—here in 3:3-8, and the dialogue with Pilate in 18:33-38. Throughout the rest of the Gospel, it is not the Messianic kingship of Jesus that is emphasized, but, rather, his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. Similarly, in place of the Kingdom as an eschatological concept, we find the twin Johannine themes of judgment (kri/si$, vb kri/nw) and life (zwh/). And, indeed, these are the two key themes introduced and expounded in the conclusion of the Discourse (vv. 16-21). The one who trusts in Jesus, possesses life, having already passed through the Judgment, while the one who does not trust, has already been judged.

This aspect of what it means to be a believer in Jesus is stated succinctly in verse 15, in relation to the descent-ascent of the Son:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him would hold (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The parallel between the idiom of “entering the Kingdom” and “entering life”, whereby the two can be regarded as largely synonymous, is reasonably well established in the Gospel Tradition, within the teaching of Jesus (Mark 9:43, 45, 47 par; 10:15, 17 par; Matt 19:17, 23-24 par; cf. also Matt 7:14, 21).

June 1: Acts 28:31

The Note of the Day feature returns this summer beginning here in the month of June.

For the first daily note, I would like to look at the final word of the Book of Acts (28:31), which is also the final word of the two-volume work of Luke-Acts as a whole. This verse summarizes the missionary activity of the early believers—particularly Paul, whose missionary journeys climax with his arrival (under house arrest) in Rome. In this notice, the missionary work is described as consisting primarily of “proclaiming the Kingdom of God”. In this regard, the early Christian mission is a continuation of the disciples’ first mission (Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-12ff; see esp. 9:2, 60; 10:9, 11), which, in turn, is an extension of Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1; 11:20). The disciples and early believers thus function as representatives of Jesus, performing his work and acting with his authority. In this same way, all believers, to varying degrees, are to serve as a)po/stoloi—those “sent forth” in his name, as his representatives, to proclaim the Kingdom.

The statement in Acts 28:31 also makes clear that proclaiming the Kingdom is essentially synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In particular, note the parallel wording between 28:31 and 1:3, at the very beginning of Acts:

    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3)
    • “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God” (28:31)

By proclaiming and teaching about Jesus Christ, the disciples/believers are proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and working to establish it on earth. For this Lukan understanding of the Kingdom, see my recent study on Acts 1:6ff. In Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about the coming of the Kingdom, their eschatological expectation is given a thorough re-interpretation, effectively defining the Kingdom (and its coming) according to two central themes:

    • the coming the Spirit upon believers (v. 8a), and
    • the proclamation of the Gospel (v. 8b)

This dual aspect of the Kingdom-theme is developed and expounded throughout the entire narrative of Acts, culminating with Paul’s activity in Rome. Here is that summary statement in 28:31:

“…proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

But then, a final word is added—the adverb a)kwlu/tw$. This word is a bit difficult to translate. The prefix a)– is privative, meaning “without”. The base adverb kwlutw$ is derived from the verb kwlu/w which essentially means “cut short, curtail” (cf. ko/lo$). The verb can take on the more general active meaning “cut off, block, hinder”, with the privative adverb having the comparable meaning “without hindrance, unimpeded”. The adverb a)kwlu/tw$ is relatively rare, occurring only here in the New Testament; nor does it occur in the LXX, with the related adjective (a)kw/luto$) only used once (in Wisdom 7:23).

The occurrence of a)kwlu/tw$ at the end of the verse, indicates that it has an emphatic position. Indeed, there is doubtless considerable significance for the author in having this word close the narrative of Acts (and Luke-Acts as a whole). It brings the work to a close on a victorious note, indicating that, even under house arrest, Paul’s missionary work was continuing unimpeded, “without (any) hindrance”. The Lukan author was presumably aware of Paul’s subsequent imprisonment (and death), and yet the author chose to end the account of the early Christian mission here, at this point. Paul’s martyrdom surely would have provided a poignant and powerful conclusion to the human drama; however, the author has chosen to focus on the success of the mission, rather than the fate of the missionary.

In another sense, the closing word of Acts serves as an ideal for believers throughout the generations, and a goal for which we, as Christians, should fervently pray—namely, that the proclamation of the Gospel would proceed and continue “without hindrance”. While recognizing that believers, in whatever ways they/we are serving as missionaries, will face opposition and persecution, we may still ask of God that obstacles and impediments be removed, so that people everywhere may hear and respond to the good message (eu)agge/lion) of Jesus Christ.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Acts 1:3, 6)

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

The Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme, including the specific idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God, finds its ultimate realization in the Book of Acts. This is true, even though explicit references to the Kingdom are relatively rare. The entire narrative of Acts, from its introduction (1:1-5ff) to the closing words (28:31), reflects the author’s understanding of the Kingdom.

We can see this in the introduction, or prologue, to the work (1:1-5), a long and complex sentence which effectively summarizes the Gospel and transitions to the opening of the Acts narrative (in 1:6ff). The sentence moves from the author’s words (to Theophilus, v. 1) to Jesus’ own words (v. 5), directly addressing his disciples regarding a central theme of the book—the coming of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the introductory sentence, is the author’s notice regarding the time Jesus’ spent with his disciples after his resurrection (v. 3). He was seen by them regularly over a period of forty days, during which time he would speak to them of “the (thing)s about the kingdom of God” (ta\ peri\ th=$ boulei/a$ tou= qeou=).

As was discussed in recent studies, the Gospel writer presents the period of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (9:51-18:31) as a time of extensive teaching by Jesus, as he prepares his followers for what was to come in Jerusalem. At the same time, they were being prepared for the early Christian mission—the subject of the book of Acts, anticipated and prefigured at a number of points in the Gospel (most notably, the mission of the seventy[-two] disciples in 10:1-12ff). The period of instruction included a significant amount of teaching regarding the Kingdom of God—a fitting subject for instruction, given that proclamation of the Kingdom (and its coming) was central to the disciples’ mission (9:2, 60; 10:9, 11). In this regard, the disciples were simply continuing (and extending) Jesus’ own mission (4:43; 8:1).

According to the Lukan author, the Kingdom of God was also the focus of Jesus’ teaching during the forty days of his post-resurrection period with the disciples. Again, this teaching is in preparation for the coming mission. The early Christian mission is anticipated by Jesus’ words in verse 5, echoing the declaration by John the Baptist (3:16 par) and applying it directly to the disciples in the present. The promise is that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them, immersing them with its presence and power, after which the disciples would be empowered to embark on their mission.

The narrative proper begins in vv. 6-8. Immediately preceding Jesus’ departure (ascension) into heaven (vv. 9-11), he gives one final bit of teaching to his disciples. Again, the teaching is in regard to the Kingdom of God, and it offers us important insight as to how the Kingdom is defined in Luke-Acts. Jesus’ words are prompted by a question from his disciples:

“in [i.e. at] this time are you (going to) re-establish the kingdom for Yisrael?” (v. 6)

The compound verb a)pokaqi/sthmi is somewhat difficult to translate. The basic meaning is “set down from”, specifically, set something down from what (or where) it was before—i.e., restore, re-establish. The Israelite kingdom that was lost (following the Exile) was expected to be restored at the end-time, in the Messianic Age. This was an important component of Jewish eschatological (and Messianic) expectation during the first centuries B.C./A.D. It is reflected in the crowds’ acclamation of Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem (19:38 par), being anticipated by the earlier notice in 19:11 (cf. 2:25, 38; 17:20; 23:51).

The disciples’ question suggests that they still understood the Kingdom in similar socio-political terms. As the Messiah, Jesus was expected to establish the Kingdom on earth, as a restoration (in the New Age) of the old Israelite kingdom. In the Gospel, the author radically reinterprets this expectation regarding the Kingdom. To a large extent, this reinterpretation of Jesus’ Kingship (and identity as the royal/Davidic Messiah) follows the Synoptic Tradition, as we discussed at length in recent studies. However, the Lukan author goes somewhat further in re-framing Jesus’ Kingship—and thus, also the Kingdom of God—in particular, through the important twin themes of (a) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (b) the coming of the Spirit.

While not entirely denying the validity of the disciples’ question, Jesus fundamentally redirects it (v. 7f), much as he does with the question regarding the Kingdom in 17:20-21 (cf. the earlier study on this passage). Ultimately, he presents his disciples with a very different understanding of the Kingdom (v. 8), defined in terms of the central (Lukan) themes mentioned above:

    1. the coming of the Spirit
      “but you shall receive power, (with) the holy Spirit (hav)ing come upon you…”
    2. the proclamation of the Gospel
      “…and you shall be my witnesses, both in Yerushalaim and in all Yehudah and Shomeron, and (even) unto the last (part) of the earth.”

This is how the Lukan author presents the Kingdom-theme, as the theme unfolds throughout the book of Acts. The Kingdom comes, and is established on earth, as believers proclaim the Gospel, and through the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

As far as other explicit references to the Kingdom in the book of Acts, they generally follow the earlier references to the mission of the disciples (see above), and the central focus of that mission—viz., the proclamation of the Kingdom. The early Christian missionaries are engaged in a similar activity. Only proclamation of the Kingdom now means, precisely, the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. The first such reference to the Kingdom, in this context, is 8:12; later on, it is used on occasion to characterize the missionary activity of Paul (19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; cf. also 14:22).

The book of Acts concludes, much as it began (see above), with an essential reference to the Kingdom (28:31). It summarizes Paul’s missionary work (in Rome), and, by extension, the entire early Christian mission narrated in Acts:

“proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, with all outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…”

Note the parallel with the earlier expression “the (thing)s about [ta\ peri/] the kingdom of God” (1:3, see above). Here we have “the (thing)s about the Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”, in tandem with “the kingdom of God”. This further confirms that, in Luke-Acts, proclaiming the Kingdom is virtually synonymous with proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. It is a mission that continues to the present day; as believers proclaim the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is established on earth, thus fulfilling the petition from the Lord’s Prayer.

In the next few studies, we will turn our attention to the Gospel of Matthew, and the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer as it is presented and developed within the context of the Matthean Gospel.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 19:11ff; 21:31; 22:16ff)

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

Having examined the various references to the Kingdom of God (and its coming) in the Gospel of Luke, we must pay attention to how the theme is treated at the close of the Gospel, leading into the book of Acts. There are four passages of interest: (1) the parable in 19:11ff, (2) the statement in 21:31 (at the close of the Eschatological Discourse), (3) the references in the Last Supper scene (22:16ff), and (4) the reference in 23:42. All of these are significant for an understanding of how the Lukan Gospel writer viewed the coming of the Kingdom.

Luke 19:11ff

First, there is the parable in 19:12-27, similar in many respects to the parable in Matt 25:14-30, though the relation between the two, and whether they reflect a common underlying “Q” tradition, remains a matter for debate. The literary context of the two is certainly different. Luke sets this parable (of the Ten Minas) at the end of the Journey narrative (9:51-18:31ff), as Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem. The Lukan introduction (v. 11) makes clear that, contrary to the expectation of some people, Jesus would not be establishing the Kingdom on earth (as a Messianic Kingdom) when he arrived in Jerusalem. According to the author, Jesus tells this parable

“…because of his being near to Yerushalaim, and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about [me/llei] to show up paraxrh=ma.”

The adverb paraxrh=ma is somewhat difficult to translate. It basically denotes something happening at the time it is needed; however, this was often generalized to mean “at the very moment”, “on the spot”, i.e., immediately, instantly. This certainly is how the word is used here, referring to the idea (held by some, if not many, of Jesus’ followers) that the Kingdom of God would “show up” (vb a)nafai/nw) as soon as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Clearly, this would not be the case, as the narrative demonstrates, and as the Gospel writer here declares ahead of time.

As we saw from the earlier notes on the Triumphal Entry scene, the Synoptic narrative reinterprets the popular Messianic expectation, expressed (by the crowds) in that episode, regarding Jesus’ identity as the Davidic (royal) Messiah. The Gospel of Luke follows the Synoptic narrative, but goes even further in presenting a different view of Jesus’ Kingship—and thus, of his relation to the coming Kingdom of God.

The Lukan Gospel had already dealt with this popular expectation at several earlier points in the Gospel—most notably, in 17:20-21ff, where Jesus redirects the expectation of how the Kingdom would come, providing important insight as to the true nature of this Kingdom (see the earlier study on this passage). Much the same thing occurs here with the parable in 19:12-27. In the Lukan parable, Jesus is clearly identified with the nobleman who goes off “into a region far away” in order to “receive a kingdom for himself” (v. 12). In the Gospel (and Lukan) context, this refers to the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. The basic message, then, is that the Kingdom of God cannot come until after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There are two other important components to this message, as expressed by the parable: (a) it involves Jesus himself receiving a kingdom, and (b) it also entails Jesus’ subsequent return (i.e., his second coming [parousia] at the end-time). Both of these are relevant to the remaining passages.

Luke 21:31

Toward the close of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13; par Lk 21:5-36), Jesus gives an eschatological illustration based on observation of the fig-tree (Mk 13:28-29). Just as, when the fig-tree puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near, so when one sees the eschatological events (described by Jesus in the Discourse) coming to pass, it is a sign that the end is near—and, with it, the coming of the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus’ return, vv. 26-27). Luke follows the Synoptic/Markan tradition, but uniquely includes a reference to the “kingdom of God”:

“…when you should see these (thing)s coming to be, you may know that the kingdom of God is near!” (21:31)

In this context, the coming of the Kingdom of God is eschatological, being tied to the end-time return of Jesus. This is significant because, elsewhere in the Gospel, Luke seems to indicate that the Kingdom was already present in the person of Jesus during his earthly ministry (e.g., 11:20, cf. the earlier study)—a ministry that would continue through his disciples and the early Christian missionaries. In spite of this important thematic emphasis, Luke still affirms a future eschatological aspect to the coming of the Kingdom.

Luke 22:16ff

In order to understand this eschatological orientation of the Kingdom theme, it is necessary to realize that, for early Christians, the period of end-time events begins with the suffering and death of Jesus. The Messianic Age was not inaugurated with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (see above), but it would be with Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are definite eschatological allusions throughout the Gospel Passion narratives, quite apart from the obvious literary context of the Eschatological Discourse (immediately preceding, as it does, the Synoptic Passion narrative).

The Kingdom-theme is strongly present in the Passion narrative, as was previously discussed (in the Holy Week notes related to the Triumphal entry scene). A vital emphasis in the narrative is on Jesus’ identity as the royal/Davidic Messiah who must first suffer and die. Luke brings out this Kingdom-theme more than the other Synoptic authors. The Gospel writer does this, in part, by the added Kingdom-references in the Last Supper scene.

In the core Synoptic tradition, after Jesus’ consecration of the cup of wine (Mk 14:23-24), in which he identifies the wine as symbolizing his blood (that is, his death), he adds the following statement:

“Amen, I say to you, that no longer, not (at all) shall I drink out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (v. 25)

Once again, the Lukan author reproduces the tradition, but with slight modification; he also includes a second reference by Jesus to the Kingdom, parallel to the first:

“…(I have very much) set (my heart) upon eating this Pesah [i.e. Passover] with you, before my suffering; for I say to you, that not (again) shall I eat it until that time when it should be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (22:15-16)
(regarding the wine):
“…I shall not (again) drink from the produce of the vine from now (on), until the (time) when the kingdom of God should come.” (v. 18)

In Luke’s version, this statement regarding the wine precedes the symbolic consecration of the bread and cup (vv. 19-20 [though 19b-20 are omitted by some Western textual witnesses, cf. my earlier note]). For the purposes of this study, the most important aspect of this expanded Kingdom-reference is the way that the author ties Jesus’ eating/drinking in the Kingdom of God with the eschatological coming of the Kingdom. This brings together the two themes from 19:11ff and 21:31 (discussed above): (i) Jesus’ receiving the Kingdom upon his death and resurrection, and (ii) the future coming of the Kingdom.

Luke further expands this Kingdom-theme within the Last Supper scene by including a short block of sayings/teachings by Jesus (vv. 24-30), comprised of two traditions that are (effectively) located elsewhere in the other Gospels. The second of these (vv. 28-30) resembles Matthew 19:28, and there is disagreement among commentators as to whether these represent two versions of a single (“Q”) tradition. In any case, Jesus here promises his disciples (the Twelve) that, having remained faithful to him throughout the time of distress (“testing”), they will receive a ruling place alongside Jesus himself in the Kingdom: “and I will set through to you, even as my Father set through to me, a kingdom” (v. 29). They will eat alongside Jesus at the Father’s table in the Kingdom (v. 30a), and will sit on thrones, ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 30b). The importance of this twelve-symbolism for Luke will be discussed in the next study.

The coming of the Kingdom is thus eschatological, but it is also tied to the Kingship of Jesus—viz., the Kingdom which he receives (alongside God the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation (to heaven).

Luke 23:42

This same emphasis is found in 23:42, a tradition found only in the Gospel of Luke—namely, the dying request of the ‘repentant thief’ on the cross:

“Yeshua, remember me when you should come into [ei)$] your kingdom.”

The implication is that Jesus will receive his kingdom after his death, when he enters it (cp. 24:26). On this idiom of “entering” the Kingdom of God, see the previous study.

It should be pointed out that the text cited above is the reading of MSS Ë75 (the oldest relevant Papyrus), B, L, and the Latin versions. But the reading of the majority of Greek manuscripts (a, A, C2, R, W, Y, 0124, 0135, family 1 & 13 mss, and the later Koine/Byzantine text tradition) has the preposition e)n (“in”), rather than ei)$ (“into”).  The reading with e)n could be taken as a reference to Jesus’ future coming, i.e., “in/with” his kingdom (cf. the context of 21:31, above).  If the majority text is correct, then Jesus’ response to the thief may represent another Lukan ‘redirection’ of a popular Messianic expectation. That is to say, the thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to set up his kingdom, but Jesus responds that the thief will be with him in paradise today.

In next week’s study, we shall look at how the Lukan Gospel writer further develops this Kingdom-theme in the early chapters of the book of Acts.

 

 

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 13:24ff; 16:16)

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

In examining the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (with its Kingdom-petition, 11:2), it is necessary to look at the specific idiom of entering the Kingdom. We may regard this language (using the verb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”) as traditional, even though its occurrence is relatively rare in the New Testament, and limited almost entirely to sayings by Jesus in the Gospels (Mk 9:47; 10:15, 23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 23:13 par; John 3:5). The concept of entering the kingdom (of God) is clearly related to, and largely synonymous with, that of entering into life (i.e., eternal life)—Mk 9:43, 45 (cp. v. 47); Matt 7:14 (cf. v. 21); Matt 19:17 (vv. 23-24); cf. also John 10:9.

There are four passages in the Gospel of Luke where this idiom occurs in Jesus’ teaching, and all four are located in the Journey period (9:51-18:31)—13:24-30; 16:16f; 18:16-17, and 18:24-25ff. The last two are part of the Synoptic Tradition (Mk 10:14-15, 23-25ff), and appear to be closely connected; in any case, the Synoptic (Markan) narrative has them follow in sequence. They function as teaching on the nature of discipleship, and provide two different lessons on what is required in following Jesus.

The Lukan presentation of this Synoptic material (18:16-17, 24-25ff) differs little from the Markan. The context makes clear that “entering the Kingdom of God” is defined in terms of following Jesus (i.e., being his disciple). This is particularly apparent from the juxtaposition between the question by the ‘ruler’ (Mk 10:17 / par Lk 18:18) and Jesus’ answer (“come, join with me on the path [i.e. follow me]”, Mk 10:21 / par Lk 18:22), along with the subsequent instruction to his disciples (Mk 10:23-25ff / par Lk 18:24-25ff). What Jesus particularly emphasizes is the cost of following him (cf. the sayings in Lk 9:58-62 par, at the beginning of the Journey narrative). This is very much in keeping with the Lukan thematic focus on discipleship (and the mission of the disciples).

A rather different lesson is taught in Mk 10:14-15 / par Lk 18:16-17. Only the person who receives the Kingdom, in the manner that a little child does, will be able to enter it:

“who ever would not receive [de/chtai] the kingdom of God as a little child, shall (surely) not come into it.” (Lk 18:17)

The idea of receiving (vb de/xomai) the Kingdom implies that the Kingdom is something that comes, or is currently present. Given the context of Jesus’ illustration (vv. 15-16), it is quite clear that the Kingdom is being identified implicitly with the personal presence of Jesus himself. The little children are responding to Jesus, with simple trust and acceptance, and thus are ‘receiving’ him. The true disciple will respond to Jesus in a similar way.

The introduction to the tradition (v. 15 par) presents this dynamic also in a slightly different way—with the image of the children coming (i.e., being brought) to Jesus. This emphasizes the active component of entering (coming into) the Kingdom. These two sides of the equation—the Kingdom coming in the person of Jesus, and of people coming to Jesus (and thus [in]to the Kingdom)—effectively summarize the dynamic of the early Christian mission, only with the disciples (believers) functioning as representatives of Jesus himself.

Luke 13:24-30

This apostolic mission is also prefigured by the Kingdom-parable in 13:24-30, part of a short sequence of parables (vv. 18-21ff). The particular narrative unit in vv. 22-30 is only found in Luke, though parts of it resemble other sayings/teachings of Jesus. The parable itself is prefaced by a narrative introduction (v. 22), followed by a question posed to Jesus (v. 23): “(is it that) only a few are being saved?”. Jesus’ initial response resembles the saying in Matt 7:13-14:

“You must struggle [vb a)gwni/zomai] to come in [ei)selqei=n] through the narrow gate, (in) that (there are) many, I say to you, (who) will seek to come in, and will not have the strength [i.e. be able] (to do so).” (v. 24)

The “narrow gate” represents the entrance to the Kingdom, which also connotes finding salvation (v. 23). In the early Christian (and Lukan) context, these concepts are defined in terms of responding to the Gospel and trusting in Jesus. The parable that follows implies that the window for responding will only be open for a limited time; at some point, it will be shut—i.e., the gate/door will be shut. There are some even who claim to be Jesus’ followers, and may have appeared to be his disciples, but who never actually entered the “narrow door” to the Kingdom—that is, never truly trusted in Jesus, nor were willing to take on the cost of following him. This part of the parable (vv. 25-28) also has parallels in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (7:21-23), and in the later parable of 25:10-12.

The universal, worldwide aspect of the early Christian mission—so vital a theme to the narrative of Luke-Acts as a whole—is alluded to in verse 29. People from different regions and nations, extending from the east to the west, all will come into the Kingdom of God, residing and feasting there at the King’s table.

Luke 16:16

The final Kingdom reference to be examined, and certainly the most difficult, is the saying by Jesus in Luke 16:16—a “Q” tradition which has a corresponding Matthean version (11:12-13). The two versions clearly derive from a single underlying tradition, but they differ in several important respects. Most notably, each version contains the verb bia/zw (“[use] force”), but the way it is used would seem to differ considerably. In Matthew, the emphasis is on the violence and persecution which the Kingdom of God experiences—beginning with John the Baptist and continuing through the early Christian missionaries (cf. the context of chapter 10). Here is how the Matthean version reads:

“from the days of Yohanan the Dunker until now, the kingdom of God is treated with force [bia/zetai], and forceful [biastai/] (men) seize it. For all the Foretellers and the Law foretold until Yohanan…” (vv. 12-13)

The Lukan version (16:16) has the same middle/passive verb form (bia/zetai). In Matthew, it is clearly passive (“is forced, treated with force”), with the Kingdom of God as the subject. In Luke, by contrast, the Kingdom of God is the prepositional object (viz., that into which people enter), and the singular/collective adjective pa=$ (“every[one]”) is the subject—viz., every one who enters the Kingdom. In this regard, it makes most sense to read the verb in the middle voice (though a passive reading is still possible):

“The Law and the Foretellers (were) until Yohanan; from then (on), (the) good message (of) the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and every(one) forces (himself) [bia/zetai] into it.” (v. 16)

The phrase “the good message…is proclaimed” translates the verb eu)aggeli/zw, which Luke prefers to the construction khru/ssw (“proclaim”) + the noun eu)agge/lion (“good message”). The way the Lukan version is framed, the focus is on the period of the proclamation of the Gospel (after John the Baptist), and refers to people making their way into the Kingdom—which, in the Lukan context, can only mean trusting in Jesus and becoming his disciple. In this regard, the middle voice of bia/zw (“[use] force”) is best understood in relation to 13:24 (see above, par Matt 7:13-14), and the idea that the disciple must struggle to enter through the “narrow gate” of the Kingdom.

It is, however, possible to read the Lukan version with bia/zetai as a passive form, though a literal rendering of this (“everyone is forced into it”) could be very misleading. The meaning has been explained as “every one is pressed [i.e. urged to come] into it”, viz., by the proclamation of the Gospel. However, a better expository rendering of the passive verb might be: “everyone experiences force/pressure (as they come) into it”. This would be in line with the statement by Paul in Acts 14:22:

“it is necessary for us to come into [ei)selqei=n] the kingdom of God through (experience)s of distress”

Thematically, this statement reflects the Lukan emphasis on discipleship (and the mission of disciples), in at least three respects: (i) the focus on trusting in Jesus, and remaining faithful to him (v. 22a); (ii) the cost of being a disciple, which involves self-sacrifice, hardship, and suffering; and (iii) the real possibility of experiencing violence and persecution, particularly in connection with the Christian mission. The noun translated (in the plural) as “(experience)s of distress” is qli/yi$, which was commonly used by early Christians as an eschatological term, viz., for the end-time period of distress (cf. Daniel 12:1 LXX; Mark 13:19, 24 par, etc). As we have seen, there is a strong eschatological component to the Lukan presentation of the Kingdom-theme.

 

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 17:20-21)

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

In the previous studies, we have been looking at the Kingdom-petition of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, within the literary context of the Gospel of Luke (and Luke-Acts) as a whole. As I have noted, the Gospel writer has used Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (cf. Mark 10 par) as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus. In the framework of the Lukan narrative, the Journey becomes a period during which Jesus gives extensive instruction to his disciples, preparing them for what is to come. The Kingdom of God, as a subject, features prominently at a number of points in this narrative. In teaching his disciples about the Kingdom, Jesus’ instruction anticipates the early Christian mission, the template for which is provided by the author in the mission of the seventy(-two) disciples (10:1-12ff), occurring at the beginning of the Journey narrative.

Throughout these studies, we have noted the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-concept in Jesus’ teaching (and in the Gospel Tradition). In this regard, the saying by Jesus in 17:20-21 is particularly significant, as it introduces a block of eschatological teaching (vv. 22-37), located (within the Journey narrative) near the end of the journey, as Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem. The tradition in vv. 20-21 deals squarely with the Kingdom, and the idea of its coming. Thus, it would seem to be of considerable importance for an understanding of the coming of the Kingdom, and should elucidate, in particular, the Lukan view of the subject.

However, the saying is best by a number of interpretive difficulties, especially with regard to the precise meaning of the Greek wording in v. 21.

Luke 17:20-21

To begin with, it should be noted that, as Luke sets the tradition, Jesus’ Kingdom-saying is addressed, not to his disciples, but to a question posed by certain Pharisees. Throughout the Gospel Tradition, the Pharisees feature as regular opponents of Jesus, who engage in disputes, often with a hostile or adversarial tone. Thus, verse 20b-21 (and the eschatological teaching that follows) is framed in the manner of many conflict/controversy episodes that occur elsewhere in the Gospels.

“When does the kingdom of God come?”

It is in response to this question from the Pharisees, asking when the kingdom of God would come (v. 20a), that Jesus responds. His response begins:

ou)k e&rxetai h( basilei/a tou= qeou= meta\ parathrh/sew$
“The kingdom of God does not come with close watching [lit. watching alongside]” (v. 20b)

The verb parathre/w means “watch along(side)”, in the sense of watching closely, observing carefully. The noun parath/rhsi$, which occurs only here in the New Testament (and LXX), denotes the act of watching along closely. The whole assumption underlying the Pharisees’ question is that there may be certain visible indicators, or signs, that the Kingdom of God has come, or is in the process of coming, about to come, etc. Thus, by watching for them closely, attentive people should be able to detect when the Kingdom arrives.

Jesus, however, declares that the Kingdom does not come in such an observable way. The phrasing used in v. 20b is interesting: does it mean “the kingdom does not come as the result of close watching” or “the kingdom does not come so as to be perceived through close watching”? The latter sense is probably to be preferred, as the point seems to be that the Kingdom cannot be perceived visibly (by means of the senses); however, I think the verb also indicates the effort of watching closely which does not help one see (much less bring about) the Kingdom of God (cf. John 3:3).

It is interesting that Jesus’ declaration in v. 20b, in the primary sense that the Kingdom of God cannot be perceived visually (with the senses), seems to contradict earlier statements regarding the Kingdom (9:27; 10:9, 11; 11:20).

Jesus continues, expanding upon his main point:

ou)de\ e)rou=sin: i)dou\ w!de h& e)kei=
“and they shall not say ‘See here!’ or ‘[See] there!'” (v. 21a).

The same language (“See here, see there”) also occurs at v. 23 (with similar sayings in Mark 13:21; Matthew 24:23). In Matthew and Mark, the reference is specifically to people saying “Here/there is the Messiah!”, whereas in Luke both references are unspecified: the first refers to the kingdom of God, the second presumably is to the Son of Man (or the “day” of the Son of Man). In all instances, we are dealing with people claiming that the Messiah (or the Kingdom of God / Son of Man) is to be found in a specific location or with a specific person. Regarding those who make such claims, Jesus warns “do not go from (where you are) and do not pursue (after them)” (Luke 17:23).

In verse 20b-21a, Jesus gives us idea what the Kingdom is not; in the concluding phrase (v. 21b), he finally touches upon what the Kingdom is (e)stin):

ga\r h( basilei/a tou= qeou= e)nto\$ u(mw=n e)stin
“for the kingdom of God is e)nto/$ you (pl.)”

This seems to be a clear predicative statement, and yet it contains a fundamental interpretive difficulty, a longstanding subject of debate among commentators—namely, how to understand the rather rare particle e)nto/$, which I have temporarily left untranslated above.

The word e)nto/$ is an adverb, used as a preposition, and related to e)n (“in”). It would normally be translated “within, inside”. Where this word occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 23:26) or in the LXX (Psalm 39:4[3]; 103:1; 109:22; Isa 16:11), it is used rather concretely—the OT passages all refer to the heart or organs within/inside a person. It can also be used in a more general sense (spatially or temporally), “within the limits of” or “within reach of”. However, in nearly every instance a singular object is involved. Its use with a plural object (“you” [pl.], u(mw=n), referring to a group of people, is both rare and peculiar.

It is worth summarizing several lines of interpretation, which have been suggested by commentators over the years:

1. Mystical-spiritual: This involves a literal translation, i.e., the kingdom of God is within the heart/soul of believers, on the spiritual (or psychological) level. This certainly would make a suitable contrast to a visible/sensual coming of the kingdom. However, it is difficult to find many other passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Luke, in particular), where Jesus refers to the kingdom of God in this manner; but it may still be consonant with Jesus’ teaching (see references in John [3:3, 5; 18:36], and note the variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer [Luke 11:2], mentioned previously in these notes, which connects the coming of the kingdom with the coming of the Spirit). A number of early translators (Old Latin, Vulgate, Peshitta) seem to have understood the verse this way, as did Church Fathers such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa (but no doubt influenced by their own orthodox ‘gnostic’ approach). The real difficulty with this interpretation is grammatical—the plural personal object (u(mw=n).

2. Communal-collective: In light of the plural pronoun, one might better understand e)nto/$ as “among, within the limits/confines of”. Normally, this would be expressed more simply with the preposition e)n, which, when  the object involves a group of people, often means “among”, or the expression e)n me/sw| (“in the midst of”); thus, the use of e)nto/$ to express this would be a bit strange. But if “among” is the correct sense, there are still several possibilities, one of which is that the kingdom refers to believers in the midst of the people at large.

3. Hidden kingdom: The meaning could still be “among” or “in the midst of”, but with an emphasis on the invisible presence of the Kingdom—i.e., that God is working (in the person of Jesus, or by the Holy Spirit) in the midst of the people, but without it being readily apparent to the senses.

4. Kingdom “at hand”: This interpretation understands e)nto/$ as “within reach, close”. This would fit the early Gospel message that the kingdom of God “has come near” (h&ggiken) (Mark 1:15 par., and esp. Luke 21:31). Or, perhaps it should be understood in a temporal sense: the kingdom of God will soon/suddenly appear.

All of these interpretations have merit, but I think that (3) probably comes closest to what Luke (and Jesus himself) originally intended. The Kingdom of God is present in the person of Jesus—and the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) that works through him (11:20; par Matt 12:28). This spiritual manifestation of the Kingdom continues, through the inspired work of the disciples, acting in extension of Jesus’ own ministry, and in the early Christian mission (narrated throughout the book of Acts). We shall explore this (Lukan) understanding of the Kingdom further in upcoming studies.

There are several other parallel versions of this saying, which may (or may not) be derived from Luke 17:21:

    • (Coptic) Gospel of Thomas §3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (translation Thomas O. Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas §113 (Coptic): His disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?” <Jesus said,> “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” (Lambdin)
    • Gospel of Thomas (Greek):  Jesus said, “If those who attract you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is under the earth,’ then the fish of the sea will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. [Those who] become acquainted with [themselves] will find it; [and when you] become acquainted with yourselves, [you will understand that] it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”
      (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654.9-16, translation Grenfell-Hunt)