March 7: Matt 6:10a; Luke 11:2c

Matthew 6:10a; Luke 11:2c

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, like the first, is identical in all three versions—Luke [MT], Matthew, and the Didache:

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

Syntactically, this is perhaps the simplest and most straightforward of all the petitions in the Prayer, a fact which belies several difficult points of interpretation. In the shorter (Lukan) version of the Prayer, the first two petitions form a precise pair:

    • “May your Name be made holy”
      “May your Kingdom come”

The Matthean structure is more complex, due the inclusion of an additional (third) petition, to be discussed in the next note. A version in Aramaic, such as may have been spoken by Jesus, would perhaps be: Et*Wkl=m^ hyt@at@ (t¢°têh malkût¹k). There is a similar sort of petition in the Jewish Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer: “May he cause his kingdom to rule in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel” (Fitzmyer, p. 900).

The 3rd person imperative e)lqe/tw (“it must come”) is exactly parallel to the (passive) imperative a(giasqh/tw (“it must be made [i.e. treated as] holy”) in the first petition. As noted previously, the context of a prayer to God requires a slightly difference force to the imperative in translation, as an exhortative request: “may it be that…”, “let it be (so) that…”. The person praying urges God to bring it about that these things happen: (1) His Name is treated as holy by people on earth, and (2) that His Kingdom comes, or is made manifest, on earth. These two aspects, or attributes, of God—His Name and Kingdom—must be considered together, as a conceptual pair. The first of these was discussed in the previous note (on the first petition, cf. also the series “And you shall call His Name…“). I have examined the idea of the Kingdom of God in earlier notes and articles (see “…the things about the Kingdom of God“, Part 5 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and an article in the series “Birth of the Son of God”). Here I will be focusing specifically on the theme of the Kingdom in the context of the Prayer.

In Matthew, within the Sermon on the Mount, the expression “Kingdom of the Heavens” (the Matthean parallel to “Kingdom of God” in the sayings of Jesus) occurs eight times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 6:10, 33; 7:21), including the opening Beatitude that begins the Sermon (5:3): “Happy are the (one)s…(in) that the kingdom of the heavens is theirs”. This serves as a keynote theme to the Sermon as a whole, and follows upon the initial proclamation by Jesus at the start of his public ministry:

“Yeshua began to proclaim and say, ‘You must change (your) mind [i.e. repent], for the kingdom of the heavens has come near!’…. And he led (the way) around in (the) whole of the Galîl, teaching…and proclaiming the good message of the Kingdom…” (Matt 4:17, 23 par)

It is interesting to compare these two pieces of tradition—if Jesus declared that the Kingdom of Heaven has (already) come near (h&ggiken, perfect form of the vb. e)ggi/zw), how is it that his followers should pray that the Kingdom might yet come (vb. e&rxomai)? The key to understanding this lies in the eschatological context of both Jesus’ initial proclamation and the petition in the Prayer. That the Kingdom of God/Heaven has come near (e)ggu/$) means that has not yet arrived, but is about to very soon. The use of e)ggu/$ and the verb e)ggi/zw in the New Testament, as well as elements like the verb me/llw (“about to be/happen”) and other vocabulary, provides clear and unmistakable evidence of an expectation among early Christians and Jews of the period that the end was imminent. God was about to appear to bring Judgment upon the world and to rescue the faithful ones among his people. Both John the Baptist and Jesus affirmed this in their preaching (Matt 3:2; 4:17 par, etc). I discuss the subject at length in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (soon to be posted on this site).

At the same time, there was still a longing and desire among God’s people for this eschatological moment to be realized, that it might come to pass even as the faithful are waiting for it to occur. We see this expressed at numerous points in the New Testament and the Gospel tradition—e.g., Mark 15:43 par; Luke 2:25, 38, etc.—and it is what is emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer as well. However, the significance of it needs to be considered in the context of the first petition. The wish that God’s name should be treated as holy by people on earth indicates that this is currently not taking place—human beings are not acting and thinking in a way that gives honor to God or that reflects His nature and character. Jesus’ true disciples, if they follow his teaching and example, will reflect God’s own character, and will be worthy of belonging to His Kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10, 19-20, 48; 6:33; 7:21, etc). What about the rest of humanity? They will only come to honor God’s “Name” at the (eschatological) moment when He appears to bring Judgment upon the earth (cf. Phil 2:9-11). Some will be converted even before this point, through the example and witness of believers (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12, etc). Paul envisions the conversion of “all Israel” as an end-time event prior to the Judgment (Rom 11:25-27).

Another important eschatological aspect to the Kingdom-petition in the Prayer is the fundamental idea of God as King, and the natural (religious) desire to see His power and influence exerted over the world, especially in regard to the elimination of wickedness and evil. This will be discussed further when addressing the last petitions of the prayer. This cosmic conflict, and its resolution at the end-time, is central to most eschatological frameworks, and certainly is evident among Jews and Christians in the first century A.D. Moreover, eschatological and Messianic modes of thought and expression go hand in hand, as I discuss in considerable detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. A climactic expression of this for early Christians is found in the visions of the book of Revelation, especially the scenes of heavenly worship in chapters 4-7, and the hymn of praise following the heavenly battle-scene in chapter 12 (vv. 10ff):

“Now it (ha)s come to be—the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Anointed (One)…!”

Thus, the Kingdom-petition is finally realized in the context of these end-time visions. The general clarity and precision of this eschatological hope in the Prayer itself is complicated by two factors:

    1. The additional (third) petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer, and
    2. The variant reading, in place of the Kingdom-petition, in some witnesses of the Lukan version

These will be examined, respectively, in the next two daily notes.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:10

Matthew 5:10

The eighth Matthean Beatitude (Matt 5:10) brings the collection of Beatitudes to a close:

Maka/rioi oi( dediwgme/noi e%neken dikaiosu/nh$, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the (ones) having been pursued on account of justice/righteousness, (in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens”

The Greek verb diw/kw (diœ¡kœ) has the primary meaning “pursue, chase after”, and can be used in either a positive/neutral or negative sense. For the instances of the latter, it is typically translated “persecute”—that is, to pursue with hostile intent, or for the purpose of doing harm. Occasionally, we see the verb used in the positive sense (of pursuing righteousness, peace, etc.) in the New Testament (see Rom 9:30-31; 12:13; 14:19; 1 Cor 14:1; Phil 3:12, 14; 1 Thess 5:15), but more often it is used in the negative sense, as here in the Beatitude (cf. Matt 5:44; 10:23; 23:34; Lk 21:12, et al.). Already in the early Church the verb, with its related nouns diwgmo/$ and diw/kth$, came to have the technical meaning of the persecution of believers (because of their faith in Christ)—cf. Jn 15:20; Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 15:9; 2 Cor 4:9; Gal 1:13, 23; 2 Tim 3:12; Rev 12:13, etc. The compound/prefixed verbs e)kdiw/kw (ekdiœ¡kœ) and katadiw/kw (katadiœ¡kœ) are intensive forms (lit. “pursue out” and “pursue down”) which occasionally appear in the New Testament as well (Mk 1:36; Lk 11:49; 1 Thess 2:15). The verb diw/kw (along with its compound/prefixed forms) is relatively infrequent in the Septuagint (LXX), and translates a range of Hebrew words (cf. Lev 26:17; Deut 6:19; Judg 7:25; Psalm 7:1, 5; 31:15; 35:3; 44:16; 71:11; 109:16, 31; 119:84, 86, 157; Prov 13:21 [LXX 12:26]; Eccl 3:15; Isa 30:28; Jer 20:1-11; Nah 1:8; Joel 2:20; Dan 4:22). The theme of the persecution of the righteous became more common in the Psalms (cf. Ps 7; 31:15; 69:26; 119:84-88, 150, 153-158, 161ff, etc) and subsequent Apocalyptic and Wisdom Literature—see especially Wisdom 1:16-2:24; also 1 Enoch 95:7; 103:9ff. The prophets, as righteous messengers of truth, were seen as the target of persecution (Jer 15:15; 17:18; 20:11), a theme continued on into the New Testament: the suffering of the prophets was a model and parallel for the suffering of believers (Matt 5:12; 23:29-37; Lk 11:47-50; 13:34; Acts 7:52; Rev 11:18; 16:6; 18:24). Similarly, the so-called “Teacher of Righteousness”, as (idealized) head and representative of the Qumran sect, was depicted as enduring persecution. Indeed, even in the Greco-Roman world, it was a philosophical topos that the wise and virtuous person was likely to suffer in this way (the ideal figure and example being Socrates, cf. Plato’s Apology and Phaedo, also Republic 361e-362a, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.1-2, etc). For additional references, with some bibliography, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 143-145.

The Greek particle e%neken (héneken) is difficult to translate into English—it is necessary to use cumbersome expressions such as “on account of”, “for the sake of”, to capture the genitive relationship. It is specifically because of (or on account of) justice/righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) that the faithful follower of Jesus will be persecuted. What precisely does this mean? Several related aspects have to be considered:

  • When the wicked act unjustly against the “righteous”, this violation of “justice” can be said to be “on account of” justice/righteousness.
  • “Righteousness” in the specifically Jewish sense (used by Jesus) relates to upholding the Law of God (in both thought and action). Those who violate and transgress the Law are, by definition, unjust, and (in their wickedness) tend to oppose the righteous.
  • The righteous came to be identified largely with the poor and needy—persons who tend to be victimized and oppressed by the (unscrupulous) wealthy and powerful in the world. This aspect is what today we would call social justice.
  • The justice/righteousness of the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:33) is connected with the idea of being like God Himself (Matt 5:48). The wicked who act as enemies of God will also oppose those who are like Him.
  • Justice is interconnected with judgment—by way of eschatological “reversal”, the “righteous” who are poor and suffer now will, in the end, be rewarded by God.

All of these themes are emphasized by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, and continue to be important elements in any proper Christian ethic. However, eventually, the ethical standards of Jesus’ teaching here would be subsumed under the general concept of believing and following him, and expressed in a new way as (to use Paul’s expression) “walking in/by the Spirit” (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16, 25). Jesus himself uses older expressions in the Sermon on the Mount, closer to what we find in Jewish writings of the period—see especially the way the wicked and righteous are juxtaposed in Wisdom 1:16-2:20. This has caused Christian interpreters no end of difficulty in attempting to harmonize and reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with later Pauline theology. Paul uses the word dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) in rather a different way than Jesus does here.

The intimate connection between poverty and righteousness (see Wisd 2:10) is made especially clear in the Beatitudes, as the eighth concludes with the same phrase as the first: “(in) that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens” (o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n). This forms an inclusio which frames the collection of eight Beatitudes, and creates a kind of equivalence (synonymous parallelism) between those who are “poor in the spirit” (oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati) and those who “have been pursued on account of justice/righteousness” (oi( dediwgme/noi e%neken dikaiosu/nh$). Many interpreters have seen a progression of sorts from first to eighth Beatitude: one begins with humility and lowliness (the extreme inward condition) and ends with enduring persecution (the extreme outward manifestation). That there is an artistry of this sort involved is almost certain (I will discuss the order and arrangement of the Beatitudes in an upcoming note). The eighth Beatitude, with its emphasis on persecution, both concludes the set of eight sayings (in 3rd person plural address) and leads into the summarizing “ninth” Beatitude (in 2nd person plural address) of Matt 5:11f, which I will be exploring in the next article.

This series was originally posted in the earlier version of Biblesoft’s online Study Blog. It is also available for use in Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible program (Version 5 or OneTouch) [find out more]

The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3 (continued)

Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b, continued

Luke:      Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/, o%ti u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou=
“Happy the poor (ones), that yours is the kingdom of God
Matthew:  Maka/rioi oi( ptwxoi/ tw=| pneu/mati, o%ti au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Happy the poor (ones) in the spirit, that theirs is the kingdom of the Heavens

The first Beatitude (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20b) was discussed in the previous article; today, both versions will be examined in more detail, focusing on several areas of interpretation:

    1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”
    2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude
    3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

1. The Meaning of “Poor in (the) spirit”

The basic meaning of this difficult phrase was addressed in the prior article; however, it is worth looking at it more closely here. As I indicated, the nearest parallel is found in the Qumran texts—jwr ywnu (±anwê rûaµ), “poor/afflected of spirit” (see especially 1 QM 14:7, where it is applied to the “sons of light” [roa yn@B=]; cf. also 1 QM 14:3, 1 QH 5:21-22, CD 19:9, and parallel expressions in 1 QM 7:5, 11:10, etc). The nearest expressions in the LXX and New Testament are found in Psalm 34:18 [LXX 33:19] (oi( tapeinoi\ tw=| pneu/mati, translating Hebr. j^WrÁa@K=D^) and Matthew 11:29 (tapeino\$ th=| kardi/a| “lowly [in] the heart”). The Hebrew word wn`u* (from hn`u*) more properly means “lowly, afflicted” rather then “poor” (i.e. poverty per se), which is close to the Greek adjective tapeino/$ (tapeinós, “low[ly], humble”). It is also noteworthy that in the Qumran texts (and elsewhere in Judaism of the period), the <yw]n`u& (±an¹wîm, “lowly/afflicted [ones]”) were identified largely with the <ynoyb=a# (°e»yônîm, “poor/wanting [ones]”), with both used as terms for the righteous. So here in the Beatitude, there would seem to be a clear identification of poor (ptwxo/$) with lowly (tapeino/$). But poverty/lowliness in exactly what sense? There are number of possibilities for interpretation:

  • It involves a recognition and acceptance of the essential poverty inherent in the human condition. This interpretation is argued cogently by Betz, Sermon, pp. 112-119, largely on the basis of parallels in Greek philosophy and wisdom literature.
  • It is a spiritualizing motif which expresses that the righteous (or the wise and virtuous) person is truly rich, even in the midst of his/her material poverty. Indeed, material poverty actually serves as an aid to gaining wisdom; Socrates was a prototypical example, cf. Plato Apol. 23c, etc, and frequently in later Stoic and Cynic teaching.
  • It implies freedom from care and desire (a)pa/qeia, apátheia), largely as a result of a life devoted to abstinence and self-control (e)gkra/teia, enkráteia). This was tied closely to the idea that the happiness/blessedness [ma/kar] of the gods involved a lack of want or desire (reflecting a divine “poverty”). It is fairly typical of most Greek ascetic philosophy (again Socrates was a prime example, cf. Xenophon Mem. 1.5, 6ff). The concept and goal of a)pa/qeia was a prominent feature of Christian mysticism and monasticism (especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition).
  • The “lowliness” of spirit contrasts specifically with “highness” of spirit—that is, of pride, vanity, haughtiness, worldly ambition, desire for power, and so forth. Instead, the humility of the follower of Christ eschews all these things.
  • The “lowliness” is to be understood specifically in relationship to God—to place one’s life and thought completely in trust and dependence on God.

Arguments can be made for each of these avenues of interpretation (and others as well), however, I would say that the last two are closest to the mark. A warning against what we could call “highness” of spirit appears frequently, in various forms, throughout the New Testament. Of the examples in the Gospels alone, see Mark 10:42-45 par; Matt 18:3-4 par; Lk 9:23-25; 10:19-20; 12:13-21; 14:7-11; 16:15; 17:7-10; 18:9-14. In the Gospel of Luke, especially, this emphasis on the humble and lowly is prominent—see particularly, in the parables (esp. Lk 18:9-14), and the example of Mary in Lk 1:38, 46-55. Cf. also the Christian maxim uttered by John the Baptist in Jn 3:30.

2. Poor vs. Rich in the Lukan Beatitude

The principal difference between the Matthean and Lukan forms of the first Beatitude is striking. Instead of oi( ptwxoi\ tw=| pneu/mati (“the poor [in] the spirit”), it is simply oi( ptwxoi/ (“the poor”). The exact relationship between the two versions continues to be debated. However, it is all but certain that the Lukan version essentially refers to poverty in the customary sense (i.e., material/economic poverty); the corresponding Woe in v. 24 would confirm this. Also, it is noteworthy that Luke references the “rich” (plou/sio$) and “riches” more often than the other Gospels, and always in a negative sense, or in contrast to the followers of Jesus (i.e., the “poor”)—see Lk 1:53; 8:14; 12:16-21; 16:9, 11-13, 19-23ff, etc. Even in the case of traditions shared by Matthew/Mark, Luke’s version occasionally adds the detail of riches to a negative portait, cf. in the parable of the Sower (8:14), the emphasis of the man being rich [plou/sio$] in 18:23 (in relation to v. 25), and also the narration in 21:1. Only in the case of Zaccheus (Lk 19:2ff) are riches shown in anything like a positive sense.

Even so, the stark juxtaposition of the “poor” and the “rich” in 6:20, 24 is jolting (especially for modern-day Western Christians). Here is the “woe” of v. 24:

Plh\n ou)ai\ u(mi=n toi=$ plousi/oi$, o%ti a)pe/xete th\n para/klhsin u(mw=n.
“(All the) more, woe to you the rich (one)s!—that you have your help/comfort (from riches)!”

Plh\n is an adversative particle, placing the woe in contrast to the beatitude of v. 20—i.e., “happy the poor… but woe to you the rich!” It also serves as an intensive particle, perhaps in the sense of “happy the poor…even more so woe to you the rich!” It could even indicate that there is nothing more for the rich, who (in the end) only receive the help/comfort of their riches. This is certainly the basic idea expressed here—the rich have already received their reward. On the surface, this seems unduly harsh, almost over-simplistic, as though riches and poverty as such were all that mattered. Jesus’ famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) presents the same sort of dualism (rich vs. poor), which is also expressed in the Magnificat (esp. 1:52-53); and, for comparison, see similarly harsh descriptions in the epistle of James (1:9-11; 2:6-7; 5:1-6). What are we to make of this? For the moment, I leave this as an open question, which I will address more thoroughly in an upcoming discussion of the Lukan Woes.

3. “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God”

There are two other differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions:

Matthew: au)tw=n e)stin h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n (“theirs is kingdom of the heavens“)
Luke: u(mete/ra e)sti/n h( basilei/a tou= qeou (“yours is the kingdom of God“)

With regard to the personal pronoun, all of the Beatitudes in Matt 5:3-10 use the 3rd-person plural form, while those in Luke use 2nd-person plural forms. If we accept the critical assumption that the Matthean and Lukan forms ultimately derive from a single set of sayings by Jesus (rather that two sets of sayings), then it stands to reason that one or the other has been modified at some point. The Beatitude form suggests that the 3rd person pronoun/verb is more likely to be ‘original’. In preserving and transmitting the sayings as part of a basic core of Christian instruction (catechesis/catechism), adaptation to the 2nd-person—addressing the believer directly—would only be natural.

The expression “kingdom of the heavens” (h( basilei/a tw=n ou)ranw=n, usually translated “kingdom of Heaven”) is unique to the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Even in parallel passages within the Synoptic tradition (shared by Mark and/or Luke), where “kingdom of God” (h( basilei/a tou= qeou=) occurs, Matthew nearly always uses “kingdom of the Heavens”. Only on five (certain) occasions (Matt 6:3; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43) does he use “kingdom of God”. Despite claims to the contrary, there would seem to be little difference in meaning between the two expressions. It remains uncertain just why Matthew opts for “kingdom of the Heavens”. However, perhaps it is appropriate to consider here two aspects of the Kingdom, related in turn with two key points of emphasis in the Beatitude:

  1. It is of God—that is, it belongs to God. As discussed in an earlier article, a seminal aspect of the Beatitude was its declaration that the righteous person (or initiate in the mysteries, believer, etc) would become like God (or the gods)—this would occur in the afterlife, but was already “realized” in the present. From the standpoint of ethical and philosophical instruction, the disciple is effectively encouraged and exhorted to become more like God (cf. Matthew 5:48).
  2. It is of the Heavens—that is, it is identified with the heavenly realm where God dwells (“above the [physical] heavens”); cf. the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, the [one] in the Heavens…”, Matt 6:9). The eschatological background and setting of the Beatitude clearly relates to the idea of the righteous person entering into heavenly bliss in the afterlife. In the earlier discussion on the Beatitude format of Psalm 1, I emphasized the locative element—that is the place or domain of the wicked (Ps 1:1) against the place of Judgment (i.e. the heavenly/divine Court) where the righteous gather (Ps 1:5). This, too, in addition to the promise of future destiny, may be “realized” in the present (cf. Ps 1:3). In terms of the ethical instruction of Jesus’ teaching, his followers are exhorted to seek after this heavenly kingdom or domain (where God dwells, and the righteous belong); cf. Matt 5:20, 48; 6:10, 19-20, 32-33; 7:7-11, 13-14.

Another small difference between the Matthean and Lukan versions related to the form of the pronoun: Matt 5:3 has the pronoun in the genitive case (“of them” = “theirs”), while Lk 6:20 uses the possessive pronoun (or adjective, “yours”). This difference is minimal, but it serves to point out the emphasis of the Kingdom belonging to the righteous (to the one declared “happy/blessed”). Perhaps it is better to consider it the other way around: the righteous as belonging to the Kingdom. The identification is such that both sides of the relationship are true.

Birth of the Son of God: The Kingdom of God

This Christmas series was intended to run through the Baptism of Jesus, which is commemorated on Epiphany (Jan 6) in the Eastern Churches; in Western tradition, Jesus’ Baptism is celebrated on the octave of Epiphany (Jan 13).

As a follow-up to the recent notes on believers as “sons/children of God”, today I would like to examine the connection between sonship and the kingdom of God. It is not possible in this relatively brief discussion to provide a comprehensive treatment of the “kingdom of God” as a concept or topic; however, a number of key points and observations will be offered here.

The Kingdom

To begin with, contrary to some commentators, I find little distinction between the use or meaning of the expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Heaven (lit. ‘of the Heavens’)”. The latter is found exclusively in the Gospel of Matthew, and a comparison of parallel passages and sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, demonstrates more or less decisively that the expressions are synonymous (and interchangeable). Which is not to say that the Gospel of Matthew does not have specific reasons for using “Heaven” instead of “God”. Exactly how, or to what extent, the different idioms (in Greek) relate to the actual words of Jesus (the ipsissima verba, probably spoken in Aramaic) continues to be debated.

The Kingdom-concept appears to have a fairly wide range of meaning, but it is possible, I believe, to isolate three primary aspects or elements:

  1. Rule and authority—that is to say, of God as king. While, from the human perspective, God rules and exercises sovereignty, primarily from heaven, he has also made his will known to people on earth—principally through the commands and communication revealed and preserved in the Scriptures. Eventually, God will enforce his rule more fully and directly upon the world (at the end time).
  2. Dominion—by this is meant the area (domain) that is subject to God and the means by which he rules; one may divide this into two additional aspects: (a) the people who are under his rule and obedient to it (i.e. the “righteous”), and (b) the rule of God in terms of the Law (or “laws”, i.e. commands, precepts, etc) under which the ‘Kingdom’ is governed. According to Pauline thought and terminology, especially, the “Law of God” is synonymous with the “Will of God”.
  3. Eschatology—at the time of the New Testament, and in Jesus’ own day, the “Kingdom of God” was understood primarily in terms of the rule of God which will be realized over humankind (and all things) and the end of the (present) Age. Several related ideas and expectations were brought together, variously, in this context: (a) God’s end-time Judgment of human beings, (b) the specific judgment against the wicked/idolatrous “Nations”, (c) the restoration of Israel, and (d) the reward of the righteous (who have been suffering during the current wicked Age). The expectation of an Anointed ruler (i.e. Messiah/Christ), from the line of David, whose appearance would attend (or govern) these eschatological events, appears to have been relatively common in the 1st centuries B.C/A.D.

The initial proclamation of Jesus was to announce that this coming Kingdom was now arriving: “The time has been (ful)filled, the Kingdom of God has come near…!” (Mark 1:15 par). The vast majority of references to “the kingdom of God/Heaven” in the New Testament, in fact, come from Jesus’ own teaching (and virtually all from the Synoptic Gospels, except for John 3:3-5). These can generally be divided into several categories:

“Inheriting” and “Entering” the Kingdom

A principal metaphor, encompassing both ethical and eschatological aspects of the Kingdom concept, is that of inheriting or entering the Kingdom. The two idioms are, it would seem, generally synonymous, and are rooted clearly in the idea of believers (or the righteous) passing the (end-time) judgment before the heavenly/divine tribunal. This is especially so in terms of “entering” the Kingdom; whereas inheritance may also carry the connotation that believers (or the righteous) have already (previously) been appointed a share (i.e. lot) and place in the Kingdom. It is certainly true that one sees a kind of “realized” eschatology throughout much of the New Testament, drawn largely, I would say, from the basic idea of the covenant God established with his people (Israel)—if believers remain faithful, they will inherit that which God has prepared for them.

“Enter” the Kingdom (including parallels)—Mark 9:47; 10:15, 23-25; Luke 18:17, 24-25; Matthew 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 23:13; John 3:5; Acts 14:22; see also Mark 9:43, 45; Matt 7:13; 8:11; 18:8-9; 19:17; 25:21, 23; Lk 11:52; 13:24, 29; Heb 3:11, 18-19; 4:1-6, 10-11; 10:19; Rev 21:27; 22:14 and John 10:1-2, 9.

“Inherit” the Kingdom (including parallels)—Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5. For the parallel idea of inheriting eternal life, cf. Mark 10:17 par; and for similar language involving inheritance, cf. Mark 12:7 par; Lk 12:32; Acts 20:32; Gal 3:18ff; 4:30; Col 1:12; 3:24; Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Heb 1:14; 6:12; 9:15; 11:8; 1 Pet 1:4.

With regard to each of these expressions, there are two particular ideas or images which especially relate to believers as “sons/children of God”:

It is necessary to examine this last image in a bit more detail.

Believers as Heirs (to the Kingdom)

As indicated above, this motif is connected with the idea of believers (or the righteous) inheriting the Kingdom of God. It is the sons who inherit the father’s estate, and, especially the eldest/firstborn son. This is expressed in early Christian thought by the theological (and Christological) premise that Jesus is the true “Son” and heir of God (cf. Mark 12:7 par; Hebrews 1:2; Romans 8:17), which is further reinforced by reference to the Kingdom as belonging to Christ (“my Kingdom”, etc)—Luke 1:33; 22:29-30; 23:42; John 18:36; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; Eph 5:5; 2 Tim 4:1, 18; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15; 12:10; also Matthew 16:28; 26:29; Luke 19:12ff; Heb 1:8. Believers are heirs through Christ, and heirs together with him (Romans 8:17). The concept of believers as heirs of God is important within Paul’s argument in Galatians and Romans, contrasting the freedom of believers in Christ with slavery under the Law (the old covenant) and sin—cf. throughout Galatians 3-4 and Romans 4:13ff; 8:12-30. For other New Testament references, see James 2:5; 1 Pet 3:7; Eph 3:6; Tit 3:7; Heb 6:17; 11:7ff. At least once in the New Testament, in Jesus’ teaching, believers are specifically referred to as “sons of the Kingdom [ui(oi\ th=$ basilei/a$]” (Matt 13:38, but note the somewhat different use in Matt 8:12).

The specific motif of the firstborn son will be discussed in the next article in this series.