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

The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus (Part 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 10:35-40ff par.

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

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

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

Matthew 19:28 / Luke 22:28-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Other sayings with an eschatological context

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

Mark 10:29-30 par.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 12:18-27 par

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

Matthew 9:37-38 / Luke 10:2

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

Matthew 11:12 / Luke 16:16

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

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

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

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

Luke 12:49-51ff par

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

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

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

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

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

Several other sayings should be mentioned:

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

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

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

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

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Galilean Period, Pt 1 (Acts 1:6-26)

Acts 1:6-26 (and Matt 19:28 par)

The previous note dealt with the association of the Twelve and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in the context of Matthew 19:28 par (Lk 22:28-30) and the tradition in Acts 1:6ff. I pointed out that there is good reason to think that the number twelve and its symbolism—related to the twelve tribes of Israel—was introduced and applied by Jesus himself. The apparent authenticity (on objective grounds) of the Matt 19:28 saying would confirm this. It is not entirely clear whether the idea is of a concrete earthly kingdom, or a heavenly one. The Synoptic narrative context of Matt 19:28, as it reads in Mark (10:28-31), indicates a contrast between earthly sacrifice/suffering for Jesus’ sake (now) and eternal/heavenly reward (in the future). This contrast seems to have been a common emphasis in Jesus’ teaching, such as we see in the parables and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-12; 6:1ff, 19-21; Lk 6:20-26, etc). Matthew’s version of the episode (19:27-30) has a different emphasis, but it would seem that a heavenly context is still implied; the use of the word paliggenhsi/a suggests a time following the resurrection. The parallel in Lk 18:28-30 is somewhat ambiguous, as is the context of 22:28-30 (cf. verse 18).

The problem is that traditional Israelite and Jewish eschatology variously envisioned the coming Kingdom (of God) in earthly and heavenly aspects, drawing upon imagery from both. This is also true in terms of Messianic expectation. Sometimes the establishment of the Kingdom was seen to follow the end-time Judgment and the Resurrection, in other instances a period of (Messianic) rule on earth is envisioned. Certain eschatological schemes combine both aspects, as we see, for example, in the book of Revelation. Paul says very little in his letters regarding a future Kingdom on earth; the imminent, expected return of Jesus seems to coincide with the resurrection (1 Thess 4:14-17), after which believers will remain with him (in heaven). On the other hand, in 1 Cor 6:2, Paul states that believers will play a role in the Judgment of the world, expressing an idea generally similar to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28 par. Presumably, this ruling/judging position is thought to take place in heaven, since he also says that believers will judge the Angels (v. 3).

Jesus’ own teaching in this regard is not entirely clear, at least as it has been preserved in the Gospel Tradition. However, following the resurrection (and ascension) of Jesus, early Christians had no choice but to believe that the coming of the Kingdom, in its full sense, in heaven and/or on earth (cf. Matt 6:10), was reserved for the time of Jesus’ future return. In the interim—however brief or long it may be—the Kingdom was realized (on earth) in two primary ways: (1) by the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, and (2) through the missionary work of early Christians, spreading the new faith (from Jerusalem) into the wider world. This is certainly the understanding expressed by the author of Luke-Acts; and, if we take the text at face value, it was also the true purpose and intention of Jesus.

In the prior note, I looked briefly at the question asked of Jesus by the disciples (i.e. the Twelve) in Acts 1:6. Their question indicates that they were thinking in traditional eschatological terms about the coming of the Kingdom—as a socio-political (and religious) entity on earth, headed by Jesus as God’s Anointed representative (i.e. a royal Messiah). By extension, it might have been thought that they (the Twelve) would be ruling this Kingdom as well (cf. again the context of Lk 22:28-30). Jesus does not answer their question directly, and so leaves open, perhaps, the possibility of such an earthly (Messianic) regime in the future; however, his response must be deemed an implicit rejection of their very way of thinking. He deftly redirects the entire thrust of the question (verse 7), and then effectively gives them their answer: instead of expecting the return of an Israelite Kingdom like that of David long ago, the disciples will usher a different kind of Kingdom, involving—(a) the coming of the Spirit in power, and (b) their witness and proclamation of the Gospel message (verse 8).

The Restoration of Israel (Acts 1:12-26)

The disciples’ question (1:6) involved the idea of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. The author of Acts, doubtless following the (historical) traditions which he inherited, has built upon this theme, which is central to the narrative which follows in the remainder of chapters 1-2. I have discussed this at length in a set of notes (for Pentecost, soon to be posted on this site), and will only provide an outline of that study here.

The theme of the “Restoration of Israel” can be glimpsed already in verses 12-14:

  • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
    a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
    b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
  • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem, in one place (upper room), v. 13. This is a seminal image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
  • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related motifs, expressing the unity of believers together:
    ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
    pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
    h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
    o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al.
    th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)

As stated above, most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel; and, as such, their unity (and the unity of their mission work) similarly reflects the coming together of Israel (the true Israel). Consider, for example, the basic Gospel tradition of the sending out of the Twelve in Mark 6:6b-13 par. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist).

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. Note the possible (even likely) symbolism in the parenthetical notice in Acts 1:15, where the number of disciples gathered together in the house is (about) 120—that is, 12 x 10. There would seem to be a symbolic association of these 120 disciples with a unified/restored Israel.

The Pentecost Narrative (2:1-13ff)

This symbolism continues into the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. Note the following (chiastic outline):

  • The unity of the disciples (together in one place and/or for one purpose—e)pi\ to\ au)to/), verse 1.
    • The house/place of gathering is filled (e)plh/rwsen) with the Spirit, verse 2.
      • Appearance of tongues (glwssai) of fire upon each individual disciple (~120), verse 3
      • The disciples (each) begin to speak in other tongues (glwssai), verse 4
    • The disciples are all filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the Holy Spirit, verse 4
  • The unity of the crowd—devout Jews (from all nations) in Jerusalem come together in one place, verse 5ff

The way this scene builds upon the prior events of chapter 1 can be illustrated by expanding the outline:

  • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
    • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
      • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
    • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
  • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

This emphasizes more clearly the theme of the “restoration of Israel”, according to the eschatological imagery of the later Old Testament prophets and Judaism, which involves two related themes:

    1. The return of Israelites (Jews) from exile among the nations—this return is to the Promised Land, and, in particular, to Judah and Jerusalem.
    2. The Nations (Gentiles) come to Judah and Jerusalem, bringing tribute and/or worshiping the true God there.

The restoration of Israel in terms of a “regathering” of Israelites and Jews from the surrounding nations was expressed numerous times already in the Old Testament Prophets, especially the latter half of the book of Isaiah; this eschatological expectation was extended to include those of the nations (Gentiles) who come to Jerusalem and join the people of Israel—e.g., Isa 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 60:1-14; 66:18-24; Micah 4:2-5 (Isa 2:3-4). Cf. Sanders, p. 79. This theme became part of subsequent Israelite/Jewish eschatology and Messianic thought (Baruch 4-5; 2 Macc 1:27ff; Ps Sol 11, 17, etc), sometimes expressed specifically in relation to the regathering of the twelve tribesSirach 36:11; 48:10; Ps Sol 17:28-31ff; 1QM 2:2ff; 11QTemple 18:14-16; T. Sanh. 13:10; and also note the motif in Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3ff (cf. Sanders, pp. 96-7).

Revelation 21:12-14ff

Finally, the connection between the Twelve Apostles and the Twelve Tribes of Israel is presented in the book of Revelation, but in a very different manner from the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:28. It is part of the great vision of the new (heavenly) Jerusalem in 21:1-22:5, which serves as the climax of the book. The gates and walls of the city are described in 21:12-14ff, drawing upon the description in Ezek 48:30-35. Here we find:

    • Twelve gates, named after the Twelve Tribes—that is, the names of the tribes were inscribed on them (v. 12b). The Qumran community drew upon the same tradition (11QTemple 39-41; 4Q365a frag. 2 col. 2; 4Q554). The names on the gates commemorate the heritage of Israel as the people of God.
    • Twelve foundation stones for the city walls, named after the Twelve Apostles (v. 14). The image of Christ and the apostles as “foundation (stone)s” is found several times in the New Testament (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20). There is also a similar idea expressed by the Qumran community, for the leaders of the community (esp. the twelve men of the Council), cf. 1QS 8:1-6; 11:8; 4Q154 frag. 1, col. 1). In the famous declaration of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19, Peter and the Twelve are depicted as stones which make up the foundation of the Church. Cf. Koester, p. 815.

Thus the New Jerusalem—that is, the heavenly/spiritual Jerusalem of the New Covenant (Gal 4:24-26)—honors the heritage and legacy of both Israel (representing the Old Covenant), and the Apostles (representing the beginning of the New). However, there is no idea here of the Apostles ruling—God alone (with Christ) is on the Throne (21:5).

References above marked “Sanders” are to E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press: 1985). Those marked “Koester” are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38a (Yale: 2014).

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 7: The Davidic King (Detailed Analysis)

Having explored the background and development of the Messianic figure-type of Anointed (Davidic) King in the previous article, here I will proceed to examine a number key passages—first from Jewish writings of the 1st centuries B.C./A.D., then from the Gospels (and early Christian tradition).

Jewish Writings (c. 150 B.C. to 100 A.D.)

Sirach 47:11; 51:12ff (line 8 of the hymn)—The book of Sirach is dated from the early-mid 2nd century B.C., though the Hebrew hymn that is set after 51:12 is probably a later addition. Both verses refer to God exalting/raising the “horn” (Grk ke/ra$), an Old Testament idiom indicating power and prestige (2 Sam 22:3; Psalm 18:2; 75:4-5; Jer 48:25; Dan 7:8ff; 8:5ff, etc). The idea of God “exalting the horn” of the ruler (esp. of David and his line), reflects the divinely-appointed status of the king, who enjoys the power and protection of YHWH—see Psalm 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9. The announcement or promise of a future raising/sprouting of a horn for Israel is found in Psalm 132:17; 148:14; Ezek 29:21. A Messianic use of this idiom is also found in the New Testament (Luke 1:69). Interestingly, the book of Sirach generally accords greater prestige and importance to the figure of (High) Priest, rather than king—compare the description of David and the kings of chap. 47 with that of Moses, Aaron and Phineas in chap. 45 (and cf. also the praise of Simon ben Onias in chap. 50). The elevation of the Priestly figure over and against the King/Prince is a feature of a number of Jewish writings from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It can be seen in the book of Jubilees (Jub 31:4-32), the traditions underlying the Testament of Levi (cf. also Testament of Judah 21-22), and throughout the Qumran texts (the Community rule-texts CD/QD, 1QS, 1QSa-b, also 4QTLevi and 4Q541). This presumably reflects the reality of the situation in the post-Exilic period, where the High Priest was set more or less in an equal position with the Prince/King (cf. on Zerubbabel and Joshua and the “two sons of oil” in Zech 3:8-10; 4:1-14; 6:11-13). Indeed, throughout much of the Intertestamental and second-Temple periods, the High Priest (along with the great Priestly families) was the dominant figure in Judah/Judea. The texts and traditions of the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. likely also reflect an underlying polemic against the Hasmonean/Herodian rulers of the time. In lines 8-9 of the hymn in Sirach 51, the “horn of David” (as Ruler) and the chosen “sons of Zadok” (as Priest) are set in tandem.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18—Here we have the clearest pre-Christian expression of the traditional image of an Anointed Ruler who will defeat/subdue the nations and establish a (Messianic) Kingdom for Israel. The Psalms are to be dated in the mid-1st century, in the Hasmonean period, presumably sometime after Pompey’s invasion (63 B.C.). Ps Sol 17 begins with an address to God as King (and the source of kingship): “Lord, you are our king forever… the kingdom of our God is forever over the nations in judgment” (vv. 1-3). The covenant with David is mentioned in verse 4 (“you chose David to be king… that his kingdom should not fail before you”), contrasted with “sinners” (presumably the Maccabean/Hasmonean line) who arose and set up their own monarchy, and so “despoiled the throne of David” (v. 6). Then came “a man alien to our race”, a “lawless one” (vv. 7, 11ff)—most likely a reference to Pompey and the Romans—who invaded and desecrated Jerusalem, scattering its people. This inaugurated an era of sin and injustice (vv. 18b-20). In verse 21-25, the call goes out to God:

“See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God…”

The actions of this Davidic ruler will be two-fold: (1) he will judge and destroy the wicked nations (vv. 22-25, using language from Psalm 2 and Isa 11:1-4), and (2) he will gather/restore Israel as the people of God, establishing a new kingdom of righteousness and peace (vv. 26-32). This ruler is called “Anointed Lord” (xristo\$ kuri/ou) in verse 32, and his reign over Israel and the nations is further described throughout vv. 33-44; ultimately, however, it is God who is the true King of Israel, as stated in the concluding verse (“the Lord Himself is our king forevermore”, v. 46).

Ps Sol 18 is much briefer, but likewise offers a petition to God for cleansing, “…for the day of mercy in blessing, for the appointed day when his Anointed will reign” (v. 5). This rule will take place “under the rod of discipline of the Anointed Lord” (v. 7a).
(Translations by R. B. Wright, OTP 2:665-9, with modifications [in italics])

A generally similar description of the Messiah and his coming rule is found in the (late) 1st-century A.D. works—the Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) and the deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra). 2 Baruch 26-28 sets forth a twelve-part series of calamities to come upon the world, and then “when all that…has been accomplished, the Anointed One will begin to be revealed” (29:3)—his appearance will usher in an era of peace and prosperity, after which the resurrection will come (30:1). The Messiah’s role in judging and subduing the nations is described in 39:7ff (“…and his dominion will last forever until the world of corruption has ended”, 40:3). An even more detailed description is found as part of the Vision of the Clouds and Waters (2 Bar 53-76)—in 70:9, after the coming of many tribulations, “all will be delivered into the hands of my Servant, the Anointed One”; “he will call all nations, and some of them he will spare, and others he will kill” (72:2). After he has judged the nations and established rule, an idealized era of peace and security will commence (ch. 73). Translations by A. F. J. Klijn, OTP 1:630, 633, 645.

2/4 Esdras similarly has the image of a Messianic Kingdom which precedes the Resurrection and Last Judgment, and which will last 400 years (7:28-29). In the great “Eagle Vision” of chapters 11-12, the lion which appears is identified as “the Anointed (Messiah) whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David” (12:32). He will judge and destroy the wicked, and deliver the remnant of Israel (12:34). Modified translation by B. M. Metzter in OTP 1:550.

The Qumran Texts—Here I focus on texts and passages which use the expressions “Prince of the Congregation” (hduh aycn) or “Branch of David” (dywd jmx), both of which are identified with the “Anointed One (of Israel)”, and almost certainly represent the same expected/eschatological Ruler-figure from the line of David (see the discussion in Part 6). Both expressions are found in the Commentary (Pesher) on Isaiah, 4QpIsaa [4Q161]. In column ii (fragments 2-6), on Isa 10:24-27, there is a reference to the “Prince of the Congregation”, and according to what follows, “…after(wards) he/it will be removed from them.” Since the context overall is that of the judgment on the wicked/nations and preservation of a remnant from Israel, the verse probably relates to this. The war against the Kittim (a cipher for Rome) is described in column 3 (fragments 7/8-10), along with a citation of Isaiah 11:1-5 (cf. above) as a Messianic prophecy—”…the interpretation of the word concerns the shoot/branch of David which will sprout in the final days… with the breath of his lips he will execute his enemy and God will support him… he will rule over all the peoples… his sword will judge all the peoples” [restored translation adapted from Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:317]. The end-time war against the Kittim and the wicked/nations is described in much more detail in the famous War Rule [1QM, 4QM], where the “Prince of the Congregation is mentioned in at least one key passage: “upon the shield of the Prince of the whole Congregation they shall write his name…and the names of the twelve tribes…” etc (5:1 [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:121], see also 3:16 and 4Q496 col. 4 frag. 10). It is not clear in this document, whether, or to what extent, this Prince takes an active role in the war, which is what one would expect of the Davidic Ruler to come. This role as conqueror and/or judge of the wicked is more in view in the fragmentary 4Q285, which is likely related in some way to the War Rule; “Prince of the Congregation” appears four times (partly restored) in this text, twice identified specifically as the “Branch of David”. In fragments 6 + 4, the Prince is clearly involved in the war against the Kittim, and at some point “they shall bring him [i.e. leader of the Kittim?] before the Prince of the Congregation”; in fragment 5 (= 11Q14 1 1), in the context of Isa 11:1ff and the defeat of the Kittim, it is stated that “the Prince of the Congregation will kill him” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 2:643]. Cf. also 4Q376 (frag. 1, col. iii).

In the Community Rule documents—the Damascus Document [CD, QD], Rule of the Community [1QS] and the related 1QSa, 1QSb—the “Prince of the Congregation” and/or the “Anointed (of Israel)” is depicted in terms of his future/end-time role as leader of the Community. This is not particularly surprising, since the Qumran Community (and the Community of the Damascus Document) almost certainly saw itself as representing the faithful ones of the last days. Only those Israelites who join the Community and follow its ways will be saved from the Judgment and be part of the coming Kingdom (Rule over the Community = the Kingdom). In CD 7:19-20 (= 4Q266 3 col. iii), the “Prince of the Congregation” is said to be the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, the Scripture being given a Messianic interpretation—he will destroy the wicked of Judah and the “sons of Seth” (cf. also CD 19:10-11). The Anointed of Israel is also mentioned in the context of judgment in CD 20:1; for other references to the Anointed, see CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 1QS 9:11; 1QSa 2:11-12, 14-15, 20-21. In 1QSb 5:20ff, after the announcement of blessing, the “Prince of the Congregation” will play a role in the renewal of the covenant and the establishment of the kingdom for his [i.e. God’s] people forever (note also the allusion to Isa 11:1-4 and judgment on the wicked in 5:24ff).

In the Florilegium [4Q174], as part of a string of messianic/eschatological Scripture passages, the “Branch of David” will arise as the fulfillment of 2 Sam 7:11-14 to deliver Israel from the “sons of Belial” (col. i, lines 7-11). The Commentary on Genesis [4Q252], on Gen 49:10 (col. v), interprets the “staff” as “the Anointed (One) of Righteousness” and “Branch of David”—”…to him and to his descendants has been given the covenant of kingship for everlasting generations” [Martínez-Tigchelaar, 1:505]. For other Messianic interpretation of the “staff/sceptre” of Gen 49:10 and Num 24:17, see 1QSb 5:27-28; 1QM 11:6-7; 4Q175 12; 4Q521 frag 2 col. iii, as well as the famous reference in the Jewish/Christian Testament of Judah (24:1-6).

The Gospels and the New Testament

Use of the term xristo/$ (“Anointed”)

Apart from the various uses of xristo/$ as a virtual second name for Jesus in early Christianity (reflected in the New Testament), I am examining here only those passages which refer to a specific coming/expected figure: “the Anointed” ([o(] Xristo/$), or with the transliteration “the Meshiyach [Messiah]” ([o(] Messi/a$). It is best to begin with the core Synoptic Tradition, looking especially at those instances which definitely (or are likely to) refer to an Anointed (Davidic) Ruler. There are four main passages:

Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:29 / Lk 9:20 / Matt 16:16)—The Markan version (“You are the Anointed [One]”), has been given expanded form in Luke (“…Anointed [One] of God“) and Matthew (“…Anointed [One], the Son of the living God“). The Matthean formula is somewhat problematic as an utterance by Peter in the historical context of the narrative. In any event, it is clear that something very distinct and special has been revealed. Note:

    • Here “Anointed” is in contrast with Jesus being identified as a Prophet (Elijah); as discussed previously (cf. Part 3), a number of instances where “Anointed” is used in the Gospels during the period of Jesus’ ministry, etc., better fit the idea of an Anointed Prophet to come, but this does not seem to be the case here.
    • Jesus gives a firm instruction that the disciples not make this identification known to anyone.
    • There seems to be an intentional contrast between this identification and the announcement of suffering and death which follows (Mk 8:31 par, similarly following the Transfiguration scene [Mk 9:12, 30-31 par]).
    • The relationship between the “Anointed” and the “Son of Man” (cf. the Passion predictions and other sayings that follow).
    • The Lukan and Matthean versions seem to relate in some way to the Divine voice in the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (Mk 1:11; 9:7 pars), indicating that Jesus, as the Anointed One, is specifically the Elect/Chosen One (and Son) of God, cf. Lk 9:35.

The Question regarding the Anointed and the “Son of David” (Mark 12:35-37 / Lk 20:41ff / Matt 22:42ff)—This difficult and somewhat ambiguous passage, set during Passion week in Jerusalem, will be discussed in some detail in Part 8.

The Question of the High Priest (Mark 14:61ff / Lk 22:67 ff / Matt 26:63ff)—This of course takes place during Jesus’ appearance (or “trial”) before the Council (the Sanhedrin), and would seem to denote something very specific. In Mark the question is: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (Matthew reads “…Anointed [One], the Son of God”); in Luke, it is simply “Are you the Anointed (One)?” In the context of the Synoptic narrative, this question serves as a parallel to Peter’s confession, especially if we consider the expanded version in Matthew:

“You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God”
“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of God?”

The joining of “Anointed” and “Son of God” is particularly noteworthy. The Lukan scene is more developed:

    • High Priest’s question: “Are you the Anointed One?”
    • Jesus eventually responds, identifying himself with the coming Son of Man
    • High Priest follows: “Are you then the Son of God?”

In all three Gospels, there is the three-fold association: Anointed–Son of Man–Son of God. Jesus’ response to the question differs somewhat; only Mark records an unmistakable affirmative answer: “I am” (Mk 14:62). Regardless, Jesus’ response is enough for the High Priest to declare that it is blasphemy—i.e., slander/insult against God. Nowhere is the idea of an Anointed King mentioned, but the subsequent events of the Passion narrative (Mk 15:2ff, 16-20 etc) make it clear that this is in mind.

The Taunts while Jesus is on the Cross (Mark 15:32 / Luke 23:35 [+ 39])—Here the title “Anointed One” is linked directly to Jesus as a (supposed) king: “The Anointed (One), the King of Israel, let him step down now from the stake [i.e. cross] that we may see and trust [i.e. believe]!” (Mk 15:32). In Luke the taunt is recorded as: “…let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One), the Chosen [i.e. gathered out] (One) of God!” (cf. also verse 39). The expression “Elect/Chosen One” (o( e)klekto/$) in the Lukan context is an echo of the Divine voice in the Transfiguration scene (“My Son, the Elect/Chosen One [o( e)klelegme/no$]”, Lk 9:35). There is thus a loose association through the Synoptic Tradition: Anointed–King–Elect One–Son of God.

It is important to note that all of these instances are centered around the Passion events and narrative; in fact there are very few instances of the term “Anointed (One)” in the Gospel narrative which are set (chronologically) prior to Peter’s confession. In the Synoptics these are: Matthew 1:16-17; 2:4; 11:2; 16:20; Luke 3:15; 4:41—all of which are explanatory references by the narrator, and only Matt 1:16-17; 2:4 are clearly in the context of a Davidic Ruler (these are from the Infancy narratives, which will be treated separately in the next article). For other occurrences of xristo/$ in the context of the Passion narratives, cf. Matthew 23:10; 24:5, 23 par (sayings of Jesus set during Passion week); 27:17, 22. In the last two references, “Anointed” appears to be synonymous with “King (of the Jews)” [Lk 23:2]. In Luke 24:26, 46, “Anointed” is used by Jesus (after the Resurrection) as an identification of himself, parallel to “Son of Man” (v. 7; 9:22, 43-45, 18:31ff).

There are, in addition a number of references unique to the Gospel traditions recorded in the Gospel of John. The title “the Anointed (One)” is used in connection with John the Baptist in Jn 1:20, 25; 3:28 (cf. also Lk 3:15); and, as I have discussed previously, these likely refer to an Anointed Prophet figure, even though “the Anointed” and “the Prophet” seem to be distinguished in Jn 1:20ff. The same is true of Jn 4:25, 29—the “Messiah” of the Samaritans (the Tahêb) was a Prophet-like-Moses (Deut 18:15ff) rather than a Davidic Ruler. In Jn 7:26-27, 31; 9:22; 10:24; 12:34, the precise meaning of the expression is uncertain—though the context of the Shepherd theme in 10:24 might suggest a Davidic ruler (cf. Ezek 34:23-24); in 12:34 there is an association with the “Son of Man”. Only in Jn 7:41-42 is there a clear connection with David (allusion to Micah 5:2), distinct from “the (Anointed) Prophet”. John 1:41 and 11:27, represent identifications by disciples, similar to Peter’s confession in Synoptic tradition—note especially, Martha’s confession: “You are the Anointed (One), the Son of God”.

Within early Christian tradition, there are also some notable references, especially those in the book of Acts, from Peter’s speeches: Acts 2:31, 36 (association with David in the context of the resurrection); and 3:18, 20. In Acts 4:25-27, Psalm 2 is cited and applied to the Passion and Resurrection. Similarly, we find a number of references where early believers are said to hold, as a tenet of belief, that Jesus was “the Anointed (One)”, proclaiming and demonstrating it from the Scriptures, etc—Acts 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; 26:23 (cf. also Rom 9:5). This probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection—i.e. that the Messiah (or Son of Man) must suffer and die (Lk 24:26, 46). The identification of Jesus as Anointed/Christ has become a test of orthodoxy by the time of 1 John 2:22; 5:1. Finally, we may note the statement in John 20:31, which concludes the Gospel.

Jesus as King and Davidic Ruler

There are, in fact, very few references to Jesus as King in the Gospel tradition outside of the Passion narrative. As I have discussed previously (see Parts 2 and 3), during the period of his ministry (in Galilee), especially in the Synoptic tradition, Jesus filled the Messianic role of Prophet rather than King. Here are the main passages (Lk 1:33 and the Infancy narratives will be treated separately, in Part 8):

  • Use of the expression “Son of David” (3 times) in the Gospel of Matthew—Matt 9:27 (cf. 20:30-31); 12:23; 15:22. In 12:23 we find the question of whether Jesus is the “Son of David”, a debate similar to the one in John 7:41-42 (cf. above).
  • The declaration by Nathanael in John 1:49: “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!” This offers a formal parallel to the confession by Peter in Synoptic tradition—joining “King of Israel” with “Son of God”, just as Peter (in Matt 16:16) joins “Anointed (One)” with “Son of God”. Such a declaration is a bit unusual at this early position in the narrative.
  • John 6:15—following the feeding miracle, it is stated that Jesus knows people will come and attempt to make him king by force. Interestingly, however, in the narrative itself, the crowd declares Jesus to be the coming (end-time) Prophet, rather than a king (v. 14).
  • Matthew 16:28—in the Matthean version of this Synoptic saying (Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26f), Jesus refers to the Son of Man “coming in his kingdom“.

This theme, and the association of Jesus with the Messianic (Davidic) Ruler type becomes more prominent as he approaches Jerusalem, and then, subsequently, throughout the Passion narrative:

In the scene of Jesus’ death, all four Gospels effectively present the image of him hanging on the cross, with the written charge fixed overhead (variously cited):

“This is (Jesus of Nazareth) the King of the Jews

In the book of Acts, we see a basic extension of the imagery and motifs from the Passion narratives, associating the death and resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus with David and certain key (Messianic) Psalms:

The accusation against early believers in Acts 17:7 reflects the charge made against Jesus (Lk 23:2)—i.e., that Jesus was considered to be a king, contrary (or in addition) to Caesar.

There are also a good number of references in the New Testament, reflecting early Christian belief and tradition, that Jesus was a King—among the most notable are:

However, it should be pointed out that most of these NT references are related more to the idea of the deity of Jesus—whether by way of his exaltation to the right hand of God, or according to a more general Christological belief, and have little connection to the earlier Jewish tradition of an Anointed Ruler from the line of David. This particular Davidic figure-type is largely limited to the Gospels, and the early strands of Christian tradition in the book of Acts (cf. also Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). It is this association—Jesus as the “Son of David”—which will be discussed in more detail in the next part of this series.

References above marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 Vols.), ed. by James H. Charlesworth (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1983, 1985).
References marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 Vols.) (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

“…the things about the Kingdom of God” (continued)

In the first portion of this article, you will find an exhaustive list of New Testament references to the Kingdom of God, along with an brief survey of many sayings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels—this was the first of three main sections to the article. I also provided a simple list of four primary aspects of the Kingdom of God concept:

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

In the continuation here can be found the final two sections of the article: (a) on the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom in more detail, and (b) discussion more generally on the tension between a present and future sense of the Kingdom.

2. The Eschatological Aspect(s) of the Kingdom of God

In addition to the two-fold aspect indicated above, one may identify several strands which had coalesced by the time of the New Testament:

  • God’s impending Judgment (as King) upon the nations and rulers of the world—prophetic theme of the “day of YHWH”
  • A “new age” under God’s rule—a time of peace and prosperity on earth (see Isa. 2:4 and many other passages); in 2 Baruch 73 and Test. Mos. 10, etc., this idyllic condition is specific related to God’s Kingdom (or Kingdom of Heaven)
  • Restoration of God’s rightful place as King among his people, in the religious-political order—with related theme of restored/rebuilt Temple—in addition to passages in the Prophets (Isa. 56:7; 60; 66:20; Zech 14:16ff, etc.), see also Tobit 14:5ff; 1 Enoch 25:4ff; 91:13; Jub. 1:15ff; 11QTemple 29, etc. The nations also will bring their wealth and offerings to God (in Jerusalem).
  • The return of Israel (the Twelve tribes) from the nations, to constitute a renewed people/kingdom (centered in Jersualem)—cf. many passages in the Prophets (Isa. 2:2ff; 11:11f; 49:5ff; 56:1-8; 66:18-24, etc.) and subsequent Jewish literature (Tobit 13:5ff; Sirach 36:11ff; 2 Macc. 1:27ff; Ps. Sol. 17; Sib. Or. bk. 3; 1QM; Philo On Rewards and Punishments §§94ff, 162ff, etc.)
  • The restoration of Davidic rule (‘eternal covenant’ with David, cf. 2 Sam 7:12ff, etc) in the person of an idealized/future Anointed figure (i.e. Messiah, “Branch of David”, cf. Isa. 11:1ff, etc). Under the influence of the Book of Daniel (and possibly other apocalyptic works), this “Messiah” concept merged with a separate “Son of Man” tradition—of a pre-existent, chosen human (or angelic) divine representative; cf. the Similitudes of Enoch (chs. 37-71) and the Gospels (Mark 2:10; 9:12; 13:26; 14:62; John 1:51, et al.)

The first three of these could certainly be understood in a general or symbolic fashion; the last two, however, would seem to imply concrete historical events, at least in part. Taken together, these (the return of the Twelve tribes, and the restoration of Davidic rule) make up #2b in the top list.

A most difficult question is: to what extant did Jesus speak of the Kingdom of God in a definite eschatological sense, and particularly in terms of #2b above?

Consider the first words of Jesus’ public ministry, as recorded in Mark 1:15 (par. Matt. 4:17): “the time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near! Change (your) mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!”

The perfect verbal forms—the time has been fulfilled (peplh/rwtai), the kingdom of God has come near (h&ggiken)—would indicate that the Kingdom has already come or was very close (in the process of coming, or about to come). But what is the sense of the “Kingdom of God” here? Many critical scholars assume that Jesus was speaking in terms of the common eschatological expectation shared by many Jews at the time. Based on the recorded reactions of those who heard his words (cf. especially Mark 11:9-10 par; Luke 17:10; 19:11; John 6:15), including his disciples (Acts 1:6), this indeed would appear to be how they understood it—that God was about to establish a tangible (Messianic) Kingdom on earth. In other Jewish writings roughly contemporary with Jesus and the New Testament—the Qumran texts, the ‘Similitudes’ of Enoch [chs. 37-71], the Psalms of Solomon [17-18], and so-called 4 Ezra—we find the hope/expectation of a end-time Messianic figure who will judge the nations, restore the kingdom to Israel, and/or inaugurate the “new age”. But how did Jesus himself understand the matter?

This really depends on whether one looks “forward”, from the standpoint of Jewish thought prior to Jesus (i.e., Jesus as a Jew), or looks “backward”, from the standpoint of early Christian interpretation (i.e., Jesus as the Son of God and resurrected/exalted Christ). The truth, I think, will be found somewhere in between.

It is important to note that Jesus’ initial proclamation of the Kingdom, according to Matt. 3:2, simply picks up where John left off. It is a striking announcement, sure to capture the attention of all who heard him. To judge from the Synoptic Gospels, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke and taught often about the Kingdom of God; even after the resurrection, according to Acts 1:3, he continued to speak of “the things about the Kingdom of God”. That he frequently taught of the Kingdom in parables and in terms of “secrets” (Mark 4:11 par.) would indicate that something more was involved than popular Jewish eschatology. An examination of all the Kingdom references I outlined previously shows a wide and diverse context within his teaching. I would like to suggest the following primary points of emphasis:

  1. Realization of the Kingdom of God begins with Jesus’ own person (in standard doctrinal terms, the incarnate person of Christ)—this seems to be a fundamental sense of the Kingdom having “come near” (see Matt 12:28, par. Luke 11:20); it may also be a proper sense of the saying in Luke 17:21.
  2. Those who hear and respond to the Word of God and presence of the Kingdom (in Jesus)—those who both trust and seek after the Kingdom (righteousness/justice)—will receive, inherit, and enter it. This is an eschatological aspect of the Kingdom, but one defined primarily by faith and ethical conduct.
  3. The Kingdom of God is still coming (present into future), in at least two senses:
    a. The will and purpose of God becoming manifest on earth (parallel petition of the Lord’s Prayer), particularly in the hearts and lives of believers [call this the inward aspect of God’s presence and judgment]
    b. God’s rule and power becoming manifest on earth ( associated with the coming of the Son of Man [trad. identified with the return of Christ]) [the outward aspect of God’s presence/judgment]
  4. There will be an entrance into and inheritance of the Kingdom for believers associated with the final judgment (end of the Age); this is an entrance into (eternal) life, where believers will experience the transcendent rule of God in Heaven
  5. There is an invisible (or hidden) and mysterious (spiritual) dimension to the Kingdom, as indicated in many of Jesus’ parables. This is also clear from the precious few references to the Kingdom in the Gospel of John (3:3, 5; 18:36); and is very much a possible meaning for the difficult saying in Luke 17:21. Though there may be a specific eschatological aspect to several of the parables, this ‘mysterious’ dimension of the Kingdom transcends past, present, and future (see below).

It is striking that, throughout all the Kingdom sayings and teachings in the Gospels, one finds very little evidence indeed for anything like the traditional concept of an earthly Davidic/Messianic kingdom (unless one assumes or reads this into them). Neither does one find this idea much in the remainder of the New Testament, though there are many references to Christ’s (imminent) future return and the coming Judgment. Only in the book of Revelation (esp. chapter 20) is anything like an earthly Messianic kingdom suggested, but a concrete interpretation of such passages is notoriously difficult. There remains, of course, the highly problematic question of whether Jesus still may have taught an imminent eschatological judgment and end of the current age; however, I do not know just how significant this is for an overall understanding of his teaching on the Kingdom of God, and the issue is sufficiently complex that I must save discussion on it for another time.

However, it is interesting to note that there are only three passages in the Gospels and Acts where Jesus addresses the question both of an imminent and tangible (earthly/Davidic) Kingdom:

  1. Luke 17:20-21: The Scribes and Pharisees ask ‘when comes the Kingdom of God?’ The response Jesus gives can be divided into three parts:
    a. “the kingdom of God comes not with close watching”—which could have the sense of “while you are watching”, “even though you may be watching”, or “as a result of watching”. Likewise the implication could be that it won’t come with obvious observable signs, or that it will come while you are not aware of it.
    b. “neither shall they say ‘see here!’ or ‘(see) there!'”—a further indication that it will come unexpectedly or imperceptibly, especially for those actively looking for it (in a superficial manner?)
    c. “for, see! the kingdom of God is in(side) you (pl.)”—a most difficult saying, but certainly the indication is that the Kingdom is (and/or will be) in the midst of believers(?) in such manner that (most) people are unaware of it.
  2. Luke 19:11: Narrative introduction to the parable of the Minas (Luke 19:12-27), which is similar to the Matthean parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)—it is recorded that Jesus tells the parable because of “his being near Jerusalem, and their [the disciples’] thinking that the kingdom of God is about to appear [lit. shine forth]”. The parable itself may have been inserted here by Luke from a separate context, as it does not entirely fit the reason given, except for verse 12, which seems to suggest Christ’s exaltation to the Father (receiving the Kingdom) and future return. How soon or imminent this might be is not clear, though the context of the parable suggests perhaps a relatively short time.
  3. Acts 1:6: The disciples ask: “Lord, in this time are you restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” As a modest rebuke, perhaps, Jesus effectively refuses to answer their question. Is the question itself invalid or inappropriate? Consider how he does respond:
    a. “it is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own exousia [i..e. authority]”
    b. “but you shall receive the power of holy Spirit coming upon you”
    c. “and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem [and] in all Judea and Samaria and unto the end of the earth”
    Interesting in this regard is the rare variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2): instead of “let your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), one late manuscript (MS 700, partially supported by MS 162) and several Church Fathers read “let your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us” (e)lqe/tw to\ a%gion pneu=ma sou e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$). This variant substitutes the coming of the Holy Spirit for the coming of the Kingdom—was this an early gloss which identified Kingdom and Spirit?
    Even though Jesus may not answer the disciples’ question regarding the “restoration of the kingdom”, one finds implicit in the narrative of Acts 2 (and beyond) the theme of the “restoration of Israel”. The Twelve disciples (symbolizing the twelve tribes) are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place, where they experience a theophany (presence of God via the Spirit); Jews from the surrounding nations (the Dispersion) are also gathered in Jerusalem, where they hear the word of God; the disciples then go out into the surrounding nations, where a new people of God (Jews and Gentiles) is formed through preaching of the Gospel.

3. Present and Future Aspects of the Kingdom

This has been discussed to some extent above, as well as in the survey of New Testament references in the first portion of this article. Here I will limit discussion to passages outside of the Gospels, particularly those in the various Epistles and the Gospel of John.

In the Pauline Epistles (including, for the moment, Colossians/Ephesians and the Pastorals), specific references the Kingdom (of God and/or of Christ) are as follows:

  • Nature and character of the Kingdom:
    1 Cor. 4:20: “for the Kingdom (is) not in word, but in power”—that is, not in (human) speech, but in the power of God (power of the Spirit). There is no verb here, and the declaration appears to be general (not limited to present or future)
    Romans 14:17: “for the Kingdom of God is (e)stin, present) not eating and drink(ing), but justice and peace and joy in (the) Holy Spirit”
    Both statements contrast ‘ordinary’ human activity with a deeper quality in, or of, the Spirit.
  • Inheriting the Kingdom:
    Galatians 5:21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5: here the context is a ‘list of vices’ (contrasted in Galatians with a list of “fruit of the Spirit”)—all who exhibit these vices “will not inherit (klhronomh/sousin, future) the Kingdom of God”. In Ephesians it reads “does not have (e&xei, present) inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God”. This is the same sort of ethical injunction we find in Jesus’ teaching, the language being common to both Jewish and early Christian tradition.
    1 Cor. 15:50 states more generally: “flesh and blood is not able [lit. is not powered] (du/natai, present passive) to inherit (klhronomh/sai, aorist inf.) the Kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit (klhronomei=, present) incorruption”. As the context here is the mystery of the resurrection, the Kingdom has a strong future eschatological sense—entrance into the eternal rule of God (in Heaven).
  • Believers called/brought into the Kingdom:
    1 Thess. 2:12: an exhortation to walk worthy of God “the (one who) calls (kalou=nto$, present part.) you into his (own) Kingdom and glory”.
    Col. 1:12-13: an exhortation to give thanks to the Father “the (one who) has enabled us unto the portion of the inheritance (klh=ro$) of the holy ones in the light, who rescued us out of the authority of darkness and transferred (us) into the Kingdom of His (be)loved Son.” (Verbs are all aorist)
    2 Tim 4:18: “the Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will save (me) [i.e. keep me safe] into His heavenly Kingdom”.
    Note that in the 1 Thess 2:12 the action is in the present (“calls” or “is calling”), in Col. 1:12-13 the past (“enabled/rescued/transferred”), in 2 Tim 4:18 the future (“will resue/save”).
  • Christ’s Kingdom in a christological sense (emphasizing his Deity and/or exaltation):
    Christ seated at the right hand of God: Rom. 8:34; Eph 1:20-21; Col 3:1; see also Col 2:10, 15; 1 Tim 1:17; as well as Rom. 14:1; 15:12; Phil. 2:10; 2 Tim 2:12.
  • Christ’s Kingdom in an eschatological sense (his future coming, etc.):
    1 Cor 15:24-25: “then [i.e. after that] the end (telo$) when he should give over [lit. give along] (paradidw=|, present subjunctive) the Kingdom to God and Father…”
    1 Tim 6:14-15: part of a concluding exhortation “to guard the commandment…until the appearance [lit. shining upon, e)pifanei/a] of our Lord Jesus Christ, which [i.e. the appearance] He will show in (His) own times [lit. seasons], the blessed [lit. happy] and only Powerful-one, the King of kings and Lord of lords”.

Not surprisingly these Pauline references, in the pastoral context of the letters, often use eschatological language and imagery in order to exhort believers for living and acting in the present. Predominantly eschatological passages are rather few, though of course there are many other instances referring to the future coming of Christ and the impending Judgment on the world by God (through Christ).

When we turn to the remainder of the New Testament Epistles, specific references are fewer still:

  • Believers receiving/inheriting/entering the Kingdom:
    James 2:5: “has God not gathered out (e)cele/cato, aorist) the poor in the world (to be ones) rich in trust [i.e. faith] and inheritors of the Kingdom (which he promised to the [ones who] love him)?”
    2 Peter 1:11: “for thus shall be supplied (e)pixorhghqh/setai, future pass.) richly to you the way into the Kingdom of-the-ages [i.e. eternal] of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
    Hebrews 12:28: “through which [dio/, i.e. therefore] receiving [lit. taking alongside] (paralamba/nonte$, present part.) an unshakable Kingdom, we should have joy [or ‘grace’, i.e. let us be grateful], (and) through which (di’ h!$) we should serve [i.e. do hired service] well-pleasing to God with right attitude [lit. taking/receiving well] and fear [i.e. reverence/awe]”.
  • Christ at the right hand (of the throne) of God:
    Hebrews 8:1 (“is seated” e)ka/qisen, aorist active); 12:2 (“has sat [down]” keka/qiken, perfect active); also 1:8 (quoting Psalm 45:6-7: “your throne, O God, [is] unto the age of ages, and a rod of straightness [i.e. ‘rightness’] is the rod of your Kingdom”).

These references to the Kingdom from the Epistles, can, I think, be summarized according to the following themes:

  1. God has acted to call/deliver believers “into” the Kingdom (present with future promise); here the Kingdom seems to have the primary sense of life “in Christ” (in the Spirit)
  2. The character of believers should conform to that of the Kingdom, both in terms of an ethical standard and according to the Spirit—the power (1 Cor 4:20) and fruit (Gal 5:22ff) of the Spirit. Those with contrary character/behavior will not achieve the eschatological promise (to enter/inherit the Kingdom); here the Kingdom has the fundamental sense of the eternal rule of God (in Heaven), only now it is “the Kingdom of God and Christ“.
  3. There is a christological  theme—Christ seated at the right hand of God; again this should be understood a the eternal rule of God (in Heaven).
  4. There is also an eschatological theme—primarily that of believers’ future entrance “into” the Kingdom (Paul relates this to the Resurrection in 1 Cor 15); again this is the heavenly, eternal rule of God (and Christ, cf. esp. 1 Cor 15:24-25). The Kingdom theme/motif plays only a small part in the main eschatological message: namely of the parousia (coming) of Christ and future Judgment.

The Gospel of John has just five references (in only 2 passages) to the Kingdom of God (and Christ):

  • John 3:3, 5: here we have two parallel sayings of Jesus, which share the same form:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless [lit. if not] one [ti$] should come-to-be (born)
from above [a&nwqen] (v. 3)           out of water and Spirit (v. 5)
he is not able [lit. powered, du/natai]
to see  (v. 3)                             to come into (v. 5)
the Kingdom of God”

In between these is the question of Nicodemos (“how is a man able to be born [when] he is old….?”), an instance of the familiar Johannine theme of misunderstanding. The word a&nwqen (lit. “from above”) can also mean “from the first”, “again”; through a bit of wordplay, when Jesus speaks of being born “from above”, Nicodemus hears it as being born “again, a second time”. Jesus appears to respond with an even subtler bit of wordplay: he glosses a&nwqen (“from above”), indeed, in terms of two births—out of water, and (out of) Spirit, though this should be understood as two aspects of the one birth “from above”. A precise interpretation of this phrase, and of the powerful discourse which follows, remains most challenging. I have discussed the passage in more detail in an earlier post. Here I will only draw attention yet to the last parallel phrase: “to see” and “to come into” the Kingdom of God. To see the Kingdom means to perceive its invisible nature and mysterious working, particularly in regard to motif of “seeing Christ” (the Son, who was sent by the Father and reveals the Father). As indicated throughout this article the idea of “entering” the Kingdom traditionally has a strong ethical and eschatological component; however, in the Gospel of John, the emphasis is somewhat different. I would argue that here “coming into” the Kingdom should be understood in terms of (the disciples) coming to Christ, and (through Christ) to the Father. There is a strong sense of the ‘incarnate’ Christ—the Light and Word, sent by God, and come into the World; believers who see and hear this Word are called out of the World (to the Father, where Christ is). We also find the sense that, through the Incarnation, the Judgment of God has already come upon the World (cf. John 3:17ff, etc.).

  • John 18:36: the context is Jesus’ exchange with Pilate (emphatic position emphasized):

“My Kingdom is not out of [e)k] this world (kosmo$)”
“if My Kingdom were out of this world, my attendants would struggle that I should not be given over to the Jews”
“but now My Kingdom is not on (this) side (e&nqen)”

As in the dialogue with Nicodemos, Jesus is responding to a ‘question’ from the Jewish leaders, by way of Pilate: “are you the King of the Jews?” (v. 33). This would seem to be the clearest possible denunciation of a temporal, earthly kingdom (such as many Jews of the time might expect [see above]). Pilate himself clearly misunderstands Jesus’ words and presses for clarification: “(is it) not therefore (that) you are a(n earthly) king?” (v. 37). Jesus’ response is extraordinary indeed: “you say I am a king! I have come to be (born) unto this, and unto this I have come into the world, that I should witness to the truth; every one that is out of [e)k] the truth hears my voice”. This powerful verse is essential for understanding what Jesus means by “My Kingdom”:

    •   e)gw/ (“I”)—the Person of Christ (cf. e)gw ei)mi “I Am”)
    •   ei)$ tou=to (“into this”, i.e. unto this end, for this purpose)—the literal phrase itself has great significance: ei)$ (“into”) is juxtaposed with e)k (“out of”); “into this” is both concrete (this very moment, etc.) and generic (what does “this” refer to?), and can carry several nuances at once (this world, this time, this place, this purpose, this suffering/death, etc.)
    •  gege/nnhmai (“I have come to be [born]”)—this signifies more than Jesus’ earthly birth, but touches upon His relation as Son to the Father, as well as the wider sense of the Incarnation (coming-to-be flesh, in the world, etc.)
    •  e)lh/luqa ei)$ to\n ko\smon (“I have come into the world”)—again this signifies more than Jesus’ being born a human being on earth; the World (ko/smo$) in the Gospel of John typically connotes a realm of darkness and evil, “below” vs. “above”, those who oppose God and cannot see or hear His truth.
    •  i%na marturh/sw th=| a)lhqei/a| (“that I should witness to the truth”)—the themes of witness (the Son sees and does all that He sees/hears from the Father) and truth (cf. John 14:6, 17 etc) are vital, occurring throughout the Gospel.
    •  pa=$ o( w*n e)k th=$ a)lhqei/a$ (“every one that is out of the truth”)—i.e., every one who ‘comes from’, ‘belongs to’, or perhaps ‘is born of’ the truth. See above on John 3:5 (“coming to be born out of… [e)k] the Spirit”), and reference to the Spirit/Paraclete (John 14:17 “the Spirit of truth”).
    •  a)kou/ei mou th=$ fwnh=$ (“hears my voice”)—note the emphatic “hears my voice”; the motifs of hearing (John 3:8; 4:42; 5:24-28, 30; 6:45; 8:26, 38, 40, 43, 47; 10:3, 27; 11:41-42; 12:38, 47; 14:24, 27-28; 15:15; 16:13) and voice (John 3:29; 5:25, 28, 37; 10:3-5, 16, 27; 11:43; 12:28, 30) are frequent in the Gospel.

In conclusion, I would like to stress three key points which I believe help to summarize the relation between present and future aspects of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is:

  1. First, our experience and union with the Person of Christ and God the Father in the Spirit (always present)
  2. Second, the ethical teaching and example of Christ, which once we knew primarily by command (and written Word), but we now experience more and more through the inner power and work of the Spirit (present [and past], moving into the future).
  3. Third, the witness and experience of the saving power and work of Christ in the Spirit (present [and past], looking toward future salvation).
  4. Fourth, the promise of Resurrection and Eternal Life with God and Christ in Heaven (the fullness of the eternal rule of God)—future, but also an experience of its mystery in the present.

Yeshua the Anointed, Part 5: The Kingdom of God

Having examined the idea of Jesus as an Anointed (Messianic) Teacher in the previous article, here I will be looking at one specific (central) theme of Jesus’ teaching—the Kingdom of God. It is not possible to cover all of the aspects of this theme in one relatively short article; I have already addressed certain points and references in some detail in earlier notes and articles, and will cite these below.

The importance of the Kingdom (of God) in Jesus’ teaching is indicated by the fact that, of the approx. 125 occurrences of “kingdom” (basilei/a, basileía) in the Gospels, all but one or two relate to Jesus and his teaching, with more than a hundred recorded in Jesus’ own words. In addition, we may note the following:

  • In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus’ first recorded words of his public ministry are: “the time has been (ful)filled and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15; par Matt 4:17).
  • This is also the primary declaration Jesus gives to his disciples when they are sent out (according to Matt 10:7; Luke 10:11).
  • In Luke 4:43, preaching the Kingdom is stated by Jesus as the primary purpose of his ministry travels through Galilee and the surrounding regions—”I was set forth [i.e. sent] from (God) unto this [i.e. for this purpose]” (cf. also Matt 4:23).
  • In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ first recorded words of instruction to his disciples are a declaration (beatitude/macarism) involving the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:3 [also v. 11], par Luke 6:20). For more on this passage, see my series of notes on the Beatitudes.
  • While references to the Kingdom are rare in the Gospel of John, it plays an important role in two key scenes (John 3:3ff; 18:36), set at the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry (according to the structure of the narrative).

A major difficulty that commentators face when analyzing and interpreting the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, is that he appears to use “Kingdom” as a multivalent expression in a fairly wide range of contexts. However, I believe that it is possible to separate Jesus’ sayings, teachings and parables on the Kingdom into three formal categories, those which involve:

    1. The Kingdom coming upon the earth
    2. People coming into the Kingdom, and
    3. Descriptions/illustrations of the character and nature of the Kingdom

In terms of the sense in which “Kingdom” is used, again we may divide this into several categories:

    • As God’s dwelling/domain in Heaven
    • As an end-time domain on earth ruled by God(‘s representative)
    • As an expression of God’s rule—the will/law of the King, the character of its citizens, etc

For a fairly thorough survey and outline of references to the Kingdom in the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament), see my earlier article “…the things about the Kingdom of God“. With regard to Messianic thought in Judaism at the time of Jesus (1st centuries B.C./A.D.), the Kingdom theme is associated with it and expressed several ways:

  • The belief that a future/end-time Anointed (Davidic) ruler will restore the kingdom to Israel, subjugating her enemies and ushering in the Age to Come.
  • The idea of God’s impending end-time Judgment coming upon the earth (the Day of YHWH motif in the Old Testament Prophets). As we have seen, this may involve related traditions of an Anointed Prophet (Elijah) who will come and bring people to repentance prior to the Judgment. A separate strand of tradition (to be discussed) seems to involve an Angelic/Heavenly figure who will come as God’s representative to usher in and oversee the Judgment. By the end of the first century, the Messianic figures of Davidic ruler and Heavenly Judge appear to have merged (attested in at least three strands of Jewish/Christian tradition). The Gospel motifs of “inheriting”, “receiving” and “entering” the Kingdom all stem from the basic concept of the faithful/righteous passing through God’s Judgment.
  • In the Qumran texts, we find the idea that only those who remain faithful to the Covenant—understood as adherence within the Community to the Torah and the words of the “Teacher/Instructor of Righteousness”—will pass through the Judgment of God. The Qumran Community, which almost certainly viewed itself as the faithful of the last days, is to be identified generally with the Kingdom of God (spec. the Covenant)—the law/rule of the Community is essentially the law of the Kingdom. As pointed out in the previous article, this “Teacher of Righteousness” (probably to be identified also with the “Interpreter of the Law”), is a quasi-Messianic figure. In at least two passages, his future/end-time appearance is emphasized, and in one text he is associated specifically with the coming “Anointed (One) of Aaron and Israel”.

Before turning again to the place of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching, let us first explore several passages from Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. which mention the Kingdom, or are otherwise relevant in this regard:

  • In the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon) 6:1-11, the earthly rule of kings is seen as coming from the sovereignty of God; as a result, rulers should follow God’s Law and Wisdom. In 6:20; 10:10, following Wisdom and the way of Righteousness leads one to the Kingdom of God.
  • In Jubilees 23:24-31, as part of a (prophetic) summary of Israelite/Jewish history, according to the Old Testament model, the punishment/judgment of the Exile will ultimately be followed by an age of peace and restoration for Israel, in which God himself will reign (vv. 30-31).
  • The third book of the Sibylline Oracles (Sib Or 3:652ff) prophecies that God will send a king “from the sun” who will subdue the nations (i.e. the Roman Empire) and establish a rule of peace over the world.
  • The 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17:3ff) vividly describes the coming of a Davidic Ruler (called Anointed/Messiah) who will come to Jerusalem, subdue the nations, and establish the (Messianic) Kingdom of God on earth.
  • Specific references to the Kingdom of God are rare in the Qumran texts, but at least two are worth noting:
    • The so-called War Rule (1QM, 4QM), which throughout refers to the coming war of the “Sons of Light” (the faithful of Israel, i.e. the Community) against the “sons of darkness” (the nations/unbelievers, especially the Kittim [cipher for Rome, cf. Dan 11:30]). See especially 1QM 1:4f, the hymns in 1QM 10, 12, 14, 19, and the citation of Num 24:17ff in 1QM 11:7ff. Other texts also refer to this end-time battle.
    • The Aramaic 4Q246, inspired by the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions), predicts the coming of a great king (column 1, lines 7-9 [restored]) who will subdue the nations (and bring peace). Parallel to the rise of this ‘Messianic’ figure (called “son of God” and “son of the Most High” col. 2, line 1, cf. Lk 1:32, 35), we find the rise of the People of God (line 4), and the establishment of the everlasting (Messianic?) kingdom of God (lines 5-9).
  • The Testament of Moses 10:1ff describes the end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God, in terms of the great Judgment of God upon the earth, with a new age of peace and dominion for Israel (vv. 8-9).
  • In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the heavenly “Righteous/Elect One” or “Son of Man” exercises God’s judgment against kings and rulers on earth (cf. 45:3ff; 46:4-6; 52:4-9; 55:4; 61:8-9; 62:3-5ff; 69:27-29); the establishment of a future dominion for the righteous/Israel is indicated in 53:6-7, etc. The contrast between earthly rulers and God as king is expressed in 1 Enoch 63:1-9ff.
  • In 2 Baruch 70-72 the end-time Judgment by God coincides with the coming of the Messiah; chapters 73-74 describe the establishment of the (Messianic) Kingdom of God.
  • In 2/4 Esdras 2:10-14, God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is expressed. Throughout the core chapters of the book (chaps. 4-13), there are numerous eschatological visions and prophecies of the coming Judgment and the subsequent new Age; especially notable are the description of the ‘Messianic kingdom’ in 7:26ff, the vision and interpretation in chaps. 11-12 (drawing on Daniel 7), and the final vision of chap. 13. The Messianic Kingdom (of God) is presented vividly in 12:22-39.
  • In the Testament of Judah (Christian, but drawing upon earlier Jewish material), God’s control over the kingdom of Israel/Judah is described in chapters 21-22. In 24:1-6, the prophecy of Balaam (Num 24:17ff) is cited (cf. above): “then will the scepter of my kingdom shine forth…and from it will spring a staff of righteousness for the Gentiles, to judge and save all who call upon the Lord” (vv. 5-6).

These passages generally draw upon three distinct traditions from the Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. The coming Day of YHWH, when God will appear to bring Judgment upon the nations of the earth. Perhaps the latest reference to this is found in Malachi 3:1ff, a passage which, as we have seen, proved to have tremendous influence on eschatological/Messianic thought at the time of Jesus.
  2. The kingdom-visions of Daniel 2 and 7—in which a series of earthly empires is ultimately succeed by an everlasting Kingdom (of God) which is given to the People of God (Dan 7:24-27). These motifs are played out in the later visions of chapters 10-12, and the basic motifs—contrasting earthly and Divine rule—are also expressed in the account of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4, see esp. the hymn of praise in vv. 34-35), the episode of Belshazzar and the handwriting (Dan 5), the declaration by Darius in Dan 6:26-27, and Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9.
  3. The hope/promise for a coming end-time/ideal Age of peace and security, as described most vividly in the oracles of (Deutero-)Isaiah, as well as elsewhere throughout the Prophets. In Zechariah 9:9-17, the age of peace is brought about by a coming King, making this a seminal prophecy for the subsequent idea of a Messianic Kingdom established by God on earth.

Now let us return to the Kingdom of God as expressed in Jesus’ teaching. It will be useful here, in conclusion, to examine how the three categories of his sayings/teachings on the Kingdom relate to Messianic thought of the period.

1. The Kingdom as Coming (upon the earth)

Here we have the primary declaration from the start of Jesus’ ministry (“the kingdom of God has come near”, Mark 1:15 par), also in Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9, 11. There is little reason to think that this declaration does not stem from the lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition cited above, in the sense that—(a) the context is eschatological (cf. Luke 21:31), and that (b) it relates to the end-time Judgment by God (the OT “Day of YHWH”). This latter was perhaps expressed more clearly in John the Baptist’s preaching (cf. Matt 3:2, 7), but the same emphasis on repentance can be found in Jesus’ preaching as well (Matt 4:17 / Mk 1:15). The coming of the Kingdom is not limited to Judgment, but is also proclaimed as a “good message” (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16)—reflecting the other side of the Day of YHWH, in terms of salvation/deliverance for the people of God (the faithful/righteous). In the context of early Gospel tradition, this aspect is closely tied to the (healing) miracles of Jesus (Matt 11:5 / Lk 7:22, cf. also Lk 9:1-2 etc), and is almost certainly inspired by Isaiah 61:1 and its Anointed Prophet-figure (Lk 4:18ff).

It should be pointed out that while there definitely appears to be an imminent expectation of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching (and throughout early Christian tradition), and while it clearly has associations with the appearance of Messiah-figures (cf. above), he does not seem to identify the Kingdom specifically (or entirely) in terms of his own person and presence. Though the kingdom may have “come/drawn near” in Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt 12:28/Lk 11:20), it is yet to come, as expressed in the petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:10/Lk 11:2). According to Luke 19:11, Jesus attempts to avert the expectation that the Kingdom would come immediately upon his arrival in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 11:10 par), and goes so far to deny that the Kingdom will appear with concrete visible signs (Lk 17:20-21). This last reference seems to suggest that the Kingdom is present (invisibly) among people by the presence of Jesus himself, but there are considerable difficulties in interpreting this saying. At any event, Jesus does clearly teach that the Kingdom of God is near through his words and actions (cf. also Mark 12:34).

Did Jesus envisage the Kingdom as a temporal, earthly kingdom, which was about to be established by God? There are several passages which point in this direction (Mark 10:29-30, 35-40 par; Matt 19:28/Lk 22:28-30), but it is by no means clear that a concrete earthly kingdom is involved, and the weight of Jesus’ other sayings, taken together, suggests rather the opposite. His response to the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 purposely avoids discussion of the conventional idea of an earthly kingdom being restored to Israel, emphasizing rather the disciples’ role in proclaiming the Gospel. In a number of instances, the Gospel (“good message/news”, cf. above) and the Kingdom are closely intertwined, nearly synonymous.

2. People coming into (receiving, inheriting, etc) the Kingdom

Jesus frequently uses the motif of “coming into” (entering) the Kingdom (Mark 9:47; 10:23-25 pars; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 8:11 [implied, par]; 21:31; cf. also Lk 23:42). Similar in sense and meaning are the idea of “inheriting” or “receiving (being given)” the Kingdom (cf. Mk 4:11; 10:15 pars; Matt 5:3, 10; 8:11-12; 13:38, 41, 43; 21:43; 25:34; Lk 22:29-30). Along the same lines are sayings which refer to believers/disciples “belonging” to the Kingdom, or of being fit/worthy for it (Mark 10:14; Matt 5:3, 10, 20; 7:21; 13:38, 52 and pars; Lk 9:62, etc). All of these references draw upon a separate image of the Judgment—human beings appearing before the Divine/Heavenly tribunal after death or at the end-time. This is also the context generally of the Beatitude form—those who are deemed worthy to pass through the Judgment and enter the heavenly realm are called “happy/blessed”. In at least one saying of Jesus, we see the Son of Man (identified with Jesus himself) overseeing the heavenly tribunal (Lk 12:8-9, cf. also Matt 7:21-23). Similarly, in the Similitudes of Enoch, the Messianic “Righteous/Elect One” and “Son of Man” serves as heavenly Judge over humankind. We may also recall that in the Qumran texts we find the idea that faithfulness/loyalty to the “Teacher of Righteousness” will be the basis for being freed from the Judgment by God. The sayings of Jesus in Gospel tradition make faithfulness in following Christ and the Gospel the basis for entering/inheriting the Kingdom. A particularly Christian emphasis is on suffering for the sake of the Kingdom (= for the sake of the Gospel), cf. Matt 5:10; 19:12; Luke 18:29 par, and also Mark 9:47. This is, of course, patterned after Jesus’ own suffering (Mark 8:31, 34-37; 9:12-13; Matt 8:19-20; 10:17ff pars, etc). It is to be expected that the Kingdom (that is, the proclamation of the Gospel) should endure violence and persecution (Mk 10:29-30; 12:1-12 par; Lk 19:14, 27; Matt 11:12; 23:13, etc, and see Acts 14:22).

3. Descriptions of the Kingdom

Jesus’ unique understanding and proclamation of the Kingdom is given deeper expression in the numerous parables and illustrations (Mark 4:26-32 par; Matt 13:24-30, 33 [par Lk 13:20-21], 44-50; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; 25:1-30; cf. also Mk 3:23-27; 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk 14:16-24 and pars). Many of these have an eschatological context; others prefigure his own suffering and death, the spread of the Gospel, and so forth. Especially worthy of note are the teachings and illustrations which describe the character of the Kingdom (and those belonging to it). Here the emphasis is on meekness, humility, mercy and forgiveness, self-sacrifice, a desire for righteousness, etc—all summarized powerfully and concisely in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12). Jesus also symbolizes these Kingdom-traits in the figure of a little child (Mark 10:14-15 par, etc)—the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the most prominent and influential person in the current age (Matt 11:11/Lk 7:28). Jesus frequently uses this reversal-of-fate motif in his teaching—the poor and humble will pass through the Judgment, while the rich and powerful will not (cf. especially the Lukan Beatitudes [Lk 6:20-26]).

As mentioned previously, there are few references to the Kingdom in the Gospel of John; but one major passage is found in Jn 3:3-8, part of the discourse with Nicodemus. There Jesus makes two parallel statements:

“unless a person comes to be (born) from above, he is not able to see the Kingdom of God” (v. 3)
“unless a person comes to be (born) out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into [i.e. enter] the Kingdom of God” (v. 5)

The Synoptic idea of faithfulness in following the example and teaching of Jesus (= the Gospel), has been deepened still further in meaning and symbolism—defined as coming to be born from above and from the Spirit. This rather indicates a personal transformation, an entirely new identity: as children/offspring born from God (Jn 1:12-13). The new birth, of course, is dependent upon receiving/accepting Christ as the unique Apostle and Son of God. The other passage in the Gospel of John occurs during the exchange/discourse between Jesus and Pilate (Jn 18:33-38, part of the Passion narrative). In v. 36, in response to Pilate’s question “are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus ultimately answers:

“My Kingdom is not out of [i.e. from, belonging to] this world…”

When Pilate asks again “You are not (really) then a king, (are you)?”, Jesus defines his kingship in unexpected terms (v. 37):

“Unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world:
that I should witness to the truth—every one that is out of [i.e. from, belonging to] the truth hears my voice”

Jesus’ role and position as King will be discussed further as part of a study on the Messiah as King/Ruler, to begin in the next article (Part 6 of this series). For more on these passages from the Gospel of John, see the second half of my earlier article on the Kingdom of God.