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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 17:20-21

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

“When does the kingdom of God come?”

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus continues, expanding upon his main point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 2)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

Luke 12:10 / Matthew 12:32

One particularly interesting “son of man” reference in the “Q” material (see Part 1) is the saying by Jesus regarding the “insult against the Holy Spirit”. This occurs in the Lukan Gospel at 12:10:

“every(one) who shall speak an (insulting) word to the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but for the (one hav)ing insulted the holy Spirit, it will not be released”

The Matthean version (12:32) is longer, with slightly different wording:

“whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age)!”

The Matthean version does not use the verb blasfhme/w (“defame, insult”); instead, each contrasting clause uses the idiom “speak [vb e&pw] a word/account [lo/go$] against [kata/]”. The language is more general than in Luke, where the use of blasfhme/w makes it clear that an insulting, defamatory, or slanderous account is involved.

What is most interesting about this “Q” saying is that it corresponds to a similar saying in Mark (3:28-29):

“Amen, I say to you, that all (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men—the sins and the insults [blasfhmi/ai], as (many) as ever they might give insult; but whoever should give insult to the holy Spirit, he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages [i.e. eternal sin]!”

This Markan saying is considerably longer (and wordier) than the “Q” saying, but seems to express the same basic idea. Scholars have debated whether these represent two different historical traditions, or different versions of the same underlying tradition. The fact that both sayings use the expression “the son of man”, in roughly the same position, suggests that a single underlying tradition (i.e., saying by Jesus) is ultimately involved. How, then, does one explain the fundamental difference in the way the expression is used? In “Q”, the expression is in the singular (“the son of man”, o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), and in the accusative (or genitive) case, meaning that the son of man is the object of the insults. In Mark, the expression is plural (“the sons of men”, oi( ui(oi\ tw=n an)qrw/pwn), and in the dative case, referring to the person(s) for whom the guilt (from giving insult) is forgiven (or not forgiven).

It is hard to believe that the occurrence of the expression “the son(s) of man/men” in both sayings is coincidental, or that Jesus would have used the same expression, in such totally different ways, in what is otherwise the same basic saying. How, then, is the matter to be explained?

One possibility is that the original saying by Jesus (presumably in Aramaic), utilizing the expression “(the) son of man” ([a]vna rb), was sufficiently ambiguous to allow early Christian transmitters of the tradition (and those translating it into Greek) to interpret it in different ways. As we have noted (see esp. the Introduction to this series), the expression “(the) son of man” simply means a human being, and is frequently used generically for human beings (or humankind), in a collective or general sense. At the same time, the definiteness of the expression (i.e., with the absolute/emphatic determinative marker [in Aramaic]), can also indicate a particular human being (“this son of man”). As we have seen, Jesus seems to have used the expression, somewhat frequently, in this latter sense. Thus, the same expression could, depending upon how the context was understood, be taken to refer to human beings generally, or to a specific human being (namely, Jesus himself). One can only speculate as to what syntactical or other factors could have resulted in such different renderings (i.e., Markan vs. “Q”) of a common saying by Jesus.

Another possibility is that the Markan version of the saying represents an interpretive modification of the original saying by Jesus. In this regard, it has been suggested that early Christians, scandalized by the idea that blasphemous insults against Jesus could be forgiven, either altered the saying or ‘corrected’ it, assuming that “the son of man” must refer to other human beings, or to human beings generally (i.e., “the sons of men”). This explanation has been posited by a number of commentators (e.g., Tödt, Hare).

What is striking is that the “Q” version of the saying actually makes perfect sense within the literary-historical context of the Markan saying—viz., the Beelzebul episode (Mk 3:22-30 par), on which cf. my earlier article and recent note (on Lk 11:20 par). Matthew seems to recognize the common meaning of both sayings, as he includes the “Q” saying (12:32) alongside the Markan (v. 31), at this very location. The Markan saying has been adapted and simplified, creating an elegant pairing:

“For this (reason), I say to you: every sin and insult will be released for men, but the insult of [i.e. against] the Spirit will not be released. And (also), whoever would speak a word against the son of man, (the guilt) will be released for him; but whoever would speak against the holy Spirit, it will not be released for him, neither in this Age nor in the coming (Age).”

The Markan phrase “for the sons of men” has been simplified to “for men” (toi=$ a)nqrw/poi$), while the ‘addition’ to the end of “Q” saying seems to correspond to the end of the Markan saying in 3:29b (“..he does not hold (any) release (from it) into the Age, but is held in (guilt) of a sin for the Ages”). Thus, the two sayings, it would seem, have been conflated in the Matthean Gospel. By contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the author includes the “Q” saying in the general proximity of the Beelzebul episode (11:14-23), but clearly separated from it, and in a very different immediate context (see below). Luke has omitted, or otherwise does not include, the saying in Mark 3:28-39, perhaps recognizing it as a ‘doublet’ of the “Q” saying he inherited; indeed, the Lukan author tends to avoid such ‘doublets’ throughout his Gospel.

The setting of the Beelzebul episode is a fitting location for the saying, so much so that one is inclined to view it as the authentic historical setting for the original saying by Jesus. What does the “Q” saying, with its use of the expression “the son of man” (in the singular), mean in such a context? I would offer the following explanation:

As in the other “son of man” sayings we have examined, Jesus is using the expression primarily as a self-reference, but, in so doing, also identifies himself with the human condition, as a particular human being (“this son of man”). The distinction which Jesus is making in the saying, the point of the contrast, is that there is a difference between insulting (ad hominem) the person performing a miraculous act of Divine healing, and the Spirit of God that works through such a person. Slanderous or abusive insults against the person can be forgiven, but insults against God’s Spirit cannot be. The Markan Gospel writer seems to recognize this as the point of the saying, given the concluding comment in verse 30. Even in the case of Jesus, ad hominem attacks against him (as the human being performing the healing/exorcism), can be forgiven, but defaming or insulting the Spirit that works in/through him cannot be forgiven.

A word must be said about the Lukan context of this saying, in 12:8-12: a short set of teachings—a sequence of three traditions (sayings by Jesus)—dealing principally with the theme of discipleship, and the importance of confessing one’s faith in Jesus publicly. Two distinct “son of man” sayings (both “Q” sayings) have been brought together for this purpose, in vv. 8-9 and 10, followed by the instruction in vv. 11-12—another “Q” tradition, which occurs in a different location in Matthew (10:19-20).

As Luke joins together the sayings of vv. 8-9 and v. 10, Jesus seems to be making a rather different point than would be indicated by the Markan/Matthean context of the Beelzebul episode. Speaking a harsh or insulting word to Jesus (“the/this son of man”) is not the same as denying (trust in) him; in order to deny Jesus, one must go further, and effectively insult/slander the Spirit of God that fills and empowers him. Ultimately, human beings must choose whether to trust in Jesus and become his disciple, which then involves a willingness to confess him publicly, even in the face of persecution. The one who refuses to confess, or denies him, is not a true disciple, and will, in turn, be denied before God at the Judgment.

The “son of man” saying in vv. 8-9 will be discussed further in Part 3 of this article.

NOTE: In the translations above, I have rendered the verb a)fi/hmi (and the noun a&fesi$) as “release”. Quite literally, the verb means “send away”, but, in the religious-ethical sense in which it often occurs in the New Testament, it applies to the removal of sin—along with the guilt and effect(s) of sin—for human beings. It is primarily in terms of the guilt (from sin) that one may speak of being “released”, or of the guilt being “released” from a person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 28: John 15:7

John 15:7

“If you should remain in me, and my utterances should remain in you, (then) you may request what ever you might wish, and it will come to be (so) for you.”

In the remainder of the exposition (and application) of the Vine-illustration, Jesus develops for his disciples (and for us as believers) the theme of remaining (using the verb me/nw) that is so vital to the illustration. The principal idea expressed is that the branch (the disciple/believer) must remain in the vine (Jesus). But this abiding relationship of unity is reciprocal, and works both ways: the believer remains in the Son (Jesus), and the Son remains in the believer. This is the fundamental theological principle expressed (and expounded) in verses 4-5, and is patterned after the relation between God the Father and Jesus the Son—viz., the Son remains in the Father, and the Father remains in the Son (see esp., 14:10).

All of this is essential to the Johannine theology, and can be found throughout the Gospel and Letters, utilizing both the relational participle e)n (“in”) and the verb me/nw (“remain, abide, stay”). I have discussed the verb me/nw and its distinctive Johannine theological usage in prior notes and articles; of the 40 occurrences of this verb in the Gospel, more than a quarter of them (11) are found in the Vine passage (15:1-17).

Here, however, the statement of reciprocity is framed a bit differently; compare the statement in v. 7a with those in vv. 4-5:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you…” (v. 4)
      “the (one) remaining in me, and I in him…” (v. 5)
    • “If you should remain in me, and my utterances should remain in you…” (v. 7)

Instead of the Son (Jesus) himself remaining in the believer, it is his words that must remain. The reference to Jesus’ words (lit. “utterances,” r(h/mata) may seem abrupt at this point, but no more so than the reference to his word (lo/go$) in verse 3. There is, in fact, a thematic/conceptual chain of relation between these two nouns (denoting the spoken word) and the person of Jesus himself (“I”) as speaker:

    • r(h/mata (“utterances”)—individual things (teachings, etc) said/spoken by Jesus to his disciples =>
      • lo/goi (“words”)—synonymous with r(h/mata =>
        • lo/go$ (“word”)—all the things said by Jesus in a general or collective sense; they come from God the Father and have their origin in Him =>
          • Lo/go$ (“Word”)—the Son (Jesus) as the incarnation of the living/eternal Word of God the Father

Thus, there is a continuum of meaning connecting the plural r(h/mata and the singular lo/go$, spanning the full spectrum of Johannine thought and expression—its theology and Christology. One must be sensitive to this range of special meaning when considering the use of lo/go$ and r(h=ma throughout the Gospel, but especially here in the Last Discourse. There are several places in the Gospel of John where the noun lo/go$ and/or r(h=ma is used together with the verb me/nw, as it is here in 15:7. It will be necessary to examine these.

John 5:38

Toward the close of the great chapter 5 Discourse, Jesus directs the thematic thrust of his exposition against his opponents. A key theme of the Discourse has been the premise that Jesus (the Son) performs the work of his Father. The idea of “work” (e&rgon) in this context is defined in terms of the power of God the Father to give life. Jesus exercises this same power, as demonstrated by his ability to heal the crippled man (vv. 1-17); yet the Divine power extends even to the resurrection—the giving of life to the dead (vv. 19ff, 25-29)—and to the granting of eternal life in the Judgment (vv. 22-24).

In the remainder of the Discourse (vv. 30-46), the emphasis shifts from doing the works of God to speaking the words of God (for the interchangeability of these concepts in the Gospel of John, see esp. 14:10). This transition is realized through the thematic concept of witnessing (vb marture/w, noun marturi/a)—one both sees the Divine works, and hears the Divine words. The “words” (lo/goi) of this witness testify to Jesus’ identity as the Son (and the living “Word” [lo/go$]) of God; on this dual-meaning of lo/go$ in the Johannine writings, cf. the discussion above.

Yet Jesus’ opponents do not have trust in him as the Son/Word of God. Consider how he addresses this in vv. 37-38:

“And the (One hav)ing sent me, (the) Father, that (One) has (Himself) given witness about me. You have not heard His voice at any time, nor have you seen His appearance; and His word [lo/go$] you do not have remaining in you [e)n u(mi=n me/nonta], (in) that the (one) whom that (One) sent forth, you do not trust in him [lit. in this one].”

There is an extremely close connection, if not identification, between having God’s word (lo/go$) remaining in a person and that person trusting in Jesus as the Son of God (sent by the Father). See also below on the parallel in 8:37.

John 8:31

I have discussed this verse in a recent article. The same theological concepts and motifs from 5:37-38 are present here. In 8:31a, it is narrated how some of the people, who heard Jesus speaking/teaching, trusted in him; based on the principle in 5:38, this would imply that those who trusted had God’s word (lo/go$) “remaining” in them. In verse 31b, Jesus extends this idea, giving a directive to those who trusted in him, and who had begun to be his disciples:

“If you should remain [mei/nhte] in my word [e)n tw=| lo/gw| tw=| e)mw=|], (then) truly you are my learners [i.e. disciples]”

The focus has shifted from God the Father’s word to the Son’s (Jesus’) word (“my word”). And yet, in essence, it is the same word, since, as the Gospel repeatedly explains, the Son (Jesus) speaks the word(s) that he hears the Father speaking, and which the Father gives to him. On this important theme, cf. 3:31-35; 7:16-18; 8:26, 28, 38, 40ff, 55; 12:49; 14:10, 24; 15:15; 17:8, 14; cp. also 5:24ff, 32ff; 6:63; 10:35ff.

The true believer both remains in Jesus’ word (lo/go$), and has this word remaining in him/her. The opposite situation, parallel to Jesus’ statement in 5:37-38 (cf. above), is found in verse 37, in reference to Jesus’ hostile opponents, those who do not trust in him:

“…you seek to kill me off, (in) that [i.e. because] my word [o( lo/go$ o( e)mo/$] does not have (any) space [i.e. place] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

John 12:46ff

The sayings by Jesus in 12:46-50 mark the close of his public ministry, and occur just prior to the beginning of the Passion narrative (including the Last Discourse). They effectively summarize the Gospel up to this point, beginning with the important declaration in v. 46:

“I have come into the world (as) light, (so) that every (one) trusting in me should not remain [mei/nh|] in the darkness.”

This important juxtaposition of trusting/remaining is, again, explained in terms of receiving (and having in oneself) the word(s) of Jesus:

“And if any (one) should not hear my words [r(h/mata], and should not guard (them), I do not judge him…(but) the (one) setting me aside, and not receiving my words [r(h/mata], holds the (one) judging him—the word [lo/go$] which I have spoken: that (is what) will judge him on the last day!” (vv. 47-48)

On the relationship between the nouns lo/go$ and r(h=ma, cf. the discussion above. Moving into the Last Discourse, as Jesus presents a deeper level of teaching to his disciples, the thematic motif of guarding / keeping-watch, utilizing the verbs fula/ssw and thre/w, takes on greater prominence. The concept of watching/guarding Jesus’ word is very much related to the idea of remaining in his word. See especially the instruction in 14:23-24:

“If any (one) would love me, he will keep watch (over) my word [lo/go$], and my Father will love him, and we will come toward him and will make our abode [monh/] alongside him. (But) the (one) not loving me will not keep watch (over) my word—and the word that you hear is not my (own), but (is) the Father’s, the (One hav)ing sent me.”

The noun monh/ is related to the verb me/nw, and refers to a place where a person remains or abides (i.e., an abode). Thus, to speak of the Father and Son having an abode (monh/) with the believer, is much the same as saying that they will remain in/with the believer.

All of this comparative analysis shows how closely related, from a theological standpoint, the concepts of Jesus’ word (lo/go$/r(h=ma) and of remaining in him (vb me/nw) are in Johannine thought. We must keep this firmly in mind as we continue with our study of verse 7 and following.

 

 

October 20: John 15:3 (continued)

John 15:3, continued

Having explored the parallel between vv. 2-3 of the Vine-illustration and the earlier foot-washing episode in 13:8-11 (part of the narrative setting for the Last Discourse) in the previous note, we shall now examine the statement in verse 3 in detail:

“Already you are clean, through the word that I have spoken to you.”
h&dh u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste dia\ to\n lo/gon o^n lela/lhka u(mi=n

As we proceed, it is important to keep in mind the close similarity of form (and theme) between v. 3 and 13:10b:

“Already you are clean…” / “and (so) you are clean”

The phrase “you are clean” (u(mei=$ kaqaroi/ e)ste) is identical in each statement, providing a clear indication that the intended meaning and significance of the two statements is quite similar.

h&dh (“already”)—The adverbial particle h&dh roughly means “even now”; it is fundamentally a temporal particle, giving a relative indication of time(frame), either for something past that has just (now) been completed or for something that is about to happen in the immediate future. The particle is used primarily in narrative (i.e., in the Gospels and Acts), and occurs rather more frequently in John (16 times) than the Synoptics (Matthew [6], Mark [8], Luke [10]). While it is tends to be used in an ordinary narrative context in John (e.g., 4:51; 5:6; 6:17; 11:17), there are few instances where it has special theological significance:

    • 3:18— “The [one] trusting in him [i.e. in the Son] is not judged; but the [one] not trusting in him has already [h&dh] been judged…”
    • 4:35— “…look at the (open) spaces [i.e. fields], (how) that they are white toward harvesting already [h&dh]”
    • 19:28— “…Yeshua, having seen that all (thing)s have now [h&dh] been completed, said…”

In the first two references, h&dh is used to express the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine Gospel. The emphasis is on the present fulfillment of certain end-time events. The end-time “harvest” (of the Last Judgment, etc) is already realized in the present—both for believers and non-believers. Believers have passed through the Judgment safe (without being judged), while non-believers have been judged by God, since they have not trusted in Jesus as the only Son of God. The position of h&dh in 4:35, in particular, at the end of the verse, is emphatic (cf. the discussion in the earlier note).

In the third reference, the particle reinforces the important theological point that the Son’s mission (for which he was sent to earth by the Father) is completed (vb tele/w, in the perfect tense) at the very moment (“even now”) of his death on the cross.

Here in 15:3, h&dh occurs in emphatic position, at the beginning of the verse, and may also be deemed, based on the context, to be of genuine theological importance. But in what sense? Most likely, it is meant to establish a certain contrast with the prior statement in v. 2, much as the particle does in 4:35 (cf. above). The branches that bear fruit are to be cleaned by the land-worker (God the Father) at the proper time; but Jesus tells his disciples that they are “already clean”. Likely the ‘pruning’ of the vine in the illustration has an implied eschatological context, much like the harvest motif in 4:31-38. The time of pruning has already come.

u(mei=$ (“you” [plur.])—The plural second person pronoun refers to the disciples of Jesus whom he is addressing in the Discourse. The introduction of this mode of address, at this climactic point in the illustration, clearly identifies the disciples with the fruit-bearing ‘branches’ that are cleaned/pruned.

As always in the Johannine Discourses in which Jesus addresses his disciples, and especially here in the Last Discourse, it is not entirely clear whether (or to what extent) a distinction is intended between the immediate circle of Jesus’ disciples and all other (future) believers. Is Jesus addressing the disciples only, or all believers? I am convinced that the principal orientation of the Gospel addresses all believers, even if the original disciples are the primary reference within the historical context of the narrative. Here, the immediate statement addresses the disciples—those who are hearing his word as he speaks it—but also applies to all other believers who subsequently “hear” this same word.

kaqaroi/ (“clean”)—The adjective kaqaro/$, along with the related verbs kaqai/rw (in v. 2) and kaqari/zw (in 1 Jn 1:7, 9), was discussed in the previous note. The other three Johannine occurrences of the adjective are in 13:10-11, within the foot-washing episode (cf. above, and in the previous note). As I discussed, the cleansing motif in 13:10-11 refers to the cleansing of the disciples (i.e., believers) from sin, a point that is confirmed by the use of the verb kaqari/zw in 1 John 1:7ff. In both 13:10-11 and 1 Jn 1:7ff, the point of reference specifically involves the believer’s participation in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and thus partaking in the cleansing and life-giving power that his death brings. This participation in his death is symbolized by the disciples’ (represented by Peter) involvement in the foot-washing act by Jesus. By contrast, in 1 Jn 1:7ff, the effect of Jesus’ death (his “blood”) is communicated spiritually to the believer (cp. the context of Jn 6:51-58, in light of v. 63).

e)ste (“you are”)—As I have discussed on numerous occasions, the verb of being (ei)mi) often has special theological significance in the Johannine writings. The use of the verb of being in the Gospel Prologue (1:1ff) established a distinctive syntactical/grammatical association between the verb and the being of God. This same association is alluded to at various points throughout the Gospel, including here. To say that the disciples are (e)ste) clean, implies that they are, in some sense, sharing in the identity and attributes of God. Such sharing is realized spiritually, through the Spirit, as the result of the believer’s trust in the Son (Jesus). Through one’s union with the Son, the believer is united with the Father, and thus is able to partake of the life-giving power of His holy Spirit.

dia/ (“through”)—When the preposition dia/ is used with the genitive case, it tends to indicate instrumentality, i.e., the means by which something takes place. Here it is used with the accusative case, suggesting a cause or result (i.e., “because of”).

to\n lo/gon (“the word”)—The noun with the article is in the accusative, part of a prepositional phrase governed by the preposition dia/ (“through, because of”), cf. above. The noun lo/go$ has an extremely wide range of meaning that defies consistent translation into English. This is all the more true in the case of the Johannine writings, where lo/go$ carries a distinctive theological (and Christological) meaning. In such a context, for lack of any better option, the translation “word” is as good as any.

Within the Johannine theology, the noun lo/go$ has two levels of meaning: (1) referring to the person of the Son (Jesus) as the incarnation of the eternal/living Word (Lo/go$) of God, and (2) as a reference to things said/spoken (teachings, etc) by the Son during his earthly ministry. In a number of passages, the author (and/or Jesus as the speaker) likely plays upon both aspects of meaning. This, I believe, is such an instance.

o^n lela/lhka (“which I have spoken”)—The use of the verb lale/w (“speak”) would indicate that lo/go$ here refers, at least primarily, to things that Jesus has said to his disciples. In this regard, lo/go$ is largely synonymous with rh=ma (“utterance”) in the Gospel; rh=ma always occurs in the plural, in which case it differs little from lo/go$ in the plural (lo/goi, “words”)—both refer to the specific things that Jesus has said to his disciples, teaching and proclaiming the truth to them. When used in the singular, lo/go$ refers to this teaching generally, or in a collective sense. Here it is the singular, which governs the relative phrase “the word which [o^n] I have spoken”.

An important theological principle in the Gospel of John is that the word Jesus speaks is not his own—it comes from God the Father. As a dutiful Son, Jesus speaks only what he hears from his Father, things which the Father tells him. This cuts right to the heart of the intimate relationship (and union) between Father and Son, a central aspect of the Johannine theology that is clearly established in the Prologue (1:1-18). The word(s) that Jesus speaks, since they come from God, are themselves Divine, and are spiritual in nature (being of God’s Spirit). As the statement in 6:63 declares, Jesus’ words are Spirit, and they communicate the Spirit to those (believers) who hear it. It is just at this point that the two aspects of the Johannine theological meaning of lo/go$ blend together.

The verb lale/w occurs frequently in this theological context; the most immediate occurrences, in the Last Discourse (and just prior), are—12:48-50; 14:10, 25, 30; 15:11, 22; 16:1, 4, 6, 13, 18, 25, 29, 33.

u(mi=n (“to you”)—Again, the second person plural pronoun identifies the disciples with the fruit-bearing ‘branches’ of the illustration. They are the ones whom Jesus is addressing, and he has spoken the cleansing word (lo/go$) to them. The pronoun is in the dative case.

In the next daily note, we will draw some interpretive conclusions based on the above exegesis of verse 3.

 

August 10: John 6:68

John 6:68

Having discussed in detail the saying by Jesus in Jn 6:63 (over a set of eight daily notes), let us turn briefly to consider the confessional statement by Peter in v. 68, which essentially affirms, as a statement of faith, what Jesus has said in v. 63.

The difficulty posed by the teaching in the Discourse (see v. 60) proved to be a test and turning point for those following Jesus; at that time, apparently, many turned away and ceased following him (v. 66). Jesus had already made clear that some of those following him where not true disciples (i.e., believers): “But there are some of you that do not trust” (v. 64). The group of disciples was reduced considerably; the implication in the narrative is that only the Twelve remained. To them Jesus asks: “You do not also wish to go away(, do you)?” (v. 67).

This sets the stage for the confession by Peter, which, in certain respects, holds a similar place in the Gospel of John as that of the more famous Synoptic confession in Mark 8:29 par. Indeed, it has been suggest that the Johannine and Synoptic traditions, at this point, are drawing upon the same underlying historical tradition. Before considering that critical question, here is Peter’s initial response in verse 68:

“Lord, toward whom shall we go away? You hold the utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life]”

The question is rhetorical and hypothetical: even if we were to go away from [a)po/] you, toward [pro/$] whom else could we go? The question assumes a negative response: there is no one else we can go to, in place of you. Peter, speaking for the Twelve (that is, the eleven true disciples, vv. 64, 70-71), recognizes that there is something truly unique and special about Jesus; he may not yet understand completely Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), but he recognizes that the words have a special Divine inspiration.

Peter uses the same plural r(h/mata (“things uttered, utterances”) that Jesus does in v. 63. In an earlier note, I discussed how, in the Gospel of John, plural r(h/mata and singular lo/go$ can be used almost interchangeably (see v. 60)—referring to specific sayings or teachings by Jesus. Thus Peter essentially affirms the connection between Jesus’ sayings/teachings (“words”) and life (zwh/), very much as in verse 63. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the noun zwh/ in the Johannine writings virtually always refers to the Divine/eternal life possessed by God—and to His life-giving power. Peter affirms the life-character of Jesus’ words through a genitival expression:

“(the) utterances [r(h/mata] of (the) life [zwh=$] eternal [ai)wni/ou]”

Above, I translated ai)wni/ou as “of the Age(s)”; however, it is an adjective, which here modifies the genitive noun zwh=$ (“of life”); therefore, to avoid complicating the genitive relationship, I have rendered it here as “eternal”.

Syntactically, the expression could be read either as a subjective or objective genitive. In the first instance, “eternal life” would be an attribute or characteristic of Jesus’ words; in the second instance, it would most likely refer to what Jesus’ words give or bring about. Both aspects are appropriate to the Johannine theology, in context; indeed, Jesus mentions both in v. 63:

    • Subjective: His words are life
    • Objective: His words (as Spirit) make live (vb zwopoei/w, i.e. give life)

Whatever Peter may have understood, precisely, at the historical level, in the literary context of the Gospel his confession combines together both of these theological aspects. It thus serves as a suitable conclusion to the entire Discourse-narrative of chapter 6. Anticipating the fuller understanding (for believers) that would come after Jesus’ exaltation (cf. the allusion to this in v. 62), Peter’s confession affirms two important theological points—points which are developed further (and more fully) elsewhere in the Gospel:

    • The Divine/eternal character of Jesus’ words (r(h/mata), since he himself (as the eternal Son of God) is the Divine Word (lo/go$) incarnate (1:14).
    • His words give eternal life. Since God is Spirit (4:24), His word possesses the life-giving power of His Spirit, clearly indicated by role of His Word in creation (1:3-4). The Son shares the same Divine Spirit, receiving it from the Father (3:34-35); his words thus have the same life-giving power, communicating (through the Spirit) the Divine/eternal life of God. As the Living Word, the Son’s words naturally bring life.

In the next daily note, we will look at the continuation of Peter’s confession in verse 69.

August 9: John 6:63 (8)

John 6:63, concluded

“…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.” (v. 63b)

In this final note on Jn 6:63, we will examine the second part of the verse (b) in terms of the second Christological difficulty (related to the Bread of Life Discourse, cf. the disciples’ reaction in v. 60) outlined in the prior notes—namely, the idea that is necessary to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”). The first Christological difficulty—viz., Jesus’ claim of having come down from heaven (i.e., his heavenly origin)—in relation to v. 63b, was discussed in the previous note.

(2) The need to eat Jesus (as “bread from heaven”)

This aspect of the Discourse (see vv. 27, 32f, 35, 48ff, 50, 51ff) has been discussed in the prior notes, including its specific relation to the statement in v. 63a. Now, we will be looking at v. 63b: “…the utterances which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

In applying this statement to the idea of eating Jesus, the most obvious implication is that Jesus’ words in the Discourse to that effect must be understood (and interpreted) in a spiritual manner. If his words (r(h/mata) are Spirit, then they can only be understood correctly in a spiritual way. From the Discourse itself, it is clear that “eating” Jesus means trusting (vb pisteu/w) in him (i.e., as the one sent by God the Father from heaven). This is indicated clearly in vv. 29, 35f, 40, 47; even so, Jesus’ hearers at the time (including his disciples) would have found it difficult to understand the connection. His words became particularly “harsh” (v. 60) once Jesus began to explain this eating in terms of eating his flesh (v. 51). Some of those who heard him naturally asked, “How is this (man) able to give us [his] flesh to eat?” (v. 52).

Modern commentators continue to be “tripped up” (v. 61) over this point, but for a different reason—as many take more or less for granted that the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 refers to a physical eating of the (sacramental) bread (i.e., in the Lord’s Supper ritual). Against this understanding, verse 63 suggests that a spiritual interpretation of the Supper is intended.

The shift from the motif of “bread” to “flesh” represents a narrowing of focus—from the Son’s incarnate “stepping down” (to earth as a human being) to the fulfillment of his mission through his death (as a human being). While the idiom of eating is the same in both instances, the emphasis of the “bread” motif is on Jesus’ heavenly origin (“bread from heaven”), while that of “flesh” (and “blood”) is on his sacrificial death. In both instances, “eating” refers to trust in Jesus (cf. above)—i.e., trust in his heavenly origin (“bread [from heaven]”) and trust in his sacrificial death (“flesh [and blood]”).

Trust results in receiving the Spirit, which the Son gives/sends to believers, having himself received it from the Father (3:34f). Only when the believer has come to be born “from above” (3:3-8)—that is, from the Spirit—is he/she able to recognize the heavenly origin and spiritual nature of Jesus’ words (cf. 3:31ff), and to begin to grasp their true meaning. Spiritual words can only be understood in a spiritual way (cp. 1 Cor 2:13ff).

In 4:10-15, the very idiom of eating/drinking is applied to the idea of believers receiving the Spirit, as the parallel in 7:37-39 makes clear. It is fair to assume that the “living bread” in chap. 6 (vv. 51) has a correspondingly similar meaning as “living water” in 4:10f; 7:38. In both instances the living (zw=n) nourishment is given by Jesus (4:10, 14; 6:27, 33, 51), just as he gives the Spirit (1:33; 16:7b; 20:22; cf. also 3:34f). Elsewhere in the Gospel, it is life (zwh/) that the Son (Jesus) gives (5:21, 26; 6:33, 57; 10:28; 17:2, etc). There is certainly a very close connection between Life and the Spirit, as stated here in v. 63.

Thus, what the believer takes in (i.e., ‘eats’ or ‘drinks’) is the Spirit, which is also living (zw=n)—which refers to the Divine/eternal life (zwh/) that God possesses. The Son gives life, but so does the Spirit (according to v. 63a); the implication is that the Son gives life through the Spirit. However, in the Bread of Life Discourse, the “living” bread is not just given by the Son, it is identified with the person of the incarnate Son (Jesus) himself. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, this is best understood by the principle that the Son (Jesus) is present in the believer through the Spirit. Thus, one “eats” Jesus by trusting in him, and thus receiving the Spirit, which gives eternal life that the believer possesses (“holds”) within; the eternal Son (Jesus), who is life (1:4; 14:6), is also personally present through the indwelling Spirit. In so doing, one also eats/drinks the “flesh/blood” of Jesus, meaning that the life-giving (and cleansing) power of his death is communicated to believers, through the Spirit (cf. the earlier note on 1 Jn 1:7ff).

But what relation does this have to the specific words (r(h/mata) uttered by Jesus? In a sense, the believer also ‘eats’ these words, though in the Johannine idiom this is expressed more properly through the idea of the word(s) abiding within the believer, utilizing the key-verb me/nw (“remain, abide”). As discussed in the previous note, the singular noun lo/go$ can refer both to (1) a specific saying or teaching by Jesus, and (2) to the living/eternal Word of God (of the Johannine Prologue, 1:1-2, 14) with whom Jesus (the Son) is personally identified. In 1 John 1:1, these two aspects are blended together with the traditional use of lo/go$ to refer to the “account” of Jesus (i.e., the Gospel). The words abide through the presence of the abiding Word, though the repeated exhortations (in the Gospel and First Letter) indicate the importance of believers holding firm to the teachings (and example) of Jesus which they received. For the key Johannine references in this regard, using the verb me/nw, cf. 5:38; 6:27, 56; 8:31; 14:17; 15:4-10; 1 Jn 2:14, 24, 27-28; 3:9, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; 2 Jn 2, 9. The words give life because the abiding Word gives life; both are Spirit, and must be understood and recognized according to the Spirit.

In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the confessional statement by Peter in verse 68.