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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 13:24-30

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

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

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

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

Luke 16:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March 27: Luke 9:57-62

The next Son of Man saying in the Gospel of Luke is found in Lk 9:58, part of a sequence of three sayings (9:57-62) regarding the “cost of discipleship” in following Jesus (cf. the prior note on Lk 9:23-27). The first two sayings are also found in Matthew (Matt 8:18-22, part of the so-called “Q” material), but in a different location within the narrative.

Luke 9:57-62

Here is an outline of the passage:

  • Narrative setting (v. 57a)—”And (on) their traveling in/on the way…” [i.e. “as they traveled along the way”]
  • 1st Encounter with a follower (v. 57 b) and Jesus’ response (Saying 1, v. 58)
  • 2nd Encounter with a follower (v. 59) and Jesus’ response (Saying 2, v. 60)
  • 3rd Encounter with a follower (v. 61) and Jesus’ response (Saying 3, v. 62)

The reference to the “Son of Man” is found in the first saying, in response to the first would-be follower who approaches Jesus and declares: “I will follow you wherever you should go from (here) [i.e. from here on]”. Jesus answers him:

“The foxes have holes/burrows (to live in), the birds of the heaven [i.e. the sky] (have) ‘tents’ put down [i.e. nests] (for them), but the Son of Man does not have (any)where to bend (down) his head [i.e. to sleep/reside].”

The saying has a proverbial feel about it, and certainly draws upon the same common-place imagery from nature regularly used by Jesus in his parables and illustrations. As in a number of the Son-of-Man sayings, there are two points of emphasis at work:

    1. Jesus identifies himself with humankind, especially in its weakness and lowliness. It is possible that, at the historical level, Jesus is simply using “Son of Man” in place of “I” (as a self-reference). The (Aramaic and/or Hebrew) expression is known to have been used this way, but its currency at the time of Jesus is quite uncertain.
    2. He particularly stresses the suffering and/or humiliation endured by the “Son of Man”. If, by this expression, a coming heavenly/Messianic figure is meant (cf. the note on Lk 9:26f), then it offers a striking contrast to his power/glory, as appears to be the case in the earlier Passion predictions (Lk 9:21, 43-45).

On the more practical, ethical level, Jesus presents himself as an example of self-denial and poverty, having abandoned everything, and now with nothing, no place to call his own—not even a pillow for his head! Those who would follow him must be willing to live the same way.

Now let us briefly consider the last two sayings. Each is set as an encounter with a would-be follower, but in a slightly different format—(1) Jesus calls the person to follow him, (2) the person requests time first to deal with family business, and (3) Jesus answers with a stark (even harsh) saying regarding the cost of following him. Here are the two encounters in outline:

    • Jesus: “Follow me”
      Response: “[Lord,] turn/give upon me (permission) to go from (here) first (and) to bury my father” (v. 59)
      Jesus’ saying: “Leave/release the dead to bury their (own) dead; but you, go from (here and) give throughout the message (of) [i.e. declare/announce] the kingdom of God!” (v. 60)
    • Jesus: (“Follow me”)
      Response: “Lord, I will follow you, but first turn/give upon me (permission) to arrange (things and depart) from the (one)s in my house” (v. 61)
      Jesus’ saying: “No one casting a hand upon the plough and looking (back) to the (thing)s behind is set (very) well for the kingdom of God!” (v. 62)

On the surface, both men make very reasonable requests of Jesus—they are apparently willing to leave their homes to follow Jesus, but ask permission to go and set their affairs in order first. In each instance, however, Jesus responds with a striking proverb illustrating the cost of discipleship and the requirement to follow him immediately. Each saying also makes mention of the “kingdom of God”. The latter saying is more in keeping with Jesus’ parables regarding the kingdom, and the typical imagery from nature and agriculture used so often in them; it is also relatively simple and straightforward to understand. The former saying is far more difficult, and has proven quite problematic (even troubling) for Christians over the centuries, especially since Jesus appears to be telling the man to abandon his filial obligation toward his parents, seemingly in violation of the commandment to honor one’s father and mother (Exod 19:12 par). This is not the place to survey the history of interpretation and the various attempts to explain (away) the difficulty of the saying, other than to note that it is best to take the saying at face value and to allow its full impact. In my view, there are two primary ways to read the saying:

    • “Let the dead bury themselves”—i.e. forget about the obligation to bury the dead, you must follow me right now!
    • “Let those who are dead (figuratively) bury their own people”—i.e., for you, following me takes priority over the ordinary (family/community) activities of (living and) dying; a deeper theological/spiritual interpretation along these same lines might be, e.g. “those who do not (or refuse to) follow me are dead; as for you, follow me and be among the living” (cf. Lk 24:5, also Lk 9:24; 17:18-22 par, etc).
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