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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 10: John 3:3-8

John 3:3-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.