June 14: 1 John 2:29

1 John 2:29

As discussed in the previous daily note, the Johannine theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring” (te/kna) of God was introduced in 1 John at the beginning the central division of the work (2:28-3:24), as the author addresses his audience tekni/a, “(my) dear offspring…”, or “little children…”. It is in the central division that the author most clearly expounds his primary theme—that of the contrast between true and false believers.

The author’s message also has a strong eschatological orientation, as is clear from the references in 2:28 to Jesus’ being “made to shine forth” (vb fanero/w), and his “(com)ing to be alongside” (parousi/a). Both of these terms are part of the early Christian eschatological vocabulary, referring to the end-time (second) coming of Jesus. Like virtually all first-century Christians, the author of 1 John held an imminent eschatology, as is clear from the wording throughout—particularly in 2:18: “Little children, this is the last hour…”. The author believed that he and his audience were living at the end of the current Age, a period which traditionally was thought to represent a time of great distress (qli/yi$, Dan 12:1 LXX, Mark 13:19, 24 par; 2 Thess 1:4, 6; Rev 1:9; 7:14), when the forces of darkness and evil were particularly active and intense. This evil activity includes the presence of false prophets (and false messiahs) who would lead humankind astray (Mk 13:22 par; Matt 24:11; cf. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1); even believers are not completely safe from their deceptions. The opponents, whose views and teachings are the focus of the author’s warnings, are called “antichrists” (2:18ff; 4:3; 2 Jn 7) and are regarded as false prophets of the end-time (4:1-6), capable of leading other Christians astray.

The exhortations and warnings in 2:28-3:24 have the same eschatological context. The emphasis on remaining in Christ—and in the truth of the Gospel regarding who Jesus is (and what he did)—is particularly urgent, given the malevolent influence of the “antichrist” opponents. The opponents have departed from the truth, holding false views regarding Jesus Christ, and are thus false believers (and also false prophets). The author encourages his audience to remain in the truth; if they do, then they will not be led astray, and will show themselves to be true believers—those who have been ‘born’ of God as His offspring.

This birth/offspring imagery is particularly emphasized in the first section (2:28-3:10), where the noun te/knon (plur. te/kna) and the verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”, + e)k “out of”) occur multiple times. Following the use of the diminutive tekni/a in verse 28, the term te/kna (the first occurrence in 1 John) follows in 3:1, being preceded by the genna/w + e)k idiom in v. 29:

“If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (then) you know that also every(one) doing (what is) right [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of [e)k] Him.”

This is the first instance in 1 John where believers in Christ—that is, true believers—are defined as those “having come to be (born) out of God”. The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle), with the definite article, reflects a typical Johannine manner of expression. It is a way of describing a person (or group) according to a characteristic attribute or behavior—viz., “the one(s) doing/being {such}…”. When the verb is genna/w, it is typically used in the perfect tense: “the (one[s]) having coming to be (born)”. The perfect tense usually indicates a past action (or state), the effect/results of which continue into the present. This aspect of continuing is reinforced, in the Johannine theological idiom, by use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”).

Two points are made regarding believers as the offspring of God here in v. 29. The first point is expressed by the first phrase: “If you have seen that he is right(eous)…”. The subject of the verb e)stin (“he is”) is ambiguous, but, given the point of reference in v. 28, it can only refer to Jesus Christ (the Son). Moreover, Jesus was specifically identified by the same adjective (as a substantive title) in 2:1, “(the) Right(eous one)”, an appellation which appears to have been a traditional designation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; cf. Lk 23:47). The true believer sees/knows who Jesus is—namely, that, as the Messiah and Son of God, he is the Righteous One, acting in accordance with what is right (dikaiosu/nh). This is part of what it means to have a genuine trust in Jesus.

If the first phrase sets the condition (protasis, “if…”), the remainder of the verse states the apodosis (“then…”): “then you know that every(one) doing (what is) right…”. The second point thus is: the true believer, following the example of Jesus himself (see v. 6), does what is right. If the Son does what is right, then believers, as the offspring/children of God, will also do what is right.

The noun dikaiosu/nh, with the definite article, denotes “the right (thing)”, or “th(at which) is right”, “what is right”; it should be understood in a collective or comprehensive sense (“right-ness”), rather than referring to a specific right deed. Again, the use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) indicates behavior that is characteristic of the believer: “the (one) doing…” (o( poiw=n). It is characteristic of the true believer that he/she “does what is right”. The author does not here indicate to his readers precisely what it means, in a practical sense, to “do what is right”. Doing right certainly would include the range of traditional religious-ethical conduct (cf. the context of 1:5-2:2ff), but the Johannine writings tend to express this, for believers, in a very particular way. The ethic of the believer in Christ is realized (and expressed) in terms of the Johannine theology—something that the author develops, in particular, throughout 2:28-3:24.

In the next daily note, we will continue this study on the birth/offspring theme in 2:28-3:10, examining 3:1.

 

Saturday Series: 1 John 2:18-27

1 John 2:18-27

In the previous two studies, we examined the conflict that is at the heart of 2 John, and how it shaped the author’s treatment of the Johannine theology. In particular the key Johannine theme, of the two-fold duty (entol¢¡) required of every true believer—trust and love—is expounded and applied in relation to the conflict surrounding the “antichrist” opponents (v. 7). A genuine trust in Jesus Christ is defined in terms of the opponents’ Christology (and their false trust, vv. 7-9ff), while love for one’s fellow believers involves protecting them from the opponents’ influence (see vv. 10-11).

The same conflict is present in 1 John. This is clear from the similarity in wording between 2 John 7 and 1 John 4:3. The author of 1 John (if he is not the same person who penned 2 John) provides a more extensive and developed treatment of the conflict involving the opponents, whom he also calls antíchristos (antichrist). The central section, or division, of 1 John is 2:28-3:24. In this section, the author offers a presentation of what it means to be a true believer. By contrast, in the flanking sections (2:18-27 & 4:1-6), the focus is on the false believer. The principal theme of the treatise is the contrast between the true and false believer; the opponents are identified as false believers, while, in the author’s rhetorical strategy, his audience is essentially treated as true believers. This approach serves the purpose of both exhorting and warning Johannine Christians to remain faithful to the truth, in the face of the danger posed by the ‘antichrist’ opponents.

At various points throughout 1 John, we can see how this conflict has shaped the Johannine discourse. Various teachings and traditions, the language and manner of expression, have been adapted or interpreted so as to address the conflict involving the opponents. The first ‘antichrist’ section, 2:18-27, provides a number of examples for consideration. We begin with verse 18:

“Little children, it is the last hour. And, just as you (have) heard that (the one) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristos] comes, even now there have come to be many (who are) ‘against the Anointed’ [antíchristoi]—(and) from this we know that it is (the) last hour.”

The chiastic parallelism of this statement demonstrates how the author can use certain literary and grammatical-syntactical means in order to apply Johannine tradition to the situation involving the opponents. Note the structure:

    • “Little children, it is the last hour
      • you have heard that antichrist comes
      • even now many antichrists have come to be
    • (thus) we know that it is the last hour.”

The framing statements regarding “the last hour” relate to the eschatological expectation of Johannine Christians. The author, and doubtless many (if not all) of his addressees, held an imminent eschatology, with a strong belief that he/they were living in the time just before the end of the current Age. Part of this expectation, apparently, was that someone (or something) called “against the Anointed” (antíchristos) would come, just before the end, during the end-time period of distress (see Dan 12:1; Mark 13:19, 24 par; Rev 1:9; 7:14, etc). The author uses the term antíchristos (a)nti/xristo$) without explanation, nor does he offer any additional information regarding this expectation, which suggests that we are dealing with a tradition that was familiar to his audience. It is not at all clear whether the term here refers to an individual human being, a spirit-being, or an impersonal (spiritual) force. Possibly all three are involved; cf. the expectation elucidated by Paul in 2 Thess 2:1-12. For more on this subject, see my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” (the Johannine references are discussed in Part 3).

In any case, the author clearly interprets this eschatological expectation in terms of the opponents. They are manifestations of this antíchristos—indeed, through the presence and activity of the opponents, many ‘antichrists’ have come to be. These antíchristoi are human beings, and yet the author also recognizes that a distinct spirit of ‘antichrist’ is at work.

The author does not immediately explain how (or in what way) the opponents are “against the Anointed”. This is because the main point(s) at issue are only expounded progressively, throughout the three sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6; 5:4b-12) that deal most directly with the opponents’ views. What the author initially tells us about these ‘antichrists’ is that they have departed from the Johannine Community—or, at least, what the author regards as the Community of true believers:

“They went out of [ek] us, (in) that they were not of [ek] us; for, if they were of us, they would have remained [vb ménœ] with us—but (this was so) that it would be made to shine forth [i.e., be made apparent] that they are not of us.” (v. 19)

This is an example of how the distinctive Johannine theological language is applied to the situation involving the opponents. Two bits of Johannine vocabulary and style are employed. First, there is the preposition ek (“out of”), used two different ways, with a dual meaning: (a) “out of, [away] from”, in the sense of departing/leaving the group, and (b) “(part) of”, i.e., belonging to, the Community. Even more distinctive is the use of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”), an important Johannine keyword that is used (with special theological meaning) many times throughout the Gospel and First Letter. The true believer remains—both in Christ and in the bond of Community—while false believers (such as the opponents) do not remain. The opponents, like Judas in the Gospel narrative, depart from the Community of true believers, going out into the darkness of the world (Jn 13:30; 1 Jn 4:1ff). This could simply refer to their departure from the truth (specifically with regard to their view of Jesus), or it may mean that a more tangible separation/division within the Johannine churches has taken place.

In verses 20-21, and again in verse 27, two additional Johannine features are related to the conflict. First, there is the allusion to the Spirit in verse 20:

“And (yet) you hold an anointing from the Holy (One), and have seen [i.e. know] all (thing)s.”

Though the point has been disputed by some commentators, it is best to understand the noun chrísma (“anointing”) here as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Related to this emphasis on the role of the Spirit, is the use of the noun al¢¡theia (“truth”) in verse 21:

“I did not write to you (in) that [i.e. because] you have not seen [i.e. do not know] the truth, but (in) that you have seen [i.e. do know] it, and that every(thing) false is not of [ek] the truth.”

This would seem to reflect a fundamental spiritual (and spiritualistic) principle within the Johannine Community (see the recent article in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”). The indwelling presence of the Spirit means that every true believer is able to know and recognize the truth, through the internal witness of the Spirit. However, the presence and activity of the opponents has created a challenge to this principle, since there are certain Johannine Christians (the opponents) who, according to the author, are spreading false teachings. Such false teachings can not come from the same Spirit of God. This is a point that the author develops more clearly in 4:1-6.

A key rhetorical strategy of the author, as noted above, is to address his audience as though they are all true believers. Being true believers, who are taught (internally) by the Spirit (who is the truth, 5:6), they will be able to recognize teaching that is false. The implication is that the readers/hearers should be able to recognize the falseness of the opponents’ teachings.

And it is the opponents’ view of Jesus Christ that is most at issue. The author provides his first summary of the matter here in vv. 22-26. The main principle is that the ‘antichrist’, one who is “against the Anointed”, denies that Jesus is the Anointed (Christ/Messiah). This is another way of saying that the opponents deny Jesus as the Anointed. However, the precise meaning of the author in this regard is not entirely clear, and has been much discussed and debated by commentators. For a relatively in-depth treatment of the issue, see my earlier three-part article “1 Jn 2:22 and the Opponents in 1 John”. I will touch on the matter again in an upcoming study within this series.

What is most important is that, for the author, the opponents’ Christology (their view of Jesus) means that they are not true believers. By effectively denying Jesus, they show that they do not possess the bond of union with either the Son of God (Jesus) or God the Father (vv. 22-23). The presence of the Spirit (i.e., the “anointing”), and its internal witness, is the ultimate source of authority for believers (see again the aforementioned article), to the extent that there is no need to be taught (externally) by another human being (v. 27). But how, then, can individual believers be certain that their understanding is true, guided by the Spirit of God, and has not been led astray by false teachings (coming from other spirits)? The author gives an initial answer to this question in verse 24:

“(As for) you, that which you (have) heard from the beginning must remain in you. If it should remain in you, that which you heard from the beginning, (then) you also shall remain in the Son and in the Father.”

The only way for the believer not to be led astray, is to remain in the true teaching (regarding Jesus Christ). The author uses the key expression “from the beginning” (ap’ arch¢¡s) to summarize the true teaching. It echoes his words in the prologue (1:1-4), which, in turn, seem to be inspired by the Gospel Prologue (1:1-18). The implication is that the internal witness/teaching of the Spirit will conform to the established Gospel tradition, regarding the person and work of Jesus. Any teaching which deviates from the truth of the Gospel cannot come from the Spirit of God, but from a different (false/deceiving) spirit. By remaining in the truth of the Gospel tradition, one is sure to remain united (through the Spirit) with the Father and the Son.

It is the Gospel account, rooted in historical tradition, of who Jesus is, and what he said/did during his earthly ministry, that is principally in view. The opponents, in their view of Jesus, have departed from the Gospel tradition. This, at least, is how the author of 1 John understands the matter. Their teaching denies the truth of who Jesus is, and so they are “against the Anointed”. Their teaching is a malevolent reflection of the end-time spirit of Antichrist, capable of leading many believers astray.

Next week, we will continue this study, examining how the author of 1 John further adapts the Johannine tradition and theology to address this vital conflict. We shall turn our attention to the central section of the work (2:28-3:24), isolating a number of key elements that are particularly emphasized and employed by the author.

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.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew, cont.)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew, continued

In the initial portion of this article, we examined the “son of man” references that occur throughout the narrative sequence of the Gospel of Matthew. For the most part, the Gospel writer follows the Synoptic/Markan narrative (though with some re-ordering), and also includes a number of “Q” traditions (shared with the Gospel of Luke). The author’s treatment of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) similarly follows his use of this traditional material. The most original contributions are found in the way that Jesus’ declaration(s) in Mark 8:38-9:1 are adapted (16:27-28), and by the inclusion of the saying in 19:28 within the Synoptic tradition of Mk 10:17-30 par (cf. Lk 22:28-30).

If I may summarize the main results of our analysis of the narrative references:

    • The Matthean Gospel writer unquestionably saw the expression “the son of man” by Jesus primarily as a self-reference; the interchangeability between the expression and the personal pronoun (compare 16:13, 21 with Mk 8:27, 31), in the declarations by Jesus occurring at the heart of the Gospel, makes this especially clear.
    • In Matthew, as in Luke, the “son of man” sayings bring out the Gospel’s thematic emphasis on discipleship. Just as Jesus identifies with the human condition (and its suffering), so the disciple of Jesus must take on a similar cost (of hardship and self-sacrifice) in following him.
    • The suffering and death of Jesus is particularly in focus, but balanced (more so than in Luke) with an emphasis on the exaltation of Jesus.

The “son of man” saying in 19:28, in particular, blends together these last two thematic emphases.

The Matthean Sermon-Discourses

As was discussed, the Matthean narrative is punctuated by a series of Discourses (or ‘Sermons’), built up out of smaller discourse-sections, around which other teachings by Jesus (sayings, short parables, etc) have been added. The great ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) is the first of these Discourses, in which Jesus presents a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for anyone would be his disciple. In chapter 10, Jesus subsequently instructs his disciples in preparation of their mission. Further on, in chapter 13, Jesus teaches his followers about the Kingdom of God, and (in chap. 18) on certain social aspects of being his disciple—viz., on belonging to the Kingdom, and how one is to relate to fellow members of the Kingdom. Finally, in chapters 24-25, the disciples are given further instruction on their mission (i.e., the early Christian mission), in connection with the coming end of the Age (and the Judgment).

The most significant Matthean occurrences of the expression “the son of man” (in 16:27-28 and 19:28), as noted above, have an eschatological orientation. This is also true for all of the occurrences of the expression in the Sermon-Discourses—10:23; 13:37, 41; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31.

Matthew 10:23

As part of the discourse (chap. 10) in which Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission—and, by extension, all believers for the coming early Christian mission—he instructs them in regard to the hostility and persecution that they will experience (vv. 16-25). In the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mk 13 par), this persecution (vv. 9-13) is framed in eschatological terms, as part of the end-time period of distress (vv. 19, 24). Matthew’s version of that Discourse (see below) has only a shortened form of the section related to the disciples’ mission (24:9, 13-14), having transferred the portion corresponding to Mk 13:9-12 largely to the chap. 10 discourse. This means, however, that there is a definite eschatological aspect to Jesus’ instruction here in chap. 10.

When facing persecution, the disciples are told to move (“flee”) from one city to the next (v. 23a). Jesus then adds the following declaration:

“For, amen, I say to you, that you shall (surely) not complete (going through) the cities of Yisrael, before [lit. until] the son of man should come.” (v. 23b)

This saying, like the instruction regarding persecution, is rather out of place in the narrative context—viz., the disciples’ initial mission during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It is much more appropriate in the context of the Eschatological Discourse (chap. 24f), set in Jerusalem, not long before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Indeed, the eschatological reference to the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) end-time appearance makes almost no sense here, from a narrative standpoint, occurring as it does before he has even once told his disciples of his impending death and resurrection. The arrangement of the material in chapter 10, however, is topical, not chronological.

In any case, the imminence of the son of man’s end-time appearance would seem to be expressed quite clearly by Jesus here in v. 23. The implication is that not all that much time will pass before his coming—indeed, some (if not many) of the first disciples will still be alive at his parousia. The declaration by Jesus in 16:28, in the Matthean formulation of the saying (cp. Mk 9:1), carries the same implication, as does the famous statement in 24:34 par. We have already discussed the “son of man” reference in 16:28:

“Amen, I say to you, that there are some of the (one)s having stood here who (surely) shall not taste death, until they should see the son of man coming in his Kingdom!”

However problematic these statements may be for later generations of Christians (and for many of us today), the imminent eschatology held by first-century believers is well-established, and we should avoid the inclination to try and explain away their belief in this regard. For a thorough survey of the subject, see my earlier article (and specifically the portion covering the Gospels) in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Matthew 13:37, 41

In chapter 13, the Gospel writer has expanded the collection of Kingdom-parables in Mark 4:1-34, by including a number of additional parables and sayings—vv. 24-30, 32, 36-43, 44-50, 51-52—and by omitting (or otherwise not including) one of the parables found in Mark (4:26-29). The parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30) functions as a corollary to the parable of the Sower. As in that earlier parable, an explanation by Jesus is recorded for the parable of the Weeds (vv. 36-43). In this explanation, it is declared that sower of the seed is “the son of man” (v. 37)—that is, Jesus, in his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel (of the Kingdom). As is clear from chapter 10 (see above), the disciples (and other believers) will be continuing this mission of Jesus. It is noteworthy that in Matthew, these parables come after the disciples’ mission, whereas in Mark, the parables (chap. 4) come before the mission (6:7-13).

It is also explained that the harvest, involving the separation of the weeds from the grain, represents the end-time ‘harvest’, when the righteous will be separated from the wicked (vv. 39-43). The harvest, marking the end of the growing season, was a natural metaphor for the end of the Age—e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Matt 3:12 par; Rev 14:14-20. The parable of the Net (vv. 47-50) has a similar eschatological message.

In any case, in the parable of the Weeds, it is “the son of man” who will do the gathering (i.e., separating out the righteous), through the mediation of heavenly Messengers under his command (“his Messengers”), v. 41. Much the same scenario is described in the Eschatological Discourse (Mk 13:27; par Matt 24:34). This eschatological reference to the Messengers (angels) confirms that the “son of man” declarations in 16:27-28 refer to the end-time appearance of Jesus (from heaven), i.e., his parousia (cf. 24:3, 27, 37, 39).

Matthew 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44

The Matthean Gospel writer has also expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), adding to it other eschatological sayings and parables of Jesus, including a number of “Q” traditions (vv. 43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-39, 40-41, 28) which Luke locates at different points of the narrative (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27, 34-35, 37b). The expression “the son of man” occurs several times in this “Q” material (vv. 27, 37, 39, 44 par), and the references were examined in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings.

The fundamental point in these references is that the coming of the son of man will coincide with the coming of the end-time Judgment. His appearance will be sudden and unexpected (v. 44 par), like lighting flashes that instantly light up the entire sky (v. 27 par). Matthew includes the Noah/Flood illustration, but not the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-29, 32). It is difficult to be certain whether or not the latter was originally part of the “Q” tradition inherited by the Gospel writer; it seems likely that it was, though, as a natural pairing (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff), it might have been added at any point in the tradition. In Matthew, Jesus specifically utilizes the Noah/Flood reference as the type-pattern for the end-time Judgment, pointing out that the coming of the “son of man” will be just like the coming of the Flood (vv. 37, 39 par)—the righteous (believers) will be saved, while the rest of humankind will perish under the Judgment.

Naturally enough, Matthew also retains the climactic “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26f par (v. 30f), but includes certain details which are worth discussing briefly. The declaration in Mk 13:26 is preserved in v. 30b, with only slight variation:

“…they shall gaze with (open) eyes (at) the son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with much power and splendor.”

Mark has “in/with [e)n] the clouds”, while Matthew more clearly draws upon the ancient storm-theophany imagery, viz., of the deity coming (or ‘riding’) upon (e)pi/) the clouds. However, the precise wording here actually stems from Daniel 7:13 LXX, “upon the clouds of heaven” (e)pi\ tw=n nefelw=n tou= ou)ranou=). The Matthean version of the tradition thus conforms more precisely to the “son of man” reference in Dan 7:13f.

The Gospel writer has also included an additional detail, in v. 30a; prior to the actual appearance of the son of man:

“Then shall shine forth the sign of the son of man in heaven, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes] of the earth shall beat themselves…”

There are differences of opinion regarding what is meant by the sign (shmei=on) of the son of man. It may simply refer to a brilliant theophanous light (the verb fai/nw literally meaning “shine”) that announces the son of man’s coming. Other commentators prefer to explain it is a visual symbol of something, such as Jesus’ crucifixion (i.e., cross), or even as a representation of Jesus himself (crucified). If the Gospel writer understands the reference to the peoples “beating themselves” (i.e., in mourning) as an allusion to Zech 12:10, then they may, indeed, be responding to the fact that the “son of man” (i.e., the exalted Jesus) had been crucified (cp. John 19:37). Revelation 1:7 similarly brings together Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10. If the death (crucifixion) of Jesus is being specifically referenced here, then it provides us with another indication of how the Matthean author has balanced two primary Gospel contexts where the expression “the son of man” is used: (a) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (b) his exaltation and (future) return in glory.

Matthew 25:31

The Gospel writer has further expanded the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse, by including three eschatological parables in chapter 25. Two of these (vv. 1-13, 31-46) are unique to Matthew, while the other (vv. 14-30) is similar to the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12-27 (and may derive from a common [“Q”] tradition). All three of these parables refer in some way to the end-time Judgment, but only the third (vv. 31-46) specifically has a Judgment setting. Indeed, it can only marginally be described as a parable; it is more akin to some of the visions in the book of Revelation, providing a vivid portrait of the end-time Judgment.

In any case, it is clear from the opening (v. 31) that the Judgment takes place only after the coming of the son of man (see on 24:30f above):

“And, when the son of man should come in his splendor, and all the Messengers with him, then he shall sit upon (the) throne of his splendor, and the nations shall be gathered together in front of him, and he shall mark them off from each other, just as a herder marks off the sheep from the goats.” (vv. 31-32)

The idea of the separation of the righteous from the wicked was a central component of the Judgment parables in 13:24-30 (+ 36-43) and 47-50 (see above). Clearly, in this instance, though the holy Messengers (angels) are involved, it is the son of man himself who oversees the Judgment. The peoples (“nations”) are all brought together in front of him, as he sits upon his throne. As the exalted/heavenly ruler, the son of man (Jesus) will proceed to pass judgment upon humankind. Though it is not specifically indicated here, it is fair to assume that Jesus is acting as God the Father’s representative, acting with His authority, in overseeing the Judgment.

In all respects this scenario represents a more developed form of a line of tradition preserved elsewhere in the “son of man” sayings (16:27, etc), in which we find both the motif of the end-time Judgment, and the idea of the “son of man” appearing (in glory, with the angels) at the end-time.

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Luke 19:11ff; 21:31; 22:16ff)

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

Having examined the various references to the Kingdom of God (and its coming) in the Gospel of Luke, we must pay attention to how the theme is treated at the close of the Gospel, leading into the book of Acts. There are four passages of interest: (1) the parable in 19:11ff, (2) the statement in 21:31 (at the close of the Eschatological Discourse), (3) the references in the Last Supper scene (22:16ff), and (4) the reference in 23:42. All of these are significant for an understanding of how the Lukan Gospel writer viewed the coming of the Kingdom.

Luke 19:11ff

First, there is the parable in 19:12-27, similar in many respects to the parable in Matt 25:14-30, though the relation between the two, and whether they reflect a common underlying “Q” tradition, remains a matter for debate. The literary context of the two is certainly different. Luke sets this parable (of the Ten Minas) at the end of the Journey narrative (9:51-18:31ff), as Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem. The Lukan introduction (v. 11) makes clear that, contrary to the expectation of some people, Jesus would not be establishing the Kingdom on earth (as a Messianic Kingdom) when he arrived in Jerusalem. According to the author, Jesus tells this parable

“…because of his being near to Yerushalaim, and their thinking that the kingdom of God was about [me/llei] to show up paraxrh=ma.”

The adverb paraxrh=ma is somewhat difficult to translate. It basically denotes something happening at the time it is needed; however, this was often generalized to mean “at the very moment”, “on the spot”, i.e., immediately, instantly. This certainly is how the word is used here, referring to the idea (held by some, if not many, of Jesus’ followers) that the Kingdom of God would “show up” (vb a)nafai/nw) as soon as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Clearly, this would not be the case, as the narrative demonstrates, and as the Gospel writer here declares ahead of time.

As we saw from the earlier notes on the Triumphal Entry scene, the Synoptic narrative reinterprets the popular Messianic expectation, expressed (by the crowds) in that episode, regarding Jesus’ identity as the Davidic (royal) Messiah. The Gospel of Luke follows the Synoptic narrative, but goes even further in presenting a different view of Jesus’ Kingship—and thus, of his relation to the coming Kingdom of God.

The Lukan Gospel had already dealt with this popular expectation at several earlier points in the Gospel—most notably, in 17:20-21ff, where Jesus redirects the expectation of how the Kingdom would come, providing important insight as to the true nature of this Kingdom (see the earlier study on this passage). Much the same thing occurs here with the parable in 19:12-27. In the Lukan parable, Jesus is clearly identified with the nobleman who goes off “into a region far away” in order to “receive a kingdom for himself” (v. 12). In the Gospel (and Lukan) context, this refers to the impending death (and resurrection) of Jesus. The basic message, then, is that the Kingdom of God cannot come until after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There are two other important components to this message, as expressed by the parable: (a) it involves Jesus himself receiving a kingdom, and (b) it also entails Jesus’ subsequent return (i.e., his second coming [parousia] at the end-time). Both of these are relevant to the remaining passages.

Luke 21:31

Toward the close of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13; par Lk 21:5-36), Jesus gives an eschatological illustration based on observation of the fig-tree (Mk 13:28-29). Just as, when the fig-tree puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near, so when one sees the eschatological events (described by Jesus in the Discourse) coming to pass, it is a sign that the end is near—and, with it, the coming of the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus’ return, vv. 26-27). Luke follows the Synoptic/Markan tradition, but uniquely includes a reference to the “kingdom of God”:

“…when you should see these (thing)s coming to be, you may know that the kingdom of God is near!” (21:31)

In this context, the coming of the Kingdom of God is eschatological, being tied to the end-time return of Jesus. This is significant because, elsewhere in the Gospel, Luke seems to indicate that the Kingdom was already present in the person of Jesus during his earthly ministry (e.g., 11:20, cf. the earlier study)—a ministry that would continue through his disciples and the early Christian missionaries. In spite of this important thematic emphasis, Luke still affirms a future eschatological aspect to the coming of the Kingdom.

Luke 22:16ff

In order to understand this eschatological orientation of the Kingdom theme, it is necessary to realize that, for early Christians, the period of end-time events begins with the suffering and death of Jesus. The Messianic Age was not inaugurated with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (see above), but it would be with Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are definite eschatological allusions throughout the Gospel Passion narratives, quite apart from the obvious literary context of the Eschatological Discourse (immediately preceding, as it does, the Synoptic Passion narrative).

The Kingdom-theme is strongly present in the Passion narrative, as was previously discussed (in the Holy Week notes related to the Triumphal entry scene). A vital emphasis in the narrative is on Jesus’ identity as the royal/Davidic Messiah who must first suffer and die. Luke brings out this Kingdom-theme more than the other Synoptic authors. The Gospel writer does this, in part, by the added Kingdom-references in the Last Supper scene.

In the core Synoptic tradition, after Jesus’ consecration of the cup of wine (Mk 14:23-24), in which he identifies the wine as symbolizing his blood (that is, his death), he adds the following statement:

“Amen, I say to you, that no longer, not (at all) shall I drink out of the produce of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (v. 25)

Once again, the Lukan author reproduces the tradition, but with slight modification; he also includes a second reference by Jesus to the Kingdom, parallel to the first:

“…(I have very much) set (my heart) upon eating this Pesah [i.e. Passover] with you, before my suffering; for I say to you, that not (again) shall I eat it until that time when it should be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. (22:15-16)
(regarding the wine):
“…I shall not (again) drink from the produce of the vine from now (on), until the (time) when the kingdom of God should come.” (v. 18)

In Luke’s version, this statement regarding the wine precedes the symbolic consecration of the bread and cup (vv. 19-20 [though 19b-20 are omitted by some Western textual witnesses, cf. my earlier note]). For the purposes of this study, the most important aspect of this expanded Kingdom-reference is the way that the author ties Jesus’ eating/drinking in the Kingdom of God with the eschatological coming of the Kingdom. This brings together the two themes from 19:11ff and 21:31 (discussed above): (i) Jesus’ receiving the Kingdom upon his death and resurrection, and (ii) the future coming of the Kingdom.

Luke further expands this Kingdom-theme within the Last Supper scene by including a short block of sayings/teachings by Jesus (vv. 24-30), comprised of two traditions that are (effectively) located elsewhere in the other Gospels. The second of these (vv. 28-30) resembles Matthew 19:28, and there is disagreement among commentators as to whether these represent two versions of a single (“Q”) tradition. In any case, Jesus here promises his disciples (the Twelve) that, having remained faithful to him throughout the time of distress (“testing”), they will receive a ruling place alongside Jesus himself in the Kingdom: “and I will set through to you, even as my Father set through to me, a kingdom” (v. 29). They will eat alongside Jesus at the Father’s table in the Kingdom (v. 30a), and will sit on thrones, ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 30b). The importance of this twelve-symbolism for Luke will be discussed in the next study.

The coming of the Kingdom is thus eschatological, but it is also tied to the Kingship of Jesus—viz., the Kingdom which he receives (alongside God the Father) upon his resurrection and exaltation (to heaven).

Luke 23:42

This same emphasis is found in 23:42, a tradition found only in the Gospel of Luke—namely, the dying request of the ‘repentant thief’ on the cross:

“Yeshua, remember me when you should come into [ei)$] your kingdom.”

The implication is that Jesus will receive his kingdom after his death, when he enters it (cp. 24:26). On this idiom of “entering” the Kingdom of God, see the previous study.

It should be pointed out that the text cited above is the reading of MSS Ë75 (the oldest relevant Papyrus), B, L, and the Latin versions. But the reading of the majority of Greek manuscripts (a, A, C2, R, W, Y, 0124, 0135, family 1 & 13 mss, and the later Koine/Byzantine text tradition) has the preposition e)n (“in”), rather than ei)$ (“into”).  The reading with e)n could be taken as a reference to Jesus’ future coming, i.e., “in/with” his kingdom (cf. the context of 21:31, above).  If the majority text is correct, then Jesus’ response to the thief may represent another Lukan ‘redirection’ of a popular Messianic expectation. That is to say, the thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to set up his kingdom, but Jesus responds that the thief will be with him in paradise today.

In next week’s study, we shall look at how the Lukan Gospel writer further develops this Kingdom-theme in the early chapters of the book of Acts.

 

 

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Matthew)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Matthew

As discussed in the previous article on the Gospel of Luke, the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels posits that Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the so-called “Q” material as a common source. This approach, though not without its difficulties, remains the most plausible option for a functioning hypothesis, and so I have followed it for the purpose of this study. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew (as for Luke), in examining the use of the expression “the son of man”, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to Matthew.

From a structural standpoint, perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Matthean Gospel is the way that the author has grouped together teachings of Jesus—individual traditions, or clusters of traditions—into larger discourse-sections (or ‘sermons’). These discourses punctuate the Gospel—in chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25 (to which one may add chap. 23)—and provide a certain theological framework that is interwoven with the narrative framework (drawn largely from the Markan narrative).

The Matthean Discourses actually represent expansions of previous, shorter discourse-sections. For example, the underlying “Q” material that formed the core of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (chaps. 5-7) likely corresponds, more or less, with the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:20-49). To this core, various other sayings and teachings of Jesus—some “Q” traditions, and others being unique to Matthew (“M” material)—have been added and arranged. The same is true with regard to chapters 10 (expanding the core tradition of Mk 6:7-13), 13 (expanding the sequence of parables in Mk 4:1-34), and 24-25 (expanding the “Eschatological Discourse” of Mk 13). To a lesser degree, chapters 18 and 23 are built up around core Synoptic/Markan and “Q” traditions, respectively.

The Matthean Gospel thus has a parallel arrangement running through the work: the narrative sequence (drawn from Mark), and the discourse/sermon sequence. With regard to the “son of man” references, it would seem best to analyze the data for each sequence in turn. We begin with the narrative sequence.

The Synoptic/Markan narrative, while generally followed by the Matthean Gospel writer, has also been disrupted and re-arranged at various points. The disruptions are largely due to the presence of the Discourses. For example, the Markan narrative is followed up to 1:20 (4:22), but then is interrupted to include the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7); when it resumes in chapters 8-9, the material from Mk 1:21-2:17 is presented, but in a different order (with the summary in 1:39 essentially being repositioned [and expanded] to introduce the Sermon on the Mount [4:23-25]).

The first occurrence of the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) is at 8:20, following the Sermon on the Mount (the expression does not occur in the Sermon). Verses 18-22 are “Q” sayings (par Lk 9:57-60) on the theme of discipleship, and, in particular, on the cost involved in following Jesus. In the context of the narrative sequence, the two sayings of vv. 19-22 occur between the call of the first disciples (4:18-22) and the call of Matthew (9:9ff). In the intervening Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides a range of essential ethical-religious instruction for those who would be his disciples.

Let us briefly survey the references in the narrative prior to the central episode of Peter’s confession (16:13-20, par Mk 8:27-30); the sequence of references is as follows:

As in the Markan and “Q” source-material, these occurrences of the expression “the son of man” function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus (i.e., “this son of man”, namely himself). Any significance beyond this relates to Jesus’ identification with the human condition, especially with regard to human weakness and suffering. This extends to the anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and death that would occur in Jerusalem. The Matthean treatment of the “sign of Jonah” tradition (12:39-40ff) clearly brings this out—identifying the “sign” with Jesus’ death (and subsequent resurrection). The Lukan version—and the underlying “Q” tradition itself—focuses instead on the ministry (preaching) of Jesus. His preaching is contrasted with that of Jonah. The prophet Jonah’s preaching led to the repentance of the people of Nineveh; by contrast, Jesus’ own contemporaries (in Galilee) have not responded to him in a similar way, even though he is a far greater (and Messianic) Prophet.

In both 12:32 and 40, the expression (as a reference to Jesus) is connected with the theme of discipleship. Only the person who responds with trust to Jesus, and who, as a true disciple, will confess him publicly, will be able to pass through the Judgment and be saved. This thematic emphasis is intrinsic to the “Q” traditions themselves, and is brought out even more strongly in Luke’s treatment of the material (see the discussion in the previous article).

The focus on the suffering and death of Jesus comes more clearly into view with the central cluster of references in chapters 16-17ff. In this regard, the Matthean author is following the Synoptic/Markan narrative, and the three ‘Passion predictions’ by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33). What is most interesting, however, is the way that the Gospel writer treats the expression “the son of man” so unequivocally as a self-reference by Jesus, entirely interchangeable with the use of the first person pronoun (“I”). Compare the question posed by Jesus to his disciples (in Mark and Matthew, respectively):

    • “Who do men count/consider me to be?” (Mk 8:27)
    • “Who do men count/consider the son of man to be?” (Matt 16:13)

The Gospel writer clearly (it seems) does not consider the expression to be a Messianic or special Christological title per se, otherwise Jesus’ question would make no sense—viz., he would be giving his disciples the answer before he even finished asking the question (cf. Hare, p. 131f). Note the similar interchange, between expression and pronoun, in the first Passion prediction:

    • “And he began to teach them that it is necessary for the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “From then (on), Yeshua began to show to his learners that it is necessary for him to go forth to Yerushalaim and to suffer many (thing)s…” (Matt 16:21)

In chapters 16-20, references to Jesus’ suffering and death (17:9, 12, 22; 20:18, 28) alternate with references to his exaltation (and future return), 16:27-28; 17:9; 19:28. It will be useful to examine the original Matthean contributions to this presentation.

The saying in 16:27, though formulated differently, corresponds to Mark 8:38. It is possible that the saying was reworked (or replaced) because of the similar “Q” tradition that the author would include in 10:32-33 (where Jesus uses the personal pronoun instead of the expression “the son of man”). But the author has retained the motif of the “son of man” coming in glory:

    • “…the son of man…when he should come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with the holy Messengers” (Mk 8:38)
    • “For the son of man is about to come in the splendor [do/ca] of his Father with his/His Messengers…” (Matt 16:27)

The following saying in v. 28 also corresponds to the Markan parallel (9:1), being nearly identical, but with one key difference:

    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the kingdom of God having come in power!” (Mk 9:1)
    • “…there are some of those having stood here who shall not taste death until they should see the son of man coming in his kingdom!” (Matt 16:28)

The coming of the Kingdom is defined in terms of the coming of the son of man (Jesus) in glory. This clearly refers to the exaltation of Jesus, but also (it would seem) to his future (second) coming at the end-time. The saying in 10:23 (to be discussed) would indicate that the author had Jesus’ second coming (i.e., parousia) in mind. However, it is Jesus’ exalted position in heaven that is being emphasized in 19:28, a Matthean addition to the Synoptic tradition in Mk 10:17-31 (19:16-30) that has a loose parallel in Lk 22:28-30. The emphasis on the heavenly position of the son of man (on a ruling throne) anticipates the eschatological references in chaps. 24-25. It also reiterates the important discipleship context that attends a number of the “son of man” sayings (esp. the “Q” sayings) we have examined (see above):

“Amen, I say to you, that you, the (one)s having come on the path with [i.e. followed] me, in the (time of all things) coming to be (born) again, when the son of man should sit upon the throne of his honor/splendor [do/ca], you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve offshoots [i.e. tribes] of Yisrael.”

These sayings reflect the eschatological outlook of early Christians. As the Messiah, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, Jesus will be sitting (in a ruling position) at the “right hand” of God, a position that he will continue to hold into the New Age. The end of the current Age was thought to be imminent, so that the New Age would very soon be ushered in—indeed, within the lifetime of some, if not most, of the first disciples. The exaltation of Jesus, followed by his subsequent return to earth (in glory), would mark the end of the current Age, and, with it, the final Judgment. This aspect of the “son of man” references will be discussed further in the continuation of this article, and again at the conclusion of this series.

Finally, the remaining “son of man” references in the narrative (26:2, 24, 45, 64) generally follow the Synoptic/Markan narrative, building upon the earlier association between the expression and the anticipation of Jesus’ impending suffering and death (in Jerusalem). Matthew is unique in the way that the Gospel writer opens the Passion narrative with a reiteration of the Passion-predictions:

And, when it came to be (that) Yeshua (had) completed all these words, he said to his learners: “You have seen [i.e. know] that after two days the Pesah [i.e. Passover] comes to be, and the son of man is given along to be put to the stake [i.e. crucified].” (26:1-2; cp. Mk 14:1)

Otherwise, the Gospel writer, in preserving the Synoptic/Markan references, emphasizes both the suffering of Jesus (including his betrayal, 26:24, 45) and his subsequent exaltation (26:64)—compare Mk 14:21, 41, 62. This balancing of the two aspects—suffering/death and exaltation—is, on the whole, typical of the use of the expression throughout the Gospel Tradition, but it is particularly significant (and noteworthy) in the Matthean presentation of the traditional material. In contrast with the Gospel of Luke, where the emphasis tends to be on the suffering aspect, Matthew gives somewhat greater prominence to Jesus’ exaltation.

References above marked “Hare” are to Douglas R. A. Hare, The Son of Man Tradition (Fortress Press: 1990).

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (Luke)

The “Son of Man” in the Gospel of Luke

In our study of the expression”the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in the Synoptic Gospels, we have examined the core sayings in the Gospel of Mark (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4), and also those in the so-called “Q” material (Pt 1, 2, 3, 4). According to the most widely-accepted view regarding the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke each made use of the Gospel of Mark and the “Q” material. I have followed this approach, as a functioning hypothesis, for this study. Thus in examining the use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we must consider: (a) how the Markan and “Q” source material was included and adapted, as well as (b) references or aspects that are original or unique to the particular Gospel.

We begin with the Gospel of Luke. First, we may note that Luke, in following the Synoptic/Markan outline, includes nearly all of the Markan “son of man” references, with the exception of those in Mk 9:9, 12, and the saying in 10:45 (cp. Lk 19:10). During the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, there occur the first two Synoptic/Markan sayings (5:24; 6:5 / Mk 2:10, 28), the “Q” saying in 7:34 (par Matt 11:19), and the first two Passion-predictions (9:22, 44 / Mk 8:31; 9:31), along with the intervening saying in 9:26 (Mk 8:38). The only original Lukan contribution, apparently, is the use of the expression “the son of man” in the final Beatitude (6:22; cp. Matt 5:11), though it is possible that the expression was present in the “Q” material that the Gospel writer inherited.

Between the second and third Passions-predictions (9:44; 18:31 / Mk 9:31; 10:33), there is the Journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10 par), which Luke has expanded into a major division—indeed, the central (and longest) division of the Gospel, covering more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31). The Journey serves as the setting for a wide range of teaching by Jesus, including many traditions which occur at an earlier point (i.e., the Galilean period) in Mark and Matthew. With one exception, the “son of man” references in this division are derived from, or are related to, the “Q” material shared with the Gospel of Matthew.

Also, with the exception of the first saying (9:58; par Matt 8:20), all of the “son of man” references in the Journey period have an eschatological orientation or aspect. Either they relate to the end-time Judgment (11:30; 12:8, 10; par Matt 12:40; 10:32; 12:32), or refer to the end-time appearance of the “son of man” (12:40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8). The references in 12:40 and 17:24, 26 represent “Q” sayings which Matthew has included as part of the “Eschatological Discourse” in chap. 24f (vv. 44, 27, 37). It is not entirely clear whether the Lot/Sodom illustration (Lk 17:28-30, 32, absent from Matthew) was part of the original “Q” material, or was added by the Lukan author (from another source). As discussed (in Part 4 on the “Q” sayings), the Lot/Sodom illustration makes for a natural pairing with the Noah/Flood illustration (cf. 2 Peter 2:5ff)—both being Scriptural type-patterns for the coming end-time Judgment.

The two “son of man” sayings, set during the Journey period, which are most original to the Gospel of Luke are: the introductory eschatological saying in 17:22, and the saying in 18:8. The reference in 17:22 reflects the manner of expression in vv. 24ff, using the specific expression “the days of the son of man” (v. 26, cf. the comparable expression “the son of man in his day”, v. 24). This expression refers to the time when the son of man will appear; however, in v. 22, there seems to be a particular allusion to the coming suffering and persecution of Jesus’ disciples, during the end-time period of distress.

This reflects an important thematic emphasis by the Lukan author, with regard to the “son of man” sayings—viz., an emphasis on Jesus’ suffering and death, and, by extension, the suffering and hardship which must be endured by Jesus’ followers (believers) during their end-time mission. A key detail which the Gospel writer includes, within the eschatological teaching in 17:20-37, and amid the eschatological (“Q”) son of man sayings, is another reference to Jesus’ impending suffering and death (v. 25), echoing the earlier Passion-predictions (9:22, 44). Note the way that the declaration of the son of man’s (i.e., Jesus’) future coming (in glory, at the Judgment) is tied back to his present suffering:

“just as the (lightning) flashes flashing shine light, out of the (one area) under the heaven unto the (other areas) under the heaven, so will be the son of man [in his day]—but first, it is necessary (for) him to suffer many (thing)s, and to be removed from consideration [i.e. be rejected] (by) this genea/.” (vv. 24-25)

This has the added (practical) effect of making clear—for both Jesus’ disciples (in the narrative) and for the Gospel writer’s audience—that the “son of man” (identified as Jesus himself) cannot come to earth (in glory) at the end-time, until after his death and resurrection. As we have discussed, this incongruity represents a difficult aspect of the eschatological “son of man” sayings, when the expression is understood as an authentic self-reference by Jesus.

The saying in 18:8 is rather difficult to interpret in its immediate context, though it brings to the fore, even more clearly than in 17:22, the expectation that Jesus’ followers (believers) will experience suffering (and persecution) during the end-time period of distress. The parable (vv. 1-5) illustrating the need to persevere in prayer to God, is interpreted in this eschatological context:

“Hear (now) what the judge (acting) without justice says. And shall not God (then) make the working out of justice for His elect/chosen (one)s, the (one)s shouting to him day and night? and will His impulse (to do so) be long over them [i.e. will He wait long to help them]?” (vv. 6-7)

God is contrasted with the unjust (human) judge of the parable, one who acts “without justice” (a)diki/a). If an unjust human judge will respond to someone in need who makes a persistent request of him, how much more will the just and righteous God do so for his chosen ones (i.e., the righteous/believers)? The motif of the righteous/believers, shouting to God day and night, suggests a period of intense suffering. Within the Gospel context, the end-time period of distress, which will involve the persecution of believers, is certainly in view.

The answer, already implicit within Jesus’ question, is made explicit in verse 8: “(Yes,) I say to you that He will make a working out of justice for them with (great) speed!” But then, Jesus adds a final challenging question:

“Yet [plh/n] the son of man, (hav)ing come, will he find trust upon the earth?”

The connection of v. 8b to vv. 7-8a suggests that the deliverance which God will provide for believers, during the end-time period of distress, will be realized through the coming of the son of man (cf. Mk 13:27 par; Lk 21:28). For the Lukan author, this unquestionably refers to Jesus’ second coming (i.e. return) to earth, though some commentators have raised the possibility that, originally, Jesus would have been referring to a heavenly figure (Dan 7:13-14) separate from himself. I discussed this critical theory briefly in Part 4 of the article on the “Q” sayings, and will address it more fully at the end of this series.

The question itself implies that there could be a considerable loss of faith, a falling away, during the end-time period of distress. In a general sense, this was part of the eschatological expectation of Jews and early Christians, as we see in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mk 13 par). The repeated warnings by Jesus (to his disciples) very much suggest the possibility that even a genuine disciple (or believer) could be led astray and lose faith (Mk 13:5, 13, 20-21, 22-23, 33ff).

In the final division of the Lukan Gospel, the Jerusalem Period, the author includes the Synoptic/Markan “son of man” sayings from 13:26; 14:21, and 14:62 (21:27; 22:22, 69). To these have been added a reference at the close of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:36), one during the Garden-scene of the Passion narrative (22:48), and a summary reference (24:7), at the beginning of the Resurrection narrative, which echoes the earlier Passion-predictions. In addition to these, we may also mention the saying in 19:10, set at the end of Jesus’ journey, on his approach to Jerusalem; in some ways, it holds a comparable position to the Synoptic/Markan saying in 10:45.

If we consider these few Lukan additions and adaptations, they seem to bring out two key thematic points of emphasis: (1) the suffering and death of Jesus, and (2) the suffering of disciples (believers), and the need to remain faithful during the end-time period of distress. Jesus’ suffering and death is alluded to in the 19:10 saying (“For the son of man came to seek and to save the [one] having been lost”), is emphasized during the Passion narrative at the focal point of the betrayal (“Yehudah, with a mark of fondness [i.e. a kiss] you give over the son of man?” 22:48, cp. Mk 14:41 par), and is summarized (after the resurrection) in 24:7.

The second theme is expressed in the saying that concludes the Lukan version of the “Eschatological Discourse” (21:5-36):

“(So) then, you must remain awake, in every time expressing (your) need (to God), (so) that you might be strong against (that day), (and so) to flee [i.e. escape] out of all these (thing)s being about to come to (pass), (and) to stand in front of the son of man.” (v. 36)

The Discourse concludes with an exhortation to “keep awake” (vb a)grupne/w), Mk 13:32-37 par, but the Lukan version adds this pointed reference emphasizing believers’ salvation—that is, of their/our escaping the coming Judgment, and of standing before the son of man, i.e., having passed through the Judgment. This will only happen if believers remain faithful to the end (v. 19; Mk 13:13). The blending of this discipleship emphasis with the motif of the Last Judgment can also be seen in the earlier (“Q”) son of man sayings, particularly as they have been positioned within the Lukan narrative—cf. again, in context, 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40.

If we may summarize the most salient points regarding the distinctive Lukan treatment of the “son of man” sayings:

    • The Gospel writer understood the expression primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. This can be seen, particularly, in 6:22 and 12:8, where the Matthean version (of the “Q” saying) has a personal pronoun (“I/me”) instead of the expression. The basic understanding is also attested by the way that the author has utilized the Synoptic/Markan sayings (see above).
    • The tradition of the Passion-predictions, and the related use of the expression in this context, referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, is clearly emphasized by the Lukan author, more so than in the other Synoptic Gospels.
    • Similarly, the Gospel writer brings out the discipleship-theme in relation to such sayings, emphasizing the hardship and suffering that the true disciple must endure in following Jesus. This extends to the end-time period of distress, beginning with the suffering/death of Jesus, during which time, in connection with the early Christian mission, believers will face intense suffering and persecution.
    • Sayings related to both the end-time Judgment and the end-time appearance of the son of man (i.e., the second coming or return of Jesus) are framed to bring out the discipleship theme—viz., the need for believers to remain faithful, willing to confess faith in Christ, even in the midst of persecution.

Overall the Lukan Gospel writer’s use of the expression reflects a coherent and comprehensive Christological outlook, balancing Jesus’ earthly ministry, suffering/death, resurrection/exaltation, and future return. The expression “the son of man” is used in all of these contexts, as a reference to the person of Jesus. For the most part, the Gospel writer has relied upon inherited traditions, but there are some original contributions as well, mainly in terms of arrangement and adaptation of the material.

“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Synoptic Sayings (“Q”, part 4)

The “Q” Son of Man Sayings, continued

The remaining “son of man” references in the “Q” material (see Parts 1, 2 & 3) are eschatological, and deal with the idea of the end-time appearance of the “son of man”. In this regard, they are similar to the saying in Mark 13:26 par (discussed in Part 4 of the study on the Synoptic/Markan sayings). The use of the expression “the son of man” in these eschatological sayings is problematic, particularly if regarded as authentic usage by Jesus himself.

As we have seen, the expression seems to function primarily as a self-reference by Jesus. Yet there are serious difficulties when the expression is understood in this same way in the eschatological sayings, referring to the future (end-time) appearance of Jesus (as “the son of man”). Early Christians would have had no difficulty with this idea, as it simply reflects the conceptual (Christological) framework, whereby the exalted Jesus would return to earth, following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. However, for people during Jesus’ own lifetime—including his disciples—they would not have readily understood the eschatological “son of man” references in terms of this sequence of Christological events. Indeed, for Jesus to speak of his future appearance (as the “son of man”), while he was still alive, prior to his death and resurrection, would surely have made little sense to most hearers.

Most critical commentators have approached this difficulty in one of two ways: (1) some (e.g., Hare) have denied the authenticity of the eschatological sayings, regarding them as early Christian creations (or adaptations), patterned after the other (authentic) “son of man” sayings; and, quite differently, (2) some (e.g., Tödt) have held that the eschatological sayings are authentic, but that Jesus was not identifying himself as this heavenly “son of man” figure (taken from Dan 7:13-14 and subsequent Jewish tradition, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Yet there are serious problems with both of these approaches, some of which have already been touched upon in the previous studies. At the close of this series, I will address the matter again, in a more comprehensive way.

In any case, we shall keep these longstanding (and much debated) critical issues in mind as we examine the eschatological “Q” sayings.

In the Gospel of Luke, there are two distinct blocks of eschatological teaching, separate from the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par), where these sayings are contained: 12:35-46 and 17:20-37. Matthew includes this “Q” material (12:39-40, 42b-46; 17:23-24, 26-27[ff?], 33, 34-35, 37b) within the framework of the “Eschatological Discourse” (24:43-44, 45-51, 26-27, 37-38, 40-41, 28, with the sole exception of 10:39).

Luke 12:40 / Matt 24:44

“(So) also you must come to be ready, (in) that [i.e. because] (it is) in the hour which you do not think, (that) the son of man comes!” (Lk 12:40)

The Matthean version of this statement (24:44) is virtually identical. In the Matthean context of the “Eschatological Discourse” (chap. 24f), the reference is clearly to Jesus’ future coming (using the early Christian term parousi/a, parousia, v. 3, see also vv. 27, 37, 39). In the Lukan context, however—viz., Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in chaps. 11-12—this is by no means quite so apparent. Indeed, within the immediate context of 12:35-46, it is not at all clear that the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) in verse 40 is a self-reference by Jesus. Only in relation to the earlier “son of man” references (including in vv. 8-9f), can one infer that the Gospel writer understands the expression as referring to Jesus himself.

The illustration in verse 39 (par Matt 24:43) is meant to emphasize the unexpectedness of the son of man’s coming. The illustrative eschatological sayings in vv. 35-38, resembling those of Mark 13:33-36 par and Matt 24:42, 45-51 (cf. also the Wedding illustration in Matt 25:1-13), suggest that the end-time Judgment is in view. Those who remain faithful, in sober expectation of that moment, will be rewarded by God, while punishment awaits those who do not. The use of the verb grhgoreu/w (“stay/keep awake”) is regularly used in this eschatological context—Mk 13:34-37 par; 14:34ff par; Matt 24:42-43; 25:13; Lk 12:37; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2-3; 16:15; cf. also 1 Cor 16:13. In Revelation 3:3, the Gospel parable/saying by Jesus has been translated into an unmistakable reference to his (Jesus’) future return (note also the context of 1 Thess 4-5).

As in Mk 13:26 par, so also here in Lk 12:40 par, the “son of man” comes (vb e&rxomai), appearing—presumably from heaven to earth—at the end-time. If this is taken as a self-reference by Jesus, it would have to refer to a second coming, from his exalted position in heaven (cf. Mk 14:62 par; Acts 7:55-56, etc), following his death and resurrection. This makes such an eschatological use of the expression “the son of man” problematic, as noted above. By all accounts, Jesus’ disciples, during his lifetime, would have had only a vague comprehension of this Christological framework—death, resurrection, ascension, exalted position in heaven, future coming—a framework otherwise so readily comprehended by early Christians (viz., at the time the Gospels were written).

Luke 17:22, 24, 26, 30 / Matt 24:27, 37

In Jesus’ eschatological teaching in Luke 17:20-37, the expression “the son of man” again occurs (4 times), though only in the last of these references (v. 30) is an end-time appearance of the son of man clearly indicated:

“…according to these (thing)s, (so) it shall be on the day when the son of man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]!”

The “things” Jesus speaks of are the illustrations given in vv. 22-29, as also (we may assume) those that follow in vv. 31-37. Elsewhere in this passage, the expression “the days of the son of man” is used (vv. 22, 26), with a comparable phrase (“the son of man in his day”) in v. 24. It is fair to assume that this wording refers to the time when the son of man will appear. The illustration of lightning flashes that instantly and vividly light up the entire sky (v. 24, par Matt 24:27) would seem to relate to the idea of the son of man’s appearance. In Mark 13:26 par, his appearance is preceded (and/or accompanied) by extraordinary celestial/meteorological phenomena (vv. 24-25ff) and disruptions of the natural order, drawing upon traditional eschatological imagery associated with the “day of YHWH” (Isa 13:10; 14:12; 24:23; 34:4; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Zeph 1:15; Ezek 32:7).

The Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are traditional images of catastrophic Divine judgment, which were both used as type-patterns to illustrate the coming end-time Judgment—cf. 2 Peter 2:5-10; 1 Peter 3:20ff; Jude 7; Luke 10:12 par; Matt 11:23-24. The Lot/Sodom illustration (vv. 28-29, 32) is not included by Matthew, so one cannot be sure that it originally was paired with the Noah/Flood illustration in the “Q” material; the two illustrations certainly do make for a natural pairing (as in 2 Pet 2:5ff). The point of the illustration(s) is that people were busy going about their daily affairs when the catastrophic judgment struck them, suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the righteous—the chosen ones—represented by Noah and Lot (and their families), respectively, were saved from the judgment. So it will be at the end-time. The appearance of the “son of man” thus coincides with the end-time Judgment.

While the reference in Mark 13:26 par clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 (and the heavenly figure “like a son of man”), it is not immediately apparent that the same point of reference informs the use of the expression in these “Q”/Lukan sayings. Apart from the use of the expression “son of man”, there are no other obvious allusions to Daniel, other than the broad context of the (eschatological) Judgment (cf. Dan 7:9-10f, 14, 26-27). To be sure, several other key Daniel references (9:27 par; 12:1ff) clearly influence the thought and wording of the “Eschatological Discourse”, but a comparable influence is harder to find in these “Q” sayings.

In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), the figure-types of the Davidic Messiah and the heavenly “Son of Man” from Daniel are blended together, and ultimately identified with the figure of a human being (Enoch) exalted to divine status in heaven (chap. 71). This certainly provides the closest parallel to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as both the Messiah and Son of Man. In the Similitudes, the Messianic “Son of Man” plays a central role in the end-time Judgment (46:4-6ff; 63:11; 69:26-29, etc), including the help and protection/salvation he gives to the righteous (48:4-7ff; 62:13-14, etc). For more on this subject, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The statement in Luke 17:22 (which is not part of the “Q” material) is the most peculiar of the “son of man” references in this passage:

“The days shall come when you will set your qumo/$ upon seeing one of the days of the son of man, and (yet) you shall not see [o&yesqe] (it).”

The expression “one [mi/a] of the days of the son of man” has long puzzled commentators. The basic expression “days of the son of man” is relatively straightforward, in context—it refers to the time when the son of man will appear. A possible parallel has been noted with the Rabbinic expression “the days of the Messiah” (m. Ber. 1:5, etc; cf. Strack-Billerbeck 2.237, 4.826-9; Fitzmyer, p. 1169), referring to the coming Messianic Age. A more likely explanation, perhaps, would attribute to the expression an emphatic/dramatic purpose, such as, e.g., (1) some indication that the son of man is about to come, (2) the onset of the end-time events which will immediately precede his coming, or (3) the beginning of the time of his appearing. This last (3) is probably closest to what the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) has in mind.

Verse 22 is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, whereas the prior vv. 20-21 (see my recent study) involve an exchange between Jesus and certain Pharisees. The verb e)piqume/w means “set one’s qumo/$ upon [e)pi/] (something)”. The noun qumo/$ roughly means “impulse”; in English idiom, we would probably use the term “heart” or “mind” as an approximation—i.e., “set one’s heart/mind on…”. However, one should not lose sight of the more intense idea of “impulse”, conveyed, e.g., by our words “longing”, “desire”, etc. The verb (and the related noun e)piqumi/a) can indicate a negative (sinful) desire, but it may also be used in a positive or neutral sense, as it is here.

What does it mean for the disciples to long (or desire) to “see” one of the “days of the son of man”. Based on parallels in the eschatological teaching of Jesus, the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par; Dan 12:1 LXX]), involving the disciples’ (believers) experience of persecution, is probably in view. This is certainly an emphasis in the “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13:9-13 par), but it can also be found, for example, in the context of the eschatological teaching of Luke 12:35-46 par (see above)—verses 4-7, 8-12, 52-53; cf. Matt 10:16-23ff. In the face of persecution and the end-time distress, Jesus’ disciples will long for his return. The end-time appearance of the “son of man” (Jesus) will usher in the Judgment, bringing salvation and reward for those who remain faithful.

The warning for them, however, is that they will not be able to see this moment coming, anymore than devout Pharisees, looking for the Kingdom of God, will be able to observe it coming (with their physical senses). Jesus specifically uses the verb o)pta/nomai, which implies physical sight (with one’s eyes); a literal rendering of the verb would be something like “gaze with (open) eyes (at)”. Interestingly, the same verb is used in both Mk 13:26 par and 14:62 par, where it refers to the visible appearance of the Son of Man.

Even for Jesus’ disciples (and all believers), the time of the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly—that is a principal point of emphasis in nearly all of these eschatological sayings. However much they may long for it, they will not be able to see it coming. It is for this reason, that all disciples/believers need to stay “awake”, remaining faithful and alert at all times, continuing to follow Jesus and to fulfill his mission, even in the face of growing darkness and persecution.

In the next (2-part) article of this series, we will examine the distinctive use of the expression “the son of man” in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, respectively. This involves the inclusion and adaptation of inherited traditions (Synoptic/Markan and “Q” material, etc), but also material that is original or unique to each Gospel.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

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 (Mark, pt 4)

The Climactic Sayings of Mark 13:26 and 14:62

Of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, most relate in some way to the human suffering of Jesus—and, particularly, to the suffering and death (viz., his Passion) which he would experience in Jerusalem. This is the focus of the three Synoptic Passion-predictions by Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f), but also clearly applies to the other occurrences of the expression in 9:9, 12; 10:45, and 14:21, 41. As I discussed (in Parts 2 and 3), the expression “the son of man” in these sayings, in addition to serving as a self-reference by Jesus, likely alludes to the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament. The relevant references, given previously in the Introduction, are: Num 23:19; Job 16:21; 25:6; 35:8; Psalm 8:5[4]; 80:18[17]; 144:3 ; Isa 51:12; 56:2; Jer 49:18, 33; 50:40; 51:43. In this poetic usage, the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (once vona$ /B#), “son of man”, is paired with “man” (<d*a*, vona$, vya! or rb#G#), as a way of referring to humankind or a human being generally (Psalm 146:3; cf. Part 1 on the sayings in Mk 2:10, 28), often emphasizing the limitation and weakness of the human condition.

In Mark 8:38, is the expression “the son of man” used in a rather different context—implying an eschatological judgment setting, as well as an exalted position for Jesus in heaven (alongside God the Father). This same emphasis features, even more prominently, in 13:26 and 14:62. These two sayings represent the climactic “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, and both are particularly important (and distinctive) in the way that they allude to the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13-14.

I have discussed this Scripture passage in prior articles, as a supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and, more recently, in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. These articles can be consulted for discussion on the context and interpretation of Dan 7:13f. The relevant portion of the prophetic vision begins:

“and, see!—with the clouds of the Heaven(s), (one) like a son of man [vn`a$ rb^K=]…”

The Aramaic vn`a$ rB^, corresponding to the Hebrew <d*a* /B# (or vona$ /B#), here simply refers to the human appearance (“like a son of man”, i.e., like a human being) of the heavenly figure in the vision. The human appearance of this figure is in marked contrast to the beasts elsewhere in the vision. Those beasts symbolize wicked/corrupt earthly power (i.e., kings and their kingdoms), while this “(one) like a son of man” represents heavenly power (and a corresponding king/kingdom). Indeed, the figure comes “with the clouds of the Heaven(s)”, drawing upon ancient storm-theophany imagery, such as is applied to YHWH in numerous Scriptural poems; for the motif of God coming/riding on the clouds, see Psalm 18:10-13; 104:3ff; Isa 19:1; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1:4ff; Nah 1:3b.

This heavenly figure, with human appearance, approaches the throne of YHWH:

“…(he) was coming, and unto (the) Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him near in front of Him.”

This heavenly figure is then given an everlasting Kingdom, with authority over all peoples and nations on earth (v. 14).

Mark 13:26

The “son of man” saying in Mark 13:26 is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (chap. 13 par), coming at a climactic point in the Discourse. The narrative setting for this collection of eschatological teaching is significant, preceding as it does the Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-15). It strongly indicates that there is a profound eschatological significance to Jesus’ suffering and death; indeed, his suffering/death may be said to mark the beginning of the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$ [cf. Dan 12:1 LXX]). Note, for example, the implications of Jesus’ wording in 14:38, 41 (cf. especially the Lukan formulation in 22:53b). This period of distress represents the “birth pains” of the New Age (Mk 13:8 par); and Jesus, in the Discourse, describes the things which will occur before the end (of the current Age), from three vantage points: (a) the nations and people on earth generally (vv. 5-8), (b) his disciples (vv. 9-13), and (c) the people of Jerusalem and Judea (vv. 14-23).

Following the period of distress, with all its attendant travail and suffering, the end will be ushered in (vv. 24-27) by the appearance of “the son of man” from heaven:

“And then they shall see the son of man coming on (the) clouds, with much power and splendor.” (v. 26)

The wording clearly alludes to Daniel 7:13, even though the scenario has a different orientation. In the Daniel 7 vision, the “(one) like a son of man” is coming on the clouds toward God, in heaven. By contrast, here in Mk 13:26 par,  the “son of man” is coming on the clouds to earth, to gather up the righteous (v. 27) and to usher in the end-time Judgment (implied by vv. 24-25). Yet the eschatological context for both references is essentially the same: they refer to the establishment of a Divine/heavenly kingdom, entailing the judgment of the nations, the destruction of the wicked, and the exaltation/reward of the righteous (cf. Dan 7:14, 23-27). The framing of this scenario within the Eschatological Discourse owes much to the conclusion of the book of Daniel (12:1-4ff).

Of all of the “son of man” sayings in the Gospel of Mark, the occurrence of the expression in 13:26 could most plausibly be interpreted as referring to a heavenly being separate from Jesus himself. Indeed, a number of commentators have explained the saying, at least in its original form (as spoken by Jesus), in precisely this way. This interpretative approach was mentioned previously, in connection with the saying in 8:38; however, here it is rather more plausible. From the standpoint of Jesus’ first hearers, it is by no means obvious that he is referring to himself by the expression “the son of man”. Nothing in the Gospel, up to this point, suggests that Jesus has been using the expression with Daniel 7:13 in mind.

Early Christians, of course, reading the passage with Christological hindsight, could understand verse 26 perfectly well as a reference to the future return of Jesus, following his resurrection and exaltation to heaven; but what sense would this have made to Jesus’ own disciples (or to others) at the time? Admittedly, the reference is somewhat problematic, if viewed as an authentic saying by Jesus, with “the son of man” as a self-reference. And yet, the expression is clearly used as a self-reference everywhere else in the Gospel—Jesus refers to himself as “th(is) son of man”, i.e., this person (namely, myself). It must be regarded so here as well, both from Jesus’ own standpoint (as speaker), and from the standpoint of the early Gospel Tradition.

What, then, are we to make of its usage here by Jesus? Before proceeding to give an answer, let us first examine the final “son of man” saying.

Mark 14:62

The saying in Mark 14:62 par occurs at the climax of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (vv. 53-65), a key episode within the Passion narrative. In the Markan version, the high priest asks Jesus:

“Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61)

Jesus responds with bold affirmation (“I am”), and then adds:

“…and you shall see the son of man being seated at (the) right-hand of the power (of God), and coming with the clouds of the heaven!” (v. 62)

Again, the expression “the son of man” functions as a self-reference—i.e., “you shall see th(is) son of man…”, “you shall see me…”. At the same time, however, there is a definite allusion (even more clear than in 13:26) to Dan 7:13f, where the expression “(one) like a son of man” occurs. Here, certainly, Jesus’ use of the expression as a self-reference, identifying himself with the human conditions, dovetails with the expression from Dan 7:13; not only does he identify with the human condition (on earth), but also with exalted position of the human-like figure in heaven. That is to say, Jesus here is identifying himself with the heavenly figure of Daniel 7:13ff, the one who receives the kingdom and rule over all humankind. In this exalted position, he is also associated specifically with the “holy ones” among God’s people, just as the “son of man” in 13:26f comes with the holy angels (from heaven) and then gathers together the holy ones (righteous/believers) on earth (cp. Dan 7:27; 12:1-3).

There are a number of critical interpretative questions surrounding 14:62 par, not the least of which involve the small but significant differences in detail between the three Synoptic versions.

In Matthew, for example, the question by the high priest (26:63) is phrased so that it more closely mirrors the confession by Peter (16:16; cp. Mk 8:29); indeed, the two are virtually identical:

You are the Anointed (One), the Son of the living God.”
su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou= tou= zw=nto$

“…I would require an oath of you…(to say)
if you are the Anointed (One), the Son of God!”
ei) su\ ei@ o( xristo\$ o( ui(o\$ tou= qeou=

Otherwise, the Matthean version of Jesus’ response (26:64) closely follows Mark. The Gospel writer gives Jesus’ initial affirmation an ironic twist; instead of the bold Markan “I am”, Jesus points back to the high priest’s own question (mirroring Peter’s confession): “You (have) said (it) [su\ ei@pa$]”. Matthew expands the beginning of the remainder of the response, but the core of it is essentially identical with Mark’s version. The two notable points of difference are: (1) it is introduced by the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti (“from now [on]”), and (2) the preposition e)pi/ is used rather than meta/, i.e., “…coming upon [e)pi/] the clouds of heaven”. The difference in preposition is minor, corresponding to the same difference between the LXX (e)pi/) and Theodotion (meta/) Greek versions of Dan 7:13 (the Aramaic preposition [<u!] is better rendered by the meta/ in Theodotion and Mark). As for the temporal expression a)p’ a&rti, which matches the corresponding a)p’ tou= nu=n (“from now”) in Luke’s version (22:69), it serves to position more clearly the “son of man” saying in relation to the impending death of Jesus. After his death (and resurrection), “from now on”, Jesus will have an exalted position (at God’s right hand) in heaven.

In both of the “son of man” sayings under investigation here, Luke’s version either eliminates or downplays the association with Daniel 7:13-14. In the saying corresponding to Mark 14:62 par, the Daniel allusion is omitted altogether, leaving only an implicit reference to Psalm 110:1 (i.e., Jesus at God’s right hand):

“But, from now (on), you shall see the son of man sitting at (the) right-hand of the power of God!” (22:69)

In 21:27 (corresponding to Mk 13:26 par), the wording is altered slightly, possibly to bring out the parallel with Jesus’ ascension (in Acts 1:9-11). Just as Jesus is taken up (to heaven) in a cloud (singular), so he will return (from heaven) in/on a cloud (again, singular). The plural “clouds” brings out more clearly than in Luke’s version an allusion to Daniel 7:13f (cf. above).

The main point of reference, as Luke’s version of the climactic saying (22:69 [Mk 14:62]) so clearly highlights, is the exaltation of Jesus to heaven, following his death and resurrection, where he will have an exalted place at God’s right hand. While evidence for the influence of Dan 7:13f on the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ exaltation is extremely slight, the motif of his position at “the right hand of God” (Ps 110:1) was a frequent and widespread component of the Christological portrait—[Mk 16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22. In Acts 7:55-56, the Lukan author essentially records the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in 22:69. Even though it is Stephen, a believer, who sees the exalted Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God, this occurs (based on the narrative context) as part of an interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), mirroring the Gospel account of Jesus’ own interrogation before the Council.

Thus, the principal point of the “son of man” saying in Mark 14:62 par is not the (future) return of Jesus from heaven, but his exaltation to heaven; indeed, this orientation matches the the setting of the Daniel passage. How, then, did this aspect of Dan 7:13f, applied to Jesus’ exaltation, become applied to the idea of his future return (in Mk 13:26 par)? For early Christians, considering the matter after Jesus’ resurrection (and departure/ascension), this would have been an obvious extension—viz., Jesus’ exaltation would naturally be followed by his (imminent) return to earth at the end-time Judgment (cf. Revelation 1:7).

But could this same usage reasonably be attributed to Jesus himself, speaking to his disciples during his earthly ministry? The literary context of Daniel 7:13-14 certainly assumes an eschatological framework. After the judgment of the nations (and their kingdoms), the kingdom bestowed upon the heavenly figure will be an eternal/everlasting dominion, ruling over all people on earth. There will never be another kingdom, implying that human history, as it had previously been known, has effectively come to an end. The human people of God (“holy ones”) will, in their own way, also rule over this kingdom—note the parallels in wording between vv. 14 and 27. Moreover, as has been noted previously, the thought, wording, and imagery of Dan 12:1-4ff had a tremendous influence on early Christian eschatology, and on the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, in particular. The heavenly figure “Michael” (v. 1) will appear at the end-time, in the midst of a period of great distress (qli/yi$, cf. Mk 13:19, 24 par), ushering in (it is implied) the end-time judgment, which also involves the salvation (and ultimate exaltation) of the righteous (vv. 2-3).

If Jesus identified himself with the heavenly figure of Dan 7:13-14, then it would not be surprising if he also saw himself essentially as fulfilling the role of “Michael” in 12:1ff—that is, the exalted heavenly being who will appear at the end-time to usher in the Judgment and bring salvation to the righteous (for more on this eschatological/Messianic figure-type, see Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Admittedly, presenting this portrait to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection would, almost certainly, have created a good deal of confusion. However, at least two possibilities should be considered in this regard. First, the eschatological “son of man” reference in Mk 13:26 par, with its allusion to Dan 7:13ff, could have been made (originally) in a vague or ambiguous manner, referring clearly to the end-time appearance of the heavenly redeemer-figure of Daniel 7ff, but not (yet) referring clearly to Jesus himself as that figure. Second, one must at least entertain the possibility that some of the eschatological sayings/teachings of Jesus could have been made after the resurrection, in which case, an eschatological “son of man” saying such as Mk 13:26 par would presumably have made more sense to Jesus’ disciples (cf. the context of Acts 1:9-11). The current position of the eschatological sayings in the Gospels is primarily topical, rather than historical/chronological. This can be seen by the way that such material is grouped together in distinct (literary) sections of the Gospels (including the “Eschatological Discourse” itself), and also by Matthew’s inclusion (in the Discourse) of eschatological (“Q”) material that occurs in an entirely different location/setting in Luke (cf. the discussion in Parts 2 and 3 of my earlier article on the “Eschatological Discourse”).

For the next article in this series, we will explore the “son of man” sayings and references that occur in the so-called “Q” material shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.