Matthew Part One: Deep Dive

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THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

RYAN KERRISON

When reading any text, whether it is a traffic stop sign or an Ancient Sanscrit text from the 2nd Century B.C. one must practice hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the art and science of the interpretation of texts. Within this field lies the discipline of ‘Source Criticism’; this is a highly debated discipline, often charged with attempting to reach conclusions beyond its plausible framework. However, when applied to the Synoptic Gospels, as in the case of this Deep Dive into Matthew, this methodology facilitates some interesting discussion concerning the Kingdom of Heaven. Where is it? What does it look like? What will it look like? Is it the same as the Kingdom of God mentioned in other Gospels? These questions amongst others engender much of the debate within Gospel scholarship today. Biblical historian Dr John Bright writes this about the book of Matthew, “the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible.”

Historical Context

To begin this exploration of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ within Matthew, one must return to the first step in exegesis: placing the text within its historical context. Matthew is writing to a Greek-speaking, Jewish community, not devoid of Gentiles necessarily, yet emphasising the distinct Jewish-ness of Christ. Matthew is advocating for Christ’s Kingship, over the coming Kingdom of Heaven, and sounding “the grand note of climactic joy of Old Testament prophecy.”  With this in mind, Sproul offers a consideration of Matthew’s choice of words to allude to the Kingdom of Heaven. “In Matthew’s case, he uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” rather than the terminology “kingdom of God.” He does this not because he has a different view of the meaning or content of the kingdom of God; rather, out of sensitivity to his Jewish readers, he makes common use of what is called periphrasis, a certain type of circumlocution to avoid mentioning the sacred name of God. So for Matthew, the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven is the same kingdom that the other writers speak of as the kingdom of God.” From the first page to the last of Matthew’s Gospel, the realisation of the Kingdom of Heaven is present.

Aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven

Let’s look at the four aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven:

1. The Ruler of the Kingdom:

The OT scriptures taught that the ruler of the coming kingdom would be a direct descendant of King David (see genealogy Matt. 1) with reference to governing very early on. (See Micha 5:2 & Matt. 2:6). The main discourses within Matthew are a motion by Christ, laying down laws and governances of how the subjects of this Kingdom shall live. This in itself is a rather kingly act. The final piece of evidence is the empowerment to rule, delegated to Him by the Father, to exercise his divine rule until the time of consummation.

2. The Subjects of the Kingdom

The constituent subjects of this kingdom were surprisingly not exclusive to Jewish heritage, Matthew’s recount of Christ’s teaching claims that it is those who acknowledge in their hearts and before men that Jesus is the ruler of this impending kingdom, that constitute the subjects of the said kingdom. Both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim that repentance is the chief identifier by which one is made a subject of the Kingdom of Heaven. Alongside this repentance is the requisite of faith, or in the case of Matthew, “trust” and “belief” in Christ’s mission and divine ability to save. In addition to this, Matthew stipulates that it not be a Judaism-confined claim to participation in the Kingdom, rather membership is offered to Gentiles alike.   

3. The Legislation of the Kingdom

Matthew demonstrates that Christ did not come to enforce, negate, or abolish the Law of Moses, as so tightly cherished by the Jewish society he was writing to;  rather that Christ had other intentions in mind with regard to the legislation of a new Kingdom. There is a sense of elevation of morality. Christ takes the violation concerning murder and elevates the conditions such as if one is to look wrongfully at, or with anger in one’s heart against their brother, they have essentially committed murder. Jesus de-emphasises the particularities and technicalities of the Law and offers a holistic promotion of morality with regard to the Law, going so far as to say it is better to suffer injury than to return the insult with a vengeance. In addition to this, the subjects of this new Kingdom are required to advance the agenda and programme of the new reigning king, that is, an extension of love and an invitation of grace to those not currently within.  

4. The Culmination of the Kingdom.

Finally, the culmination of the Kingdom. Contrary to popular culture, the time frame of this culmination remains a mystery. A mystery that the Father in heaven exclusively possesses the knowledge of. In base terms, the Jewish community are looking for a liberating and splendorous display of power, from a Messiah that will affect political and social culture on a wide-scale level and the Christians look to the extension and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ throughout the globe. Christ, however, had a different agenda. Jesus taught that the Kingdom was both here now, and to come. This notion takes this post into the territory of eschatology, which is for another time and place. The details of this culmination are not clear, nor do they occupy many points of agreement within ecclesial traditions. Rather Matthew’s wider point is such that both the wicked and the righteous shall be present in the event and will receive judgement for their respective deeds, the long turmoil between good and evil with finally cease, and the Kingdom of Heaven will embrace its subjects and ultimate legislation while it’s enemies are banished forever.

Just like an anthropological kingdom, the divine has a ruler, a system of government, a people group to occupy such a kingdom, and an ultimate goal or purpose which guides its occupants and gives purpose to the them.

Further Reading

The King of the Kingdom of Heaven - Thomas O. Figart

The Gospel of Matthew – R.T France

The Origin and Purpose of the Gospel of Matthew - Shirley Jackson Case

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew - Thomas J. Ramsdell

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matthew recommended reading

matthew part one

matthew part two