Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (April-June 1994) 175-97.

          Copyright © 1994 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                THE KINGDOM-OF-GOD

                 SAYINGS IN MATTHEW



                                              Mark Saucy



            More than three decades ago Ridderbos made the

observation that at the beginning of Jesus' ministry the kingdom

was present (Matt. 4:17), but at the end of His ministry it was far

away, almost "as if it had not yet come" (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:6-

8).1 While many will see in this observation evidence for the

"already/not yet" view in regard to the timing of the kingdom,

few have considered Ridderbos's observation as a warrant to say

much else for the kingdom because of the narrative chronology he

has assumed. Could the kingdom in the beginning of the Gospels

have differed in nature from the kingdom at the end of the

Gospels? This article proposes a yes answer to that question, as

seen in the Gospel of Matthew.2 Kingdom sayings at the begin-

ning of Matthew's Gospel should not be "leveled" with those of the

end and vice versa. Such a procedure, when applied to the investi-

gation of the kingdom of God in Matthew, will aid in explaining

Ridderbos's observation, and also will yield helpful insights into

the nature of the kingdom Jesus preached.





            Though Matthew is replete with references to basilei<a

("kingdom"), the phrase "kingdom of God" appears only rarely


Mark Saucy is Professor of Systematic Theology, Kiev, Ukraine.


1 Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian

and Reformed, 1962), 469.

2 Important resources for the kingdom theme specifically in the Gospel of

Matthew are O. L. Cope, "`To the Close of the Age': The Role of Apocalyptic Thought

in the Gospel of Matthew," in Apocalyptic in the New Testament, ed. J. Marcus and

M. L. Soards (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989), 113-24; Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew: Struc-

ture, Christology, Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975); Georg Strecker, Der Weg

der Gerechtigkeit (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962), 166-72; Wolfgang

Trilling, Das Wahre Israel (Munich: Kosel, 1964), 143-50.


176    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1994


compared with "kingdom of heaven," which is more than eight

times as frequent.3 As the synonymity of the two forms in

Matthew has been upheld by exegetes since Dalman,4 in this arti-

cle "kingdom of God" shall be considered inclusive of both forms.

            The kingdom of God in Matthew is first encountered in the

wilderness proclamation of John the Baptist: metanoei?te h@ggiken

ga>r h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n ("Repent, for the kingdom of heaven

is at hand," 3:2). Several observations about the kingdom are im-

portant here. First, the activity associated with the kingdom is

"preaching" or proclamation (khru<sswn, 3:1). The kingdom is

proclaimed from the herald's mouth. "He cries aloud so that all

who wish to hear may do so, and his summons is ‘Repent.’"5

Though more will be said about this later in conjunction with the

"evangelizing" (eu]aggeli<zw), "teaching" (dida<skw), and "preach-

ing" (khru<ssw) activities of Jesus relative to the kingdom, it is

important to note that at the outset of Matthew the kingdom is the

subject of a "herald's proclamation."

            Second, in John's preaching, the kingdom is related in a for-

mulaic way to the message of Jesus and the disciples. In this first

portion of Matthew, John's proclamation is repeated verbatim in

the proclamation of Jesus (4:17) and the disciples (10:7). "John the

prototype, Jesus the teacher, the twelve disciples—all preach the

same message."6


3 Matthew used kingdom vocabulary more than any other Gospel (53 times; Mark,

18 times; Luke, 45 times; John, 4 times). Matthew used "kingdom of God" four times

with the probable addition of a fifth occurrence in 6:33—note the comment by Bruce

M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Bib-

lia-Druck, 1975), 18-19—and "kingdom of heaven" 33 times.

4 Gustaf H. Dalman, The Words of Jesus, trans. D. M. Kay (Edinburgh: Clark,

1909) has been a 20th-century benchmark for the kingdom of God in critical study

particularly on the question of the kingdom as a dynamic rule versus a territorial

realm. On the question of the synonymity of "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of

heaven" in Matthew, see ibid., 93. Trilling summarizes, "That the expression

basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n has been introduced for basilei<a tou? qeou? by Matthew into

the synoptic tradition belongs to the most assured results of Matthean exegesis"

(Das Wahre Israel, 143). Also see Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology,

Kingdom, 134; Strecker, Der Weg der Gerechtigkeit, 17; Theological Dictionary of

the New Testament, s.v. "basilei<a," by Karl Ludwig Schmidt, 1:582; Herman L.

Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and

Midrasch (Munich: Becksche, 1969), 1:172. Some raise the possibility of a differ-

ence in the two since both forms are found in the Gospel. See for example Armin

Kretzer, Die Herrschaft der Himmel and die Sohne des Reiches (Stuttgart:

Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1971), 21-31, who denies a strict substitution and sees

Matthew's "kingdom of heaven" emphasizing the dynamic of the divine kingdom's

in-breaking rule toward earth.

5 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "khru<ssw," by Gerhard Friedrich, 3:706.

6 Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological

Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 43.

              The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew               177


            Third, the message of John, Jesus, and the disciples associ-

ated the kingdom with a demand. Given the coming lordship of

God in judgment, there is only one task for humanity: repent.

The heralds' call for repentance demands nothing less than gen-

uine conversion. The hearers must return to the prophetic piety of

the Old Testament and surpass that of their Jewish contempo-

raries.7  Meta<noia as part of Matthew's summary formula for the

proclamation of the kingdom indicates that repentance condi-

tioned the whole kingdom proclamation.

            The whole proclamation of Jesus, with its categorical demands for

            the sake of God's kingdom, is a proclamation of meta<noia even

            when the term is not used. It is a proclamation of unconditional

            turning to God, or unconditional turning from all that is against

            God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a

            given case makes total turning to God impossible.8


            Fourth, the kingdom Jesus announced is in vital nexus with

the one John announced. For Matthew the ministry and message

of both John and Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament

prophetic promise.9 John was referred to by Isaiah as "the voice of

one crying in the wilderness" (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3). John is the

one who carried on the line of the Old Testament prophets as their

fulfillment (Matt. 11:13), and he is the one whom Jesus specifi-

cally identified as Elijah "who was to come" according to the pre-

diction of the prophet Malachi (Matt. 11:14; 17:12; Mal. 3:1; 4:5).

John's position as herald and fulfillment of the prophetic voice


7 Behm notes that the traditional Jewish forms of expressing repentance

(feelings of remorse, gestures of sorrow, works of penance, or self-mortification)

have no value in John's announcement. "God's definitive revelation demands final

and unconditional decision on man's part. It demands radical conversion, a transformation of

nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience" (Theological

Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v., "metanoe<w," by J. Behm, 4:1002).

8 Ibid.

9 Matthew's stress on the fulfillment theme for Jesus is well known from his

formulaic usage of plhro<w in 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; and 27:9.

John's nexus with Jesus also placed him in the time of fulfillment. In 3:15 Jesus

and John participated in the fulfillment of the Old Testament righteousness at Je-

sus' baptism. In 21:23-27 Jesus and John had the same divine authority. Filson

notes that Jesus' answer to the challenge of the chief priests and elders about His

authority comes from the fact that "Jesus knows that his work and John's are con-

nected, and that the Jewish leaders, in failing to see that God had sent John, had

forfeited their right to judge John's successor" (Floyd V. Filson, A Commentary on

the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 2d ed. [London: Black, 1975], 226). Mark 1:15

("the time is fulfilled [peplh<rwtai], and the kingdom of God is at hand") presents

the fulfillment theme as part of the proclamation itself, setting a precedent for

New Testament literature in joining a kingdom-of-God saying with such a time el-

ement (Werner H. Kelber, The Kingdom of God in Mark [Philadelphia: Fortress,

1974], 10-11).

178   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April-June 1994

means he himself proclaimed the nearness10 of the Old Testa-

ment messianic hope.

            Gowan has well summarized the Old Testament prophetic

hope for Israel: "God must transform the human person; give a

new heart and a new spirit.... God must transform human so-

ciety; restore Israel to the promised land, rebuild cities, and

make Israel's new status a witness to the nations. . . . And God

must transform nature itself."11 Because historically the king-

ship of God in the Old Testament had been closely connected with

Israel's national life,12 the prophetic hope also put the kingship

and reign of God in physical and national terms for Israel when

world events had caused her national life to decline. The coming

manifestation of God's kingship was "the center of the whole Old

Testament promise of salvation" (Isa. 24–27; 40–55, esp. 40:9-11;


10 Kummel's discussion of the linguistic differences between h@ggiken (3:2) and

e@fqasen (12:28) is largely thought to have laid to rest the contention of realized es-

chatology that equated the two words and would have meant that John, Jesus, and

the disciples here announced that the kingdom had come in its fullness (W. G.

Kummel, Promise and Fulfillment, trans. Dorothea M. Barton [Naperville, IL: Al-

lenson, 1957], 105-9). On the strength of Kammel's observations most interpreters

see a difference between the kingdom's near approach (h@ggiken) and its arrival

(e@fqasen). See Ladd's discussion and bibliography in The Presence of the Future

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 138-45; G. W. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the

Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 75-80; Filson, A Commentary on

the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 73; and Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on

His Literary and Theological Art, 43-44. See, however, an attempt at equating the

two words in Richard H. Hiers, The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God

(Gainsville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1973), 61-63.

11 Donald E. Gowan, Eschatology in the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1986), 2. Sigmund Mowinckel concurs, noting the prophetic hope was "always a

hope of restoration," and that the chief features in the hope are "in the main con-

stant" (He That Cometh, trans. G. W. Anderson [New York: Abingdon, 1954], 133,

137). Mowinckel himself summarized the hope this way: (1) Yahweh will achieve

the ultimate goal of the glory of His name in Israel. (2) The kingdom of David will

then be established in its ancient glory. (3) The exiles will return and Israel will be

united with Judah. (4) All the nations will pay homage to Yahweh as the only true

God. (5) Pilgrims will stream to Jerusalem from all parts of the earth. (6) Wealth

and produce from all the earth will be amassed at Jerusalem. (7) All blessing, fer-

tility, and well-being will prevail in the land. (8) Disease and misfortune will be

banished. (9) Everyone will enjoy the fruit of his labor, peace, and safety. (10) All of-

fenders and sinners will be rooted out of Yahweh's people (ibid., 137). Also see

Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 45-75. Cf. the discussion of the expression of this

messianic hope during first-century Judaism in Emil Scharer, The History of the

Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Ver-

mes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1979), 2:488-554).

12 Von Rad makes the lexical observations that tUkl;ma originally was used only in

reference to a "concrete sphere of power" and that Yahweh is never called "king"

before the monarchy (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "basileu<j,"

by Gerhard von Rad, 1:570). Patrick also notes that "the Kingdom language of the OT

is historical and contains an irreducibly national strain" (Dale Patrick, "The King-

dom of God in the Old Testament," The Kingdom of God in Twentieth Century In-

             The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew            179


52:7; Obad. 21; Mic. 4:3; Zeph. 3:15; Zech. 14:16-17).13

            Since the kingdom of the prophetic hope was to take a political

and national form for Israel, John's heralding the near fulfill-

ment of that same hope has bearing on the kingdom he preached.

This is especially noteworthy when one considers that neither

John, Jesus, nor the disciples defined the kingdom at the outset of

their ministry. They simply proclaimed it.

            Jesus uses "kingdom of God" to call to mind all that his auditors

            knew about the coming intervention of God to redeem his people

            and pacify the world. . . . The expression itself gives a particular

            coloring to the denouement of history, namely, a political and le-

            gal coloring. The whole of the Scripture and tradition prepare for and are

            completed in a political state in which God alone exercises sovereignty.14


            As John before him, Jesus also proclaimed, metanoei?te h@ggiken

ga>r h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n ("Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is

at hand," 4:17). Jesus' message and ministry, like that of John,

were in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. However,

Matthew gave additional indications of the necessary connection

between the message of Jesus and that of the Old Testament.

            First, alongside the preaching (khru<sswn) of Jesus, the

"gospel" (eu]agge<lion) is associated with the kingdom (4:23). In

fact twice in the first nine chapters of Matthew Jesus' ministry is

summarized as teaching in the synagogues, preaching the

"gospel of the kingdom," and healing every disease and infir-

mity (4:23; 9:35). The "gospel of the kingdom," which is idiomatic

to Matthew, inherently ties Jesus' good news about the kingdom15

to the promised hope of the Old Testament.

            Most significant for the NT concept of eu]agge<lion is Deutero-Isa-

            iah and the literature influenced by it (Is 52:7; 61:1; 40:9; 41:27;

            Nah 2:1). . . . The close connection between this whole circle of

            thought and the NT is evident. The eschatological expectation,

            the proclamation of the basilei<a tou? qeou?, the introduction of the

            Gentiles into salvation history, the rejection of the ordinary religion of cult

            and Law (Ps 40), the link with the terms dikaiosu<nh     (Ps 40:9), swthri<a

            (Is 52:7; Ps 95:1), and ei]rh<nh (Is 52:7)—all point us to the NT.16


terpretation, ed. Wendell Willis [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 19871, 79).

13 Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, 5.

14 Patrick, "The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament," 71; cf. Ridderbos, The

Coming of the Kingdom, 3.

15 The form is an objective genitive. See Jack Dean Kingsbury, The Parables of Je-

sus in Matthew Thirteen (London: SPCK, 1969), 19; cf. idem, Matthew: Structure,

Christology, Kingdom, 128-29.

16 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "eu]agge<lion," by Gerhard

Friedrich, 2:708-9.

180   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April—June 1994

            Second, Jesus' healing ministry was in fulfillment of the Old

Testament messianic hope.17 Jesus Himself noted the signifi-

cance of His miracles in light of His mission. In Matthew 11:5

Jesus' response to John's disciples summarizes His ministry ac-

tivity up to that time. Quoting from Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1, Jesus

told the disciples to report to John that "the blind receive sight and

the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the

dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to

them."18 Matthew 8 and 9 chronicle the details of Jesus' healing a

leper (8:3), a centurion's paralyzed servant (8:13), Peter's ill

mother (8:15), the two demoniacs of the Gadarenes (8:32), a para-

lytic (9:7), a woman with a hemorrhage (9:22), a synagogue offi-

cial's daughter who had died (9:25), two blind men (9:30), and a

demonized dumb man (9:33). Therefore, as Matthew wrote, the

words of Isaiah 53:4 were fulfilled: "He Himself took our infir-

mities, and carried away our diseases" (Matt. 8:17). The physical

nature of the miracles points to the physical dimension of the

kingdom. The kingdom Jesus announced was not a spiritual ful-

fillment of the promises to the lame, sick, and demonized; there-

fore one cannot assume that the promises to the nation of Israel

were given a spiritual fulfillment.19


17 Some have used rabbinic sources to dispute that the Messiah was expected to

work miracles in the first century. "The Messiah is never mentioned anywhere in

the Tannaitic literature as a wonder-worker per se" (Joseph Klausner, The Mes-

sianic Idea in Israel, trans. W. F. Stinespring [New York: Macmillan, 1955], 506).

However, Matthew (and other Gospel writers; see Luke 7:22; John 7:31) believed the

Messiah would prove His identity by means of miracles (cf. Schurer, The History

of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [175 B.C.-A.D. 135], 2:525). In re-

sponse to Klausner and the many scholars who lean on him (e.g., G. Delling, "Das

Verstandnis des Wunders im Neuen Testament," Zeitschrift fur systematische

Theologie 24 [1955]: 274, n. 18, and Rudolf Pesch, Jesu Ureigne Taten? [Freiburg:

Herder, 1970], 151), it should be noted that the rabbinic sources are notably anti-

Christian (cf. the portrayal of Jesus as a sorcerer) and considerably later than the

first century. The pseudepigrapha are somewhat ambivalent about a miracle-work-

ing Messiah. On one hand there are no explicit statements for or against the Mes-

siah working miracles. On the other hand the portrait of the messianic age as a

time of miracles, the affirmation of the Messiah as a type of Moses and Bearer of

the miracle-working Holy Spirit all make a miracle-working Messiah compatible

with the pre-Christian messianic hope. See Theological Dictionary of the New Tes-

tament, s.v. "Mwus^?," by Joachim Jeremias, 4:863; A. Kolenkow, "Relationship be-

tween Miracle and Prophecy in the Greco-Roman World and Early Christianity,"

in Aufstieg and Niedergang der Romischen Welt (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980),

23:2:1471; P. W. Barnett, "The Jewish Sign Prophets 40-70 A.D.," New Testament

Studies 27 (1981): 682-83; Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (1992), s.v.

"Miracles," by B. Blackburn, 558; and James H. Charlesworth, "Messiah in the

Pseudepigrapha," in Aufstieg and Niedergang der Romischen Welt, 19:1:188-218.

18 O. Betz and Werner Grimm note how the Gospel miracle accounts typified in Matthew 11:5 are

clearly related to the new age promises of Isaiah 26:19; 29:18; 35:4-6; 42:18; and 61:1-2 (Wesen

and Wirklichkeit der Wunder Jesu [Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1977], 31).

19 It would be a mistake to conclude that since Jesus did not fulfill all the na-

                    The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew              181


            Third, Matthew also shows that Jesus is the eschatological

fulfillment of the prophetic hope by pointing up the ethnic aspect of

His ministry. Jesus' heralding the good news of the kingdom to

the Jewish people places Him squarely within the Old Testament

prophetic hope for a restored nation of Israe1.20 Jesus' taught in

their synagogues (Matt. 4:23; 9:35), thus revealing the Jewishness

of His itinerary. Also at the outset of His ministry, Jesus selected

12 disciples—a number suited for the ultimate task of judging the

12 tribes of Israel from 12 thrones (19:28). And when Jesus com-

missioned the disciples to proclaim the kingdom (which message

was identical to His and John's, 10:5-7), He instructed them to go

not to Gentiles or Samaritans, but only to "the lost sheep of the

house of Israel" (cf. 15:24).



            For Matthew, then, the antecedent of Jesus' original message

and ministry is clear. In every way Jesus' "gospel about the

kingdom" was the gospel of the Old Testament prophets. In word

and miracle, proclamation and raising the dead, the longed-for


tional promises of the Old Testament, those promises are to be spiritually realized

only. First, as Horsley and others show, Jesus' ministry was very politically

charged in His opposition to the temple cult of the day (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus

and the Spiral of Violence [San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987]; cf. also Klaus

Berger, "Jesus als Pharisaer and Fruhe Christen als Pharisaer," Novum Testamen-

tum 30 [1988]: 231-62; Ben F. Myers, The Aims of Jesus [London: SCM, 1979]; A. E.

Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982];

E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985]; and idem, "Jesus

and the Kingdom: The Restoration of Israel and the New People of God," in Jesus,

the Gospels, and the Church, ed. E. P. Sanders [Macon, GA: Mercer, 19871). Second,

the complete establishment of the kingdom was conditioned on the spiritual

requirement of repentance. Too much physical, political action would have

subverted the demand for spiritual humility.

20 Though the universality of the kingdom seen in apocalyptic literature (i.e.,

Daniel and noncanonical apocalyptic literature which is doubtless influential in

Matthew, e.g., the two-age doctrine in 12:32) is often thought to argue against the

Jewishness of the kingdom, it should be noted that universality does not necessi-

tate nonethnicity. In the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the kingdom

(with Jerusalem as its capital and the land of Palestine as its immediate sphere)

will cast influence over the lands and peoples of the earth as they learn the ways of

Israel's God (Isa. 2:2-4). "The Kingdom intimated in the Book of Daniel, for example,

or in the Pharisaic Psalms of Solomon from the first century BCE is universal in

scope, yet no less Jewish for all its universality. It is the Kingdom of God, and at

the same time the Kingdom of Israel (see, e.g., Ps Sol 17:3-4)" (J. Ramsey Michaels,

"The Kingdom of God and the Historical Jesus," in The Kingdom of God in Twenti-

eth Century Interpretation, 114). Psalms of Solomon 17:3-4 reads, "But we will hope

in God our saviour; For the might of our God is for ever with mercy, and the King-

dom of our God is for ever over the nations in judgment. Thou, Lord, didst choose

David as king over Israel, and thou didst swear to him concerning his posterity for ever,

that his Kingdom would not fail before thee" ("The Psalms of Solomon," in The Apocryphal Old

Testament, ed. H. F. D. Sparks, trans. S. P. Brock [Oxford: Clarendon, 1984], 676).

182   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April-June 1994


promise for Israel was in the dawn of fulfillment. For the king-

dom the implications are apparent. Matthew's vital connection

between the ministries of John and Jesus, coupled with their lit-

eral fulfillment of the Old Testament at all other points physical

and spiritual, warrants a similar conclusion for the kingdom:

the kingdom message of John, Jesus, and the disciples in

Matthew 1-10 was the same kingship of Yahweh called for in the

Old Testament. This included not only the dynamic rule of Yah-

weh's sovereignty, but also the sphere or realm of a restored na-

tion of Israel in which this rule would be exercised.21



            The next movement in Matthew's Gospel demonstrates the

response of Jesus' audience to His proclamation of the kingdom of

God. After the formulaic, "And it came about when Jesus had fin-

ished" (in 11:1), which divides the book into its larger divisions

(cf. also 13:53),22 Matthew 11 and 12 continue the narrative with a

series of Streitgesprciche between Jesus and His opponents. These

two chapters lay a foundation for the discourse of parables in

chapter 13, in which the kingdom of God appears in new terms as

a "mystery."

            Matthew 11 and 12 show that the King and His kingdom were

rejected by most of those to whom Jesus ministered. This is not to

say opposition had not been experienced earlier,23 but in these


21 Many New Testament scholars view the kingdom of God as the dynamic reign of

Yahweh (see the bibliography in Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 127, n. 11). It

would be incorrect, however, to say that basilei<a language is completely devoid of

the physical element of a sphere or realm in which the rule is exercised. While the

emphasis of the term may be on the reign, one can hardly imagine a reign that has

no realm. As Ridderbos wrote, "In the nature of the case a dominion to be effective

must create or maintain a territory where it can operate. So the absence of any idea

of a spatial Kingdom would be very strange" (The Coming of the Kingdom, 26).

Michaels considers that the first meaning of kingdom is abstract, but he adds that

this of necessity requires the concrete ("The Kingdom of God in the Historical Je-

sus," 114). Ridderbos also thinks it is difficult to deny the "territorial" connota-

tions for a kingdom that is possible to "enter " (Matt. 5:20), to be "in" (11:11), and to

"shut off” (23:13) (The Coming of the Kingdom, 343-44).

22 Whether one commits Matthew to the traditional five-division scheme for the

Gospel (e.g., Benjamin W. Bacon, "The Matthean Discourse in Parables," Journal of

Biblical Literature 46 [1927]: 237-38; and Edward F. Siegman, "Teaching in Parables

[Mk 4, 10-12; Lk 8, 9-10; Mt 13, 10-15]," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 [1961]: 161-81)

or some other configuration (Kingsbury, e.g., sees only three divisions [Matthew:

Structure, Christology and Kingdom, 25), all agree that chapters 11–13 mark off one

narrative unit.

23 Opposition to Jesus began early in Matthew's chronology. Chapter 2 records

Herod's attempt to murder the baby Jesus. Chapter 3 records the ministry of John,

who, Jesus later said was rejected by the religious officials (21:23-26). In Matthew

              The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew              183


chapters there is a particular climax of rejection of Jesus, which

evoked a corresponding climax in His public rebuke. Chapter 11

opens with Jesus still teaching (dida<skein) and preaching

(khru<ssein) in their cities. In this context the disciples of John,

who was imprisoned, asked Jesus if He was the "Expected One"

(11:3), and Jesus answered from the prophets (vv. 4-5). With this

introduction Jesus then set the tone for what was to follow. "And

blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me" (v. 6). Then Je-

sus reproached His "generation" (i.e., the crowds in His pres-

ence; cf. v. 7) for its rejection of John the Baptist and the Son of

Man (vv. 16-19), and the cities that had witnessed His miracles,

because they did not repent in response to His proclamation (vv.


            In chapter 12 the rejection of Jesus reached a high point as the

religious leaders and His own family opposed Him. Jesus con-

tended with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, a confrontation in

which He rebuked them for not understanding the Law (12:1-8).

Their opposition to Him intensified in the following scene when,

after Jesus healed a man's withered hand on the Sabbath, they

"counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy

Him" (v. 14). The zenith for both the leaders and Jesus was

reached with the charge from the Pharisees that Jesus cast out

demons because He was in league with Beelzebul, the ruler of the

demons (v. 24). Jesus responded with the most serious invective

thus far in Matthew's report. (1) He told them they were guilty of

an unpardonable sin (vv. 31-32). (2) He affirmed their evil and

adulterous nature because of their sinful deeds (vv. 33-37; cf. v.

39). (3) For the first time since John the Baptist, Jesus spoke of

them contemptuously as a "brood of vipers" (v. 34).24

            Matthew 12:46-50 continues and concludes the same theme

("While He was still speaking to the multitudes"), with even Je-

sus' own family rejecting Him. Though the Marcan parallel to

this incident (3:20-21, 31-35) gives the reason for the family's ap-

pearance ("they were saying, ‘He has lost his senses,’ 3:21), sim-

ilar conclusions are forthcoming from Matthew's record. (1) The

context of the incident plus Jesus' answer implies that His family


8–11 there are also hints of resistance to Him. In 8:10-12 Jesus chided the meager

faith of Israel compared to that of a Gentile centurion. In 8:34 people in the region

of the Gadarenes begged Jesus to leave. Matthew 9:3 records the first charge of

blasphemy by the scribes. In 9:15 Jesus gave a veiled comment about His death and

in 9:34 the Pharisees first charged Jesus with casting out demons because He Him-

self was demonized.

24 As Filson explains, vipers are "low, poisonous creatures who flee in haste be-

fore the onrushing fire that sweeps across the wilderness" (The Gospel according

to St. Matthew, 65).

184     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April–June 1994


was not in sympathy with Him. (2) They were not His active fol-

lowers, for they seemingly made a special trip to see Him. (3) Je-

sus' answer about the identity of His true family (Matt. 12:50)

shows His ties to the disciples were stronger than to His immedi-

ate relatives.25

            The rejection of Jesus by these three groups (the crowds, the

leaders, and His family) is related to the subject of the kingdom

through His discussion about the Holy Spirit. In the episode of the

demon exorcism, Jesus related the kingdom to Himself because

of His unique status as the Spirit-bearer. "If I cast out demons by

the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come [e@fqasen]

upon you" (12:28). Where the Spirit of God is, there is the kingdom

of God. Jesus, as the One on whom the Spirit descended (3:16-17),

manifested the kingdom when He manifested the Spirit's

power.26 Jesus, then, in Matthew was not simply the Herald of the

kingdom; He was also the Bearer of the kingdom, and His min-

istry would thereby chart the course of the kingdom.

            The kingdom's presence through the Spirit in Jesus also helps

explain the meaning of its nearness (h@ggiken). Up to this point in

Matthew the proclamation by Jesus (4:17) and His disciples (10:7)

had been that the kingdom of God was at hand or near (h@ggiken).

Yet contemporaneous with this proclamation were Jesus' mani-

festations of Spirit-power, which individually and locally dis-

played the kingdom's presence (e@fqasen). So while there seems to

be reason to separate the two notions linguistically, as do most

scholars (see note 10), on another level the two terms must be al-

lowed the same conceptual domain. That is, the kingdom's pres-

ence through the Holy Spirit's power constituted its nearness to

His audience.27 However, the presence of the kingdom in Jesus

established only the kingdom's nearness, not its complete ful-

fillment. The kingdom of God, then, is something greater than


25 See ibid., 154; and Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theo-

logical Art, 248.

26 As James Dunn has noted, "the Kingdom is present in Jesus only because He

has the Spirit. It is not so much the case of Where Jesus is there is the Kingdom, as

Where the Spirit is there is the Kingdom" ("Spirit and Kingdom," Expository

Times 82 [October 1970–September 1971]: 38 [italics his]).

27 The two terms seem to demand an overlap in meaning, though many commenta-

tors appear to leave them in tension or to subsume one under the other. Strecker's

comment on Matthew 12:28 reflects the opinion of the majority of commentators and

leans most heavily toward the kingdom's presence at the expense of its nearness:

"’The reign of God has come to you.’ Thus not only the ‘inbreaking’ of the reign of

God is announced as in the case of ‘nearness,’ also not only are the signs of the

Kingdom present, rather the powerful acts of Jesus are to be understood as signs of

the presence of the reign of God; but that means the kingdom is not only signified,

but actually present" (Der Weg der Gerechtigkeit, 169).

               The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew             185


the Spirit manifestations of Jesus. Miracles were still "signs" of

the kingdom.28

            The Spirit's relationship to Jesus confirms that in Matthew

Jesus and the kingdom He announced are meant as a literal ful-

fillment of the Old Testament prophesied hope. The Spirit's func-

tion in the messianic age was well known from the Old Testa-

ment in Jesus' day, as is apparent from Matthew's own applica-

tion of Isaiah to Jesus: "Behold My Servant whom I have chosen;

My beloved in whom My soul is well pleased; I will put My Spirit

upon Him" (12:18).29 Also, much earlier in the Gospel, John the

Baptist alerted his audience to Jesus' eschatological significance:

"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (3:11).30

            It is important to note that Jesus condemned His generation

and its leaders because of their lack of repentance (11:20-21). The

people failed to turn to God. This was serious, given the demand

of the kingdom accompanied by evidence of the kingdom's power

in Jesus' miracles.31 He did not condemn the crowds because of

political or national notions about the kingdom. Instead, His

condemnation was because they had failed to meet the spiritual

demand of the kingdom by repenting. The contention of many

scholars that Jesus condemned the particularly Jewish-political

messianic kingdom from the beginning of His ministry seems to

outrun Matthew at this point of the narrative. Instead, Jesus con-

demned the lack of a change of heart which is to accompany the



28 Ridderbos has correctly noted the kingdom's presence in Jesus' miracles as

only signatory and provisional. They are not the kingdom; they are signs of the

kingdom. For example despite kingdom presence in exorcism, Satan was allowed

further activity and demons were allowed to escape because it was "before the time"

(Matt. 8:29). Those healed by Jesus would yet experience death (Ridderbos, The

Coming of the Kingdom, 113, 115-21).

29 That the Messiah will possess the Spirit of God is an Old Testament idea,

which Sjoberg says lived on in Judaism according to the apocryphal, pseude-

pigraphal, and rabbinic literature (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,

s.v. "pneu?ma," by Eric Sjoberg, 6:384). On the Spirit in the last times see D. Wilhelm

Michaelis, Reich Gottes and Geist Gottes nach dem Neuen Testament (Basel:

Reinhardt, n. d.), 3-6; Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, trans. J. A.

Baker (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), 57-60; and New International Dictionary

of New Testament Theology, s.v. "Spirit," by Eberhard Kamlah, 3:692.

30 From the perspective of the Old Testament, the new relationship between man

and God through the Spirit is the "central miracle of the new age" (Eichrodt, The

Theology of the Old Testament, 57).

31 Behm is correct in observing that the presence of the kingdom in Jesus (as

demonstrated by His miracles) increased the urgency and imperative of Jesus'

proclamation as compared to John (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,

s.v. "metanoe<w," 4:1001).

32 That the people did not meet the spiritual requirement for the kingdom does

not mean they did not have political or nationalistic hopes for the messianic age.

186        BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1994


            The climax of popular and official rejection of Jesus in

Matthew 11 and 12 yields several observations about the kingdom

of God. First, the kingdom was again confirmed to be that of the

Old Testament prophetic hope through the presence of the Holy

Spirit's power in Jesus' working of miracles. The miracles inti-

mated that the kingdom was physical as well as spiritual. Sec-

ond, the presence of the kingdom in the Holy Spirit's power is not

the presence of the kingdom itself; it is more properly the presence

of the kingdom's power. In this way the localized and incomplete

nature of the power Jesus exhibited was a sign that pointed to the

eschatological kingdom's nearness. Third, the kingdom's ad-

vent was conditioned on repentance. The humility demanded

was to precede the complete establishment of the kingdom that

would have ushered in the Old Testament hope in its entirety. Be-

cause the people and their leaders refused this demand, a critical

point had been reached in Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom.


                   THE KINGDOM-OF-GOD SAYINGS

                    AND REJECTION IN MATTHEW 13

            On the very day in which the kingdom's rejection reached its

zenith (13:1), Jesus introduced for the first time in Matthew the

"parables" of the kingdom, which He later also designated as re-

vealing the "mysteries" of the kingdom (v. 11). This strange

fact—that the kingdom, which was the public proclamation of the

herald, is now a "secret," in addition to the proximity of these

parables to the rejection of Christ—hints at a change in the king-

dom concept.



            With the advent of modern critical parable study in Adolf

Julicher's Die Gleichnisreden Jesu at the end of the 19th cen-

tury,33 one of the assured conclusions of scholars about the mean-


Oscar Cullmann's discussion of the title "Christ" in the Gospels is an example of

reading into Matthew the false dichotomy between spiritual messianism and polit-

ical messianism and reading the narrative without regard for its own order. He

contends that Jesus' refusal of the term "Christ" meant also His sweeping denial of

all the political expressions associated with it throughout His ministry (The

Christology of the New Testament, rev. ed., trans. Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles

A. M. Hall [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963], 116-20). One should, however, note

that Jesus' "messianic secret" in Matthew falls after chapter 13. Therefore it is

wrong to say Jesus condemned all the crowd's kingdom hopes.

33 For a survey of the history of parable study see Robert H. Stein, An Introduc-

tion to the Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 53-71; Bastiaan

Van Elderen, "The Purpose of Parables according to Matthew 13:10-17," in New Di-

mensions in New Testament Study, ed. Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C.

Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 180-81; and Ridderbos, The Coming of the

Kingdom, 121-22.

                The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew                  187


ing of parabolh< in the New Testament is its derivation from the

Hebrew lwAmA.34 Ironically in the Old Testament lwAmA has a broad

range of applications. It can refer to a proverb (1 Sam. 10:12), a

satire or taunt (Isa. 14:3-4), a riddle (Ps. 78:2), or an allegory

(Ezek. 24:2-5).35 In the New Testament parabolh< seems to have

inherited an equally broad application. As Stein has categorized

the forms, a parable may be a proverb, a metaphorical saying, a

similitude, a story parable, an example parable, or an allegory.36

Again a concise definition is not forthcoming. Similarly

Jeremias termed a "fruitless labor" the work of the form critics

who sought earlier in this century to classify the parables with

terms such as "metaphor," "simile," "allegory," "similitude," or


            Not until Matthew 13 did this Gospel writer refer to Jesus'

teaching or preaching as parabolh<. When the multitudes gath-

ered to Him on the shore soon after He had inveighed against

their rejection, He spoke "many things to them in parables" (e]n

parabolai?j, 13:3). And yet in the Gospel of Matthew there is an

abundance of parablelike material before chapter 13.38 Some of

this material is even labeled parabolai?j in parallel accounts.39

            Jesus told the disciples, "Therefore I speak to them in para-

bles; because [o!ti40] while seeing they do not see, and while hear-

ing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (13:13). This was

Jesus' response to the spiritual dullness of the people who had just

demonstrated their rejection of His message.41 They had proved


34 The Septuagint in all but two cases translates lwAmA with parabolh<.

35 Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus,15-21; cf. Theological Dictio-

nary of the New Testament, s.v. "parabolh<)," by Friedrich Hauck, 5:749.

36 Stein, An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus,18-21.

37 Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, rev. ed., trans S. H. Hooke (New

York: Scribner's Sons, 1972), 20. Along this line Stein admits the impossibility of

identifying with any certainty the parables in the Gospels if a broad definition

from lwAmA is used (An Introduction to the Parables of Jews, 22).

38 With a broad understanding of parabolh< Kingsbury identifies the following ma-

terial as "parabolic," though Matthew does not label it as such: 5:25-26; 6:19; 7:24-27;

9:16-17; 11:16-19 ff.; 12:34 ff.; 18:12 if., 23-35; 20:1-16; 21:28-32; 24:43-44, 45-51; 25:1-13,

14-30 (The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 30).

39 Jesus' statement about the divided house (Matt. 12:25-26) is called a parabolh< in

Mark 3:23.

40 Matthew's use of ore need not be seen as different from Mark and Luke's i!na

(Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10), because within the New Testament and in extrabiblical

Greek literature i!na may be causal (F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar

of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19611, §369 [21).

41 The idea that Jesus used parables to conceal and confuse is not popular with

many commentators who contend from rabbinic literature that parables are for en-

188       BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April—June 1994


themselves hardened and thus not suited to know the subjects

about which He spoke in the parables. So Jesus obliged them ac-

cording to their state and used the parables as tools to that end. Je-

sus' citation in verse 15 of Isaiah 6:10 from the Septuagint42 con-

firms this. Their eyes and ears did not admit the truth because

they had closed their eyes. Matthew 13:12, "whoever does not have,

even what he has shall be taken away from him," is also best ex-

plained by seeing the parables this way. As Via has noted, the

structure of 13:10-13 suggests a causal and concealing under-

standing of parables, by the pattern dia> ti< (v. 10), o!ti (v. 11), dia>

tou?to (v. 13), and o!ti (v. 13), implying that the o!ti in both cases is


            While the parables functioned to confound the crowds, they

revealed truth to the disciples. "To you it has seen granted to know

the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (13:11). This revelatory

purpose is borne out in Jesus' change of attention from the crowds

to the disciples in verses 15-16. "They [the people] have closed their

eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,

and understand with their heart and return. . . . But blessed are

your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear."

The disciples' privileged status allowed them access to informa-

tion the prophets and righteous men of old longed to see and hear

(a]kou?sai, v. 17). So Jesus began to explain the parables with the

words, "Hear [a]kou<sate] then the parable of the sower" (v. 18).


lightenment and that Jesus here used them out of pity for the dullness of the

crowds. See, for example, D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark (New York: Sea-

bury, 1963), 128; and C. F. D. Moule, "Mark 4:1-20 Yet Once More," in Neotestamen-

tica et Semitica, ed. E. E. Ellis and M. Wilcox (Edinburgh: Clark, 1969), 95-113;

both cited by J. W. Bowker, "Mystery and Parable: Mark iv. 1-20," Journal of Theo-

logical Studies 25 NS (1974): 301. Others who deny a "hardening theory" of parables

for other form critical reasons include Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 13-14;

Sherman E. Johnson, "The Gospel according to St. Matthew," in The Interpreter's

Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick, 12 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951), 7:410, 636; John

Knox, "The Gospel according to St. Luke," in The Interpreter's Bible, 8:148; and C.

G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels (London: Macmillan, 1909), 1:123, cited by J.

Arthur Baird, "A Pragmatic Approach to Parable Exegesis: Some New Evidence on

Mark 4:11, 33-34," Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957): 201-2. Some of those who

see the parables as a judgment for hardness are Ladd, The Presence of the Future,

226-27; Kingsbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 48-49; Van Elderen,

"The Purpose of Parables according to Matthew 13:10-17," 188; Rudolf Schnacken-

burg, God's Rule and Kingdom, trans. John Murray (New York: Herder and

Herder, 1963), 187; Dan O. Via, "Matthew on the Understandability of the Parables,"

Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965): 430-32; and Bowker, "Mystery and Parable," passim.

42 The Septuagint is significant also in that the verbs in Isaiah 6:10 are in the

aorist tense and indicative mood, compared to the imperative of the Hebrew. The

Septuagint therefore describes more of the people's existing condition (Van El-

deren, "The Purpose of Parables according to Matthew 13:10-17," 188).

43 Via, "Matthew on the Understandability of the Parables," 431.

              The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew            189



            Closely related to one's understanding of the purpose of the

parables is the question of what they teach, which of necessity also

entails the meaning of the "mysteries [musth<ria] of the kingdom

of heaven" (13:11). If these parables were given to conceal infor-

mation from those who had heard the proclamation of the king-

dom but rejected it, then one may ask what information

(mysteries) was now being withheld from the crowds and re-

vealed to the disciples. If, on the other hand, these parables were

meant to illustrate the spiritual dullness of the crowds and have

little or no connection with their rejection (in chap. 12), then the

information (mysteries) they contained was not necessarily

new. In that case the parables only represented in different form

what Jesus had been saying all along, which had always been a

"mystery" to those outside. The crowds still did not understand

the "mystery" announced from the beginning, namely, that the

kingdom of God had come in the Person of Jesus.44

            Several writers suggest a number of lines of support to show

that the parables and "mysteries" of Matthew 13 presented no new

information, but broad categories about the dawn of the messianic

age in Jesus. (1) Dunn, for example, leans heavily on the state-

ment of Jesus about parables in Mark 4:11, "but those who are out-

side get everything (ta> pa<nta) in parables." That is, for the unbe-

lieving, everything spiritual has always been and always will be

an enigma (cf. Matt. 13:34, "He did not speak to them without a

parable").45 (2) The secretive content of the parables would support

the messianic secret theme in which Jesus supposedly had been

involved since the beginning of His ministry.46 (3) The under-

standing of parables in Matthew and Mark as enigmatic speech,

or a type of riddle, suggests that the unbelieving crowds never un-

derstood Jesus' parables.47 (4) The plural musth<ria denotes all that


44 Beasley-Murray has a full listing of many scholars who hold this position

(Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 364, n. 169), to which should be added Ridderbos,

The Coming of the Kingdom, 125; New International Dictionary of New Testament

Theology, s.v. "Secret," by G. Finkenrath, 3:503; Van Elderen, "The Purpose of Para-

bles," 184; and Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom, 188.

45 James D. G. Dunn, "The Messianic Secret in Mark," Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970):

113; also Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 105; for others see ibid.

365, n. 178.

46 Bornkamm, who advocates this view, reveals its heritage in Wilhelm Wrede

(Das Messiasgeheimnis [19011, 58-59), the father of the Messiasgeheimnis in mod-

ern study (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "musth<rion," by

Bornkamm, 4:819, n. 130). For others in agreement with Bornkamm and Wrede see

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "Messianic Secret,"

by Colin Brown, 3:507; and Dunn, "The Messianic Secret in Mark," 95.

47 Kingsbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 30.

190     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 1994


Jesus taught about the kingdom's laws, conditions of entrance,

and related information.48 (5) Critical methodologies demand

the artificial grouping of the parables found in Matthew 13. To

these critics this chapter is useless as a guide to understanding its

own parables. Jeremias, for example, believes Mark 4:11-12

(=Matt. 13:11, 13) was inserted into the passage from a misun-

derstanding and has nothing to do with the parables' true teach-

ing. Jesus announced "no special ‘secrets,’ but only the one ‘secret

of the kingdom of God,’ to wit, the secret of the present dawning in

the words and works of Jesus."49

            Compelling as these arguments may seem, when Matthew 13

is carefully read,50 a strong case can be made that something new

was then happening to the kingdom. For one thing, the parables of

this chapter are new on two counts: (a) as already noted, only here

in Matthew did Jesus begin teaching e]n parabolai?j, and no ear-

lier literary form in Matthew gets this title; and (b) these parables

are specifically designated as ones whose content concerns the

kingdom of God.

            This second point is significant in chapter 13 because it re-

lates directly to Jesus' point that "parables" are enigmatic to those

whose hearts He had said were spiritually hardened (13:11-13).

Baird examines the subsequent practice of Jesus relative to His

professed enigmatic intent and the parables.51 His premise is that

if the parables of the kingdom were meant to conceal information

from the crowds, then that intent would be borne out in Jesus' sub-

sequent practice in the Gospels. Baird noted that though Jesus told

many parables to the crowds, only a few of them were explained.

Of those explained, none deals specifically with the kingdom of

God.52 This implies two things for the kingdom. First, through


48 Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel according to St. Matthew (New York: Macmil-

lan, 1915; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 189.

49 Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 18; cf. Siegman, "Teaching in Parables," 181.

50 Much of the force of the preceding arguments is tied to a theory of Marcan pri-

ority (which is not without its own detractors), which does not necessarily take

into account the argument of Matthew. For example the messianic secret is virtu-

ally nonexistent in Matthew 1-12. The one exception could be Matthew 8:4, but when

Jesus instructed the healed man to tell no one, the miracle had already occurred in

the sight of "great multitudes" (v. 1) and was hardly a secret. The intent of the in-

struction is elsewhere. See for example Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His

Literary and Theological Art, 140. If anything the very opposite for Matthew is

true, considering the "herald" quality of the proclamation, the large crowds, and

the public displays of miracles. On the overinflated importance of the messianic

secret in general, see Dunn, "The Messianic Secret in Mark."

51 J. Arthur Baird, "A Pragmatic Approach to Parable Exegesis: Some New Evi-

dence on Mark 4:11, 33-34," Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957): 201-7.

52 Ibid., 206-7. Cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term

"Mystery" in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 35, n. 110. Brown

            The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew             191


certain "kingdom" parables Jesus did in fact deny understand-

ing to the crowds in response to their rejection (Matt. 13:11).53

Second, since Jesus explained some parabolic teaching to the

crowds, a distinction seems to exist between specific "kingdom"

parables and the other parables Jesus may have spoken in His

general ministry. Thus it is wrong simply to say that the myster-

ies of the kingdom are synonymous with everything Jesus said

and did (e.g., Kingsbury54).55

            By extension, another possible implication concerns the point

at which the mysteries of the kingdom were enigmatic to the

crowds. Were the mysteries enigmatic when they were joined to

the parables, which Jesus did not explain, or were they enigmatic

to the hard-hearted crowds from the beginning of Jesus' min-

istry? Baird's findings argue for the former. Since according to


concurs with Baird's conclusions.

53 After the crowds rejected Jesus (Matt. 12), they (and the leaders) understood

only three parables specifically about the kingdom (21:27-32; 21:33-44; 22:1-14), each

of which explains how the kingdom had been taken from them. Matthew 13:34

seems to indicate that Jesus told more kingdom parables to the crowds but that

they were unexplained and still enigmatic. Thus no positive information about the

kingdom of God was revealed in parabolic form to those in rejection, though the

disciples were privy to every kingdom parable that followed. In addition to the

three parables noted above, the only public statement about the kingdom from Jesus

is in 23:13 ("But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off

the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who

are entering to go in"), which again was addressed to the leaders and is also negative.

54 The Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew Thirteen, 44-45.

55 Another argument against such a broad understanding of the mysteries is the

background of the term itself. Many scholars believe mosth<rion in the Gospels is

derived from the Hebrew word zrA in canonical (Dan. 2:18-19, 27-30, 47; 4:6) and non-

canonical literature. It is a designation for the plan of God for the unfolding of the

events of history hidden from human eyes and disclosed only by divine revelation.

According to Bornkamm the term in the New Testament "always has an eschatolog-

ical sense" which would seem to be different from other subjects Jesus addressed,

such as ethics (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "musth<rion,"

4:822). On mysteries as essentially eschatological topics see also Carson,

"Matthew," 308; Ladd, The Presence of the Future, 222; and Cope, "’To the Close of

the Age,’" 20. Cope argues for the eschatological emphasis for mystery rather than

Christological, ethical, or catechetical in the Qumran documents. For the concept

of mystery in the Old Testament, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal literature, see

Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 104; Brown, The Semitic Back-

ground of the Term "Mystery" in the New Testament, 2-22; Lucien Cerfaux, "La

Connaissance des Secrets du Royaume D'Apres Matt XIII. 11 et Paralleles," New

Testament Studies 2 (1956): 238-49; and G. Minette deTillesse, Le Secret Messian-

ique dan L'Euangile de Marc, Lectio Divina 47 (Paris: Cerf, 1968), 194-98. For the

concept of mystery in Qumran literature see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline

of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 46-

47; Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term "Mystery" in the New Testament,

22-30; Siegman, "Teaching in Parables," 172; Cope, "’To the Close of the Age,’" 17;

and Van Elderen, "The Purpose of Parables according to Matthew 13:10-17," 184-85.

192   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April—June 1994


Matthew's chronology, the mysteries of the kingdom are cotermi-

nal with the parables of the kingdom (which Jesus also never ex-

plained in response to the rejection of chap. 12), it would follow

that the mysteries were not present in Jesus' ministry before that

time of rejection. In other words for Matthew the locus of the

enigma of the mysteries comes in the kingdom parables after the

rejection, not before.

            A second argument suggesting that after the crowd rejected

Jesus the kingdom was different is the stated content of the king-

dom parables in Matthew 13. Many commentators maintain the

only difference in the mysteries of the kingdom before and after

the rejection by the people is whether the mysteries were ex-

plained. However, a surprising discontinuity exists between

what the parables themselves reveal about the kingdom and the

substance of Jesus' ministry before. For example, since Jesus and

John came in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise includ-

ing its physical kingdom notions for Israel, where is the correla-

tion of that picture of the kingdom with the kingdom in Matthew

13? Many scholars speak only in broad terms about the content of

the parables (i.e., mysteries) regarding the kingdom in chapter

13. Kingsbury, for example, speaks of the parabolic message as

the "present reality" of the kingdom.56 Yet the parables them-

selves say more, and they clearly portray the presence of the

kingdom as secret and hidden—far different from the kingdom

expected by the messianic hope, the kingdom that would break

forth apocalyptically and conquer political systems.57 Beasley-

Murray, speaking for many, shrouds the details of the kingdom

mysteries under the Christological cloak. "The secret of the

kingdom given to the disciples relates to the realization in and

through Jesus of God's purpose in the establishment of his saving

rule."58 Yet in these parables Jesus' presence is only one of sev-

eral facts taught about the kingdom. These other points include

the different responses to the word in the kingdom (Sower), the

future judgment of the kingdom (Wheat and Tares, and Drag-

net), the initial insignificance and great growth of the kingdom

(Mustard Seed, and Leaven), and the great value and sacrifice


56 The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 20.

57 Ladd (The Presence of the Future, 225) and Carson ("Matthew," 307-8) have

noted the discontinuity between the Old Testament kingdom and the kingdom of

the parables. Ladd observes, "That there should be a coming of God's Kingdom in

the way Jesus proclaimed, in a hidden, secret form, working quietly among men,

was utterly novel to Jesus' contemporaries. The Old Testament gave no such

promise" (ibid.).

58 Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 105.

            The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew             193


required for the kingdom (Treasure, and Pearl).59 These details

of the mysteries of the kingdom show that differences existed be-

tween Jesus' kingdom message before and after His rejection.

            Those who make little of the details of the kingdom parables,

when put in terms of kingdom "mysteries," also seek to apply

those details to the whole of Jesus' proclamation. Yet in Matthew

this is not so easily done. For example Beasley-Murray, speak-

ing of the kingdom mysteries, writes, "The fact that it [the king-

dom] continues to be a secret in spite of Jesus' proclamation is tied

to the nature of the kingdom he brings."60 Evidently he is saying

that the hidden, steadily growing, initially tiny kingdom of the

parables was the kingdom Jesus proclaimed all along. This posi-

tion has two weaknesses. First, if Jesus intended from the begin-

ning to proclaim a kingdom different from the one presented in

the Old Testament, He greatly confused His audience by speak-

ing and acting solely as if His ministry was in fulfillment of the

Old Testament prophetic hope. Second, since Jesus presented the

enigmatic parables as judgment because of the people's rejection

of Him, on what grounds could Jesus condemn them for their

hardness toward something in which He had misled them?



            Matthew 13 occupies a pivotal position in the presentation of

the kingdom in Matthew's Gospel. The fact that this chapter fol-

lows the people's rejection and Jesus' condemnation in chapters

11–12 makes the kingdom sayings of chapter 13 stand out in bold

relief. What was before proclaimed by the Herald has now be-

come a secret. Matthew 13 is seen as a turning point in the narra-

tive. The content of the musth<ria and parabolh< indicates the nov-

elty of something besides Jesus' methodology where the kingdom

of God is concerned. The parables about the kingdom are distinct

from everything Jesus had said to that point. The parables and the

"mysteries" of the kingdom cannot be considered synonymous

with what Jesus had already proclaimed. The new enigma that

the parables represent (because they are judgment for rejection)

means by extension that the mysteries of the kingdom are a new

enigma. Also the kingdom content in the parables points to dis-

continuity with the kingdom Jesus announced at the beginning of

His ministry.


59 These are the interpretations given by Stein, An Introduction to the Parables,

95, 105, 140, 142.

60 Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, 105.

194   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April-June 1994



            If it is correct that in Mathew 13 Jesus changed His method of

presentation and the content about the kingdom, one would expect

to find indications of such a change in the narrative that follows.

One change that points in this direction has already been noted in

conjunction with the audience of the basilei<a sayings. Starting

in Matthew 13 Jesus did not tell or explain any positive kingdom

information through parables to anyone except the disciples. The

only information related in basilei<a language to the crowds is

negative, namely, the kingdom would be taken from them and

they are not its citizens. This provides the first clue to the change

in the kingdom's content, a change that may be pursued along

several lines.

            First, Jesus no longer spoke of the nearness of the kingdom.

In the first 10 chapters the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of

heaven is at hand [h@ggiken]," was repeated verbatim by John, Je-

sus, and the disciples (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). After the nation's rejection

of Jesus in Matthew 11–12, this was no longer proclaimed. Rather

than being "near," the kingdom, Jesus said, will appear in the

future in association with His Second Coming and related events

(Matt. 24–25; 26:29). The kingdom originally announced as

"near" became far.

            Second, before chapter 13, Matthew twice (4:23; 9:35) summa-

rized Jesus' kingdom proclamation in vocabulary that uniquely

tied his message to the Old Testament hope (khru<ssw and eu]-

agge<lion th?j basilei<aj). Then after chapter 13 this "preaching"

of the "gospel of the kingdom" was no longer part of the public dis-

courses of Jesus. The phrase "gospel of the kingdom" is men-

tioned only as a message by Jesus' followers in the future (Matt.

24:14).61 The verb khru<ssw ("to preach") is no longer used in refer-

ence to Jesus' activity despite its key presence in Matthean sum-

maries of Jesus' activity before His rejection (4:17, 23; 9:35;


61 Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology and Kingdom, 128-29. The only

other appearance of eu]agge<lion is in 26:13 where it is also associated with the an-

nouncement of those after Jesus. All forms of the verb eu]aggeli<zw also vanish in

Matthew after 11:5, in which Jesus referred to announcing the good news

(eu]aggeli<zontai) to the poor. Similarly the Matthean use of the Old Testament ful-

fillment theme through the plhro<w ("fulfill") language and other expressions that

associate Jesus with the Old Testament prophets (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:3 [of John];

4:14; 8:17; 11:5, 9; 12:17; 13:14, 17, 35) drops off after 13:35. This theme is not men-

tioned again until 21:4, which speaks of Jesus' fulfillment of an Old Testament

prophecy when He approached Jerusalem riding a donkey colt (Zech. 9:9). It is as if

Matthew intentionally distanced Jesus from the Old Testament hope for Israel

during the intervening part of Jesus' ministry.

             The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew                 195


11:1).62 However, khru<ssw is used of those who in the future will

follow Jesus (24:14; 26:13).

            Third, Matthew's summaries of Jesus' ministry that do ap-

pear after chapter 13 argue that the kingdom message was modi-

fied. In 13:34 Matthew noted the enigma of Jesus' message of the

kingdom through His parables, but in chapter 16 something new

was noted. After a significant encounter with the disciples at

Caesarea Philippi, in which Jesus was reminded of His rejection

by the crowds (only Peter understood who He really is, 16:13-15),

Matthew summarized, "From that time Jesus Christ began to

show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer

many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be

killed, and be raised up on the third day" (16:21). That is, accord-

ing to Matthew (and Mark and Luke, as well) Jesus did not make

His sufferings on the cross a central feature of His message until

after the rejection. Before chapter 13 Jesus made veiled allusions

to His awareness of His mission and death (9:15, the bridegroom

being taken away; 12:40, the sign of Jonah being three days in the

sea), but His death was not a featured element of His kingdom

proclamation of good news. This is significant because 12:28 ties

the kingdom directly to Jesus' ministry by the Spirit. Before His

rejection Jesus' working of miracles by the power of the Holy

Spirit signified the kingdom's nearness. Afterward, as He fo-

cused on His suffering and "absence," He also spoke of the

"distancing" of the kingdom (Matt. 24–25). This seems to indi-

cate that the powerful, glorious, world-changing kingdom, pre-

sented in the Old Testament and announced by Jesus, is yet fu-

ture. Just as His rejection points to His own future sufferings and

absence until His glorious return, in like manner His rejection

points to the kingdom's absence until His glorious return. Be-

cause He is absent, the kingdom is absent, though where the Spirit

is there is kingdom signatory power (12:28).

            Fourth, after Matthew 13 the kingdom is no longer related

specifically to ethnic Israel. In contrast to the Old Testament

messianic hope, now the kingdom parables state that the kingdom

was taken from Israel and her leaders (21:27–22:14) and was

given to another nation (21:43). Also in this postrejection period

Jesus introduced for the first time the fact of the e]kklhsi<a (the


62 In conjunction with the use of lale<w in 13:3, Kingsbury argues for the cessation

of both the preaching (khru<ssw) and teaching (dida<skw) activities of Jesus to Jews

after 11:1 (The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 29). Though dida<skw ap-

pears after 11:1, Kingsbury (ibid.) notes that it is never used positively of Jesus'

message, but is always used in the "scenic framework" of a pericope (13:54; 21:23;

22:16; 26:55), or employed negatively in a denunciation of Jewish doctrine (15:9;

16:12), or in reference to His debate with His opponents (22:33).

196    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA  / April—June 1994


church, 16:18), a designation of Jesus' followers. To Peter, the

foundation of the church, were given the "keys of the kingdom of

heaven" (16:19) with power to "bind" or "loose" accordingly


            Commentators have long recognized that Matthew 13 is a crit-

ical turning point in Matthew's presentation of Jesus" ministry.64

The force of these arguments suggests it is also a turning point for

the nature of the kingdom of God. The references to the kingdom

in Matthew 13 and following suggest a change in the nature of the

kingdom. It is "far" rather than near, nonracial rather than eth-

nic, related to suffering rather than overtly powerful, and se-

cretly disclosed to insiders rather than proclaimed to all.




            When the kingdom-of-God sayings in Matthew are inter-

preted in view of the chronology of Jesus' career, much light is

thrown on the kingdom itself. Grouping and "leveling" all the

kingdom-of-God sayings in Matthew tends to relegate the king-

dom to vague terms (e.g., present and future) as the seemingly

contradictory sayings are played off against one another (e.g.,

the mystery parables versus the ethnic Old Testament kingdom

and realm of Israel) and reduced to their lowest common denom-

inator. A recognition of the sequence of the kingdom-of-God say-

ings in Matthew reveals three major points. First, at the begin-

ning of Jesus' career He proclaimed and offered to Israel the

restoration of the rule of Yahweh in their land, which would bring

His peace and righteousness, and through which they would be a

blessing to the rest of the world. This kingdom of which He spoke

is physical, glorious, and powerful, compelling the wicked either

to repent or to feel its wrath.

            Second, Israel, however, would not have it. They saw the

signs of its nearness, heard the voice of its forerunner prophet,

and rejected the King and His kingdom (Matt. 11-12).

            Third, in response to their hardness of heart, Jesus withdrew

His offer of the full manifestation of the Old Testament prophe-

sied kingdom (Matt. 13:11-17). It was taken from them and given


63 Jesus' answer to the Canaanite woman in 15:24 ("I was sent only to the lost

sheep of Israel") does not contradict the point being made here. His statement

shows that after the nation's rejection of Jesus, His career demanded that He pre-

sent Himself to Israel as the Messiah to bring their rejection to lethal levels. The

same is true for Jesus' miracles, which also continue after chapter 13, as well as

the politically charged Triumphal Entry (Matt. 21). Also see note 65.

64 See, for example, Kingbury, The Parables of Jesus in Matthew Thirteen, 31; and

Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom, 188.

           The Kingdom-of-God Sayings in Matthew                  197


to another until it will appear in the future. In the present interim

period the kingdom is secret, hidden, and unknown to the world,

as seen in the kingdom parables and mysteries (Matt. 13). Its

power is not seen now in nationalistic forms (hence the mes-

sianic secret), and when its spiritual power is manifested physi-

cally in the present age it does not so much speak of the kingdom's

temporal nearness as testify to its messengers.65 During this in-

terim the kingdom is still future, but it is still intact in its spiri-

tual and physical character (the disciples can still expect one day

to judge the 12 tribes of Israel, 19:28). When Jesus returns in

righteous judgment, He will restore Israel and fulfill the

prophetic voice completely.





65 Though Jesus continued to perform miracles after His rejection, their effect

was different for those who had rejected Him and those who were receptive to Him.

By their nature as mute witnesses, the miracles served to further harden those in

rejection and to deliver the revelation of their fate (the withered fig tree is typical

of Israel in her rejection). His miracles continued to be interpreted by outsiders as

more works of a sorcerer who was dangerous to the people and who ultimately must

be done away with. For insiders, the miracles served to confirm the messianic

Messenger and His message. Ladd (The Presence of the Future, 227) notes how both

the Old and New Testaments confirm this idea that the same revelation can be both

light and judgment, depending on the people's decision (Isa. 28:13; Jer. 23:29; John

12:40; Acts 28:26; Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 2:8).



This material is cited with gracious permission from:                               x

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204   

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: