Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Heaven: not the end of the world IV

Heaven help us!
As we continue to note different ways the term 'heaven' is used biblically, one important development is its use as a respectful circumlocution for 'God'. Seen classically in the prodigal son's rehearsed apology: "Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

More importantly, it forms part of the crucial phrase in Matthew, 'Kingdom of Heaven'. Mark and Luke use 'Kingdom of God' instead, and so it is clear that what is being referred to is not the domain over which God rules (though he is lord of heaven, as well as the earth), but that it is heaven (i.e. God) who rules. Thus 'kingdom of Heaven' could be paraphrased, 'the reign of God'.

This means that the Christian hope is indeed heavenly. Not in terms of where Christians ultimately hope to end up (see future posts), but in terms of the active agent in bringing about that hoped-for future. Our hope is for Heaven (God) to act to renew the earth.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI. Ten points for getting the country - same as the last one.


Dave Barrie said...

Thanks for this series Byron and thanks for being so thorough.

You say that the Kingdom of Heaven does not refer to the domain over which God rules but as I looked through the references in Matthew about half of them speak of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

How do you understand verses such as these which seem to speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as a domain over which God rules?

Matt 5:20 "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matt 8:11 "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

Matt 18:3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether "in" here isn't a temporal refernce as "in the time of the King of Heaven?" Time is a fairly important theme throughout Matthew's account.

byron smith said...

Dave B, the language of "entry" into the Kingdom of Heaven is paralleled in the other synoptics by entering the Kingdom of God (Mk 9.47; 10.15, 23-25; Luke 16.16; 18.17, 24-25; Acts 14.22).

Indeed note the interesting passage in Matt 19.23-24, where the two phrases are parallel in one version. But generally, wherever Matthew has KoH, Mark and Luke have KoG.

So, whatever we think about entry into the Kingdom, it applies whether it is of Heaven or of God. My point about Heaven as a circumlocution for God remains. What remains disputed is really then what Kingdom means. I think the gloss 'reign' or 'rule' or 'fact of being (and/or authority to be) in charge' remains a better way of grasping the main thrust of the phrase throughout the synoptics, but don't have time this morning to fill out details.

Thanks David H for that suggestion: do you think the temporal reference is kept in the synoptic parallels?

Dave Barrie said...

Thanks. Just to clarify, are you suggesting that Matt 8:11 could be paraphrased as:

"many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob during the reign of God"

byron smith said...

NB points for this pic have already been claimed by Stevie T over in the comments of a more recent post.

Dave Barrie said...

Byron, is my paraphase above of Matt 8:11 what you are suggesting?

byron smith said...

Dave, sorry - I thought you were asking David Hohne, since he had suggested the temporal reference. I'm not sure what I think of that, but my basic reading of being in the kingdom is that it means to have submitted to the authority of the king, to have received the benefits (peace and justice) of his rule.

Dave Barrie said...

Yeah, no worries Byron, I deliberately didn't address my question to anybody so that either of you would feel free to answer.

David H, does my paraphrase of Matt 8:11 capture the point you were trying to make about temporality in Matthew?