Jesus preached and lived love, but the heart and centre of his message and action was about the Kingdom of God, both future and imminent, and present at the same time. The notion of " kingdom of God " is unique in that it is hardly found in the Old Testament and rarely in intertestamentary literature, including Qumran. So here we have an original touch of Jesus.
Jesus was expecting the definitive coming of God as king soon, a coming which would bring about a reversal of the present unjust situations of poverty, affliction and empty bellies, a coming which would initiate the arrival of the Gentiles, not as conquered slaves, but as distinguished guests, to share the eschatological banquet with the patriarchs of Israel. This hope was so central in his message that he made it the main request of the prayer he left to his disciples, the "Our Father". Even though he was convinced that this coming was imminent, Jesus always refused to give a date, and faced with the prospect of his imminent death, he continued to affirm the conviction that one day he would share the eschatological banquet, even though this banquet was now a transcendent reality in relation to this world.
Paradoxically, Jesus spoke not only of a future reign, but also of a reign already present. Indeed, to explain his amazing actions, such as his healings, exorcisms and promiscuity with tax collectors and sinners, as well as his cleansing of the temple, he announced that the reign of God had already reached his audience. This tension of an "already/not yet" would reflect the very nature of this kingdom of God which is not a state of mind, however spiritual, but a real and dynamic event of God coming with power to reign over His people Israel at the end of time, an eschatological drama already begun in part through the ministry of Jesus.
It must be said at the outset: there is a consensus among biblical scholars that the Kingdom of God is not only one of the central themes of Jesus' preaching, but the central theme that illuminates all the other elements of his preaching. Let us now clarify five points:
- The centrality of this theme is confirmed by the criterion of multiple attestations: the phrase "Kingdom of God" in the mouth of Jesus appears 13 times in Mark, 13 times in the Q source, 25 times in Matthew's own M source, 6 times in Luke's own L source and 2 times in John. This is all the more remarkable since this sentence is absent from the Hebrew Bible, and appears only rarely in the deuterocanonical and apocryphal writings of the Old Testament, the pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, in Qumran, in Philo, in Flavius Josephus and in most of the Targums. In St. Paul's, it is found only seven times in his letters considered authentic. Even in the Apocalypse of John it is found only a few times. How can this be explained? There is here a typical expression of Jesus that reflects the accent of his preaching.
- There is no difference in meaning between the expression "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven". It is found only in Matthew, and reflects the use of the Judeo-Christian church, which out of piety preferred to speak of "Heaven" in order to avoid pronouncing the name of God.
- Should we say "Kingdom" or "Reign"? The expression "Kingdom" is more traditional, but at the same time it is misleading, because it means static thinking about a given territory, whereas it is the dynamic notion of God's powerful action in creation. But the notion of territory is not totally false, for if God reigns over the universe and its people and exercises a certain control, there must be a reality in the space and time in which this action is manifested.
- "Kingdom of God" is a symbolic concept that has a multitude of meanings and must be interpreted according to its context. Depending on the more or less apocalyptic character of the narrative, the final kingdom will be presented as
- the restoration in an improved version of the kingdom of David,
- or heaven on earth,
- or a heavenly kingdom beyond space and time.
- Finally, one can never separate the Kingdom of God and eschatology, i.e., this Kingdom is associated with Jesus' perception of the end times.
To highlight this emphasis of Jesus' preaching, let us examine the context in which it must be interpreted, i.e. the Old Testament, the pseudepigrapha, and finally Qumran.
- God's Kingly Rule in the Old Testament
- The exact expression "Kingdom of God" can only be found in the Book of Wisdom: "So the righteous man who fled from the wrath of his brother, she guided him in straight paths, she showed him the kingdom of God and gave him knowledge of the holy things" (10:10). Composed in Greek around the first century BC, this book is not part of the Jewish canon, even though it is accepted by Catholics and Orthodox. It is therefore a very recent expression that Jesus begins to use, and he was probably the first to use it regularly to evoke the mythical history of the Old Testament.
- On the other hand, if he does not use the expression as it is, the OT evokes in many ways the idea that Yahweh became king or reigns as a king. This is how Jesus was able to learn from Isaiah and the Psalms that God has reigned, is reigning and will reign forever over creation. In the Pentateuch, it is proclaimed that Yahweh will reign forever over his people who have become a kingdom of priests for him, because he freed them from Egypt. Later, in the depths of despair during the exile in Babylon, the prophets would speak of the restoration of God's kingship in Judah, with Jerusalem as the holy capital. A prophet like Jeremiah evokes the promise of a new David who will reign over the kingdom of Israel after God has gathered the twelve tribes of a demolished people. As we can see, God's reign is through his victorious action to restore Israel's integrity and place in the world, as the Gentiles come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pay homage to this king of the universe (Isaiah 5:9-21; Zechariah 14:14, 16-19).
- With the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164) in the 2nd century BC, it is realized that God's kingship is delayed and the tone becomes more apocalyptic and universal. The texts of Daniel, Tobit, Ben Sira, or Judith evoke the final defeat of the hostile nations of the Gentiles and the establishment by God of an eternal kingdom in which the holy people reign. In particular, God the great king will rebuild Jerusalem and reign over both Israel and the world. From this emerges a figure of God who is both warrior and protector. But at the same time we enter into an eschatological perspective: in Daniel the last days are associated with the individual resurrection of the faithful Jews who will live in glory, and in the book of Wisdom the righteous will share in the eternal kingship of his king. In the Maccabees it is stated that the king of the world will resurrect his martyrs who will live forever (2 Mac 188.8.131.52-29).
- In conclusion, the image associated with the kingship of God is absent from whole sections of the Old Testament, and in the passages where it is found, it is not a dominant theme. On the other hand, the symbolism around a God who exercises a certain kingship can be seen in several strands of tradition, and will develop with the arrival of eschatological and apocalyptic literature at the dawn of the Christian era, all of which will give Jesus the language, the symbols and a narrative around the reign of God.
- God's Kingly Rule in the Pseudepigrapha
- The Sibylline Oracles include various Jewish and Christian poems written in Greek and claiming to be prophecies of the famous prophetess. In particular, the third Sibylline Oracle written in the 2nd century BC in Egypt concludes that God will establish an earthly kingdom where the Jews will be set free and the Temple of Jerusalem will become the place of pilgrimage for all nations.
- Comprising five disparate compositions, this apocalyptic library known as 1 Enoch the symbolism of a reigning God plays an extremely minor role, simply to evoke the idea that God will reign over the righteous on a renewed earth.
- The Book of Jubilees, of which fragments of eleven Hebrew manuscripts have been found in Qumran, contains only a few passages mentioning God's kingship.
- The Testament of Moses, an apocalyptic work begun in the 2nd century BC but completed in the 1st century CE, contains two passages dealing with God as king. First, a prayer is addressed to God, saying: "O Lord of all, king on a high throne, who reigns over the world".(4: 2). Then, in chapter 10, God avenges the innocent blood of the martyrs and manifests his reign by punishing the Gentiles and raising Israel to the heights of heaven where he will know joy.
- In a series of poems known as the Psalms of Solomon, the theme of God's reign is more significant. Coming from a devout group in Jerusalem, which some identify with the Pharisees, and written in Hebrew between 63 and 42 BC, when the Roman general Pompey seized Jerusalem and desecrated the temple, these poems evoke a swift intervention by God, the true king, who will establish an eternal reign through the son of David, the Lord Messiah; for God controls events and will soon destroy sinners and bring his servants back to his presence forever.
- A collection of twelve compositions known as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs unfortunately cannot be dated in full with certainty before the Christian era and cannot be considered part of the context of Jesus. But some elements of thought come from an earlier Jewish background, such as the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel with the pagan nations, the final manifestation of God, the reign of a Messianic high priest as well as the Davidic king, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. Despite all this, the theme of God's kingship does not dominate this collection.
- The Targums, which are free Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, had their final written version stretched to around the 5th century CE But they were originally an oral tradition with elements that predate the time of Jesus. There is a tendency to avoid anthropomorphisms, and thus to promote a more abstract vision of God, where one speaks of the royal reign of God, or of God's kingship as a substitute for the words God or Yahweh. The royalty of God is simply a way of affirming that God is present and active in our midst.
- In short, the symbolism of God reigning as a king is very much alive in the intertestamental period and is associated with the eschatological hopes of the restoration of Israel gathered around Mount Zion or in Jerusalem. But it must be added at the outset that it was not, nevertheless, a dominant point in Israel's faith; Jewish hope for the future took various and sometimes incompatible forms. It was therefore a personal choice of Jesus to take certain elements of this symbolism and make it a dominant theme of his message.
- God's Kingly Rule at Qumran
- We are talking here about the writings of a group that existed from the 2nd century BC until 68 AD. They range from complete works to tiny fragments that we will group into four categories.
- In the Manual of Discipline or the Community Rule (1QS) we find the classic example of cosmological dualism where two reigns or fields of force confront each other, that of evil through Belial and that of good through the master of the community. Undoubtedly to preserve the transcendence of God, one avoids associating him with this struggle.
- In the collection of liturgical hymns, 1QSb and 1QH (Thanksgiving Hymns), we speak of the establishment of the kingship of the people under the direction of two messiahs, a priestly messiah and a Davidic messiah, the former having precedence over the latter, and of God in the midst of his heavenly temple to which the people have access through the liturgy. But the theme of God's kingship is far from being dominant and omnipresent.
- Exegesis texts or commentaries on biblical writings have played an important role in the life of the Qumran community. However, there is hardly any mention of God's kingship, but the community is presented as the true temple and the coming of two messianic figures, one of the lineage of David, the other an interpreter of the law.
- The Scroll of War tells of the battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. It is in this context that we present the kingship of God who transcends the double empire of good and evil, and who will exercise his reign through the faithful Israelites (the Qumranians) at the end of time, when they will defeat the forces of evil and share his kingship forever. But here again, the theme of God's kingship does not dominate the whole work.
- In short, the expression " Kingdom of God " is rare and appears only late in Jewish literature. Thus, Jesus seems to have grasped an image and language that was not central to Judaism and consciously decided to make it his central message. The basis of his discourse was known to his audience, but he gave it a particular note and direction.
Jesus' Proclamation of a Future Kingdom
The few passages in Jewish tradition on the kingdom of God include a future reference to the restoration of a glorious Jerusalem, with the twelve tribes of Israel gathered in the holy city and receiving gifts from the defeated Gentiles. It can therefore legitimately be expected that the message of Jesus, the heir of this tradition, and in the wake of the eschatological message of John the Baptist, will have a future dimension. We will analyze five key passages.
- "Your Kingdom Come" (Mt 6: 9-13 || Lk 11: 2-4)
- Introductory Considerations
The prayer of the "Our Father" has come down to us in two versions, that of Matthew and that of Luke. These two versions have undergone modifications within two different liturgical traditions, but in general Luke has kept the original length and structure, Matthew the more original words. Here are the two versions with the modifications made by the two traditions in italics.
|Mt 6: 9-13
||Lk 11: 2-4
|WHO [ARE] IN HEAVEN
|hallowed be your name,
||hallowed be your name,
|Your kingdom come,
||Your kingdom come,
|YOUR WILL BE DONE AS IN HEAVEN, SO ON EARTH,
|Our daily bread give us today
||Our daily bread keep giving us everyday,
|And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.
||And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone indebted to us
|And do not lead us to the test
||And do not lead us to the test
|BUT DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE.
In its original Semitic form, this prayer must have looked like this:
|I. "You Petitions"|
||hallowed be your name|
||Your kingdom come|
|II. "We Petitions"|
||Our daily bread give us today|
||And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors|
||And do not lead us to the test|
We are in front of a very short prayer whose direct and to the point style must have offended the sensibilities of those who were used to the longer rhythmic phrase found in Matthew. The original setting cannot be the primitive Church, but rather the milieu of the disciples of the historical Jesus. Moreover, to speak of debt or debtor rather than sin or sinner directs us towards a Palestinian-Arab milieu. It would seem, therefore, that we would be faced with a prayer that goes back to Jesus himself, if we add these other considerations :
- This bold way of addressing God, saying, "Daddy"
- Thus to associate the kingdom of God with the verb "to come" in a prayer of petition is unknown to the Old Testament, to ancient Judaism and to the rest of the New Testament.
- The petition for the name of God to be hallowed is unique and is not found elsewhere in the New Testament as a key concept, and therefore cannot be a creation of the Church.
- Finally, we have here a very rare case where the Gospels directly attribute certain words to Jesus.
- The Two "You Petitions"
Here we have a parallel and well-paced structure: the two demands are linked and must be interpreted by each other.
- "Hallowed be your name"
- The idea of hallowing (sanctifying, making holy) the name of God is absent from the NT, with the exception of Jn 12:28. In the OT God sanctifies his name by manifesting his power to bring liberation. For example, Ezekiel emphasizes the manifestation of God's holiness through his great eschatological intervention where the wicked will be judged and the Gentiles will know who the true God is.
- In the traditional Jewish prayer of Qaddish we find similarly the dual idea of sanctifying the name of God and establishing his reign in an eschatological context:
Magnified and hallowed be his great name
in the world that he has created according to his good pleasure;
may he cause his kingdom to reign
in your lives and in your days and in the lives of the whole house of Israel,
very soon and in a near time
- The Qaddish, whether it dates back to the time of Jesus or not, tells us that sanctification is first and foremost the work of God alone, not that of a human being. Thus, saying, "Hallowed be thy name" is not a pious exhortation to honor God or a commitment to follow His precepts. God is asked to show His strength by defeating the Gentiles and bringing the tribes of Israel back to the Holy Land.
- Only God can sanctify his name by manifesting his sovereignty.
- "Your kingdom come
- Just as the name of God in the first petition designated God as revealed, so the Reign of God in the second petition designates God as reigning. But the expression itself "Your Kingdom come", absent from the OT, is unique and strange. Why did Jesus choose this strange expression? In fact, it may seem surprising to speak of a coming reign, but speaking of the reign of God is an original and more abstract way of speaking of God as king, and thus expresses the expectation of God's coming to liberate his people, as it is found everywhere in the OT. The two requests of the Lord's Prayer could therefore be taken up like this:
Father, reveal yourself in all your power and glory
by coming to rule as king
- If Jesus expresses such a request, it means that for him God does not totally reign as king. In the traditional Jewish prayer of the Eighteen Benedictions (Shemoneh Ezreh) it is said: "Restore our judges as at the beginning and our counselors as at the start, and reign over us, you alone. Blessed are you, O Lord, who love [just] judgement". If Jesus prayed with this prayer, he makes his own this eschatological hope of a God who liberates and gathers his sinful but repentant people.
- We may be surprised at the concatenation of two figures that may seem contradictory, that of father and king. But in the Mediterranean society of the first century, the father was the supreme arbiter with the right of life and death, and managed careers, marriages and inheritances. Similarly, a king was seen as the father of his people, who watched over and protected him.
- The Three "We Petitions"
- The request "Our daily bread give us today" must be read in the context of the eschatological banquet that Jesus describes in his parables and in his meals with sinners: in other words, bring this great feast of final reconciliation.
- The request "And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors" makes God's final forgiveness in the last days depend on the forgiveness of the disciples towards others.
- The request "And do not lead us to the test" refers not to the temptations of every day, but to the final test that God will put the world to when he takes control of the universe at the end of time.
- At the center of all these requests is Jesus' message and hope for the coming of God's eschatological Reign.
- Drinking Wine in the Kingdom of God (Mark 14: 25)
|Mk 14: 25
||Lk 22: 18
|Amen I say to you
I shall no longer drink of the fruit of the vine
until that day when I drink it
in the kingdom of God.
|For I say to you, |
I shall not drink from now on of the fruit of the vine
the kingdom of God comes
- Mark's text probably originates from authentic words of Jesus. First of all, there is agreement among biblical scholars that Jesus' last supper with his disciples is historical, since there are multiple attestations, including Paul. There is also the criterion of coherence: a solemn festive meal of Jesus with his disciples to communicate his eschatological vision is coherent with his entire ministry, especially since there are various testimonies of Jesus having meals with a multitude of people. Moreover, the solemn word of Jesus has meaning only in the context of a last meal. Finally, when we compare the versions of the three evangelists, Mark is the most authentic: there is no Christological reason why the death of Jesus would be presented as having a sacrificial redeeming value, there is no indication that Jesus would have a special place in the Parousia, there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the death of Jesus and the coming of the Reign of God.
- Jesus' statement has a solemn character with the introduction: Truly (Amen), I say unto you. It is a prophetic affirmation. What he says is summed up as follows: I am going to die before the coming of the Kingdom of God in the near future. In fact, Jesus proclaims his hope: despite the failure of his life plan, which will be confirmed by his violent death, the Reign of God will come.
- Reclining at Table with Abraham in the Kingdom (Mt 8: 11-12 || Lk 13: 28-29)
Here are the two texts, with the unique expressions of each evangelist in italics.
|Matthew 8: 11-12||Luke 13: 28-29|
|1 I say to you that||9 In that place there shall be|
|2 many from east and west will come||10 weeping and grinding of teeth when you see|
|3 and shall recline [at table]||4 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets|
|4 with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob||5 in the kingdom of God,|
|5 in the kingdom of heaven.||6 but you|
|6 But the sons of the kingdom||7 thrown out|
|7 will be thrown out||2 And they will come from east and west, from north and south,|
|8 into the outer darkness||3 and shall recline [at table]|
|9 In that place there shall be||5 in the kingdom of God,|
|10 weeping and grinding of teeth;|
- The source of both versions is probably Q document, although we can't be sure. However, the context (the story of the Centurion's asking for a healing) in which they were inserted is probably not original. We will have noticed that Matthew and Luke have a reverse order: Matthew starts on a positive note and ends on a negative note, while Luke does the opposite. Which order is original? Probably Matthew's. Who has the original words of Jesus? Probably neither. On Matthew's side, a number of expressions are his own: kingdom of heaven rather than kingdom of God, or outer darkness. For Luke, the expression "when you will see" reflects his usual tendency to create logical links between various events, here between the weeping and the prophecy of the banquet; the addition of the prophets is typical of this evangelist who presents Jesus as a prophet and presents the important figures of the Church as prophets; finally, the addition of the expression "north and south" is typical of this evangelist who emphasizes the universality of the Gospel.
- Originally, this tradition was to be presented as follows:
Many [or: they] from east and west shall come
and shall recline [at table]
with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
in the kingdom of God
But you shall be thrown out
In that place there shall be
weeping and grinding of teeth
- The message is clear. In the first part, Jesus announces that people will come from all over the world to join the Jewish community in the kingdom of God. In the second part, he warns that a group will be cast out of this kingdom, and they will bite their fingers. This message probably comes from the historical Jesus:
- there is no Christological affirmation, for example a mediating role attributed to Jesus;
- One would seek in vain a rejection of all Israel;
- One find the originality of Jesus to associate the Gentiles, the final banquet and the kingdom of God;
- Even if the Gentiles are associated with the kingdom, there is no call for a mission to them.
Jesus therefore announces a future kingdom that transcends time, since it includes the dead, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who have received new life, and at the same time transcends space, since people come from all over the world. Who are the "you" who will regret their actions? Probably those who have rejected the mission of Jesus.
- The Beatitudes as Confirmation
If the beatitudes are dealt with only at this point in time, it is because it was first necessary to analyze the previous texts in order to find a framework for interpreting them properly.
- An Initial Inspection of the Beatitudes
|Matthew 5: 3-13
||Luke 6: 20-23
1. Happy the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (v.3)
1. Happy the poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God. (v.20)
2. Happy the mourners,
for they shall be comforted. (v.4)
[3. Happy those weeping now,
for you shall laugh. (v.21b)]
3. Happy the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth. (v.5)
4. Happy those hungering and thirsting for justice,
for they shall be satisfied. (v.6)
2. Happy those hungering now,
for you shall be satisfied (v.21a)
(See Mt 5: 4)
3. Happy those weeping now,
for you shall laugh. (v.21b)
5. Happy the merciful,
for they shall be shown mercy. (v.7)
6. Happy the pure of heart,
for they shall see God. (v.8)
7. Happy the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God. (v.9)
8. Happy those persecuted for the sake of justice,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (v.10)
9. Happy are you when they revile you and persecute [you] and say every kind of evil against you [falsely]
for my sake.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven.
For so they persecuted the prophets [who were] before you (v.11-12)
4. Happy are you when men hate you and when they separate you and cast out your name as evil
for the sake of the Son of Man.
Rejoice on that day and leap [for joy]
for behold your reward is great in heaven.
For in the same way their fathers acted toward the prophets. (v.22-23)
- It should be noted that Matthew has 9 beatitudes (8 short, 1 long), while Luke has 4 beatitudes (3 short, 1 long) which will be followed by 4 woes. These beatitudes are a mixture of the Q document and the editorial work of the evangelists.
- Source Q can be reconstructed in this way.
1. Happy the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
1. Happy the poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
2. Happy the mourners,
for they shall be comforted.
[3. Happy those weeping now,
for you shall laugh.]
3. Happy those hungering and thirsting for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.
2. Happy those hungering now,
for you shall be satisfied
3. Happy those weeping now,
for you shall laugh.
4. Happy are you when they revile you and persecute [you] and say every kind of evil against you [falsely]
for my sake.
Rejoice and be glad
for your reward is great in heaven
For so they persecuted the prophets [who were] before you
4. Happy are you when men hate you and when they separate you and cast out your name as evil
for the sake of the Son of Man
Rejoice on that day and leap [for joy]
for behold your reward is great in heaven
For in the same way their fathers acted toward the prophets
- Which version of Matthew or Luke is more original? Neither one nor the other. Each sentence must be examined on its own merit. First, the form "those who" is to be preferred to "you", which is more common and traditional in OT and intertestamental literature. In the first beatitude, the expression "poor in spirit" is the editorial work of Matthew which tends to spiritualize, moralize and generalize the beatitudes, even if this generalization must have occurred very early in the tradition. The formulation of the second beatitude is probably more original under Luke's pen (those who weep) than under Matthew's pen (the afflicted). The 3rd beatitude probably had this concise form: Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled. In the 4th beatitude, the reference to the prophets of the OT who were persecuted is probably a secondary addition. Moreover, its length, form and content suggest that it was not part of the original collection and reflects the persecution suffered by the early Christians. In short, the Beatitudes may have originally had this form:
|1. Happy are the poor
||for theirs is the kingdom of heaven|
|2. Happy are the mourners
||for they shall be comforted.|
|3. Happy are the hungry
||for they shall be satisfied.|
- Beatitudes in the OT and Intertestamental Literature
As a form of sapiential teaching, the beatitudes were known in Egypt and ancient Greece, as well as in Israel, especially in the Psalms and the sapiential books. They are a cry of admiration: congratulations, bravo! They have two parts, the initial exclamation and then the description of the person who is happy. Sometimes the reward or fate of that person is also described. Typically in wisdom literature, this reward is offered in this life. However, this somewhat simplistic view of things will change with the arrival of persecutions, especially in the 2nd century BC under the Seleucid regime, when it will become clear that good behaviour does not always bring happiness in this life. The apocalyptic current will thus transform this vision to launch an invitation to endure the present sufferings and promise a reward in the other life; in this other life, God will see to it that the destinies are reversed: those who wept will now be in joy, those who were in joy will now be in sadness. Thus, in Palestinian Judaism at the beginning of the Christian era, it is not surprising that a man like Jesus could have used the beatitudes to express eschatological promises and moral exhortations.
- The Question of the Authenticity of the Core Beatitudes in Q-source
- To demonstrate that a particular beatitude can be traced back to Jesus himself, the criterion of multiple attestations is usually used. Unfortunately, the beatitudes are absent from Mark's emphasis on Jesus' actions, not on his figure as a master of wisdom. We must therefore be satisfied with one source, the Q source. But other criteria can be used to support the authenticity of the beatitudes, in particular the criterion of discontinuity. First of all, even if the beatitudes belong to a sapiential tradition of the entire Near East, the eschatological and apocalyptic hopes found in those of Q document are nevertheless unique and rather echo the eschatological message of Jesus. Even more so. There is nothing equivalent in the rest of the New Testament and in Christian literature. Let's take a closer look.
- Paul almost never uses the beatitudes, except on a few rare occasions, such as Rom 14:22: "Blessed is he who does not judge himself guilty (of eating meat)"; but their content and form are totally different. In the Epistles of James we find two beatitudes (for example, Jas 1:12: "Blessed is the man who endures the trial"), but their content is not eschatological and the promise of a reversal of the situation is sought in vain. The first epistle of Peter contains two beatitudes (e.g., 1 Pet 3:14: "Blessed are you who suffer for righteousness') that seem to echo those of the Sermon on the Mount. But in fact they do not fit the model (no conditional clause with a wish, followed by "happy"); rather, they are an example of Christian parenesis that takes up the beatitudes of Jesus. The book of Revelation, which has a clearly eschatological framework, contains, among other things, seven beatitudes. Surprisingly, however, these beatitudes are not put in the mouth of Jesus, but in the pen of the narrator. Moreover, the laconic assertion that the unfortunate will be happy thanks to God's overthrow at the end of time will be sought in vain. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas (2nd century) contains beatitudes ("Jesus says: Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"), but he is totally dependent on the Gospels, which he is content to group and harmonize.
- In short, the model of a nucleus of three beatitudes as we see in the Q document is unique, a model that looks like this :
- Initial felicitation: makarios is always put first
- The designation of the sufferers: only the definite article + adjective or a participle
- The eschatological reason for happines: the hoti clause introduces the promise of future salvation by God, described in the second and thir beatitudes by a future passive indicative that is a divine passive (i.e., God is the unmentioned agent)
- This uniqueness supports the criterion of discontinuity which allows us to attribute the beatitudes to Jesus himself rather than to the first Christians. As for the criterion of coherence, it allows us to go in the same direction. Indeed, the content of the beatitudes is in line with the preaching of Jesus who announces the coming of a kingdom that will transform the present affliction into happiness for those who weep and offer a heavenly banquet to satisfy all the hungry. This reversal is not directed at people who are explicitly said to be good or virtuous or to deserve it, but simply because they are in need: the poor, the afflicted and the hungry in Israel. It is God who takes this initiative, because the political authorities have failed to do so. Finally, let us note that Jesus does not proclaim a reformation of this world, but the end of this world and its replacement by the kingdom of God.
- The Question of the M Beatitudes
What are we to think of the beatitudes found only in Matthew: blessed are the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers? Unlike the other beatitudes where the promise of salvation is offered simply because people are destitute, here we find a call to action and the reward responds to virtuous action. Are we before a creation of Matthew, known to be sometimes moralizing? First of all, let us say that the 1st (poor, ptochoi) and 3rd (meek, praeis) beatitudes are redundant: the Septuagint (Greek version of the OT) uses these two Greek words equivalently to translate the Hebrew word anawim. Secondly, the beatitude on the persecuted for justice is also redundant with the longer beatitude on persecution that follows: this awkward juxtaposition reveals rather a grouping of two traditions on the beatitudes than a pure creation of Matthew. Finally, the beatitudes on the merciful, the pure of heart and the peacemakers could also come from a tradition that Matthew inherited rather than a creation of the author, since none of the words in these beatitudes are typical of Matthew. Also, if Q and M are two pre-Matthean traditions, we have an interesting parallel: in both cases we begin with a beatitude on the anawim (poor, meek) and end with one on persecutions; we could then use the criterion of multiple attestations to confirm their authenticity. Finally, we could also use the criterion of coherence to support their authenticity, because the call to action with promises of reward in the last days is also found elsewhere in Jesus' teaching, for example when he invites people to gather up treasure for heaven where there are no moths or worms.
- Did Jesus Give a Deadline for the Kingdom?
First of all, let us summarize what has been said about the reign of God.
- Jesus expected a future, definitive coming of God to rule as king
- this hope was so central to his message that he bade his disciples make it a central petition of their own prayer
- the coming kingdom would bring about the reversal of present unjust conditions of poverty, sorrow, and hunger
- this final kingdom would bring about an even more astounding reversal: it would include at least some Gentiles, not as conquered slaves but as honored guests who would share the eschatological banquet with the Israelite patriarchs
- despite the possibility of his impending death, Jesus himself would experience a saving reversal: he would share in the final banquet, symbolized by the prophetic event of the Last Supper.
- But exactly how far away are we from this coming of the Kingdom of God? Unfortunately, there is no sentence that can confirm that this coming is really imminent. However, the sense of urgency that Jesus communicates in all of his teaching would be meaningless if this reign was not coming soon. Some of his parables that contrast the smallness of the seed with the rapid growth of the plant, or some of his actions, such as the cleansing of the temple, express a sense of God's imminent action. However, unlike some apocalyptic works, neither John the Baptist nor Jesus speculates on the final periods.
- There are three texts that present a final date for this coming of the kingdom, but these three texts do not date back to Jesus, but rather reflect the concerns of the early Church. Let us examine them.
- Mt 10: 23
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. .
This text is part of a missionary discourse addressed to the disciples. It consists of various sources: Mark, Q and M. It describes in detail what the disciples will experience as they are involved in legal proceedings before the Jewish and Gentile courts and risk the death penalty because of their allegiance to Jesus. Clearly, these scenes reflect the time of the early Church, not the time of Jesus. Matthew borrows his material from Mark's eschatological discourse (13:5-37): he wants to show that the mission of the Church after Easter is part of the eschatological drama. This material is the work of prophets within the first generation of Christians. These prophets say: flee from hostile cities, for you will always find other cities to carry out your mission until the coming of Jesus, which is imminent anyway. When exactly should we place this context? Of course, we must eliminate the time of Jesus' mission which did not experience such persecution. But it is also necessary to eliminate the period following the destruction of Jerusalem (66-70), when the total disorganization of the Jewish community prevented a Christian mission. We are reduced to that short period between 28 and 66 CE.
- Mk 9: 1
|Mark 9: 1
||Matthew 16: 28
||Luke 9: 27
And he said to them:
"Amen I say to you
that there are some those standing here
who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God
(having) come in power"
"Truly I tell you,
there are some standing here
who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man
coming in his kingdom"
"But truly I tell you,
there are some standing here
who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.
The context of Mk 9:1 is that of Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi. There Jesus announces his sufferings and his imminent death, which makes Peter react and leads Jesus to call him Satan. There follows an invitation from Jesus to the crowd and the disciples to accept his cross and a warning that anyone who blushes at Jesus before the courts, the Son of Man will also blush at him when he returns. Therefore, after mentioning the negative consequences of the coming of the kingdom, Jesus presents the positive consequences. Nevertheless, Mk 9:1 appears as an isolated verse. It has its own introduction: "And he said to them". And the following verse introduces a new story, that of the transfiguration. Also, this verse probably originally circulated as an isolated logion. It is suspected that it is the work of Mark himself, writing about the year 70 and seeking to reinterpret the promise of the coming of the kingdom and to keep its relevance at a time when the last members of the first generation of Christians were dying one after the other. He echoes Christian prophets who need to calm down Christians who are concerned that so many brothers will die without the promise of Jesus being fulfilled, saying something like this: it is only a matter of a few years before some of you may witness this coming.
- Mk 13: 30
|Mk 13: 30
||Mt 24: 34
||Lk 21: 32
Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass away until all these things come to pass
Truly I tell you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things have taken place
Truly I tell you, this generation shall not pass away until all things have taken place.
- The warning signs are in fact historical events, first the conflict between the Jews and the Roman occupier when Emperor Caligula tried to put his statue in the temple around 40 AD (the abomination of abominations), then the first Jewish war around 66-70.
- The "when" of the coming of the kingdom will follow immediately after these events, just as summer follows the growth of the fig tree leaves, and then comes our v. 30 which announces the coming of the kingdom in this generation. But this answer is immediately contradicted by the statement in v. 32: "As for the date of that day and hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father". This last sentence has every chance of being authentic, because of the criterion of embarrassment: the first Christians could not invite such an affirmation. Thus there is in chapter 13 a tension between the refusal of a precise date, which would come from Jesus, and the attempts to specify this date which come from the early Church.
The Kingdom Already Present
We must now ask ourselves whether Jesus envisaged the final coming of God's reign as a purely future reality, or whether he also claimed that God's reign had somehow already happened, at least partially and symbolically. All this may seem contradictory, but we find such paradoxes in the OT and NT. Let us consider five texts.
- Sayings Already Examined: The Second Baptist-Block : Mt 11: 2-6 || Lk 7: 18-23
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me"
Talking about a present kingdom is not the same as simply talking about God's present influence on the believer. It is much more. In our text of Matthew 11, Jesus' response is influenced by several passages from the prophet Isaiah where healings are the sign of God's salvation as he brings his people out of the Babylonian exile into the new Jerusalem. He affirms that through his action it is God who comes with power and compassion to heal, liberate and gather the fragments of his scattered people into an eschatological whole. In a way, Jesus is bringing about the end of time. Through his prophetic action, something new and different is happening. Therefore, whoever accepts his good news and healing ministry enjoys a new status, which makes him even greater than John the Baptist, for he is already in this kingdom of God, experiencing his life-changing, healing and powerful reign. This reign of God is here, present and available through the ministry of Jesus.
The law and the prophets [lasted?] until John. From then on, the kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent plunder it. - Lc 16: 16
What is clear from the previous verse is that the reign of God is palpably and immanent in the history of Israel, and that it suffers violence through the opposition that the ministry of Jesus encounters. The current presence of God's reign is therefore ambiguous: on the one hand, it is a source of joy for those who have experienced it, but on the other hand it provokes violent opposition from those who reject it. Moreover, it is this same future eschatological reign that is currently present, but only partially.
- Sayings about the exorcisms of Jesus
"If by the finger of God I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come uupon you". -Mt 12, 28
Is this verse an authentic saying of Jesus? Let's examine it closely.
- The Initial Problem of Modern Sensibilities and Ancient Beliefs
The idea of demonic obsession and possession was already present in the Sumerian and Akkadian religions, which provided for magical incantations or rites. On the other hand, such beliefs and rituals are absent from the Hebrew canon of the OT. However, in post-exilic literature, demonic activity becomes a more important subject with the apocryphal book of Tobit, which presents a case more appropriately called demonic obsession rather than possession. Possession and demonic obsession will become a frequent theme in Jewish literature in the intertestamental period. At Qumran exorcisms were known as seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The same ideas are found in pagan religions and in Christianity at the beginning of the Christian era, and they tend to spread with the development of syncretism and magic in the Roman Empire, so that in the third century there was a special officer in the Church in Rome in charge of exorcisms.
So we should not be surprised that exorcisms were part of the prophetic activity of a man like Jesus in the 1st century. In fact, exorcisms constitute the largest category of healings in the Synoptics. Without a doubt, Jesus saw his exorcisms as part of his ministry of healing and liberation to his people. In fact, given the state of medical knowledge at the time, mental and psychosomatic illness and epilepsy were seen as demonic possessions. But what made Jesus unique was not so much his role as an exorcist as the integration of these various functions of exorcist, teacher, gatherer, and eschatological prophet into one person.
- Source and Tradition Criticism of Mt 12: 28 || Lk 11: 20
Let us look at these sayings in context.
|Mt 12: 25-30
||Mk 3: 23-27
||Lk 11: 17-23
25 Kowing their thoughts, he said to them,
"Every kingdom divided against itself is made desolate,
and no city or house divided against itself will stand;
26 and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?
27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they sall be your judges.
28 But if by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29 Or how can one enter the house of the strong man and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he shall plunder his house.
30 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
23 And summoning them, he said to them in parables,
"How can Satan cast out Satan?
24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
26 And if Satan has revolted against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; rather, he is finished.
27 But no one can enter the house of the strong man and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he shall plunder his house".
17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them,
"Every kingdom divided against itself is made desolate, and house falls upon house.
18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.
19 But if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.
20 But if by the finger of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
21 When the strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace;
22 but when one stronger than he comes against and conquers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil.
23 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.
These pericopes of Matthew and Luke are clearly composite and both reflect the tradition of Mark and the Q source. To complicate matters, even Q document seems to contain a patchwork of various words of Jesus. In all this, the verse on exorcism as a sign of the Reign of God (Mt 12:28; Lk 11:20) appears as a piece that was originally independent of its present context. For it had no connection with what precedes (Jewish exorcisms) and what follows (the strong man taking over a house). It is no longer a rhetorical question aimed at refuting an accusation, but a simple statement about the reign of God. Moreover, the "you" in the phrase "has come to you" cannot be the same "you" in the previous verse, i.e. the Pharisees: that would be stating that the reign of God has come to the Pharisaic opponents, which would be a contradiction in terms. And in the same way, one would find oneself associating Jewish exorcisms with the reign of God, which would be another misinterpretations. Therefore, Mt 12:28 and Lk 11:20 must be interpreted for themselves, outside the present context. Let us conclude by saying that Luke's version which speaks of the "finger of God" is more original than Matthew's "the Spirit of God": Luke, who loves to speak so much about the Spirit, would have kept this expression if it were in its source, whereas Matthew modifies the expression to establish an editorial link with its context.
- The Meaning of the Earliest Q Form of the Saying
To understand Jesus' statement, two expressions need to be analyzed.
- The expression "finger of God" seems to be a reference to Ex 8:15 (The magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God," but Pharaoh's heart hardened and he did not listen to them, as Yahweh had foretold). Jesus would thus indicate that he was acting in the footsteps of Moses and Aaron, true messengers of God sent to perform miracles symbolizing the liberation of Israel from slavery. It is possible that Jesus had in mind a reading of a passage similar to that found in an ancient rabbinic commentary on this text of Exodus, Exodus Rabbah: when the magicians realized that they could not reproduce the plague of the mosquitoes, they recognized that this plague was the work of God and not of the demons. Consequently, the imitation of the first two plagues by the magicians was the work of the devil. It is therefore this same God, who acted through Moses, who is now acting through Jesus to free the Israelites from the slavery of the demon.
- The expression "has come upon you" means that the kingdom of God "is nearer to you", "has reached you". Unfortunately, we do not have the original Aramaic of the expression Jesus would have used.
- The Question of the Authenticity of Luke 11: 20 Par.
There is a consensus among biblical scholars to recognize the authenticity of this verse for a number of reasons.
- As already demonstrated, the expression "Kingdom of God" is unique, as it is not found in the OT and is very rare in the NT outside the Synoptics.
- To speak of a coming reign is unique. The few authors who have mentioned a reign of God do not speak of it in these terms.
- It is at the heart of Jesus' message to affirm that the kingdom of God comes with power at the end of time, a phraseology that is unique in first century Judaism, a phraseology that fits well with the scenario of Jesus expelling the demonic powers. Indeed, in the eschatological and apocalyptic world, human existence is seen as subject to two supernatural forces, God and Satan; no one is neutral, and if one leaves the demons one necessarily passes into the kingdom of God.
- Another argument can be added from the criterion of discontinuity: the expression "finger of God" is totally absent from the NT, so it is difficult to imagine that a Christian author would have created this expression; it is rather probable that it goes back to Jesus himself. Moreover, to use "finger of God" as a metaphor for the power of God who performs miracles through a human agent to liberate his people is nowhere to be found in the NT.
- The coherence of Luke 11:20 Par. with Other Sayings on Exorcism
The verse on the finger of God is coherent with the little parable that follows.
|Mt 12: 29
||Mk 3: 27
||Lk 11: 21-22
29 Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered.
27 No one, entering the house of the strong man, can plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man, and then he will plunder his house
21 As long as the strong man, fully armed, guards his palace, his possessions are safe.
22 But when a man stronger than he, entering, conquers him, he takes away his armor on which he had relied and divies the armor [that he stripped] off him.
As usual, Luke's version is closer to the wording of the Q source. However, Mark's version probably reflects the most primitive form of the parable. First of all, it is shorter, more compact than Luke's longer version. Moreover, while Mark evokes a vague ("no one") situation, a situation that was undoubtedly experienced in Palestine in the first century, Luke develops a story with a well-armed warlord who, not content with conquering, begins to distribute the spoils: one feels a Christological color, not without evoking "the strongest" of the baptismal scene.
There is no reason to think that the parable of the strong man did not have as its original setting the exorcisms of Jesus and their meaning. It refers to Jesus' victory over Satan (or Beelzebub or demons). In fact, in the OT as in intertestamentary Jewish literature one speaks of tying up the demon or the leader of demons. For example, in Is 24:21-22 God gathers (lit. binds) the army of heaven and the kings of the earth to lead them to the pit. This is a known image of binding Satan and throwing him into the pit or dungeon. Another example is Tobit 8:3 where Tobit chases the demon to Egypt and finally binds him. Thus, the strong man = Satan, the looter = Jesus, the act of binding = exorcism. Jesus therefore describes his ministry of liberation through his exorcisms.
Let us ask the question of authenticity. First of all, the very fact that Mark and the Q-source include this scene demonstrates its antiquity. There is an absence of Christological pretension, especially since identifying Jesus with a thief does not present a very edifying image. On the other hand, the fight against Satan fits perfectly with Jesus' eschatological discourse. With regard to the criterion of discontinuity, it should be noted that the expression "a stronger one" used as a noun is unique throughout the NT, and the adjective "stronger" is never associated with Satan or the devil throughout the NT. In short, everything points to the authenticity of this parable where Jesus says this: through my exorcisms the God of Israel is now exercising his end-time reign, breaking the power of Satan and freeing his people; the reign of God is already present.
- The Question of the Original Form of Luke 11: 20
Trying to reconstruct what the exact words of Jesus were in Aramaic is an illusion. Each Greek word in our text may have several Aramaic equivalents. That being said, we have no reason to doubt that Luke 11:20 (and parallels) represents the substance of what Jesus said about these exorcisms at a certain point in his ministry. The Aramaic equivalent would look something like this:
|but if||ei de||wĕhēn|
|by the finger of God||en daktylō theou||bĕeṣbĕ‛ā dî ĕlāhā|
|I cast out the demons||egō ekballō daimonia||ănâ mĕtārēk šēdayyā|
|upon you has come||ephthasen eph hymas||miṭat alêkôn|
|the kingdom of God||hē basileia tou theou||malkûtā dî ĕlāhā|
Jesus presents his exorcisms as proof that the reign of God which he proclaims as a future reality is somehow already present.
- "The Kingdom of God is in Your Midst" - Luke 17: 20-21
20a Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered,
20b "The coming of the Kingdom of God is not coming with [close] observation
21a nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!'
21b (For) behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst."
- The Meaning of the Saying in the Context of Luke's Gospel
Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke composed two apocalyptic discourses, the first one (17: 20-37) on his way to Jerusalem, the second one (21: 5-36) delivered to the temple in Jerusalem. This corresponds to his style where he wants to keep the Q document and his personal material (first discourse) and Mark's material (second discourse) separate. Our text belongs to the first discourse and constitutes its introduction.
Jesus rejects the speculations of the apocalyptic traditions that were concerned with predicting the end times, saying that this is not comparable to observing nature or historical events. Verse 21a also rejects apocalyptic predictions about the exact place of the coming of the kingdom, just as verse 20b rejected calculations about the exact time. This rejection of speculation about date and place fits better with Luke's editorial tendency and a pastoral message to the early church than with the Pharisaic milieu of the 30's.
But what is the exact meaning of the ending: For behold, the kingdom of God is among you. The Greek preposition "entos" commonly means "in the midst of" as we see in some ancient Greek translations (Aquila, Symmachus) of the OT. We must therefore reject the translation "within", an attempt by several commentators to interiorize or spiritualize the kingdom: the idea of a purely interior, invisible kingdom of God, present only in the hearts of individuals, is totally foreign to the New Testament tradition, no matter what stage we are at. Here Jesus is saying this to the Pharisees: If only you had eyes to see, you would see the kingdom already present in my ministry of healing and teaching.
- Luke's Redaction and Possible Sources
Apart from verse 21a, which has an equivalent in Mk 13:21, we are faced with a text that has no parallel in the other evangelists and it is therefore difficult to determine its source. On the other hand, we are aware of Luke's tendency to introduce a word of Jesus through an editorial question and the indirect style of the audience. This is what we have here with verse 20a (question of the Pharisees about the date), and verse 21a (implicit question of the disciples about the place), two products of Luke's editorial work. But after removing what probably comes from Luke, we are left with two well-balanced and parallel statements in the form of a chiasmus: The coming of the Kingdom of God is not coming with [close] observation, (for) behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst. We would be before a pre-Lucanian tradition, not a creation of Luke. This is confirmed by the fact that there are two key words that are found nowhere else in Luke-Actes: "observation" (paratereis) and "in the midst of" (entos).
- An Authentic Saying of Jesus?
Given its isolated nature, it is difficult to determine its value. But a number of considerations tip the balance in favour of its authenticity:
- The expression "kingdom of God" associated with the verb "to come", characteristic of the historical Jesus.
- The criterion of coherence with the words and gestures of Jesus throughout his ministry, which demonstrate that the kingdom is already present and make speculation about its time and place unnecessary.
- The absence of a clear and explicit Christological reference
- "The Kingdom of God Has Drawn Near" - Mark 1: 15
14 After John [the Baptist] was handed over [i.e., put into prison by Herod Antipas], Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God
15 and saying: "The time is fulfilled and the kingddom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe in the Gospel".
There is no consensus among biblical scholars as to whether v. 15 comes from Mark as the editor, from the pre-Mariscian source or from Jesus himself. Moreover, does it speak of the future kingdom or the present kingdom? Again, the answer is not clear. There is a lack of multiple attestations for this verse and the vocabulary of the fulfillment of time and faith in the Gospel points us to the early Church. On the other hand, the expression of a kingdom of God that is close at hand could be traced back to Jesus, since it is found in the Q-source and in Mark. However, even though in Greek the tense of the verb "came near" is perfect, meaning an action completed in the past but which has an impact in the present, we cannot determine whether the kingdom is now here, or rather whether it is so close that it is at the door, like a train about to enter the station. And unfortunately, there is no equivalent in Aramaic grammar to the perfect Greek, so one must remain on one's appetite to answer the question.
- Allied Saying About Present Salavation: The Beatitude on Eyewitnesses and the Rejection of Fasting
The limited number of authentic words of Jesus relating to the present kingdom could indicate the importance given to them by Jesus himself, but this would limit Jesus' assertions to only those phrases with the expression: Kingdom of God.
- The Beatitude on Eyewitnesses : Matthew 13: 16-17 || Luke 10: 23-24
|Mt 13: 16-17
||Lk 10: 23-24
16 "But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately,
"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!
24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it".
From Lk 10, closer to the Q document, we could reconstruct this tradition Q in this way:
Happy (are) the eyes that see what you see
[and the ears that hear what you hear]
For [amen] I say to you that
many prophets and kings longed
to see what you see and did not see [it],
and to hear what you hear and did not hear [it].
Here we have the typical structure of a beatitude: (1) the initial (happy) cry, followed by (2) the description of those who are happy, followed finally by (3) the reason for happiness. But if we compare this beatitude with the one in the Sermon on the Mountain/Plain, we observe a fundamental difference: rather than seeing a reversal between the present situation and what will happen in the future, we have here a reversal between the frustrated desire of the past and the fulfilment of the present. Thus, Jesus' audience experiences what the great figures of Israel's past could only hope for and what pious Jews of today expect at some future date. To understand the significance of this claim, we can refer to the pseudepigraphical Psalms of Solomon, written in the 1st century BC: "Happy [shall be] those born in those days, to see the good things of Israel, when God brings about the gathering of the [twelve] tribes". According to this writing, the happy experience of God's salvation is seen as a future reality. Therefore, we can draw four statements from Luke's passage.
- Jesus felicitates his audience for experiencing what was hoped for but never experienced by the great ones of Israel's past
- Jesus' audience therefore lives in the time of the fulfillment of Israel's hopes and prophecies, a time that many pious Jews of Jesus' day still expected at some future date.
- This fulfillment which the audience is seeing and hearing right now, is contained in the miraculous deeds Jesus performs and the good news he preaches
- Finally, if we may draw upon what Jesus says explicitly elsewhere, what the audience is now experiencing through his deeds and words is nothing less than the coming of God's kingdom
Does this beatitude go back to the historical Jesus? It would seem so for the following reasons:
- There is the criterion of coherence in literary form or structure, similar to that found in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain.
- It is also coherent with the message of Jesus who proclaims the presence of the reign of God through his ministry.
- the various post-Pascal Christologies are absent: the person of Jesus and his ministry appear as the pivot of the coming of the reign of God, but without being named explicitly
- The beatitude is restricted to the eyewitnesses of Jesus' earthly period, and is totally different from the beatitudes found in the early Church, such as that of Jn 20:29: "Blessed are those who believe without having seen" (Jn 20:29).
Thus, Lk 10:23-24 would go back to the historical Jesus and would not be the work of the early Church.
- The Question About Fasting - Mark 2: 18-20 Parr.
|Mt 9: 14-15
||Mk 2: 18-20
||Lk 5: 33-35
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying,
"Why do we and the Pharisees fast often,
but your disciples do not fast?"
15 And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast".
18a And the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting,
18b and they come and say to him [i.e., Jesus]:
18c "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
18d but your disciples do not fast?"
19a And Jesus said to them: "Can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them?
19b As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
20a But days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them,
b and then they will fast on that day".
33 Then they said to him,
"John's disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray,
but your disciples eat and drink".
34 Jesus said to them, "You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?
35 The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days".
- The Marcan form of the pericope
Mark's version has so many repetitions that Matthew and Luke felt the need to abbreviate it, but it offers a good example of "duality" (saying things twice in parallel).
- Verses 18-19
These two verses contrast the pious Jewish disciples (those of John or the Pharisees), and those of Jesus on the question of fasting: unlike the pious Jews, the disciples of Jesus do not fast. The reason according to Mark's writing: Jesus introduced the joyful feast of the marriage of the Messiah with Israel, a time of celebration, not mortification.
- Verses 19b-20
But the time for celebration will come to an end. Jesus prophesies his violent death, introducing a time of mourning, a time of fasting. This reference to the death of Jesus is in keeping with the controversies of Mk 2:1-3:6 and alludes to the story of the coming passion. Our analysis leads to the conclusion that verses 18-20, in their present form, constitute a Christian composition, aimed at ultimately explaining why Christians fast contrary to the practice of Jesus' disciples during his public ministry.
- The earliest attainable pre-Marcan form
Closer analysis can isolate later secondary additions from an older story. First of all, the expression " disciples of the Pharisees " is very curious, for in Jesus' time we have no indication that the Pharisees were teachers with groups of disciples. On the other hand, after the year 70 we will see the development of the schools of the Pharisees. Thus, this mention of the Pharisees is an addition of the pre-Marcian tradition to an older narrative in order to provide a link to a larger literary unit. Originally, the narrative was intended simply to refer to a non-specific audience: "they".
The heart of verse 20 revolves around a change in policy regarding fasting, a change justified by an indirect reference to Jesus' death. This sentence is all the more surprising if we consider that the audience of the original story was not the Pharisees or his disciples, but people from all over the world. It is historically unlikely that Jesus offered these outsiders a prophecy about changes in the fasting rule among his disciples and justified it by referring to his future death. How could Jesus have expected outsiders to understand his prophecy?
One last observation about the secondary additions. Verse 19 begins with the metaphor of marriage with the bridegroom and his companions, but develops into a complicated allegory in verse 20: it is easy to understand that the companions of the bridegroom do not fast during marriage, but there is no natural reason why the companions of the bridegroom should begin to fast after he leaves. The allegorical nature of v. 20 reinforces the conclusion that it is a secondary addition, the work of first generation Christians seeking to justify the practice of fasting in the community.
- The authenticity of the core tradition
Now that we have been able to isolate what appear to be secondary additions, we can try to reconstruct the original story.
|b 18b||(And) they come and say to Jesus:|
|c||"Why do the disciples of John fast,|
|d|| but your disciples do not fast?"|
|v 19a||And Jesus said to them:|
| "Can the wedding guests fast|
| when the bridegroom is with them?"|
Together, verses 18bcd and 19a form a well-balanced, symmetrical whole, and the smallest unit that can be transmitted in an oral tradition while retaining its full meaning. Do we have a tradition that goes back to a discussion during the lifetime of the historical Jesus and reflects the actual practice of the disciples in relation to fasting? Despite the absence of multiple attestations (Luke and Matthew depend on Mark), a number of arguments strongly support the conclusion of an authentic tradition.
- The criterion of discontinuity directs us towards the practice of voluntary fasting among pious people of both the Jewish community and the young Christian community of the first century: they fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Given the widespread practice of fasting in the early church, it is unlikely that the early church invented this narrative prohibiting voluntary fasting, which was in contradiction to its practice.
- The criterion of coherence leads us to the words and actions of Jesus throughout his ministry. Next to the ascetic John the Baptist, Jesus passes for a drunkard and a glutton (Mt 11:16-19 and par.). For some, his conduct was all the more reprehensible since his frequenting of tax collectors and sinners was not balanced by the practice of voluntary fasting at other times. But Jesus emphasized the eschatological banquet of the kingdom which was already available to all who shared his joy at mealtime. This attitude of Jesus is not unique, since it is found in an Aramaic text of the first century, called mĕgillat ta‛anît, which forbids fasting and mourning on certain days to celebrate important events in Israel.
- The use of clear-cut antithetical metaphors of fasting and marriage, condensed into a rhetorical question, is typical of Jesus' speeches that we know from his parables.
The account of Mk 2:18-20 offers the first reliable data about a well-defined sociological group of disciples around John the Baptist. This group had a distinct identity within the religious community of Judaism in first century Palestine, with its leader, its special prayers taught by the Baptist (Lk 11:1), its observance of voluntary fasting (Mk 2:18), and its intense expectation of the final judgment which will bring an end to the present state of affairs. The same can be said of Jesus' disciples. But this group distinguished themselves from the other pious Jews of their time by forbidding voluntary fasting, in order to proclaim the joyful arrival of the reign of God.
The clarifications obtained on the role of God's reign in Jesus' ministry raise a number of new questions:
- What is the relationship between this coming kingdom and the one that is already present? Unfortunately, this relationship remains undetermined. It is generally referred to as the tension of an "already/not yet", but this label offers only a vague description, not an explanation. Jesus never used this label, and probably never perceived such a juxtaposition of a kingdom both present and future as a problem, as is the case with our modern Western logic. It is possible that this may have come from the emphasis of his message on the imminent future, expressed in the phrase "Kingdom of God". At the same time, to explain his amazing actions, such as his healings and his promiscuity with tax collectors and sinners and his cleansing of the temple, he spoke of a kingdom of God that had already reached his audience. This tension of "already/not yet" would not reflect the very nature of this kingdom of God which is not a state of mind, but a dynamic event of God coming with power to reign over His people Israel at the end of time, an eschatological drama already begun in part through the ministry of Jesus.
- How did Jesus understand his own person, place, and function in the eschatological drama? On the one hand, he never preached himself, but on the other hand he claimed to play an essential role in the events of the end times. He presents himself as the mediator of the experience of the joyful time of salvation, as seen in his communion with tax collectors and sinners and his rejection of fasting. He is a complex figure, merging several roles such as prophet, baptist, exorcist, healer, rabbi, teacher of the law.
- How can we understand this tradition about the miracles of Jesus?
Next chapter: Can we reasonably determine the existence of miracles?
List of all chapters