How central is the kingdom of God to Matthew’s message?

Open Matthew.

The Good News according to Matthew is that Jesus is restoring heaven’s reign on the earth. His opening sentence is bursting with good news, “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). He’s arrived: the divinely appointed ruler (Messiah) from Israel’s royal family (son of David) who restores the blessing of divine rule to the nations (the Abrahamic family commission).

What a revolutionary story! By confronting the powers with self-sacrificial love on behalf of earth’s oppressed people, this king brings God’s two realms back together in himself. Via a staggering trajectory, he receives all authority in heaven and on earth, and commissions his agents to bring all nations under his command, promising his regal presence until it’s done (28:18-20).

Every chapter of Matthew’s Good News tells this story. He wants us to recognize Jesus as our divinely appointed king, the one who implements heaven’s reign (the kingdom of heaven) on earth.

Here’s a summary of that kingdom message in Matthew 1–10:

  1. Matthew 1 traces Jesus’ backstory: the rise of kingship (Abraham to David), the demise of the kings (David to the exile), and the generations of oppression. Finally, God returns to reign over his people — Immanuel. His name is Yeshua, a new Joshua who embodies YHWH saving his people from their enemies, establishing them under heaven’s reign.
  2. Jewish leaders did not recognize him, but foreign counsellors (magi) came to pay homage to “the king of the Jews.” Herod was not about to hand over his authority to the new king, so he did what evil rulers do: kill any threat to their power. Jesus must break the power of evil and death if he is to be king. For now, the one born to be king goes into exile, as his people had done. (Matthew 2).
  3. A prophet proclaims the restoration of YHWH’s kingship. “The kingdom of heaven” has arrived, for heaven’s king had arrived. This king will set right what’s been wrong in Israel, removing the toxic branches, gathering the wheat and destroying the chaff. John feels unqualified to give the king his priestly cleansing, but the king insists this is right. With echoes of the divine proclamation of the king in Psalm 2, John’s prophetic anointing is confirmed as heaven’s anointing of Jesus. He is the chosen king, representing the divine sovereign on earth (Matthew 3).
  4. If Jesus is the son who embodies divine rule on earth, he must defeat the enemy who has God’s people oppressed. The son refuses to collude with the Satan, the enemy that claims authority over “all the kingdoms of the world.” After repelling this enemy, Jesus advances into the most oppressed territory, calling his people to turn from evil and recognize his kingship, for heaven’s kingdom has come close. (Matthew 4).
  5. The king proclaims kingdom blessings for those who’ve missed out. His subjects are the seasoning and radiance of divine reign. The king fulfils the kingdom laws for his people. He expects them to embody the purity and perfect love of their Father (Matthew 5).
  6. Though they’d been outcasts for so long, the elect son brings his people back home under God’s governance. The king, the elect son, calls his people “sons of God” and invites them to join him in calling the cosmic sovereign Father. The heavenly ruler who provides for all creation — even the flora and fauna — will certainly respond when they invite his kingship, seeking his kingdom and just reign (Matthew 6).
  7. The king expects the people of his kingdom to treat each other with grace, to rely on their heavenly sovereign, to produce the fruit of a good kingdom, to do more than just verbally recognize his regal authority. It will all fall down if they don’t do as he says. Such authority amazed them (Matthew 7).
  8. Jesus’ regal authority is visible to an outcast leper, a foreign army officer, and many others suffering oppression and affliction. He has no palace, but his command calms the unruly sea. His authority extends to releasing oppressed people even in foreign territory (Matthew 8).
  9. The divine sovereign has given Jesus authority on earth to heal and release people. His unusual regal agenda is to befriend outcasts. He releases people from defilement and death. The king unbinds his people, whether bound by physical blindness or spiritual oppression. But the need is so great that the king entrusts his power to his servants (Matthew 9).
  10. He appoints twelve, enacting the restoration of their nation. He commissions them to announce that heaven’s reign has arrived. He empowers them to act as kingdom agents: healing and driving evil spirits away. He warns them that this mission endangers their lives: existing authorities will treat them as a threat. The lives of his agents are precious to God, but they are still heading for crucifixion. The world divides over allegiance to King Jesus (Matthew 10)

Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of Matthew’s Good News echoes the message of heaven’s appointed ruler releasing the earth from oppression under evil to be the kingdom of God again.

We must make this message the centre of our proclamation also. Nothing less will do.


What others are saying

Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, translated by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 7 (emphasis original):

Anyone who gets involved with Jesus gets involved with the kingdom of God. This is an inescapable fact, for Jesus’ own concern was, and is, God’s kingdom. Anyone who looks for God and asks about the kingdom in which ‘righteousness and peace kiss one another’ (Ps. 85:10) should look at Jesus and enter into the things that happened in his presence and that still happen today in his Spirit. That is obviously and palpably true; for who is Jesus? Simply the kingdom of God in person.

Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Translated by Adrian J. Walker. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 55-56:

“Kingdom of God” is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being Lord, of his lordship. … The announcement of God’s lordship is, like Jesus’ entire message, founded on the Old Testament. Jesus reads the Old Testament, in its progressive movement from the beginnings with Abraham right down to his own time, as a single whole; precisely when we grasp this movement as a whole, we see that it leads directly to Jesus himself.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 61:

More important than his portrayals of Jesus as a teacher and prophet, Matthew hails Jesus as the true king of Israel (2:2; 21:5–9; 25:34; 27:11, 29, 42; of God in 22:2), that is, the Messiah (Christ; 16:16–20). Jesus’ teachings have such special authority for Matthew’s Jewish-Christian audience precisely because he is God’s appointed king.

[previous: Why call God ‘Father’?]

[next: So what is the kingdom?]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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