The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

The Kingdom to Come in the Lord’s Prayer

We are accustomed to treat the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” within our own “Church” context. And no wonder, for the guidance and hope it supplies are a great boon to the spiritual life. But if we situate it in its setting in the Sermon on the Mount we have to allow that it signified something a little different for the disciples, especially Matthew 6:10:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In circa A.D. 30 Jesus’ references to God’s “kingdom” would, when combined with His messianic claims and miracles, summon up only one idea—the covenanted Davidic Kingdom predicted in, for example, Isaiah 11:1-10 or Jeremiah 23:5-6. No one could envision the Church at such an early date, and passages like Acts 1:6 persuasively combat any argument from silence.1 No, the Father’s Kingdom which is to be prayed for is the New covenant Davidic Kingdom of the OT Prophets. We also notice that this coming Kingdom is to be “on earth” not in heaven.2 This too accords with the Prophets. The fact that Jesus instructs His disciples to pray for the Kingdom, and they would be praying for the Kingdom of Messiah, surely tells us that Yahweh will stick to the words of the covenant He made with David, and also those covenants He made with Abraham and Phinehas!

There is a further consideration we need to make with reference to Christ’s words, for their anticipatory nature suggests that the Kingdom for which we pray will be synonymous with its portrayal in the prayer. Which is to say, in praying “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we are saying (sometimes without thinking) that the Kingdom will not be present until this happens! Similar to the teaching in Luke 19:11 that staves off any hopes of an imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ instruction here essentially does the same thing, at least in the sense that we now ought to realize that the Kingdom which was then preached as being “at hand” at the start of Jesus’ ministry was put off until the second advent. Matthew 6:10 precludes any notion of the Kingdom of God being established in a world yet under the thrall of Satan and the governance of the wicked. To put it in the words of John the Apostle, only when “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15) could it be said that the Kingdom of Heaven/God is present upon the earth.

The Context of the Proclamation

Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issues a warning about false professors:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

We must remind ourselves that at the time when this was taught Jesus (Matt. 4:1) and the disciples (Matt. 10:7) were proclaiming “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There was a sense of urgency about the coming of the New covenant Kingdom that later no longer obtained as Jesus neared Jerusalem.3 When the Lord said this, the Kingdom of Heaven was proclaimed as being just around the corner. Therefore, the admonishment about doing the will of the Father resonates with John the Baptist’s heralding of bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8/Lk. 3:8).

Here again the Kingdom is in the future. It is to be entered only by the righteous, therefore it cannot come in a world ruled by sin and unrighteousness. If there is to be a different notion of the Kingdom later in the NT it will be discussed when and where it arises.4 It is not found in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Centurion and the Sons of the Kingdom

The next passage I wish to consider is the healing of the centurion’s servant and what Jesus says in relation to it. Luke also records the incident (Lk. 7:1-10), but without the observations given in Matthew 8:5-13. After the centurion expressed faith in Jesus’ power and authority to just “speak a word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8), the Lord spoke both about the faith of the Gentile soldier and the fate of those whom He referred to as “the sons of the kingdom.”

When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12)

Let us consider the faith of the centurion: of what did it consist? He is a Gentile who is aware of what Jesus is doing and saying. Jesus has made a deep impression on him. He calls Him “Lord” (kyrios). As a centurion he knows men, and he knows Jesus is no ordinary man. In the culture of the time many believed that words could carry power, especially if associated with a deity. It is safe to assume the centurion had witnessed Christ’s mighty works, and he came to believe, not that Jesus might have the power to heal his servant, but that He did have it. Moreover, he was convinced that the power of Jesus’ words was sufficient to affect the world dynamically and authoritatively. In sum, the centurion was sure that Jesus was who He claimed to be. His trust in Jesus was grounded in the words of Jesus, supported by the works.

Now consider Jesus’ application of the centurion’s faith: “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). The various points of the compass serve to indicate the far-reaching impact of the work of God of which Jesus is central. As the Abrahamic covenant includes a provision for the nations (Gen. 12:3), Jesus would not be saying anything controversial about the Gentiles. But putting it the way He does—that Gentiles will come into the Kingdom with some Jews (very religious Jews no less) excluded—would be guaranteed to raise the ire of some listeners. “Sons of the kingdom” refers to Israelites who are party to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and who therefore would expect to enter the Kingdom. Jesus’ highlighting of the centurion’s faith in Him showed what would be the deciding factor.5 Mere ancestry was not a sufficient qualification. Yet there will be believing Jews in the Kingdom. Israel will not be replaced, nor does the passage say that Israel will be expanded to become mainly Gentile in complexion. Faith in Jesus is the road to covenantal blessing. Israel’s covenants do not bypass Jesus, they pass through Him.6

Matthew 9 mostly concerns reports of Jesus’ amazing healings and exorcisms. All these reports are grouped together to show how Christ overcame the effects of the curse and the deleterious consequences of sin upon the body. These include the healing of the Paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8/Lk. 5:17–26), the restoration of the young girl and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (Matt. 9:18-26/Lk. 8:40-56), the healing of two blind men (Matt. 9:27-31), and the expulsion of a demon which had rendered a man mute (Matt. 9:32-34). These mighty reversals of the different effects of the Fall, of which nothing equal had been seen in Israel (Matt. 9:33), are linked to the proclamation of the Kingdom (Matt. 9:35).


1 As I have already indicated, a way around this is simply to claim that the Gospel writers (particularly Luke) were writing in the 60’s to 80’s A. D. and wrote their Gospels from an ecclesiological perspective. I find such claims untenable. More will be said about this in a later chapter.

2 A little further on Jesus says to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20). By this we are not to think that heaven is the permanent home of the saints. Treasures and rewards for the next life cannot be stored on earth in this life. According to Hebrews 12:27 the earth (and the heaven) will be shaken so that any place one might think to store treasures will be “removed.”

3 Hence, the Lord’s resigned words in Luke 19:42: “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

4 I shall give some consideration to the matter in my treatment of the Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13.

5 Again, it should be noted how entrance into a future Kingdom is at issue.

6 As I have tried to show and will show, the coming Kingdom is the New covenant Kingdom.

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There are 6 Comments

josh p's picture

This was helpful and timely Paul. Our church recites the Heidelberg Catechism which I mostly think is helpful. The last weeks in the year are dedicated to the Lord's Prayer. I don't feel I can in good conscience read this one from last week: 


What is the second petition?


Your kingdom come.

That is:

So rule us by your Word and Spirit

that more and more we submit to you. 1

Preserve and increase your church. 2

Destroy the works of the devil,

every power that raises itself against you,

and every conspiracy against your holy Word. 3

Do all this

until the fullness of your kingdom comes,

wherein you shall be all in all. 4

Jeff Howell's picture

I certainly understand and agree with wrestling with the context and situation in which Jesus was teaching regarding the kingdom (comments on 4:1 and 10:1ff). It is important for the reader to wrestle with the nature of gospel as connecting material from the OT to the NT (adopting the most familiar designations here - a 4 lane highway is how I described it to my church family). The reader must have this material to have an full understanding of the Son of God/Son of Man/Messiah issue before entering into discussion of the theology of the epistles. I will be anxious to see further development on how Matthew is using this theological, historical teaching and setting in his gospel written to the church later on, perhaps as early as 50 A.D. Certainly the kingdom was in person, explained, and presented. It was also rejected. At some point, the reader must ask the questions of what the original READER/HEARER was thinking at least 20 years after the events that the Spirit had Matthew record. Looking forward to more ... ~ Jeff 

Paul Henebury's picture

I hope you will not be too disappointed in the fact that I do not believe the Gospel writers wrote for the church in the way I think you mean.  I believe them to be accurate histories (they are more) written as portraits of the first advent.  This means I hold it to be well nigh impossible to know what church situations the Evangelists may or may not have had in mind as they wrote.  Neither, in fact, do I think that it is easy to know what Matthew's hearers would have thought.  This is because to answer such questions inevitably requires at least as much imagination as research into any cultural context.  This is especially true if one holds to a Hebrew/Aramaic ur-Matthew I think. 

Still, I hope this does not put you off completely.  Smile


Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Paul, I heartily agree with you that it is not easy to know what Matthew's hearers would have thought.  But I believe I recall your saying (months ago), that we know what OT hearers would have thought when they heard prophecies relating to the coming of Christ and the nature of His kingdom.  And that because they would have taken the words in a certain way (very literally), we cannot allow NT writers to interpret those words in any way different from what the OT hearers would have believed them to mean.  So if we cannot easily know what Matthew's hearers would have thought, how can we be certain about what Isaiah's hearers would have thought?

Am I misrepresenting what you said at this point?  (If so, please correct me and accept my apologies.)  If this is not what you believe, I must be remembering comments by others in SI who have represented this line of argument.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

there is some misunderstanding.  What I was referring to is the idea that Matthew wrote FOR the church with a mind to ecclesial theology.  This is commonly taught in seminaries and books: the Gospels were written to certain churches.  My position is that they were not.  They were written to recount incidents in the life of Christ without addressing specific local church questions.  

I hope that clears things up.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

That helps.

G. N. Barkman

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