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The Meaning of the Term Kingdom (βασιλεία) in Matthew's Gospel
A Greek word study to identify the lexical range and usage to better understand what Matthew, and by extension Jesus, had in mind when he proclaims the "Kingdom of Heaven."
The Meaning of the Term Kingdom (βασιλεία) in Matthew's Gospel
I. Range of Meaning and Classification (W. Bauer et al. Greek-English Lexion of the New Testament).
There are two major meanings of the world kingdom in the New Testament according to W. Bauer and two sub classifications, the latter of which contains six further areas of categorization. Matthew's 56 uses of “kingdom” fit under both major meanings, one of the sub classifications and four of the six further areas of categorization. It is clear that Matthew favored the “God's rule” meaning of the term. Each occurrence of the term, and a snippet of the phrase in which it occurs (ESV), appears below (some repeat since they fit multiple categories).
1. the act of ruling
(a) kingship, royal power, royal rule
(b) esp. of God's rule the royal reign of God (usually rendered 'kingdom of God', and often understood as royal realm but with dilution of the primary component of reigning activity), a chiefly eschatological concept, beginning to appear in the prophets, elaborated in apocalyptic messages
1. Matt. 19:23
alpha. "of heaven"
2. Matt. 3:2 - 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
3. Matt. 4:17 - Jesus began to preach...'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
4. Matt. 5:3 - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5. Matt. 5:10 - 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
6. Matt. 5:19 - 'Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.'
7. Matt. 5:20 - 'unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'
8. Matt. 7:21 - 'Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven
9. Matt. 10:7 - 'And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
10. Matt. 11:11 - 'Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.'
11. Matt. 11:12 - kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
beta. "of God"
12. Matt. 6:33 - 'seek first the kingdom of God...and all these things will be added to you.'
13. Matt. 12:28 - 'But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.'
14. Matt. 19:24 - it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
15. Matt. 21:31 - tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.
16. Matt. 21:43 - the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
gamma. "of father"
17. Matt. 13:41 – they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin & all law-breakers,'
18. Matt. 13:43 - 'Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father'
19. Matt. 26:29 - I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.
epsilon. "of David our father" - None
zeta. "hey" - None
Eta. "of heaven"
20. Matt. 4:17 - Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
21. Matt. 4:23 - And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom
22. Matt. 5:19 - 'Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.'
23. Matt. 5:20 - 'unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'
24. Matt. 6:10 - 'Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'
25. Matt. 6:33 - 'seek first the kingdom of God...and all these things will be added to you.'
26. Matt. 8:11 - 'I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven'
27. Matt. 8:12 - 'while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.'
28. Matt. 9:35 - And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom
29. Matt. 12:28 - 'But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.'
30. Matt. 13:11 - 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
31. Matt. 13:19 - 'When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it,the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.'
32. Matt. 13:24 - 'The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
33. Matt. 13:31 - The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.
34. Matt. 13:33 - The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."
35. Matt. 13:38 - The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. '
36. Matt. 13:41 - 'The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,'
37. Matt. 13:43 - 'Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father'
38. Matt. 13:44 - The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
39. Matt. 13:45 - Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
40. Matt. 13:47 - Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.
41. Matt. 13:52 - "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house,
42. Matt. 16:19 - I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
43. Matt. 16:28 - not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
44. Matt. 18:1 - Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
45. Matt. 18:3 - Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
46. Matt. 18:4 - Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
47. Matt. 18:23 - Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.
48. Matt. 19:12 - there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
49. Matt. 19:14 - Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
50. Matt. 19:23 - Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
51. Matt. 20:1 - For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
52. Matt. 21:43 - the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
53. Matt. 22:2 - The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,
54. Matt. 23:13 - For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces.
55. Matt. 24:14 - And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
56. Matt 25:1 - Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
57. Matt. 25:34 - 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
58. Matt. 26:29 - I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
2. territory ruled by a king, kingdom
1. Matt. 4:8 - Again, the devil...showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
2. Matt. 12:25 - 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste
3. Matt. 12:26 - 'And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided... How then will his kingdom stand?'
4. Matt. 20:21 - Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.
5. Matt. 24:7 - For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom
*Preliminary summary of Matthew's usage:
Following Bauer's basic classification of Matthew's usage of the term “kingdom,” these are initial observations that can be drawn:
(1) Matthew overwhelmingly uses there term to refer to the 'act of ruling'; however, not in the sense that a royal powers rule, but that of God's royal rule. The vast majority of Matthew's usages refer to an eternal royal rule of God by a variety of Genetive modifiers: “kingdom of God,” “kingdom of Heaven,” and “kingdom of my Father.” Since Matthew's usage of these terms is interchangeable, it is clear he intends an eternal kingdom that is not of this physical earth, but a spiritual one that exists in heaven and belongs to God, Christ's father. Interestingly, the Kingdom described in Matthew appears in several states of being, in that is is described as being “here,” “near,” “delayed,” and “future.”
(2) Several verses clearly refer to physical territories in contrast to the spiritual reign of God.
(3) Two verses speak to the kingdom of the devil/Satan, which, when taken together, seem to allude to a spiritual dominion, but one that is limited to this terrestrial world.
II. Historical Background (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT], VI:564-590)
1. The idea of an “earthly kingdom” is the most common usage of the term in Greek literature. The kingship of Zeus does appear as an idea that parallels the concept of God as King (and subsequently the heavens as his kingdom). Plato is also credited with the notion of the ideal king who was so benevolent as to be “god-like above men and sustaining them as the shepherd his sheep” (TDNT, 565).
2. The Old Testament Hebrew uses several words to refer to a kingdom. Most commonly מלך to refer to a king and מלכוּת for his rule or dominion over a territory. While these terms are often used of "earthly kingdoms" the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven/God is introduced. The literal phrase is not prevalent, but God's heavenly throne room, transcendence and complete authority over this world are common themes throughout the Hebrew scriptures.
3. Rabbinic literature, namely the Targumim, adopted the phrase "kingdom of heaven" to avoid using the divine name in phrases referring to God's presence, kingship, or kingdom. Interestingly, the new term makes it clear that God's Kingdom never meant a "territory ruled by Him" though the idea of the Davidic Kingdom of Israel closely paralleled this concept (TDNT, 571).
4. Literature of Hellenistic Judaism uses the phrase "Kingdom of God" in many of the books original to the LXX (and not in the canonical OT). However, "kingdom" in these books is often spoken of allegorically to represent wisdom and this "ethicising of the βασιλεία concept in terms of popular philosophy was carried through even more comprehensively..." by Hellenistic writers of the day such as Philo (TDNT, 574).
III. Contribution to NT Theology
Matthew's usage of the term kingdom is overwhelmingly in reference to a transcendent rule and reign of God that is in contrast to any geo-political rule or reign. This distinction is so clear that no earthly institution can ever claim to be equivalent to the Kingdom of God (even the Church, which operates under the authority of God's Kingdom). Furthermore, skepticism must be used toward theocratic governance and caution must be expressed in church-state affairs to avoid confusing a fallen political institution with the transcendent sovereignty of God.
Jesus' teachings on the Kingdom seem to defy traditional chronology, being pronounced as “here,” “near,” “delayed,” and “future” interchangeably and in random order. It is clear that neither Jesus (in timing or his psyche) nor Matthew (in organizing the events) was confused, but a “now and not yet” dimension pervades Jesus' understanding of the Kingdom. This Eschatological Dualism makes it impossible to indicate with certainty at what time Old Testament prophecies and Kingdom realities will be fulfilled, for Jesus revealed an interim period between the Kingdom's inauguration and consummation. In other words, Jesus declared that beginning with his life and resurrection, the Kingdom of God is sovereign de jure over this world, but will not be fully sovereign de facto until his second coming and judgment of this world.
The pericope where the mother of James and John asks for her sons to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in His kingdom clearly demonstrates the Jewish expectation at that time for the Messiah to usher in a literal earthly kingdom. It would appear that many, even members of the Twelve, mistook Jesus' preaching on a spiritual heavenly kingdom for a geo-political reinstatement of the Davidic monarchy's rule over the promised land described in the book of Joshua. Modern scholars would do well to avoid the same mistake with modern institutions.
Matthew also clearly reveals that the devil, or Satan, is the king and ruler of this fallen world, until the Kingdom of Heaven overtakes his rule. This rule seems to have authority, or at least considerable sway, over tangible earthly kingdoms so that he could offer them to Jesus as he saw fit. However, Jesus also speaks of the dominion of Satan in this world as his “house” which seems to refer to an intangible and spiritual sense in reference to demons and unclean spirits either under his command or authority.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.