January Essays

January Overview - Genesis & Matthew:
An Interwoven Story

    As you begin Genesis, one thing that will help your understanding is a sense of the tremendous importance the Hebrew culture placed on the family and clan, much more than on individual achievement. The highest goal in life was to have a great heritage of descendants, and that is what God promises Abraham. Genesis spends much time telling stories about the fathers of Israel and the other nations. The writers assumed that children will have the characteristics of their fathers, so understanding the beginnings of a nation will help understand the world later on. For instance, Ishmael was a "wild donkey of a man" and it is assumed that his descendants, the Ishmaelites, will be like that too. While some of these stories might seem unimportant and even strange, you will find echoes of them through the rest of the Bible, like an ever-unfolding "soap opera".

    In Matthew you will see how amazingly interconnected the teachings of Jesus are with the Old Testament. Why? The Jews of Jesus' day who had returned from Babylonian captivity were tremendously devout, and even the least educated layperson knew much of the scriptures by heart. Their popular culture revolved around the synagogue, which was the central meeting place in town. In the same way we talk about sports scores around the water cooler, they would talk about the newest rabbi's teaching. Other writings of the time show that rabbis saturated their preaching with references to the Old Testament, and Jesus did the same. You should therefore keep your "ears perked" both in the Old and New Testament to hear where they explain each other. And, it is good to know that as you read through Jesus' scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), you will increase your understanding of his teaching too!



Week 1: Genesis 1 - 11, Matthew 1 - 4, Psalm 1 - 2

The Good News Starts in Genesis!

    Christians often focus on the story of the physical creation in the first few chapters of Genesis. It is easy to miss the fact that Genesis is also teaching some revolutionary truths which are so basic that we can hardly think in any other terms. But, until Judaism and Christianity brought them to the world, they were not a part of mankind's thinking. Not only are they important, they are wonderful news once you think about it!

   We need to understand how utterly unique the biblical account is compared to all other ancient stories about creation, and what the differences say. Most creation myths from cultures of that time featured wars and sexual relationships between human-like gods and goddesses. Through sexual procreation or by killing each other or by other violent acts, various parts of the creation are formed - the seas, the sky, the land. The gods are limited in power and are not at all interested in morality - just how to gain power over the other gods. They do not care about humanity, and if anything, create humans as slaves to serve their own desires. Humans appease these gods through magical incantations and religious ceremonies, but they do not have a moral standard that they live by - just by being quick-witted and devious. The world is arbitrary, unpredictable and cruel, and humans have no guarantee that their lives are meaningful in any way. Humans have no hope of anything beyond survival in a callous, immoral world.

    These stories set up a very disturbing view of the world that was normal to ancient societies, and even now is creeping back into our thinking through postmodernism. In contrast, the first few chapters of Genesis flip our thinking upside-down and offer tremendous hope. Here are some of the wonderful things it says:

- One eternal God created everything and is apart from the creation. Because God is all powerful, he can set a universal standard of ethics that applies to all humanity. He is the foundation of all good, and he cares about what is good, and is concerned about humanity. What good news compared to the immoral, unconcerned pagan gods!

- Not only does God care about what is good, he created the world very good. His creation (including humanity) is a wonderful thing, and even when marred by sin, it will ultimately redeemed for a great purpose. This should make us optimistic about our existence.

- Man is uniquely precious - he is made from dust like the rest of creation, but he alone receives the breath of life from God himself. We are made in the image of God, and are related to him in a unique way. Because of that, God is our kinsman-redeemer who is our protector and savior.

I first was thinking about this "good news" in Genesis after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Imagine living in a culture that saw that event as one more random act of destruction by gods who created or destroyed on whim. Imagine that terrible loss of life was not an enormous tragedy - just another milestone in a revolving existence of living and dying. Imagine that God doesn't care enough human suffering to punish evil, and no judgment awaits those who do evil things.

This week we also are reading about the fall and how mankind quickly slips into terrible depravity - first the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, then Lamech who would kill a man for wounding him, and then the entire wicked generation of the flood. A little bit of rebellion grows and grows until it permeates the whole human race. And we get a little taste of the redemption to come by beginning to read the story of Jesus in Matthew. The hope for the world, however, begins back in Genesis, as we see what kind of God who created us and look forward to what he will do to redeem us.

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For those who want to dig deeper, my main reference for this essay is the outstanding book "Understanding Genesis: The World of the Bible in the Light of History" by Nahum Sarna. It was originally published in 1966 and has become a classic. ISBN 0-8052-0253-6, Schocken Books. I found it at Barnes & Noble bookstore.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the current monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.

 


Week 2: Genesis 12-25, Matthew 5-9, Psalm 3-6

Do You Have the Faith of Abraham?

     In the first few chapters of Genesis we have seen God form a perfect world, and then watch human beings defile it with sin. God sends the flood to cleanse the world, but it doesn't cleanse humanity, because the next thing that happens is that humans build the tower of Babel showing that their hearts hadn't changed at all.  So now we see that God is going to take an entirely different direction in redeeming the world. He is going to choose one faithful man, Abram, and make a covenant to raise up a nation from him. And God tells Abram (Abraham) that he will make him the father of nations and that kings will come from him, including the promised king who would have a kingdom without end, Jesus. Through Jesus, God will bless the whole world.

     One of the most quoted verses about Abraham is Genesis 15:6; "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." This is a key verse in the discussion about being saved by faith apart from works, the central point of the Reformation. It was Abram's "believing" that gave him righteousness in God's sight.

       One misconception that Christians tend to have is over the word "believe". In English and Greek, (pistis), its primary meaning is to assent to a factual statement, to have decided that certain things are true and others are false. It describes a mental grasp of data and the truth of certain ideas. Our ideas of evangelism come from that understanding - to share facts with people so that they might be convinced of their truth.

      The word in Hebrew that is a part of this passage about Abraham is Emunah. It is the same word we say as "Amen" at the end of prayers. It certainly does mean "believe" in the sense of being convinced of something. But it has a richer, broader meaning that has great implications for understanding the Bible and what God calls us to as people of faith.

      Not only does emunah mean to believe in the truthfulness of certain ideas, it also contains the understanding of an emotional trust in a person. When the Israelites rebel against God in the desert and say that God brought them out there to kill them, God says that they do not have emunah. (Deut 9:23, Ps. 78:37). In that case, they certainly believe in God's reality, but they do not trust his intentions or want to follow him.

      The word emunah can also mean steadfastness or persistence. In Exodus 17 Moses raised his hands all day long until the Israelites won a key battle. It says that his hands remained steady (emunah) until sunset. In this sense it means steadfast faithfulness, or committed-ness. The kingdom of the messiah is also described with emunah in the sense of it enduring. God says to King David: "Your house and your kingdom will endure (emunah) forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Sam 7:16). God is also described using the world emunah, in the sense of being faithful to his covenant - Deut. 7:9 "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful (emunah) God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. "

        If we look back at the verse about Abraham's emunah, it should tell us that Abraham had a persistent commitment and trust in God, in addition to a belief that God's promises were true. We can see this in his actions - that after God promises him a son, he patiently waits 25 long years for it to happen, and then trusts God enough to offer him back to him when asked. All his life he has faith, and he also is unswervingly faithful to God as well.

       This has great implications on what it means to be a Christian. I used to wonder why God saved certain people just because they decided to adopt one particular set of ideas over another. But I don't really think that is quite it - after all, as James pointed out, Satan himself believes that Jesus died for the sins of the world and that he is God in the flesh, and just knowing that doesn't redeem him! But while Satan may have the right beliefs, he cannot say that he has emunah in the sense of a commitment to trust the Lord's promises and to follow his leading.

      Please understand - knowing the truth of the gospel is important and very necessary. But what God asks for goes beyond an academic decision to believe that a certain set of facts are true. He wants that, along with a committed faithfulness and emotional trust in him.

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One of my main references for this article is Consider Abraham, by Dwight A. Pryor. Other material is available at www.jcstudies.com, the website of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, OH.

See also, Listening to the Language of the Bible, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004, pp. 23-24. The book contains many other word & culture study articles like this one.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.


Week 3: Genesis 26 - 40, Matthew 10 -14, Psalm 7-9

All in the Family!

I used to continually struggle with some of the things that seem so foreign about the Old Testament. What is the reason for the endless lists of names? And why do we have the stories we do in Genesis - about the sons of Jacob destroying the city of Shechem, or Reuben sleeping with his father's servant girl? My expectation was that it was going to be a book of simple, understandable stories with morals to teach me how to live. But Genesis has a different purpose and a bigger story if you can get into the minds of ancient Hebrews. What was the theme that they were developing?

        It's all about family, and inheriting God's blessing.

First of all, we need know what the ancient Hebrews valued. In this culture, family and heritage was absolutely everything in terms of a person's identity and goal in life. Becoming the father of a great nation would be like being elected president, an enduring legacy of honor - whereas to be childless was to be cursed and forgotten from history. Usually, the children took on their family's profession and spiritual life. They also assumed that children would take on their father's personality - if your father was wise, you would be wise, if he was warlike, you were warlike. So to explain who was part of each family is very important to understanding the society and who people were.

Family history is important in most traditional and non-Western cultures in the world, even today. As an example, a Bible translator from the Philippines told me that for many years, they used a NewTestament translation which did not include the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Matthew since the Americans thought it wasn't important. As an afterthought they decided to include the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning. When the Philippinos saw this new text they said, "So do you mean that this Jesus actually was a real person?" Without that genealogy, they had assumed for many years that this was a set of fables told about a magical, fictional hero! In many cultures in the world, a family line is essential to have any identity at all.

So, looking at Genesis we see that because Abraham was faithful, in his culture God gave him the greatest of blessings - to raise up a nation of people from him. Abraham would teach his children to follow the Lord, and a nation of believers would result, ideally. For an ancient person hearing this story, this would be a tremendous epic of how God would honor his covenant to this man who believed and obeyed him. Each time descendants are listed it shows that God has been honoring his covenant.

After establishing a lineage, the next most important thing in biblical cultures would be to understand the inheritance. In each family it was critical to establish an heir, typically the first-born son. He would receive a double portion of the inheritance and become the spiritual leader of the family, and the rest of the family would serve him. Genesis takes great care to explain in each generation who inherits the blessing - of Abraham's sons, Isaac receives it rather than Ishmael. Of Isaac's sons, Jacob receives it rather than Esau. It's God's choice each time an heir is chosen to carry on Abraham's blessing.

If you understand this underlying theme of tracing God's blessing and establishing who would carry it to the next generation, it makes many stories make a lot more sense. A great amount of time is spent on stories of Jacob family, to see what happens to Jacob's twelve sons, because each will be head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Let's review who they were:

Son
Mother
Reuben
Leah
Simeon
Leah
Levi
Leah
Judah
Leah
Issachar
Leah
Zebulun
Leah
(Dinah - daughter)
Leah
Joseph
Rachel
Benjamin
Rachel
Dan
Bilhah
Naphtali
Bilhah
Gad
Zilpah
Asher
Zilpah


(Note that in addition to Jacob's two wives, Leah and Rachel, two more women bear children for him. This was because it was acceptable at that time to have a servant girl bear children for a wife, to build up the family of descendants.)

After the children are born, the primary plot of Genesis is who would receive the blessing, and why did one son rather than another receive it. Jacob declares the blessings in Genesis 49 when he gives his last will before he dies. The very firstborn of the family is Reuben - why doesn't he receive the blessing? Because he dishonors his father by sleeping with Bilhah he is disqualified as the heir (Gen 35:22, Gen. 49:3). Simeon and Levi are next in line, but they are both disqualified because they were the ones who destroyed the city of Shechem (Gen. 34:25, Gen. 49:5-7). That is probably why that ugly story is included.

The next in line is Judah - will he inherit the blessing? What is interesting is that Jacob has his own ideas of who will be the one who is the heir, and he chooses Joseph, the first born son of the wife that he loves. That is the source of conflict in the family. In many cultures a special garment would be given to the heir to designate his status, and that is probably why Jacob gives Joseph the coat. That is also why Joseph's dreams that his family will bow down to him make his brothers so furious. And, when Jacob is old he gives Joseph the inheritance of the first-born - a double portion of the estate. He does this by adopting Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manassah as sons of his own, and giving each an inheritance. They will both be included in the tribes of Israel, and are sometimes called the tribes of Joseph.

So looking ahead into the future, which of the tribes does God ultimately choose to carry on the blessing? He uses Joseph to save his family, so in a sense he blesses Joseph. But the ultimate blessing goes to Judah, the fourth-born son of Leah, the unloved wife, who becomes the instrument of God's redemptive plan. He is the one who will ultimately give rise to Christ. An obviously messianic passage says, " The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his. (Gen 49:10)" This will be fulfilled at first when David, of the tribe of Judah becomes king, and then when Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, arrives on earth!

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.



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Week 4: Genesis 41 - Exodus 4, Matthew 15 - 19, Psalm 10 - 12

Jesus' Habit of Hinting

In all that I've learned about Jesus by understanding his first century Jewish culture, one of the things that has enriched my study most is learning about Jesus' habit of hinting from his scriptures. His words are peppered with quotes from the Old Testament. Sometimes his references are obvious, and sometimes only a word or two. But because most of his audiences would have known scripture by memory, when he does allude to it, we can be pretty sure they would have caught it, and that the reference may have been important to his point.

Scholars used to assume that the Jewish population of Israel where Jesus lived was simple and non-intellectual, but they have actually found that several well respected rabbis came from that area and the rabbinic discussions there were on a very high level. Rabbis in Jesus' day traveled from village to village and many townsfolk would come out to listen to them, so people in that highly religious area were generally quite knowledgeable about  scripture. Jesus participated in the rabbinic discussion brilliantly and often pulled together scripture texts in beautiful ways to make a point. Often we miss this if we don't have a strong knowledge of the Old Testament. He sometimes quoted just part of a verse and the rest of the passage he was hinting at would have an even stronger message. This was common practice in his day, and has also been practiced by many other Jewish teachers even up to the present.

The most interesting thing is that some of the most powerful statements Jesus makes about his mission as Messiah often come through the hints that he makes to his scriptures. Let's look an example. Last week we read about a conversation between John the Baptist's disciples and Jesus in Matt 11 that says:


"When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Matt. 11: 2 - 6


On the surface this text is fairly understandable, but underneath there is more going on. In John's ministry he tells people to repent because after him would come the one who would bring judgement. He emphasized the fulfillment of prophetic passages like Malachi 3 which say:


Mal. 3:1-2, 5 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty...Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

 

From this passage, many focused on "one who will come", which they understood as the Messiah who would destroy the wicked and those who oppressed Israel. Sitting in prison, John may have been discouraged and wanting to see Jesus begin to fulfill his role of judge. But Jesus answers John by pointing out the things that he is doing (the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor) that fulfill other passages about the Messiah who is coming:

 

Isaiah 35: 4-6 "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy."

And in the very messianic passage about the anointed Messiah,

 

Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners..."


So by using these passages, he is explaining to John that he is doing exactly what was predicted in the scriptures about the "one who is to come", and that his ministry is one of healing and forgiveness for those who will listen now, but that judgement would come later. Jesus could be quite sure John knew the reference, and his point would not have been lost on him.

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Another example of Jesus hinting from his scriptures is in John 10:11 when he says that he is the good shepherd:

John 10:11 -  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

We think of the good shepherd as a soft, warm image, and may think of Psalm 23. But Jesus was most likely also thinking of the description of the "good shepherd" in Ezekiel 34 which says:


Ezekiel 34:11 - 12, 15 -16 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.


We can hear in this passage Jesus' parable about the shepherd looking for his lost sheep, and seeking and saving the lost. We can also hear hints of his sayings about judging the flock and separating the sheep from the goats. But, earlier in the passage there is also a very strong judgement against the "bad shepherds", and it is reminiscent of Jesus' strong condemnation of the corrupt religious leaders of his time:

Ezekiel 34:2, 4, 9-10: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. Therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.


After Jesus gets done speaking, once more an uproar starts over what he claims.  The people he was speaking to would have recognized his hints to the "good shepherd" of Ezekiel 34, and would have known its rich background and its strong implications. His description of himself as shepherd is much more powerful if you understand the scriptures behind it! They would have known that he was claiming to be the "one who is to come", the "good shepherd", the Messiah.

When I first discovered this habit of Jesus', I was amazed at what I was missing out on. But, it is wonderful to know that all of the scripture Jesus was hinting at is already in our hands, we just need to know what Jesus was doing and go look for ourselves. (Make sure, though, to have some discernment about your interpretations and that they are in agreement with other things Jesus said.) There are an abundance of study Bibles today that have references in the margins for related texts.  I hope that as we are reading through the Bible this year, you will find many new insights as you put Jesus' words back in the context of the scriptures he was quoting.

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A good place to find more articles on Jesus' habit of "hinting" is the Jerusalem Perspective website, www.jerusalemperspective.com articles section. A few articles are available to read without a membership, and "Remember Shiloh" by Joseph Frankovic is a good example of Jesus' scripture quoting technique.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

 

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Week 5: Exodus 5 - 18, Matthew 20 -24, Psalm 13 - 16

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

This past week in Matthew we have been reading many sayings of Jesus on the kingdom of heaven. And in fact, Jesus spends more of his ministry talking about the kingdom of heaven than anything else. If it was central to Jesus' message, it certainly should be important to us too! But to many, these sayings are confusing and difficult to grasp. Once again, having a knowledge about Jesus' first century Hebrew culture will greatly clarify his teaching.


Kingdom of Heaven & Kingdom of God

First of all, we read two different phrases in the gospels - "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God". In Matthew, kingdom of heaven is used, while in Mark and Luke, kingdom of God is used. This is because in the Jewish culture of Jesus' day, and even now, people show respect for God by not pronouncing his name. Often another word is substituted, like "heaven" or "the mighty one". For example, the prodigal son says to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight." The son is using the word "heaven" as a reference to God. So, Matthew is preserving the culturally-correct quote "kingdom of heaven" while Mark and Luke are explaining that "heaven" is a reference to God. The actual words that came out of Jesus' mouth were probably "Malchut shemayim" (mahl-KUT shuh-MAH-eem) which was a phrase common in rabbinic teaching in his day. The word malchut is related to the word "melekh" which means "king".  Malchut is associated with the actions of a king - his reign and authority, and also anyone who is under his authority. Shemayim is Hebrew for "heavens". A simple way of translating it would be "God's reign", or "how God reigns" or "those God reigns over".

But what does it really mean?


The primary understanding of the kingdom of heaven was God's reign over the lives of people who enthrone him as king. The rabbis knew that most of the world did not know God, but the scriptures said that one day, "The LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one". (Zech 14:9) The question of Jesus' time was when and how God would establish this kingdom. It was thought that when the Messiah came, the Kingdom of God would arrive all at once with great glory. But Jesus disagrees:

Luke 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Jesus meant that a person is brought into the kingdom of God when the person repents and decides to accept God as his King, and it is something that happens in a person's heart, not a political movement or visible display of God's power. He agreed with other rabbis who said that when a person committed himself daily to love God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, (by saying the Shema) that he had "received upon himself the kingdom of heaven". In essence, the person had put God on the throne over his life and entered under God's king-ship.

One of the reasons that Jesus preaches about the Kingdom of God is to proclaim the fact that he is the Anointed King (Messiah) and this is his kingdom. The "good news of the kingdom" is that when the Jesus, the Son of God arrived on earth, that the kingdom had arrived with him. Jesus tells his disciples to go out and heal the sick, and say that the "kingdom of heaven is near", meaning that it is now present, not that it isn't quite here yet. The take-home message is that Jesus, the king, has arrived, and he is establishing his kingdom as people repent and follow him. Jesus consistently describes the kingdom in terms of gradual expansion - like a mustard seed or a little bit of yeast that grows and grows. He is describing the community of believers that starts small, and then grows as people from all nations join. This will culminate when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is the King!

Note that the primary understanding of the kingdom of heaven is God's reign over people in this world. Often we interpret it by equating it with heaven itself. This leads to thinking that Jesus was always talking about heaven, when he was actually talking about God's work in people's lives. It suggests that God cares little about the lives we live now, and that he only cares about getting us into heaven. Another distortion is to always interpret it in terms of Christ's second coming. Certainly when Jesus returns his kingdom will be at its most glorious, and sometimes the gospels do use kingdom to talk about Jesus' second coming or about his future heavenly kingdom. But much of what Jesus says about his kingdom is about its present reality.


How does this effect how we read Jesus' sayings?

It is interesting how reading Jesus' sayings in terms of what God is doing on earth, rather than in terms of heaven, can give new insight on his words. Let's look at some examples:

Matt 19:14 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Childlike trust is a model for a believer's commitment to God. People who are humble, who know they can't live without God's care and direction, who approach God as children do their father, are the ones that God really can teach and have a relationship with. Proud people who feel they have everything under control have a very hard time being under God's king-ship.

Matt 19:12 - "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven."

 

This used to puzzle me - I wondered if Jesus was saying that some have renounced marriage in the hope that they will go to heaven because of it. Rather, he means, some have decided not to marry because of God's reign over their lives - they believe that it is the God's will, and they are submitting to his authority.
Matt. 6:33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
If you devote yourself to letting God direct your life and doing God's will, he will take care of your physical needs.
Matt 6:10 ..."Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

When we say this in the Lord's prayer, we often assume that "your kingdom come" means "we are waiting for you to return". We interpret it as a plea for Christ to come back again quickly. But really, the two phrases "your kingdom come" and "your will be done on earth" are synonymous. They are saying "May all the peoples of the earth enthrone you as king! May everyone on earth know you and do your will!" Certainly we are joyously awaiting Christ's return. But this is really a request for God to use us to spread the gospel and establish God's kingdom on earth!

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Several references are available for those who want to learn more about the kingdom of heaven in its Jewish context. The first article in the En-Gedi topical articles section is on the Kingdom of Heaven: God's Power Among Believers, by Robert Lindsey of Jerusalem Perspective. Also, an *outstanding* talk on the Kingdom of God is found in the tape series by Dwight A. Pryor called "Our Hebrew Lord", which describes Jesus in his culture. It is available at http://www.jcstudies.com, the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the current monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.

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